Finding Aids to Personal Papers and Special Collections in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 7095
Joseph Ashmead Clay and John Randolph Clay Papers, 1841, 1859-1866 and undated
John Randolph Clay (1808-1885) was a career American diplomat who served in Europe and Latin America in the period from 1830 to 1860. He was born into the Philadelphia family of Clays; reared in Virginia, he entered the bar there in 1828. He never practiced law. Clay served in various diplomatic capacities in the following places: Russia (1830-1837), Austria (1838-1845), Russia (1845-1847), and Peru (1847-1860). In 1861 he moved to England where he remained until his death in 1885; in 1865 he returned to Philadelphia for a visit. Randolph was married twice, first to Frances Ann Gibbs, and second to Jane Crawfurd; he had two sons, Harry Gibbs Clay and Randolph Clay, and a daughter, Mary Frances Clay. Joseph Ashmead Clay (1806-1881) was Randolph's older brother; his wife was Cornelia Clay. Joseph entered the bar in Philadelphia in 1827. He managed Randolph's affairs in Philadelphia and influenced his diplomatic appointments in Washington.
Joseph and Randolph developed an interest in mineralogy in their youth and collected avidly throughout their lives. Randolph sent in many specimens during his travels abroad, and Joseph collected American specimens for their cabinet and for exchange. Apparently, both secured specimens exclusively by purchase or exchange. Joseph maintained the cabinet in Philadelphia, and after his death it was given to the University of Pennsylvania.
Biographical information may be found in George Irvin Oeste, John Randolph Clay: America's First Career Diplomat, University of Pennsylvania, 1966.
These papers were donated to the Smithsonian Institution Archives by Paul E. Desautels, Associate Curator, Department of Mineral Sciences, National Museum of Natural History. Desautels acquired the collection with a mineral collection which he acquired about 1946.
These papers concern the mineralogical collections of Joseph Ashmead and John Randolph Clay and incidentally relate to family affairs and politics. They include letters between Joseph and Randolph, and his son, Harry Gibbs Clay, concerning specimens sent or received; detailed specimen lists; and accounts of specimens bought, sold, and exchanged. Specimens were received from Robert Damon (England), Richard Talling (England), and William S. Vaux; special mention is made of the collection assembled at Amherst College by Charles Upham Shepard. Letters also include references to family affairs, especially statements by Randolph Clay in matters of political and social importance; among the important topics are the Civil War as viewed by Englishmen; evaluations of James Buchanan; and policies of Napoleon III.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7095, Joseph Ashmead Clay and John Randolph Clay Papers