Clay was born in Powhatan County, Virginia to Charles and Martha Clay. He served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, then moved to Kentucky, where he became a surveyor. He owned several distilleries and a tavern, as well as many ferries across the Kentucky River. He was elected Kentucky's representative to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1789 and later served in both houses of the Kentucky General Assembly.
During the War of 1812, Clay became a general in the Kentucky militia. In the spring of 1813, was ordered to the aid of General William Henry Harrison, who was besieged by British forces at Fort Meigs, Ohio. He was able to fight his way into the fort; however, many of his men were taken prisoner by Tecumseh after they had captured a British artillery battery. When the British abandoned the siege, Clay was left in command of the fort. He was still commanding when the British returned in July 1813. In an attempt by Tecumseh to lure Clay and the garrison out of the fort, Tecumseh's warriors staged a mock battle, making it appear they were ambushing a column of American reinforcements. Clay was not fooled, since he knew no reinforcements were coming. He was able to hold out until the British again retreated.
After the war, he returned to his plantation, and spent the rest of his life farming. He is thought to have been the wealthiest man in Kentucky of his time. He died at his home in 1828 at the age of 73, and was buried with Masonic rites in Richmond, Kentucky.
Green Clay married Sally Lewis in Kentucky in 1795 and was the father of Brutus J. Clay and Cassius Marcellus Clay. He was a cousin of Henry Clay and Alabama governor Clement Comer Clay. Clay County, Kentucky, was named in his honor.
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