The Clay men may have gotten their pictures and their names into the history books first, but it is the Clay women who will have the final word, particularly now as Katherine Bateman's fascinating story of her ancestresses takes its rightful place among the many books of American history. Each is deserving in her own right for the missing pieces of history she provides to the national history.
Far too often, the contributions of women in history are lightly gleaned if at all, and the significance of their actions - and their inactions - are overlooked when the stories are passed down through the generations. Katherine Bateman ensures that the history of the Clay women of Kentucky will be preserved for future generations. Their tenacious spirits carried them through difficulties few women today experience, everything from marauding Indian parties and the death of children to philandering husbands and occupying Union forces. It's no wonder that Kate, Katherine's great grandmother, later decided she'd had enough and "repaired to her room" and stayed there for a year, leaving her husband, Frank, and their two youngest daughters to fend for themselves. Far too few women could muster the courage to do that today, though I would imagine there are thousands who would like to try.
As one who has only just begun in recent years the daunting task of stringing together my own family's stories, I can certainly understand the excitement, intrigue, and sometimes frustration that Katherine Bateman must have experienced in collecting her own. After a while, one's history feels less like a tree with branches and something more akin to a spider web with no direct route to understanding available. Indeed, in reading Kentucky Clay, I found myself referring back to Katherine's family tree at the front of the book. Keeping the names and generations straight requires an active and attentive reader.
The author also, as noted in more than one chapter, experiences the frustration that comes with aging memories and differences of perspective and understanding as related to events large and small. No two people experience the same event in precisely the same way, so there always remain unanswerable questions. For the author, those include ones such as, "Did John Thomas Claye and Ann Nichols marry before coming to America or sometime after? What role did Charles Clay really play in Bacon's Rebellion? Would Ida Lee Mott really have thrown her toddler sister, Wynemah, down the well in the back yard had her their mother Kate not intervened as Lee dragged the child out the back door and across the porch? Just what was the attraction of the ‘horribly uncomfortable’ Kizzie Clay couch, and why keep passing it down through the generations?”
Perhaps that last question is answering. As with many families, the Clays possessed things, as much as the things they collected possessed the Clays. Among their many possessions of trunks and couches and other bric-a-brac, there were houses that the Clay family matriarchs took great pride in and nurtured lovingly, sometimes with more tenderness than they showed toward their children. The Clay women, it seems, had an expert eye for quality and for houses with unique characteristics, a trait the author seems to have inherited.
Kentucky Clayprovides a unique perspective into the Clay family women and their impact upon the future generations of the Clays. It holds pieces of history that may add greatly to investigations into the Clay men, for it gives a good account of what their home environments were like and provides more intimate glimpses into the relationships with their loved ones than factual records can provide. Readers should take care to pay close attention to the names and the shifts in the generations, or they may find themselves climbing back down the Clay family tree to begin again - not an all together unhappy thought, however.