The Hermitage, Home of Old Hickory
Front view of the Hermitage, home of Old Hickory.
Home of Old Hickory
STANLEY F. HORN
GREENBERG : PUBLISHER
Copyright, 1950, by Stanley F. Horn
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
WITHOUT WHOSE INTEREST AND ENCOURAGEMENT THIS BOOK WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN WRITTEN
- I. The Pre-Hermitage Period 1
- II. Original Building, Fire and Rebuilding 19
- III. Rescue and Restoration 37
- IV. Description of the House 58
- V. The Garden and Grounds 73
- VI. The Hermitage Household 97
- VII. Guests at the Hermitage 137
- VIII. The Tennessee Farmer 158
- IX. Church and Religion, and Final Days 187
- A: Chronology 207
- B: Andrew Jackson’s Will 209
- C: His Goings and Comings 213
- D: Governing Boards 220
- Index 223
- Front View of the Hermitage, Frontispiece
- Original Log House 2
- The First Hermitage 3
- Imaginary Picture of the Hermitage 10
- The Hermitage in 1831 10
- Plat of the Hermitage Plantation 11
- Old Print Showing the Young Cedar Trees 11
- Front View of the House 18
- Close-up View of the Façade 19
- The Front Door 26
- Rear View of the House 26
- General Jackson Greeting Lafayette 27
- Original Slave Cabin 27
- Uncle Alfred 34
- Sunday Morning at the Hermitage Church 35
- The Hermitage Church 42
- Interior of the Old Hermitage Church 42
- Epitaph on Mrs. Jackson’s Tomb 43
- The Tomb of General and Mrs. Jackson 43
- Earl’s Portrait of General Jackson 50
- The Old Family Carriage 51
- Passage from the Kitchen 58
- The Hermitage Well 58
- Front Gate and Entrance Driveway 59
- The Garden 59
- One of the Garden Walks 66
- View of the Garden from the House 67
- General Jackson’s Desk 82
- General Jackson’s Office 83
- General Jackson’s Bedroom 98
- Entrance Hall 99
- The Stairway 114
- Guest Room 115
- The Back Parlor 130
- The Dining Room 131
- The Front Parlor 146
- Upstairs Hall 147
- Old Kitchen 162
- Original Silverware 163
- General Jackson’s Liquor Chest 176
- Advertisement of Truxton 177
- First Floor Plan 170a
- Second Floor Plan 184a
- Front Elevation, Front end sheet
- Rear Elevation, Back end sheet
The preservation of the Hermitage as one of America’s mostcherished historic shrines is due to the vision and patriotic enthusiasmof the women composing the Ladies’ Hermitage Association,to whom all possible credit should be given for the work theyhave done.
Acknowledgment is made to the association for their permissionto use the photographs of the interior of the Hermitage, towhich they have the exclusive right. Other photographs are usedby permission of Marvin Wiles, photographer, of Nashville, towhom the copyright belongs. The architectural drawings werefurnished by the Library of Congress, Washington, having beenprepared by the Historic American Buildings Survey.
THE HERMITAGE: HOME OF OLD HICKORY
I: THE PRE-HERMITAGE PERIOD
“Put down in your book,” said one of Andrew Jackson’s oldneighbors to James Parton when that eminent biographerwas in Tennessee gathering material for his famous life ofJackson, “that the General was the prince of hospitality; not onlybecause he entertained a great many people but because the poor,belated peddler was as welcome at the Hermitage as the Presidentof the United States and made so much at his ease that hefelt as though he had got home.”
And Parton put it down in his book, and so preserved to posteritythat sincere and revealing tribute, eloquent in its simplicity,from a neighboring farmer. There spoke a man who knew AndrewJackson not merely as the conqueror of the hostile Indians,the Hero of New Orleans or the President of the United States,but as the country gentleman who kept open house, who wasknown and admired by his fellow farmers and who was celebratedfor his hospitality in a country where hospitality was acommon virtue.
If an old house has emotions of its own, as some of the poetswould have us believe, it is easy to think of the Hermitage blushingwith pride at that tribute. There are many stately mansions,there are numerous great homes of famous men; but of how manyof these may it be truthfully said that within its walls the poorestpeddler with his pack found just as warm a welcome as the mostdistinguished visitor?
Fortunately for succeeding generations the Hermitage, thatparagon of hospitality, is preserved just as it was in those earlydays when Old Hickory himself was there to greet the way-worntraveler—peddler or President—and make him feel at home.Serene and stately in its grove of trees, flanked by its formal gardenand surrounded by its broad acres, it stands there a few milesout from Nashville in all its classic and simple beauty. Here isthe home he built for himself and his beloved wife; the same oldhouse to which he returned in 1837 after eight turbulent years inthe White House; the place where he planted his cotton and raced2his horses, where he spent his last years, where he died and wherehe is buried.
The visitor’s first glimpse of the house is down through thesame old winding driveway, shaded with the native cedar treesplanted under Jackson’s personal direction; and its broad façade isseen through the trees, its graceful Corinthian columns gleamingin the sunlight, just as it looked to the old General when he droveup in his lumbering carriage drawn by his famous team of greys.Off to the right is seen the formal flower garden he had laid outfor Mrs. Jackson in 1819; the garden where he laid her to restwhen she died in 1828, and along whose paths he found pleasureand repose during the last year of his life. Inside the houseare found things just as he left them when he died—the hand-paintedwall paper, the massive mahogany furniture, the gleamingsilver, the books in their shelves in the library.
