By the 1840s a number of fugitive slaves, the most prominent being Frederick Douglass, took to the lecture circuit usually appearing before abolitionist societies where they told their personal stories of bondage. The speech of Lewis Richardson, however, attracted particular attention because he had escaped from Ashland, the Kentucky plantation owned by Henry Clay, the U.S. senator from Kentucky, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate. Richardson spoke to a large interracial audience in Union Chapel, Amherstburgh, Canada West, on the evening of March 13, 1846. His speech appears below.
Dear Brethren, I am truly happy to meet with you on British soil, where I am not known by the color of my skin, but where the Government knows me as a man. But I am free from American slavery, after wearing the galling chains on my limbs 53 years 9 of which it has been my unhappy lot to be the slave of Henry Clay. It has been said by some, that Clays slaves had rather live with him than be free, but I had rather this day, have a millstone tied to my neck, and be sunk to the bottom of Detroit river, than to go back to Ashland and be his slave for life. As late as Dec. 1845, H. Clay had me stripped and tied up, and one hundred and fifty lashes given me on my naked back: the crime for which I was so abused was, I failed to return home on a visit to see my wife, on Monday morning, before 5 oclock. My wife was living on another place, 3 miles from Ashland. During the 9 years living with Mr. Clay, he has not given me a hat nor cap to wear, nor a stitch of bed clothes, except one small coarse blanket. Yet he has said publicly his slaves were fat and slick! But I say if they are, it is not because they are so well used by him. They have nothing but coarse bread and meat to eat, and not enough of that. They are allowanced every week. For each field hand is allowed one peck of coarse corn meal and meat in proportion, and no vegetables of any kind. Such is the treatment that Henry Clays slaves receive from him. I can