A visit to the Hermitage: Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville, TN

The Hermitage is the home of Andrew Jackson, America’s seventh (from 1829 to 1837, he served two terms) President of the United States, and possibly one of our most controversial ones. To put it in a modern context, Trump is a big fan of Andrew Jackson, and a lot of people compare the two Presidents as being similar, and will view that similarity with the same intensity of love and or hate for the man, depending on their political leanings.

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How people viewed President Jackson is part and parcel with the nicknames they gave him. So for instance his names among the whites varied from “Old Hickory” which was given to him by the soldiers who served under him and loved him, to “The Hero of New Orleans,” because of his successes in the Battles for New Orleans  (December 14, 1814 and January 18, 1815) as part of the War of 1812, notably his wins happened AFTER the treaty ending the war had already been signed (December 24, 1814), but apparently that didn’t (and still doesn’t) matter in the minds of his supporters …  to “King Mob,” by his white detractors, because his most avid supporters for position of President were considered the illiterate mob. While the names the Native-Americans gave him included  “Sharp Knife,” given to him by the Muscogee/Creek people, or his even more explicit Cherokee name of “Indian Killer.”

So for instance, during my travels I’ve spoken about the Trail of Tears in numerous posts, and that act of genocide was initiated by the state of Georgia, but could never have happened but for Jackson’s who hearted support …  His supporters (current day hard core republicans) will often point to his high respect for the constitution, and how he said, “The Constitution and the laws are supreme and the Union indissoluble” when speaking against a state’s right to secede from the union, but seem to completely forget that the Cherokee had fought their forced relocation by the state of Georgia all the way to the Supreme Court and won their case, only to have Jackson, who had as part of his campaign promised to support Indian removal (the same way Trump has promised to kick out illegal aliens and build the wall) completely reject the court’s findings, “supposedly” saying (but probably didn’t) “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” and then instructing the US military to forcibly remove the Cherokee anyway.

And yet, Andrew Jackson was a man of the people. In a government that had till then been run almost exclusively by men from America’s “best families,” essentially our upper classes … Jackson was quite the opposite. Without him Lincoln might have never been elected. The illiterate and unwashed populace supported him because he was one of them, hence the title “King Mob.” And even some of our most iconic liberal media TV shows, like The West Wing, are therefore forced to tip their hat to him.

My first visit to the Hermitage was in December of 2010, and there was snow on the ground. To be honest my desire to come here again was so I could blog about it here as part of my visiting sites around America related to our Presidents and First Spouses (in fact I’ll be doing more Lincoln stuff in a few days) and to see if there were any changes to the place. And there had been, although nothing particularly substantive.

When you first enter the property, you are now given a choice between two different sorts of tickets. The major difference being, one includes the older audio device for self guided tours (audio, but no pictures), while the new one includes a sort of smart phone like device, which adds images, a few more narrations with more information (much of it about relationship between Jackson and his slaves), and a 10% discount at the store which I wish they had actually told me about when I paid for the thing, because I bought about $80 worth of costume jewelry while there and that $8 discount would have paid for itself (I only just discovered it now).

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In the photo on the bottom left you can see a staff member demonstrating how to use the older audio device (on the wall behind her were the three sorts of tours information), while on the bottom right is one of the new smart-phone type machines, which is what I was using. Regarding the sorts of information offered, I found two things interesting: firstly, On adult devices do NOT allow you to hear the blue 200 series audio files, intended for kids, so that as a parent you can’t actually know what they’re telling your kids, or NOT telling them… that’s a problem! Also, if you think about it for a second, you get the feeling that the 300 series, the information about Andrew Jackson’s wife was added as an afterthought … as part of the whole, we need to pay as much attention to the first spouses as to the presidents movement.

After getting your headsets, or before, depending on how you time things, there’s short movie that provided a fairly level introduction to who Jackson was, pointing out that he could be mild-mannered and polite, as long as you didn’t get in the way of anything he wanted, in which case he could turn extremely violent, and you were essentially dog meat. (There’s a world for this, its psychopath … no I don’t have an opinion about this, why do you ask?)

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The movie also talks about Jackson’s war with the Central/Federal Bank of the United States, a point of history which if you don’t understand it, you will never appreciate the exquisite irony of Andrew Jackson’s face on the 20 dollar bill.

After the movie there is a small museum area you can either walk straight through on your way to see Hermitage, or you can stop and appreciate, which will teach you more about the man and his importance to American history.

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After the museum you begin to the approach the property, and this is when the audio aides come into use.

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All along the path there are detailed signs you are meant to stop and read that offer other information (not available in the audio segments)

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And then after you’ve walked a short but winding path you begin to approach the building itself, and are offered information about its building and evolution over the years before, during and after Jackson’s presidency.

