Tennessee: The Hermitage

This is the completely restored plantation home of Andrew Jackson, a legendary general and the seventh president of the United States.

Site Office

The Hermitage

4580 Rachel’s Lane

Hermitage, TN 37076

ph.: (615) 889-2941

Web site: www.thehermitage.com

e-mail: information@thehermitage.com

The Hermitage historical site consists of the mansion and related buildings that Andrew Jackson built as his home beginning in 1819. It was a working plantation served by over one hundred slaves, whose quarters have been the subject of archaeological excavation. Since the time of Jackson’s grandson, the site has been preserved, maintained, and shown by a private foundation as it was in the 1840’s.

Jackson Settles in Tennessee

Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767, in the Carolinas, and lived through a brutal occupation by British forces in 1780 and 1781. He studied law in North Carolina, and was admitted to that state’s bar in 1787. In 1788 he was sent as a political appointee to serve as prosecuting attorney in the Cumberland region of the western district of North Carolina, which became the state of Tennessee. In Nashville he boarded with Colonel John Donelson, whose widowed daughter, Rachel Robards, married Jackson. Jackson carried on a thriving private practice as well as his public duties, but gave up the law when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee in 1796. He resigned in 1797 but was elected to the U.S. Senate by Tennessee’s legislature in 1797, only to resign in 1798. He was then appointed to the bench of the superior (supreme) court of Tennessee, a position from which he resigned in 1804, and to the post of major general in the Tennessee militia in 1802.

In March, 1796, Jackson purchased 640 acres at Hunter’s Hill east of Nashville, for $700. Entering strictly private life in 1804, he sold this property and house, and for $3,400 purchased 425 acres about two miles away: the heart of what would be The Hermitage. He also engaged in several business ventures, including a distillery, a cotton gin, and several mercantile stores in the area. By 1812 he had 640 acres, and by his death in 1845 about 1,000.

Building on the Site

The original house that Jackson built for himself and his beloved Rachel was a two-story log house, with one large room on the ground floor and two upstairs. Somewhat later he added a second, smaller building, attached to the first by a covered passageway. This was the home of the hero of the Creek Indian War (1813-1814) and the Battle of New Orleans (January 8, 1815), to which Jackson returned after being named Commander of the Southern Military District of the United States. Leaving his military duties to lieutenants, he concentrated on the plantation, and constructed a new house from 1819 to 1821, a place he considered a refuge (“hermitage”) from public duty. Local architect Henry Reiff designed and oversaw the construction of the Federal-style brick edifice. The extant kitchen and the smokehouse buildings also date to 1819. The original log buildings were relegated to slave quarters. Bowing to Rachel’s piety, Jackson also built a church on the property in 1823, a fine brick structure that still stands.

In 1828 Jackson won the rollicking presidential election, and prepared to move to Washington, D.C. In December, however, Rachel died, casting a pall over Jackson’s life from which he never fully recovered. During his stay in Washington, D.C., The Hermitage was overseen by Andrew, Jr., whom Andrew and Rachel, being childless, had adopted shortly after his birth in December, 1809. Young Jackson received a good deal of advice and guidance from the president, which he apparently ignored. The plantation and other businesses declined as he made poor loans and was generally taken advantage of by the local gentry. In 1834 the mansion burned down, and was rebuilt by Reiff and partner Hume in a grander style, beginning almost immediately on the foundations of the previous structure. It was ready for occupation when Jackson, in a very poor state of health, returned from Washington, D.C., in March, 1837. This is the main structure on the site today. Cedars were planted that summer along the drive up to the house by Ralph E. W. Earl, the “artist-in-residence” at The Hermitage. He died from the exertion and is buried nearby. Many of these cedar trees, and hickory trees that were sent as nuts to “Old Hickory” by an admirer in Ulster, New York, in 1830, were destroyed in a tornado that struck the Nashville area in the spring of 1998.

The Working Plantation

At the apex of its productive life The Hermitage produced corn, wheat, oats, squash, and sweet potatoes, and its major cash crop–cotton. Jackson had as many as 130 acres in cotton, and his was one of the first gins in the region. Jackson also bred cattle, mules, sheep, hogs, and especially horses, some of which he raced in distant competitions. At one point he paid $1,500 for Truxton, a champion Virginian stallion. The farm work was performed by slaves, which Jackson began to acquire in the 1790’s. Records show that he and Rachel had ten slaves in 1794, fifteen in 1798, and forty-four after the main house was constructed in 1819–twenty-seven men and seventeen women and girls. During his presidency, 95 slaves worked the place, and in his later years nearly 140 did. His will lists 110 slaves working The Hermitage’s 1,000 acres in 1845 and an additional 51 on his Mississippi plantation of 2,700 acres. In the 1990’s archaeologists excavated several slave cabins, and began to reconstruct an image of slave life on the site. Families lived in quarters that were twenty by twenty feet square, with fireplaces and attic lofts for sleeping. They were constructed of either log or brick, but only those of log remain standing today. Accounts of slaves on The Hermitage life are rare, but it appears that Jackson was fair by the standards of the day, though he could be harsh if crossed.

