Father of Champ Clark

John Hampton Clark – Champ Clark’s father – was the twelfth and last child of Adrial Clark by his two wives. Born in Clark’s Landing, New Jersey, John’s abiding passion for American politics and history set the example for his son Champ’s career. Near the end of his life, he resided at Honeyshuck, until his death at age 86.

John Clark’s father Adrial was a prominent shipbuilder and sturdy Jeffersonian. Following the death of his first wife, who had given him 10 children, Adrial Clark married the Quaker widow Elizabeth "Betsy" Archer Hillman. He was 57 when John was born of Adrial’s union with his younger bride. Some years later, Adrial’s shipbuilding partner made off with the company funds, leading (according to family accounts) to Adrial’s prompt, apoplectic death.

These circumstances plunged John and his mother into dire financial straits. After a stint as an indentured buggy-maker, young "Hamp" Clark began wanderings that would last a lifetime. Following time in Pennsylvania and New Orleans, he traveled to Anderson County, Kentucky, where he was converted to the Disciples of Christ by the famous preacher and founder, Alexander Campbell. Clark quickly became a leading singer in the church choir. While in church, he met another converted Campbellite, and his future wife, Aletha Jane Beauchamp…Champ Clark’s mother.

Although John was tall for the time (6 feet), very handsome, and well-read, he was dealing with a young woman of aristocratic stock. Not surprisingly, Aletha’s Whig, Presbyterian family did not approve of her interest in a nomadic music teacher, who, on top of that, was a Democrat and Campbellite. Nevertheless, love prevailed, and of the marriage two children were born: James Beauchamp Clark, who later nearly became President of the United States, and daughter Elizabeth, who married the Reverend J.J. Haley and relocated to Santa Cruz, California.

Tragically, Aletha Clark died of tuberculosis at age 27. On her deathbed, she whispered to her son (then known as Jamie): "I want this little head to be filled with wisdom." As her burial ceremony concluded, the skies opened up. Jamie refused to leave, sitting on the grave and insisting "I will not leave my mamma in the rain."

Following Aletha’s death, her family determined to raise Jamie in ways entirely unacceptable to his father John, most notably by grooming him to be a faithful member of the Whig Party. This was too much for the passionate Democrat, who one day rode off into the sunset on his horse Baldy, with young Jamie and one-year old Elizabeth clinging on behind.

John Clark made a living, as it were, as a dentist and songmaster, riding around Kentucky with saddle bags filled with dental tools and the speeches of Democratic leaders. Champ Clark later estimated that his father had never owned $500 worth of property. John sent his son to live with various farm families, working as a hand in return for room and board. These many years of unrelenting hard work shaped Champ Clark into an imposing physical specimen.

Though not formally educated in any sense of the term, John Clark was an avid reader, and a sharp-tongued story-teller and political debater. He made sure his son was exposed to political books, and the Bible. John Clark loved to mix it up with those of opposing political persuasions, and typically gave far more than he got. These traits also describe his son.

Late in life, the strong-willed John and his son (by then known as Champ) were known to (figuratively) knock heads in and about Honeyshuck. Topics such as the proper location for an asparagus patch would be the source of heated discussion between the two. Nonetheless, Champ Clark always credited his father with inspiring his own career.

John Clark’s demise is said to have resulted from an incident involving a mosquito. A failed swat, followed by a nasty fall, led to a broken leg from which he never recovered. He is buried in the City Cemetery, alongside his son, daughter-in-law, and other family members.