Andrew Jackson was born fatherless and orphaned at 14. He made his own way in the new America by taking chances and bending the rules. He was courageous, independent and determined. Do I sound like a fan?
All I knew about Andrew Jackson going into The Hermitage was that he was horrible to Native Americans and he loved his wife Rachel. I definitely wasn’t a fan.
Regardless, we ventured out of Nashville to “The Hermitage – Home of the People’s President.”
As a young man, Jackson lived in a boarding house in Nashville. He was attracted to the proprietress’ daughter, Rachel. Unfortunately Rachel was already married and trying to stay away from an abusive husband. The attraction went both ways.
Rachel and Andrew left town for a time in 1791. When they returned, they reported that Rachel had been divorced and they had married. However, there was no official record of the divorce or the marriage. When Rachel finally obtained her divorce in 1793, she and Andrew were officially married the next year.
The innuendo about their courtship and marriage caused much angst over the years. Jackson fought a duel defending Rachel’s honor years later.
Having no credentials by birth, Andrew Jackson knew he wanted to be known and respected. He earned that recognition in the military and was elected General of the Tennessee Militia. He never asked his men for anything he didn’t do himself. He earned the name Old Hickory.
Jackson gained acclaim for defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. If the city had fallen, there was fear the British could split the country from Canada in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south. It was one of the pivotal battles in the war. (A treaty had been signed prior to the battle but was not yet ratified nor known to those involved in the battle.)
In defeating the British, Jackson restored the country’s dignity and confirmed that this fledgling country was here to stay. The acclaim raised his national profile and was a precursor to his rise into politics in Tennessee and to the US House and Senate.
He was an inspiration to those who wanted to believe that hard work and determination mattered more than a birthright to power and privilege.
Jackson was sharing time between Washington DC and his home outside Nashville, The Hermitage. Following are pictures from inside the main house.
The story of the Jackson family and The Hermitage should also include the stories of 150 enslaved people.
Our tour was called “In Their Footsteps – Lives of the Hermitage Enslaved”
Unfortunately, only a small portion of their stories are known. One that is known is that of Hannah and her family. Hannah was purchased by Andrew Jackson in 1794. That bill of sale still exists. Hannah had a daughter named Betty who was the enslaved cook for the Jacksons for many years.
Betty had a son named Alfred who lived at The Hermitage longer than any other person, white or enslaved. We’ll come back to Alfred at the end.
These foundations were the enslaved people’s homes and work spaces. Archeological evidence suggests that the middle room was occupied by an enslaved seamstress named Gracie.
These bricks, on the main house complex, and made at The Hermitage show the fingerprints of the enslaved person who made them.
Like many of his era, Andrew Jackson never expressed any qualms about slavery.
During Andrew Jackson’s run for the presidency, his opponents brought up Rachel’s questionable marriage past almost 40 years after the fact. When Jackson was elected, but before he took office, Rachel died. Jackson always believed that the election nastiness related to Rachel’s past caused her death.
Deep in grief, Jackson was determined to fulfill the office to which he’d been elected. He served from 1829 – 1837.
The “Age of Jackson” brought about great change in the United States. Some approved those changes and many did not. Jackson expanded the powers of the presidency beyond those held by the six presidents who had preceded him. He sought to restore power to “We the People” but the people didn’t include women, those trapped in slavery or Native Americans.
Andrew Jackson had a number of “firsts” as president: He was the first to be from a state besides Massachusetts and Virginia, and the first from Tennessee. He was the first president to ride a train and be from immigrant parents. He was the first president to be assaulted while in office and the first to face an assassination attempt. He was the last president to have served in the Revolutionary War and the only one to have been a prisoner of war. He was also the only president to have paid off the national debt.
Andrew Jackson believed strongly in state’s rights for many things but, when those rights came into conflict with the national interest – the national interest won.
His presidential record is varied and messy. I am not trying to make this a comprehensive review of the Jackson presidency. There is, perhaps, some good, and definitely some bad.
Jackson’s lasting legacy for many is the forced removal of tribes from the southeastern United States. Even though the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole were considered “civilized,” Jackson sought their removal to lands west of the Mississippi. The Indian removal policy lasted beyond his presidency, but Jackson was the architect. The ethnic cleansing and forced removal of approximately 60,000 native peoples, eventually known as the Trail of Tears, is on him.
After his presidency, Jackson returned to The Hermitage to live out his remaining years.
He commissioned a Greek Revival Tomb to be his and Rachel’s place of rest.
It sits near the family plot….
….and near Rachel’s gardens.
Her tombstone epitaph, written by Jackson himself, reflected his belief in her virtue and his love for her. Jackson’s tomb simply reads General Andrew Jackson. He always preferred to be called General rather than Mr. President.
And now, we revisit the third generation enslaved man, Alfred. He chose to stay at The Hermitage after the Civil War and emancipation had freed him. He worked for pay and was a tenant farmer. In 1889 The Hermitage Association took over the estate and hired Alfred as caretaker and guide.
Over the years, Alfred purchased Jackson family heirlooms and, late in his life, he traded those to The Hermitage Association for the ability to live out his days on site in “Alfred’s Cabin.”
When Alfred died, his funeral was held in the main house. Alfred was buried near Andrew Jackson at his request.
I am glad we visited The Hermitage and learned about the people enslaved there and about Andrew and Rachel Jackson.
We learned a lot about the man, the soldier, the husband and the president. I like Andrew Jackson the husband and can appreciate him as a soldier serving Tennessee and our country. He was a man of his era and region – perhaps no better or worse than others – and he made his mark without benefit of noble birth. I can be a fan of most of that.
My feelings about him as a president are less forgiving. How about you? Fan or not?
Next up: Another enslaved man turned tour guide in Mammoth Cave Kentucky.