Hermitage

The Hermitage is the plantation home of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States. It’s located about twelve miles east of Nashville, Tennessee, and sits on an estate of over 1,100 acres that includes the tomb of Jackson and his wife, Rachel. Other than his years at the White House, Jackson called the Hermitage home from 1804 until his death in 1845. The plantation served as a place of rest for “Old Hickory,” where he enjoyed a steady flow of family and friends. But it was also a place of captivity and suffering for hundreds of slaves.

Original Mansion

In 1804, Andrew Jackson bought a 425-acre farm—including several slaves—from Nathanial Hays and named it “the Hermitage.” He and his wife Rachel moved into a group of log buildings on the farm.

In 1819, several years after Jackson earned national hero status in the War of 1812, construction on the original Hermitage mansion began atop a secluded meadow, a site chosen by Rachel. The original home had two floors and two broad, symmetrical center halls.

Each floor had four rooms. The first floor had a dining room, two parlors and a master bedroom; the second floor had four bedrooms. The house also had nine fireplaces, a basement kitchen, metal gutters and a portico.

Hermitage Garden

Rachel Jackson’s favorite spot at the Hermitage was the garden. She adored flowers and filled her garden with irises, roses, peonies, geraniums, daisies and crepe myrtles.

The original, English-style garden was designed by English gardener, William Frost, and included fruit trees, berry bushes, herbs, vines and vegetables. Rachel’s love for the garden inspired Jackson to bury her in it after her death.

Hermitage Gets a Facelift

In 1828, Jackson was elected President of the United States. Tragically, Rachel became ill during his stressful presidential campaign and died on December 22, 1828.

The devastated Jackson entered the White House a widower and consoled himself within the White House’s walls by directing a massive renovation of the Hermitage.

The mansion was expanded to 13 rooms. Two one-story wings were added, one on each side of the house. The east wing had a library and office where Jackson spent much of his retirement reading, writing letters and managing the day-to-day operations of his plantation. The west wing included another dining room and a pantry. A kitchen and smokehouse were added behind the home.

Rebuilding the Hermitage

In 1834, while Jackson was still in the White House, a chimney fire ravaged the Hermitage and destroyed the eastern and central parts of the home. Jackson hired architects Joseph Reiff and William C. Hume to redesign the mansion in a Greek Revivalists style complete with two-story, modified Corinthian columns along the front porch.  The columns were coated with sand and the wood on the front facade painted tan to give the appearance of stone.

The inside of the house also got a modern face-lift. Heavy, ornate woodwork in the public rooms was moved to the family quarters and replaced with Greek Revival-style woodwork and marble mantels. An elliptical staircase replaced the straight, two-story staircase in the center hall. The hallway wallpaper, much of it scorched and ruined, was also swapped for a more modern design imported from France.

The architects took precautions to prevent another chimney fire from destroying the home and covered the scorched brick roof with tin coated in white, fire-proof paint. When the renovations were finished, the Hermitage had transformed from an impressive plantation home to one of the most modern, stately mansions in the South.

Family Life

The Hermitage’s walls witnessed the joys, challenges and clamor of many children. Andrew and Rachel never had biological children; however, Rachel had a large family who visited often. In 1808, the Jacksons adopted their infant nephew and named him Andrew Jackson Jr.

Jackson also became guardian for several children who’d lost one or more parents, including the children of General Edward Butler, the children of his brother-in-law, Samuel Donelson and a Native American boy named Lyncoya whom Jackson reportedly found with his dead mother on a battlefield.  In 1817, Jackson brought the orphaned grandson of Rachel’s sister to live at the Hermitage.

Jackson enjoyed family life and relished his role as patriarch. He often spent time in the back parlor entertaining the children and other family members with stories of his colorful life and military conquests.

Slaves at the Hermitage

Although Jackson was known as, “the people’s president,” and fought to give everyone a voice, his vision was limited: Despite being an attorney, businessman and U.S. President, Jackson’s real wealth was earned on the backs of slaves toiling in his fields.

Other slaves worked at the Hermitage as cooks, housekeepers, blacksmiths, butlers, carriage drivers, musicians and personal companions to the Jackson family.

Over a span of 66 years, Jackson owned at least 300 slaves. When he died in 1845, he owned 150, the most he’d ever owned at once.

The Hermitage had separate slave quarters for domestic slaves and field hands. Slave quarters were mostly two-room, 400 square-foot cabins made of logs or bricks with a fireplace, a single window, a loft and a door. Some slaves added root cellars to their cabins.

Although corn was grown and hogs, cattle and sheep were raised to help feed Jackson’s slaves, it was never enough. Archaeological evidence suggests they hunted and fished to put additional food on the table. They also grew their own vegetables such as sweet potatoes, beans and peas.

Although Jackson was considered a benevolent slave owner compared to some of his peers, he still actively pursued runaways and allowed his slaves to be whipped if they broke his rules.

Three slave homes at the Hermitage still stand. One was the home of Alfred, a slave who tended Jackson’s horses and maintained farm equipment. Other remaining cabins include the original farmhouse where Jackson and Rachel lived before the mansion was built (which Jackson later converted into a one-story cabin) and the original Hermitage kitchen.

Excavations have exposed the remnants of ten additional slave cabins and hundreds of thousands of artifacts. The artifacts reveal that Jackson’s slaves were spiritual and some may have been literate.

After Jackson’s Death

Andrew Jackson died on June 8, 1845, and was laid to rest next to his wife in their beloved garden.

His adopted son, Andrew Jackson Jr., inherited the Hermitage and most of its slaves. But he soon went into debt and had to sell off parts of the plantation to stay afloat.

Eventually, he sold the remaining estate to the State of Tennessee with the stipulation that he and his family could continue to live there.

In 1858, Jackson Jr. and his family left the Hermitage and took the remaining slaves, except for five which were left behind as caretakers. After the Civil War, many of the Hermitage’s slaves fled the farm while a few remained as day laborers or tenant farmers.

Andrew Jackson Foundation

In 1889, as the Hermitage fell into disrepair, a group of women including some of Jackson’s relatives formed the Ladies Hermitage Association (LHA) with the intent of saving the estate and preserving Jackson’s legacy. The Tennessee legislature gave the LHA 25 acres of the Hermitage including the mansion, garden and tomb and several outbuildings.

Over the next several decades, the LHA restored the Hermitage and eventually purchased back all its previously-sold acres. They also changed their name to the Andrew Jackson Foundation. The foundation continues to operate the day-to-day activities of the estate with the mission of preserving its land and structures and educating the public about the life of Andrew Jackson, his family and their slaves.

Visiting the Hermitage

Millions visit the Hermitage each year. It’s open to visitors daily except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

A general admission ticket includes access to the mansion, grounds and exhibit gallery. Self-guided tours and costumed interpreter-led tours are available.

Sources

Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. The Hermitage.
Ladies’ Hermitage Association. The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture.
The Hermitage Tennessee. National Park Service.
The Other Hermitage: The Enslaved at the Andrew Jackson Plantation. Blackpast.org.

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