Edward Williams Clay

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Jim Crow as drawn by Edward Williams Clay circa 1832

Edward Williams Clay (April 17, 1799 – December 31, 1857[1]) was an American artist. He worked in the fields of painting, illustration, and printmaking.[2] He was the creator of a racist and classist collection titled Life in Philadelphia.[3][4]

Early life[edit]

In 1799, Edward Williams Clay was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His parents were Robert Clay and Eliza Williams. Robert Clay was a sea captain.[1] He attended law school and as of 1825 was a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.[2] He started working as an engraver while in law school.[1] He quit his work in law and became a full-time artist.[2]


From around 1825 until 1828 he studied art in Europe.[1] Starting in 1828 until circa 1830 he drew and published Life in Philadelphia,[3] which today, is seen as a "pointedly racist" depiction of early African American life in Philadelphia.[4] Starting in 1831, he focused on political cartoons. That year, he created the work "The Rats Leaving a Falling House," about Andrew Jackson.[1] In 1837, Clay relocated to New York City.[2] He created illustrations and art for books, magazines, and sheet music.[1]

Death and legacy[edit]

While still living in New York, his eyesight started to deteriorate, and he stopping working as an artist. He moved to Delaware and served as Clerk of the Court of Chancery. He also worked as Clerk of the Orphan's Court until 1856. He died in New York City in 1857 of tuberculosis. He is buried in Philadelphia at Christ Church Burial Ground.[1]

Notable collections[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Clay, E. W. (Edward W.)". Digital Collections. The Library Company of Philadelphia. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Biography for Edward Clay". Edward Williams Clay (1799 - 1857). AskArt. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c "Road to Philadelphy". The Library Company of Philadelphia. World Digital Library. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Edward W. Clay and "Life in Philadelphia"". William L. Clements Library. University of Michigan. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 
  5. ^ "America / E.W.C.". Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. Library of Congress. Retrieved 3 January 2014. 

External links[edit]