Cassius Marcellus Clay

Cassius Clay

On Saturday evening, February 10, 1855, the First Baptist Church hosted Cassius Marcellus Clay, who had been invited to speak by the Skaneateles Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. There were 18 inches of snow on the ground in the village, but the Kentucky planter, politician and emancipationist was not hindered.

Born to a slaveholder, Clay’s awakening came at Yale University, where he heard abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison speak. Garrison’s words were to him “as water is to a thirsty wayfarer.”

When he inherited slaves, he freed them and paid them wages to remain on his plantation. He was elected to three terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives, but lost support because he called for ending slavery. In 1845, Clay began publishing an anti-slavery newspaper. Threatened with death, he barricaded the doors and set up two four-pounder cannons inside, but a mob broke in and carried away his printing equipment. He took to carrying two pistols and a Bowie knife.

In 1849, while making an anti-slavery speech in Foxtown, Virginia, Clay was set upon by six brothers, who beat, stabbed and tried to shoot him, but their pistol misfired. In the ensuing melee, Clay was seriously injured but killed one of the brothers with his own knife before fainting from loss of blood.

Clay’s 1855 appearance in Skaneateles was decidedly more low-key. The Skaneateles Democrat noted, “Mr. Clay is not the most forcible orator we have heard, but yet acquitted himself well on the occasion and left a very favorable impression on his hearers, of the sincerity and worth of his personal efforts.”

In the course of his two-hour lecture, Clay predicted that sooner or later the two antagonisms, those for and against slavery, would meet and our country would suffer all the horrors consequent upon a civil war. In that, he was terribly correct.

In the months to come, the Skaneateles Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society hosted more anti-slavery speakers in the village. They included Joshua Reed Giddings in March, the Rev. S.H. Brown in April, Antoinette Brown in May, and Frederick Douglass in July.

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“Cassius M. Clay,” Skaneateles Democrat, February 16, 1855

In 1912, Herman Heaton Clay, a descendant of African-American slaves, named his newborn son Cassius Marcellus Clay in tribute to the emancipationist. In 1942, that son gave his own son the same name, Cassius M. Clay Jr. In 1964, after his conversion to Islam, Cassius M. Clay Jr. changed his name to Muhammad Ali.

Cassius Clay Bourbon

Cassius Clay is today remembered by a namesake bourbon, with a cannon on the cork top.

Cassius Clay’s life during and after the Civil War will reward your further exploration.

The West Cove

Lakeside Studio

Friends received this photograph as a housewarming gift and it raised a number of questions: who took the photo, where and when was it taken, and who was sitting on the breakwall.

The “where” was easy; the photo was taken at the Cove, or the West Cove as it is also known, on the lake side of West Lake Street.

The “who” and “when” is a little more difficult. In the lower right-hand corner is the imprint of the “Lakeside Studio,” a part of the firm of Livingston, Williams & Hunt (later just Williams & Hunt), dry goods merchants who sold postcards of Skaneateles they had printed in Germany. This narrows the search down: the date to between 1899 and 1930, and to two photographers, Izora N. Cayvette and Manford Lindon Shattuck.

Earlier, in 1885, the Lake Shore Studio was established by Frank Lincoln Harris, upstairs from the store of Herbert A. Livingston. In June of 1895, Harris left the village and moved his studio to Cortland, N.Y., where he was assisted by Izora Cayvette between 1896 and 1901.

After working in Syracuse as a photographic retoucher, Izora “Zora” Cayvette came to Skaneateles in 1907 and became the house photographer for the Lakeside Studio.

Zora 1

In July of 1918, Zora Cayvette left Skaneateles, moving to Florida, and M.L. Shattuck took her place. Whereas Cayvette was primarily a portrait photographer, Shattuck also had artistic leanings.

Shattuck 1

American Photography, August 1921

My best guess is that Shattuck took the photo of the West Cove in the 1920s and, going out on a limb, I would suggest that the young man on the breakwall is Sedgwick Smith. His family had the wherewithal to commission a photo, and he is seated not far from the Smith family home, just across West Lake Street, where he spent most of his life.

For fans of the West Cove, here are a few more images:

What Is It 1884

The Cove (and Charles Poor’s “What Is It”) in 1884, photo possibly by Lindsay Poor

Dog in Boat LS Studio

A dog in a boat, which became a postcard in 1905…

Dog in Boat 1905

Shore Dog 1907

Dated 1907, but I’ll bet it’s the same dog.

Harry Pierce Sunshine Fitch Boathouse

Harry Pierce’s “Sunshine,” photo courtesy of the Skaneateles Historical Society

The Cove Early

Cove and Fitch

West Cove Pano

Panoramic postcard by Williams & Hunt

West Cove Tinted

Tinted postcard by Williams & Hunt