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Andrew Jackson and The Hermitage

By

John T. Marck

 



 

 

Andrew Jackson and The Hermitage

 By

 John T. Marck

 

When we think of The Hermitage today, we refer to Andrew Jackson and his mansion house.  However, in his day The Hermitage was more than just his house, but his entire farm, and a refuge from the hectic trails of public life. 

Before Jackson purchased The Hermitage, it was owned by Nathaniel Hays, who in 1780 laid claim to a 640-acre land grant that consisted mostly of land with thick forests but also rich soil that was served by natural springs. The Cumberland and Stone’s Rivers, were only over a mile away, on land that eventually became The Hermitage. 

 

Southern Artist George B. Kirchner redrew this print from the antique F. W. Strickland print of the home of Andrew and Rachel Jackson.  A scene typical of the time when Jackson lived here.

During this time the Indian Wars caused many a settler to flee the region, including Hays, who returned to East Tennessee in 1783. By 1798, the Indian Wars ended, so Hays and his wife Elizabeth, their two children and two slaves, settled this land in Davidson County.  For the next two years, Hays supervised the construction of a two-story log farmhouse near what was known as “Gravelly Spring.” This farm adjoined Andrew Jackson’s Hunter Hill plantation. 

Hays cleared the fields and bartered the cotton he grew at Jackson’s Hunter’s Hill General Store, where he had an account. Besides dealing with each other in a professional and social manner, Jackson and Hays also shared an interest and love of the military, as Hays was a leader in the Tennessee State Militia. On July 5, 1804, Hays moved to Bedford County and thus sold his farm to Jackson for $3,400.00.  Jackson then sold his more valuable farm at Hunter’s Hill to pay off debts. Almost immediately thereafter, Jackson hired a Nashville craftsman to refurbish the farmhouse interior, using French wallpaper and painted trim. Andrew then hired additional men to clear the fields and build fences.  In August, Andrew and his wife Rachel moved to their new home, which Jackson called “Rural Retreat,” before quickly renaming it, The Hermitage. 

When Andrew Jackson and Rachel Donelson Robards (below) met in 1788 at her mother’s Nashville home, he was a young lawyer and she a married woman - - although estranged from her husband, Lewis Robards.  In 1791, upon Jackson learning that Robards had divorced Rachel, he hastened to marry her and did so on August 1, in Natchez, Mississippi. Three years later, having learned that the divorce had only recently been granted, they married again.  These circumstances did not disturb their respectable status in Nashville, but when Jackson ran for the presidency in 1828, his political enemies branded Rachel an adulteress. 

Now at The Hermitage, Jackson hired two men to construct a new kitchen outbuilding, which served as slave quarters for Betty, their cook and her family. 

Originally Jackson operated his cotton farm with nine African-American slaves, but this number soon grew to 44 slaves by 1820.  In a short time, Jackson converted the farm into a 1,000-acre plantation and supervised the construction of many outbuildings, including the distillery, dairy, carriage house, cotton gin and press, and slave cabins.

As a general rule, Jackson used about two-hundred-acres for cotton as a cash crop, and the remainder of the farm dedicated to food and vegetables for his family, their slaves, and livestock. Another part of The Hermitage was used for Jackson’s true passion, that of raising racehorses. 

Andrew and Rachel lived in the log farmhouse until the winter of 1820-1821.  For two years, between 1819 and 1821, Jackson had built a Federal-style, two-story house.  Concurrent with the building of the house, Jackson also hired William Frost, who designed a formal garden for Rachel. 

Upon the completion of the new mansion house, it also featured two new outbuildings; a smokehouse and a kitchen.  For the interior walls of the main stair hall, Rachel chose scenic wallpaper from France that depicted Greek mythology.  When the brick production on the mansion house began, Jackson had new brick slave-houses built. By the 1820s, many brick and log cabins dotted the landscape of The Hermitage that housed 95 slaves.  When Andrew Jackson took office on March 4, 1829 as the seventh President of the United States, his adopted son, Andrew, Jr., and some of his Nashville friends, looked after the affairs of The Hermitage that included a series of overseers that managed the day-to-day operations.  

Hermitage Dining Room

In 1831, while in Washington, President Jackson hired a Nashville architect, David Morrison, to enlarge the mansion house dramatically.  This improvement included flanking one-story wings, a two-story entrance portico with Doric columns, a small rear portico, and copper gutters. The east wing included a library and a farm office and the west wing consisted of a large dining room and pantry.  Jackson also commissioned Morrison to build a Grecian Temple and monument tomb for Rachel, who had died On December 22, 1828.  A copper domed roof was completed in 1832. 