* * * *
As a persisting result of the astonishingly violent politics ofhis day, the image of Andrew Jackson in the public mind todayis often blurred and distorted. In his campaign for the Presidencyhe was the victim of such a torrent of cruel, personal vilificationas never before nor since has blackened the annals ofAmerican politics. In newspapers, broadsides, and public addresseshe was persistently and vigorously denounced as an uncouth,ignorant backwoods ruffian, a tipsy tavern brawler, a militarydespot, an adulterer and an assassin. The voters of theseUnited States were urged to believe that, despite his spectacularachievements as a militia general and Indian fighter, he wasmorally, mentally and temperamentally unfit to sit in the President’schair.
This barrage of malignant partisan propaganda did not succeedin barring Jackson’s way to the White House; but it didhave the effect of indelibly impressing on the minds of manythousands of American citizens of those days the honest convictionthat Andrew Jackson was what we today tersely style a“roughneck;” and that impression has persisted to a surprisingextent through succeeding generations even down to the presenttime.
The log house on the right is one of the group constituting the original Hermitage residence from 1804 until the erection ofthe present building in 1819. The house on the left is the remains of the two-storied house which was the center of the originalgroup.
The first Hermitage on the present site, as it appeared from the time it was built in 1819 until the wings were added in 1831.
But the Hermitage remains as an enduring and impressive challengeto that erroneous characterization of this many-sided andlittle understood statesman. This, it is plain to see, was the homeof no mere backwoodsman or ruffian. A mansion when it wasbuilt more than a hundred years ago, it was obviously the seat ofa man of genteel characteristics, of refined, though simple taste.
It is no uncommon thing today for visitors to the Hermitage toexpress surprise that such a house should have been built by AndrewJackson; but such surprise grows out of a misconception ofthe man’s true nature and characteristics.
The usually accepted picture of Jackson in the public mind islargely the result of our American admiration of the primitive,a love for the so-called manly and rugged qualities which sometimesleads us into overdoing our humanizing of some of our earlyheroes. As a matter of fact, Jackson, though not a college graduate,was by no means a typical example of the popular conceptionof an illiterate frontiersman. He had had formal schooling, hadstudied law and had been admitted to the North Carolina barwhen at the age of twenty-one years he crossed the mountainsand came to the Cumberland settlements in what is now Tennessee.His standard of education was notably higher than the averageof that day and locality. He came to the Cumberland countryas the state’s attorney for the newly created Mero District, andwe may be sure that an uneducated, uncouth man would neverhave been selected by the governor of North Carolina for thisimportant post.
Furthermore, although he was born in comparative poverty—aposthumous child—his widowed mother, soon to die of yellowfever while nursing wounded Revolutionary soldiers, had relativeswith whom to leave him. These relatives were people ofsubstance, ranking sufficiently high to entertain George Washingtonon his visit to South Carolina in 1791, and they gave the4orphan Andrew the benefit of a boyhood spent amid the surroundingsof a prosperous and cultured Southern family.
So, while the youthful Andrew Jackson engaged in cock-fighting,horse-racing and dueling, these were by no means unusualpastimes for the high-spirited youths of that time. He had theinnate qualities of a gentleman; and those qualities find theirtruest manifestation in the home he built for the declining yearsof his wife and himself.
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The Hermitage, though it has gained world-wide fame as AndrewJackson’s home, was not his dwelling place when he firstsettled in the Nashville community in 1788. At that time the dangerof attacks by Indians had not yet entirely disappeared, andresidents of the outlying districts still frequently lived in “stations”—groupsof houses gathered about a central habitation, thusoffering the opportunity for protection against attack. At such astation near Nashville lived the widow of John Donelson, whohad been one of the founders of the original Nashborough, andit was in one of the cabins adjacent to her home that AndrewJackson lived when he settled in the new country. With him livedhis friend, John Overton, later his law partner and his lifelongconfidant and advisor. The two young lawyers hung out theirshingle together, with their office in the cabin where they lived,taking their meals with the widow Donelson.
Living with Mrs. Donelson at this time was her daughterRachel, the estranged bride of a high-spirited and jealous Kentuckiannamed Lewis Robards. The young couple had gone toKentucky to live when they married, but the jealous husbandmade life with him intolerable and Rachel soon returned to hermother’s house, where Jackson found her when he went there tolive. Largely through the pacific efforts of John Overton, an oldfriend of the Robards family, and at the instigation of LewisRobards’s mother whose sympathies were with Rachel in the affair,a reconciliation was patched up and Captain Robards cameto the widow Donelson’s home late in 1788 to live again with his5wife. Soon, however, Robards created a new crisis by chargingJackson with undue attentions to his wife. The fiery young lawyerchallenged Robards to a duel, but the challenge was declinedand in the spring of 1790 Robards returned to Kentucky with theavowed intention of getting a divorce. In the fall of that yearthe news drifted down to Nashville that the divorce had beengranted, and about a year later, in the latter part of 1791, Jacksonmarried Rachel.
The wedding ceremony took place in Natchez, Mississippi,whither she had fled to escape from her husband’s threats. “I’mgoing to haunt you!” Robards told her when he left her; and she,not knowing exactly what that threat implied but well knowingher moody husband’s erratic disposition, feared bodily harm andthought it safest to get as far away from him as