Hugh White came to what would become Clay County in 1804 when his wealthy brother, James, bought the Outlaw/Collins Salt Works on Collins Fork of Goose Creek at the mouth of what came to be known as White’s Branch (of course). Some historians have credited the Collins works as being the first to make salt in the county. That distinction belongs to the Langford works at what became Manchester, but by the time Alexander Outlaw bought into the Collins works it was, indeed, a commercial salt manufacturing facility.
Until the Whites showed up, though, the Goose Creek salt industry was small potatoes. The Whites, with their slaves, money, and entreprenueral know-how, ramped up the industry in a hurry. They, with the Garrards, who showed up in 1806, quickly made Goose Creek salt famous far and wide. The commodity was so valuable that the state legislature practically became a subsidiary of the salt trade in doing everything it could to help the Clay County salt makers get their product to market.
Hugh White was, along with John Gilbert, present on the first day of court April 13th 1807, which was held in a cabin close to his mercantile store and his own cabin; White had moved from White’s Branch around 1806 to be nearer what served as civilization at the time: the little community surrounding the Langford Salt Works at present-day East Manchester.
Hugh White and his wife, Catherine, produced in addition to a remarkable quantity of salt, a remarkable family of over-achievers. Hugh stayed home and tended to business, but his sons and grandsons and granddaughters distinguished themselves in a variety of political and education endeavors. One son, John White, was Speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington; a grandson, John, served two terms in the U. S. House representing Kentucky. Sons Alex, James and Daugherty were major players in the salt industry and were, along with Daniel and his son T. T. Garrard, the most powerful men in the county for decades. Daughtery and his wife, Sarah’s daughter, Laura, was a player on the national stage in women’s education; she studied at MIT in Boston and at the Sorbornne in Paris, then came back to Clay County to become a major player in the business circles in Manchester.
Like the Garrards, the second and third-generation Whites were often involved in the feuding that made the county famous nationwide in the late 1800s; but also like the Garrards, their public service and accomplishments eclipsed their sometimes involvement in the more sordid doings.
The early Whites put Clay County on the map by their single-minded pursuit of making fortunes from salt. Like the other salt makers, they wielded outsize influence in local politics, but the Whites played on the national stage as well.
This illustration accompanied an article in the Courier Journal Magazine about one of the last salt works in Clay County, that of Alex White, who was born in 1799, the oldest son of Hugh and Catherine White.
John D. White, son of saltman Daugherty White (and grandson of old Hugh), was a two-term U. S. Congressman from Clay County. The New York Times became fond of writing stories about White's feistiness in Congress. His uncle, Hugh's son John, was even more accomplished, serving as Speaker of the U. S. House in the 1840s.