On October 13, 1834, a chimney fire seriously damaged the mansion. President Jackson hired Nashville architects and master builders Joseph Reiff and William C. Hume to rebuild the mansion into what would become a stately Greek Revival-style monument. The repairs were completed in 1836 and one year later Jackson, who had retired from the presidency, returned home to The Hermitage. 

On June 8, 1845, Andrew Jackson died from consumption, dropsy, partly from old wounds, at the age of 78, and was laid to rest two days later under the tomb next to his wife Rachel.  At the time of his death, 161 slaves operated the cotton plantation and lived in dozens of slave cabins scattered throughout the 1,050-acre plantation that was The Hermitage. 

Upon Jackson’s death, his son, Andrew, Jr. (1808-1865), inherited The Hermitage. Within one year he began selling off small outlaying parcels of land.  In time he did make some improvements to the property, that of new carriage drive gates and a new fence around the garden, but did little to maintain the mansion house. He tried to expand his moneymaking efforts with an iron works and lead mine in Kentucky, but these were unsuccessful.  With mounting debts, in 1853, he mortgaged The Hermitage plantation. 

Efforts then began to save The Hermitage.  The first such venture occurred in the 1850s when on January 1854, Congress rejected a plan to use The Hermitage as a southern branch of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  With this and having no choice, Andrew Jr., in 1856, sold 500-acres and the mansion house and outbuildings to the State of Tennessee for $48,000.00.  The intention of the States’ purchase was to use the property for public use, such as for a school, but additional funding was unavailable to accomplish this goal.  Consequently, the State allowed the Jackson family to remain there as tenants.

In 1857, Governor Andrew Johnson proposed converting The Hermitage mansion into the executive mansion for the governor.  That same year, Andrew Jr., sold the remaining 550-acres to private buyers, and in 1858, the Jackson family moved out to a cotton plantation in Mississippi, taking all but 5 of their slaves with them. These five remained as caretakers and tenants.

Between the years 1859 and 1861, several other ideas for the Hermitage were proposed by the State of Tennessee, but none succeeded.  In 1860 Governor Isham Harris was the first to advocate the preservation of The Hermitage.  The idea was well received, but the outbreak of The Civil War prevented such a project.  So, with his Mississippi cotton plantation having failed, Andrew Jr., and his family moved back to the Hermitage as tenants, bringing a few of their salves with them.  During the Civil war, several important battles took place in and around Nashville, but thankfully The Hermitage suffered no damage.  During the war, the Confederate States of America also had a proposal for the property, that of converting the Hermitage into a Confederate Military Academy. But this proposal, like the others, was never implemented. Upon the end of the Civil War, and with the 13th Amendment, all slaves were officially freed from The Hermitage.  

In 1865, Andrew Jr., died, leaving his widow, Sarah, as overseer to The Hermitage. With the end of the Civil War, she and her son Andrew III operated a small farming operation with paid labor and tenant farmers.  Within a short time, The Hermitage farm fell into disrepair and the many buildings began a slow deterioration.   Being right after the war, the State of Tennessee did not have the funds for rebuilding its vital infrastructure, let alone fund a state-owned historic site. 

In 1865, Governor William Brownlow ordered the repairs be made to Jackson’s tomb, as well as a survey of the repairs needed for the entire property.  Again, what to do with The Hermitage? In 1866, this same governor made several unsuccessful proposals including using it for invalid soldiers, but this never came to pass.  The next year, the Tennessee Legislature authorized a public auction of the Hermitage, but this was never acted upon. 

In the 1870s and 1880s, Nashville grew into a southern commercial center, and increasing numbers of people came there, including the very wealthy.  In 1883, the State finally approved $350.00 to repair the tomb as well as build an iron fence around it. Although this was accomplished, the State took no other action until 1888, when they again proposed converting it into a hospital for invalid Confederate soldiers. This idea brought about a huge public outcry for preservation of the landmark which led to the creation of the Tennessee organization of women, who became chartered in 1889 as the Ladies’ Hermitage Association (LHA). 

Through tireless efforts the LHA managed to restore the mansion house and today they manage 1,120 acres, which includes the entire 1,050-acre tract that Andrew Jackson owned when he died in 1845. Quite an accomplishment!! 

Today, as you start your tour of this wonderful historic landmark, you enter the Visitor’s Center that houses a museum shop, a restaurant and a small but most impressive museum.  The museum contains original artifacts, memorabilia, his uniform, sword, and graphic displays tracing Jackson’s career and the history of The Hermitage. Also available is a screening of a sixteen-minute film. 

Upon exiting the theater, cassette players and audiotapes are available to guide through the rest of your tour. Stationed in the buildings are trained docents, who can answer your question. As you enter the mansion, most impressive is the panoramic wallpaper that spans the entire front hall.

