Henry Clay Comes for Visit

Aduella Norvell

Aduella Norvell


In looking at family history, sometimes only a fleeting glimpse of a person appears that illuminates their lives.

One such story deals with Aduella Price Norvell (born May 23, 1820 -died September 1909 in Petersburg, Virginia).  Aduella was the daughter of Moses Norvell and Hannahretta West Norvell.  Aduella was one of the eight Norvell children, her brother Henry Laurence Norvell would marry Laura Jane Sevier, a descendant of Tennessee’s first governor.   The Norvell children lived privileged lives in early Nashville.  Aduella was spoiled by her father Moses who could deny his daughters nothing. She and her sisters, along with the daughters of several families on the Franklin Road gained a reputation for costly dress and their circle became known as “Silk Stocking Road.”

Their father Moses Norvell and Uncle Joseph Norvell, later a pall bearer at Andrew Jackson’s funeral, were editors of  Nashville’s leading newspapers and often hosted important visitors.

Such was the case in 1848, when the great Henry Clay of Kentucky came to the city.  Clay (1777 – 1852) was a lawyer, politician, and skilled orator who represented Kentucky in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives. He served three non-consecutive terms as Speaker of the House of Representatives and was also Secretary of State from 1825 to 1829. He lost his campaigns for president in 1824, 1832 and 1844.   He was well known as the “Great Compromiser,” for his work in bring Missouri into the Union in 1820.   It brought in Maine into the union as a free state and Missouri as a slave state –thus maintaining the balance in the Senate, which had included 11 free and 11 slave states.

Aduella  was chosen to make a presentation to the great man.  She presented to him a flag in the name of the “Spinning Wheel Girls,” a group of 12 young women. Later, Clay wished to meet the girls and Aduella and her friends called upon him. While most of her friends wished for an autograph, Aduella asked for a lock of his hair. To which he replied: “Very well Miss Norvell, a very little lock of hair, for you see I haven’t much to spare.” Several years later, she met the great man in New Orleans and said that she still had the hair. Clay replied: “Well keep it, for you see I have no more to spare.”

This is the only story that survives of her life.  A small girl chosen to greet a “great man.” How often have we seen that on TV?   The small child with the over sized bouquet standing at the foot of the arrival ramp, hastily handing their precious gift to the visitor and then being swept off stage as the focus moves on.

US Senator Henry Clay

US Senator Henry Clay

Aduella married February 1, 1849 Dr. Alexander Bryant (died February 7, 1890) of Petersburg, Virginia where she lived until her death.

What of Henry Clay? He died June 29, 1852, of tuberculosis, in Washington, D.C., at the age of 75.

Clay was the first person to lie in state in the United States Capitol.

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About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in American History, Nashville History, Norvell Family History, Tennessee History, US Senator and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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