The Hermitage After Old Hickory

Jackson left the plantation to Andrew, Jr., in a will that was executed on August 4, 1845. Both he and Rachel are buried on the grounds. In 1856, the state of Tennessee bought the buildings and five hundred acres from Andrew, Jr., for forty-eight thousand dollars and allowed the Jacksons to reside on the property as its custodians. The state offered the site to the federal government as a branch of West Point Military Academy, but the Civil War intervened, and this idea withered. The second-generation Jacksons remained on the property during the war, and it was protected from any destruction by a small army detail. Andrew, Jr., died in 1865, and his widow Sarah remained a tenant until her death in 1888. Their son Andrew Jackson III served as an artillery colonel in the Confederate army, and, as the only surviving member of the family, inherited Sarah’s furniture, mementoes, and other heirlooms from the time of Andrew and Rachel. In February, 1889, the state chartered the Ladies’ Hermitage Association, which purchased 25 acres and the main structures of The Hermitage two months later. In 1923 the state conveyed an additional 232 acres to the association so that they might “display the respect, love, and affection which a grateful State and people cherish for their illustrious hero and statesman, Andrew Jackson.” The remainder of the 500-acre tract in state hands was conveyed to the association in 1935. An additional 125 acres was acquired by the association as a buffer against urban encroachment.

The furnishings–largely in the classical style and purchased in Philadelphia–and relics left to Andrew III were offered to the Ladies’ Hermitage Association, but they could not raise the necessary funds. Andrew III then took the collection to Cincinnati and tried to charge admission to view them, but this proved a failure, and he returned them to Tennessee. The association was able to purchase these items, and those in the possession of others, as they could. The Hermitage remains the only nineteenth century historical site of its kind with the original owner’s furnishings throughout. Theodore Roosevelt visited The Hermitage in 1907 and arranged for a five thousand-dollar grant to aid preservation, and state funds have supported the site since the early twentieth century. In 1961 the National Park Service designated The Hermitage a Registered National Historic Landmark.

The Mansion and Other Structures on the Site

The centerpiece of the site is the mansion built in Greek revival style between 1834 and 1836. Six two-story Greek columns screen the front of the structure and create a double porch. The fourteen rooms center on the grand entrance hall and the curved staircase at the far end from the front door. This space boasts French wallpaper depicting scenes from the life of Telemachus, son of Odysseus, and is original to the room. Six other rooms retain their original wallpaper, and pains have been taken to ensure authenticity in recreating decoration where replacement has proved necessary. Double parlors served the men and the women guests as they retired from the amply supplied and jovial dinner table. The president took a front bedroom that had a side exit to the portico and a connection directly to his study and library, which housed some six hundred books. Andrew, Jr., and the president’s wife occupied back quarters, with a parlor and nursery. The upstairs consisted of four rooms generally reserved for guests, in one of which lived the portrait painter (and tree planter) Ralph Earl, widower of one of Rachel’s nieces.

A number of other period buildings occupy The Hermitage site. Apart from the main collection are the 1823 church and nearby Tulip Grove mansion, which was purchased in 1964 and serves as a museum for the Ladies’ Hermitage Association. With Rachel’s death, Jackson needed someone to serve as hostess in the White House, and his niece Emily Donelson filled the position. When she and her husband Andrew Jackson Donelson returned to Tennessee, Jackson helped pay for construction of the Greek revival mansion of three stories, another Reiff and Hume structure. The couple lived there only during 1836, as she was struck down by tuberculosis in December at the age of twenty-nine. The cabin in which Jackson’s personal attendant, Uncle Alfred, lived has been refurnished appropriately, and the carriage house contains the remains of the Jackson phaeton, which was constructed from timbers of the USS Constitution and presented to him by the people of Philadelphia. The smokehouse, farm shop, 1804 stone spring house, gardens, and Jackson tombs round out the attractions of the site.

For Further Information

  • Arnold, James E. Hermitage: Home of Andrew Jackson. Hermitage, Tenn.: Ladies’ Hermitage Association, 1967. Locally produced guide to the site.
  • Booth, Edward Townsend. Country Life in America as Lived by Ten Presidents of the United States. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1947. Contains a discussion of life at The Hermitage according to Jackson’s accounts and letters.
  • Coke, Fletch, and John T. Hooper. The Hermitage Landscape: Before and After the 1998 Tornado. Nashville: Hillsboro Press, 1999. Well-illustrated descriptions of the grounds and the destruction in the 1998 storm.
  • Dorris, Mary C. Preservation of The Hermitage, 1889-1915. Nashville: Smith and Lamar, 1915. Dorris was one of the early members of the Ladies’ Association, and her account is firsthand.
  • Horn, Stanley F. The Hermitage: Home of Old Hickory. New York: Greenberg, 1950. A lengthy narrative and description of the site, Jackson’s activities there, and its subsequent history.
  • Remini, Robert V. The Life of Andrew Jackson. New York: Penguin Books, 1990. The shorter version of the standard biography of Jackson.