Asbury Jones Clarke was born in Highland County, Virginia on September 14, 1841, the son of James M. and Mary K. Clarke. After preparing at the Baltimore City College and the Light Street Institute, he entered Dickinson in 1862. While at the College, he became a member of Phi Kappa Psi, and just a year after arriving at Dickinson, he graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors. From Dickinson, Clarke attended Albany Law School, where he received a degree in 1866. On September 17, 1872, he married Nannie McElhenney of Wheeling, West Virginia, and the couple had two children, Martha McElhenney and James Morgan. Like his father, James also attended Dickinson, graduating in 1900. A successful lawyer in Wheeling, Clarke served as a trustee of Dickinson from 1903 until his death in 1907.
In 1918, Clarke’s widow donated $50,000 to Dickinson in order to establish the Asbury Jones Clarke Chair of Latin Language and Literature. At the time, this was the largest single gift to the College by a living donor. Under the terms of the professorship, money from the endowment fund was used to pay the chosen professor's salary, with any surplus used to purchase equipment for the Latin department. In 1940, with the permission of Clarke’s son, the name of the chair was changed to the Asbury J. Clarke Chair of Classical Languages and Literature. Today, it exists as the Asbury J. Clarke Chair of Latin.