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Missouri Family Farm Comes With A Signature From John Quincy Adams And A Tie To Muhammad Ali

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Courtesy of Clay Farms
From left to right, Andy Clay and his son Hayden Clay, John Clay, and Gov. Mike Parson. Parson visited Clay Farms in August to congratulate the Clays for being identified as owners of a Founding Farm.

The Clays own one of Missouri's 30 farms recognized by The University of Missouri Extension in the Founding Farms program. To be recognized, farms must have remained in the same family since 1821 or before.

Some farming roots in Missouri run deep. Centuries deep.

John Clay and his son Andy still hold the original land grant to their family homestead signed by President John Quincy Adams.

The Clays are part of a program marking the bicentennial of Missouri statehood and featuring the history of 30 farms that have been going since the territorial days.

“I take a lot of pride in having the opportunity to be a part of this, and I am very much proud of my son for taking over the operation,” John Clay told Up to Date. “I hope that the future will allow his children to be a part of this as well.”

Clay Farms near Lupus, Missouri, has been around since 1816. It’s among the places honored as Founding Farms by the University of Missouri ag school and the Missouri Farm Bureau. John Clay’s great-great-great-grandfather, Jeremiah Clay, started things. The Clay family moved to the property from Kentucky by covered wagon.

The Clays say keeping a farm in the family for over 200 years is hard. They’ve weathered hard times. John Clay said that during the Great Depression his grandparents used a new house they had built to store corn for two years before they were finally able to move in.

“There have been times that, financially, have been very stressful,” John Clay said. “But the determination to keep the family farm going and having it available for the next generation has always prevailed.”

Andy Clay said that one of the keys to preserving the farm is diversifying what they produce.

“We grow crop corn, soybeans, and cover crops, and also have a momma cow/calf operation here as well as some diversified, like dirt work and other things,” Andy Clay said. "I credit my dad and grandpa for that, they’ve always stated that you have to be diversified in agriculture to continue through the rough years.”

Unique to farms at that time, the Clays’ say that their Missouri farm was not tended by enslaved people and that their ancestors were abolitionists.

“There was no slavery involved with my family once they came here,” said John. “I do know that, in the early days, slavery was much more practiced. But that practice was not brought to Missouri with them.”

Additionally, the family says that heavyweight boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s original name — Cassius Marcellus Clay — was an homage to one of their family members.

“One of our relatives, it would be a collateral descendant, Henry Clay and Cassius Marcellus Clay, were both very much in the political division,” said John. “They were very instrumental in the (abolition) of slavery. Cassius Clay, named Muhammed Ali, was Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., his dad had named him that. His grandfather brought that name in out of respect to one of our family members, and we take pride in that being recognized.”

The Clay family plans to continue its tradition of passing the farm down to a male heir, but do what they can to make sure their children and grandchildren don’t feel pressured into taking the responsibility of owning the farm.

“We have had several generations where there’s only been one son in the family,” says John. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but, fortunately, Andy has three children and we’re hoping that one of those or all three will take on the tradition.”

  • John Clay, owner of Clay Farms and father of Andy Clay.
  • Andy Clay, successor to John, serves as a District 3 Board Member on the Missouri Farm Bureau Board of Directors.  

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Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga is a news intern for KCUR 89.3.
Elizabeth Ruiz is a freelance producer for KCUR’s Up To Date. Contact her at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz