Fashioned after a cabinet maker’s tool bag, we name our first handbag after Porter Clay. Born in 1779 in Hanover County, Virginia, also the birthplace of his famous brother. He was the youngest son of the Reverend John Clay and his wife, Elizabeth Hudson Clay. Of the couple’s nine children, only three lived to adulthood, their sons John, Henry, and Porter.
When Reverend Clay died in 1781, Porter was only two years old. The following year, Elizabeth married Captain Henry Watkins—who became the legal guardian for his two minor stepsons, Porter and Henry Clay.
By 1797, both Henry and Porter moved to Kentucky, Henry to practice law and Porter apprenticed to Lexington cabinetmaker Thomas Whitley. Porter moved to New York in 1803, where he worked as a journeyman amid America's best furniture craftsmen, who included Duncan Phyfe.
Porter returned to Lexington a year later and set up shop making furniture. Henry was one of his brother's clients, and records show that not only was he charging prices higher than Phyfe was in New York, but he apparently didn't give a family discount.
Porter Clay, like most Kentucky cabinetmakers then, did not sign his work, so identification of pieces has been based on style, provenance and available records.
Porter's first shop was in a house that still stands at the corner of Mill and Church streets. Three years later, in 1806, he built a new house and shop behind a bank on Main Street, beside what will soon become the 21C Museum Hotel.