Through the Lens of History: Aaron Dupuy’s Stereograph Breathes Life into Ashland’s Past

At Ashland, the genteel 600-acre estate of America’s revered Great Compromiser, Henry Clay, a riveting chapter of history is coming to light. The estate, once home to Clay, the Kentucky senator whose oratory and political acumen temporarily staved off civil war, was also a place of bondage for over 120 enslaved individuals.

A recent discovery, a rare stereograph of Aaron Dupuy – an enslaved man who served as Clay’s personal valet – illuminates the intertwined lives of the Clay family and those they enslaved. The stereograph, originally housed at the University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center (UKL SCRC), was transferred to the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation on June 12, in commemoration of the Juneteenth holiday.

Dupuy’s image, alongside a drawing of his son Charles, will be displayed at Ashland by early July, juxtaposing the storied history of the estate with the often obscured narrative of the enslaved. This photographic acquisition is part of an ongoing initiative by the estate’s curator, Eric Brooks, to confront and present the unvarnished truth about slavery at Ashland.

Aaron Dupuy, born circa 1788 in Hanover County, Virginia, was enslaved by the Clay family from a young age. Serving as Clay’s valet and coach driver, Dupuy traveled extensively, both domestically and internationally. His wife Charlotte, and their children Charles and Mary Anne, were eventually manumitted by Henry Clay. Aaron, however, did not gain freedom until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865, shortly before his death in 1866.

Henry Clay, a towering figure in 19th-century American politics, was a deeply complex and contradictory man. Known as the Great Compromiser, Clay played an instrumental role in shaping three landmark legislative compromises between the North and South. Though these compromises are often credited with delaying the Civil War, they also entrenched and perpetuated the institution of slavery.

Clay’s personal relationship with slavery was equally fraught. Despite publicly acknowledging the inherent wrongness of slavery, he continued to buy, sell, and own enslaved people, including Aaron Dupuy. He also supported the American Colonization Society, which advocated for the resettlement of freed black Americans in Africa. Yet, he freed only seven of his own enslaved people and never sent any to Africa.

Ashland, a symbol of Clay’s legacy, is now taking steps to recognize and grapple with the untold stories of those enslaved on its grounds.

“The stereograph is important to telling a more complete story of the Clay family, exposing this history to a new audience,” said Deirdre Scaggs, associate dean at UKL SCRC.

In addition to the traditional Henry Clay Signature Tour, the estate now offers “Traces: Slavery at Ashland Tour,” which dives into the lives of the men, women, and children enslaved there.

Brooks mentioned that one missing image the foundation hopes to locate is a photograph of Charlotte Dupuy, as described in a letter by Clay’s daughter-in-law. There is also an ongoing effort to identify direct descendants of the Dupuy family.

As history is often multi-faceted and filled with shadows, Ashland’s initiative invites us to gaze deeply into those shadows, and, in doing so, to better understand the complexity and humanity of those whose stories have long been overlooked.

Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate. (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5)

For more information and tour schedules, visit

Top photo: A rare stereograph of Henry Clay’s enslaved personal valet and coach driver Aaron Dupuy was transferred from UK’s Special Collections Research Center to the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation. Photo provided by the Ashland Estate.