The Hermitage

Home of President Andrew Jackson

Hermitage, TN

May 13th, 2005

The first thing that comes to mind, when I think of  Andrew Jackson is, of course, that he was the seventh President of the United States.  The image I see, however is one produced in Hollywood about the battle of New Orleans.  I can still see the actor, riding abreast of his rag tag army, shouting encouragement and a massive British army descending on them. He rode away from that battle a General, and the hero of the War of 1812.  Jackson arrived in Tennessee as a 21 year old lawyer from North Carolina.  He got himself elected to the Tennessee Constitutional Convention.  He was easily elected to Congress as a Representative and then later as a Senator.  1814 brought new honors when he was appointed Major General in the U.S. Army,  a position he held until 1821 when he became the first territorial governor of Florida. 1824 saw Andrew Jackson ready to run for the position of President of the United States.  After a hotly contested campaign, Jackson joined a very small club of Presidential candidates that won the popular vote but lost in the electoral collage. He came right back four years later and was easily swept to the Presidency.  He would return for another four years.  His domestic life, however was a far cay from the hard hitting General and politician.  He married Rachel Donelson in 1791. Their bright and happy marriage of 37 years brought them no children.  They adopted Rachel's nephew, Andrew Jackson Jr. who they raised as their own.  Rachel died suddenly in 1828.  During their life together, Jackson amassed great wealth which he put into a land purchase which  became the Hermitage property.  The property started out at 425 acres and at his death in 1845 was over 1000 acres.  Jackson was as good a land manager as he was a financier.  Although the chief cash crop was cotton, the farm, as it was sometimes referred to, was for the most part self sufficient.  Most everything needed was either grown or raised in the fields surrounding the main house.  At its largest, the land was attended by some 140 slaves, who by the standards of the day, were well cared for. There are many structures on the property which is almost too large for a walking tour.  For those looking for a gentler approach, there is a wagon ride with an added feature of a docent-type orator who explained the various buildings we saw.  The main attraction was the Hermitage mansion.  Built in 1819 through 1821, it was a Federal style home of modest design for the position of such a man.  As time passed the house was modified.  In 1831, the library and dining room wings were added. During this time the colonnade, made up of 10 columns which extended only to the first floor, was completed.  But things were not to remain the same for long.  In 1834, fire broke out on the second floor.  The upper level was completely lost, with major damage to many of the ground floor rooms.  By 1836, the entire house had been rebuilt in the Greek Revival style.  The inside of the mansion is a wonderful example of the French wallpaper depicting an entire Greek scene which winds around and up the curving main staircase. This was supported by many classic Greek furnishings, and decorations.  Unfortunately, it is the policy of those empowered to do so, that no photography  is allowed inside.  During the period in history that the Jacksons lived, agriculture boomed in the south,  The demand for the labor intensive tobacco and cotton crops increased universally throughout the States and in Europe.  With this came a marked increase in slave population.  The Jacksons were no exception, building their slave holdings to about 140 slaves.  This was by far the largest holding in the region.  By the 1830s the Jacksons had all but quit buying slaves, but a high birth rate and low mortality rate lead to a slow but steady increase in the population. Several structures relating to the slave community have been reconstructed.  The area was quite large and seeing it all was easily accomplished by the use of the horse drawn wagon which took us out to the main quarter area and graveyard.   Along the way we passed the only animal in sight, and the mascot of the museum, who brayed at us as we passed by. This humble animal was in great demand, hauling cotton bags up and down narrow rows.  He was usually lead by a small boy, too young to handle the back breaking work of picking cotton.  Those are the sights to see around the main mansion.  For me, there were many other (permitted) places to take pictures. At the top of the list is the majestically designed Tulip Grove Mansion.  This Greek Revival home was the residence of Andrew Jackson Donelson, Rachel's nephew and Jackson's secretary. Although not massive, as compared to those along the Spanish trail of the Mississippi River area, it is still a fine example of Pre-Civil War life in the old south.  Now here is a place you can work your camera to your hearts consent, I found only the normal restrictions aimed at maintaining the structure.  The original resident, Andrew Jackson Donelson had the best and worst of times.  His father died when he was five, but Andrew Jackson took him in and attended to his education which saw him graduate from Cumberland Collage at the age of 16 and from West Point Military Academy in 1820, second in his class. This set into motion, events which, most probably, would not occur today. Separated by wealth and privilege in a rural southern environment, eligible debutants were far and few between.  In 1824 he married his first cousin Emily Tennessee Donelson.  When Jackson was elected as President, it was his nephew's wife, Emily, who would assume the duties of the first lady, as President Jackson beloved bride had passed away prior to the election.  Emily's bright and colorful career ended in 1835 at the age of 29, when she contracted the common and dreaded disease tuberculosis.  After her death, and a proper period of morning, Mr. Donelson found that the available  women had not increased, and sometime thereafter married his second cousin Elizabeth Donelson Randolph.  They would be the last residents of the Jackson bloodline. In 1857, Donelson sold Tulip Grove to a private owner.  There are many other things of interest to round out a morning or afternoon. The old church, the garden, and the memorial grave site are all worth taking the time to see.

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