Another item that is most popular with visitors is the portrait of Rachel Jackson, that hangs over the mantel in the President’s bedroom, and the history associated with it.  As mentioned earlier, Rachel died in 1828; only weeks after her husband took office. This painting was shipped to Washington, where it was placed, as it was at The Hermitage, opposite Jackson’s bed. As Jackson once explained that it was placed so that, “it might be the first object to meet his eyes when his lids opened in the morning and the last for his gaze to leave when they closed in sleep at night.” 

The grounds at The Hermitage are a joy to see with their many colors, manicured and lush.  The walkway from the Visitor’s Center to the mansion house passes a guitar-shaped driveway bordered by fabulous cedar trees that were planed in 1838.  To the east is “Rachel’s Garden,” which today still remains an excellent example of a typical southern plantation garden.  More than one-acre in size, it is kept with the same types of flowers that were available when Rachel used to gather them to make her bouquets for the house or to give to her guests as they departed on their way.  There are more than 50 varieties of flowers, shrubs, herbs, and trees throughout the grounds. At the southeast corner of the garden is the Jackson tomb, a stone monument built after Greek lines, with a copper dome supported by fluted columns. 

At the rear of the mansion house are many outbuildings that include, a smokehouse, two original log cabins, and a springhouse. Other areas featured that are a part of The Hermitage include Tulip Grove, down Rachel’s Lane.  This was the residence of Andrew Jackson Donelson, Jackson’s secretary and Rachel’s nephew.  Nearby is the Old Hermitage Church, built on land donated by Andrew Jackson in 1838, and where he attended services.  

The Hermitage is a wonderful place to visit, and a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

 Quick Biographical Facts

ANDREW JACKSON

7th President

Term- March 4, 1829 to March 4, 1837

Democratic Party

Birth: "The Waxhaws", South Carolina, March 15, 1767.

Ancestry: Scotch-Irish

Marriage: Natchez, Mississippi, August 1, 1791 to Rachel Donelson Robards, who was born in Halifax County, Virginia, June 15, 1767.  Rachel died in Nashville, Tennessee, December 22, 1828, and is buried at "The Hermitage", Nashville, Tennessee.

Children: Andrew Jackson, Jr., (adopted)(1808-1865)

Home: "The Hermitage", Nashville, Tennessee.

Education: Attended public school; studied law in Salisbury, South Carolina.

Religion: Presbyterian

Occupation before Presidency: Lawyer, soldier, politician.

Military Service: Judge advocate of Davidson County Militia (1791); Major general of Tennessee Militia (1802-1812); Major General of U.S. Army (1814-1821).

Pre-Presidential Offices: Attorney General of Western District of North Carolina; Delegate to Tennessee State Constitutional Convention; Member of U.S. House of Representatives and Senate; Tennessee Supreme Court Judge; Governor of Florida Territory.

Age at Inauguration: 61

First Administration: Vice-President: John Calhoun of South Carolina (resigned 12/28/1832), Inauguration March 4, 1829, The Capitol, Washington D.C.

Second Administration: Vice-President: Martin Van Buren of New York, Inauguration March 4, 1833, House of Representatives, Washington D.C.

Occupation after Presidency: Retired

Death: "The Hermitage," Nashville, Tennessee, June 8, 1845

Cause of Death: Consumption, dropsy, partly from old wounds, at age 78.

Place of Burial: "The Hermitage," Nashville, Tennessee.

Interesting Facts: 

Jackson was the first of seven presidents to be born in a log cabin. 

Jackson had a scar on his forehead that he received when he was thirteen-years-old. He received it when he was struck with a sword by a British officer when Jackson refused to clean the officer’s boots.  

Jackson was the only President in American history to pay off the national debt and leave office with the country in the black.

The first assassination attempt on a sitting U.S. President occurred on January 30, 1835 when Robert Lawrence failed to slay Jackson. 

Jackson was the first U.S. President to be censured by the U.S. Senate. The censure was expunged in the last year of his presidency. 

Jackson helped found and was the first U.S. President to represent the Democratic Party. 

Jackson was the first person to serve as a U.S. Representative, Senator and President. 

Jackson was the first Governor of Florida. 

Jackson was the first President from a state west of the Appalachian Mountains.

 

Andrew Jackson's actual uniform he wore, on display at the Hermitage.

 Copyright © By John T. Marck.  Grateful thanks and appreciation is granted to The Hermitage Historic Site and the Ladies’ Hermitage Association for their informational assistance.  Information in part from Homes and Libraries of The Presidents, By William G. Clotworthy, McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, Blacksburg, Virginia, 1995. Biographical facts from The Presidents of the United States, By John T. Marck.

 A Splendid Time Is Guaranteed For All