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Then, you stand in a cordoned off line, and wait for your turn to enter the building. For this they’ve come up with really smart way of breaking the tourists into easily manageable groups. There is a set of benches, and only as many people as can comfortably sit on the benches at once are allowed in at a time, and each group once seated is given a short speech about what they’re about to see, with a question period after it, all of this intended to space the groups out.

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One difference I DID notice between this time and my previous visit in 2010 was back then ALL the various tour guides were dressed in period costumes, while this time they all were wearing modern clothes. (I think this change is a loss)

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Note the difference in cloths of this guy (in the black outfit) in this picture taken in 2010 with the young guy in the picture taken yesterday

Additionally, and this I’m less sure of, last time I’m pretty sure that the same docent stayed with our group along the whole tour, while this time we visitors were moved from one location to the next but the tour guides stayed put.

Both times, while in the house, we were not allowed to take pictures. However, I think this was for two reasons, firstly, picture takers can slow down the efficient movement of people from one location to the next, and secondly, picture takes tend to break the rules in favor of a good shot… crossing boundaries and using flash (which could have a cumulatively destructive effect on the antiques in the house).

But once you’re outside of the shuffled through tour part, there’s not only no one telling you NOT to take pictures, but there also plastic walls in place separating you from any chance to do anything destructive… via the servants section of the house where you can see into the main house … so… here are some.

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This was the informal part of Jackson Parlor. In the Front rooms, which are not directly visible from the servants area is where he met official visitors, this back room was where family would spend their time

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This is the dining room. The flooring which looks like linoleum is actually a waxed cloth (like wall paper for floors) that was popular at the time and even existed in the White House. The stove was a modern Franklin stove which was much more efficient than a fireplace.

The home would house any and all visitors who came that day (as at that time it was a couple of hours ride away from Nashville), offering them a place for the night. Bed rooms were filled on a first come first serve basis, separated by gender, with late comers given bedding on the floor, as was the common courtesy of the day. (There’s actually an amusing story of one time Thomas Jefferson while running for President went to visit the then widowed Martha Washington in Mount Vernon, and she hated him so much while she could not refuse to see him, she did not, as was considered common courtesy, offer him a place for the night… and he was forced to ride all the way back to Alexandria. A MAJOR diss… we know this is true because apparently he ran up quite the liquor bill that night at the inn he ended up in)

After dinner, the dinner table was designed to be easily taken apart, and the dinning room was then available for dancing and other entertainments. Right behind the dining room is of course the servants area, such as the kitchen and store rooms

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Another change I noticed was, while last time I was here, people would press the various buttons (like the one here in front of the kitchen) to listen to the recording describing the area, which was blared over a loud-speaker to the whole group at once, this time NO ONE (other than me) pressed these buttons. In fact I spotted one woman bitching to a guard that I had disturbed her by doing it… to which I’m pretty sure he responded, “Madam, that’s what they’re there for.”

After the house you walk to the fields, work houses and slave quarters that are located in the backyard area

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A view of the house from the back, less fancy than from the front

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One of the interesting things that I learned was that while one of the horrors of slavery you always hear about is families being separated, it was NOT Andrew Jackson’s practice to do this. Whenever possible he kept slave families together even to the point of it not being economically practical (holding on to the very young and the very old), to the extent of he once purchased a seamstress for his time at the white house, and then upon her request her whole family… she had informed him that they were all trained house slaves owned by a man going bankrupt and therefore at risk of being seperated (it was in one of the audio files, from her voice I think she was the same African-American historian who spoke in the movie, who specialized in the slave experience). However, according to the above sign, Jefferson did this less out of the goodness of his heart than as a modern slave management technique, designed to make slaves less likely to want to run away as the larger their families, the less likely they would be able to do it together.

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That said, back when I was studying the institution of slavery at Northwestern University with a professor who specialized in it, one of the things she taught us was one of the best measures of was, and I preface this by saying slavery is a HORRIBLE thing and should never exist, and there are therefore no “good” slave owners… that said, the way to distinguish the relatively ‘good’ owners from the really bad ones was once emancipation came, how many freed slaves chose to stay put and continue working for their former owners, versus opted to grab their freedom and pursue better options. The reality, as politically incorrect as this might sound, was that many former slaves stayed put (or came back after doing a walk about to see what else was out there)… but those owned by BAD owners, the ones who were most notorious for their evil behaviors… those saw their “families” of former slaves abandon them with a will…

That said, while Andrew Jackson had passed away about 20 years before the Civil war, and it was his son who was the owner of all of his former ‘properties’ once emancipation came to the Hermitage, according to the sign above … most of Jackson’s “black family still at the Hermitage chose an uncertain future and fled behind Union lines”

In fact, I wasn’t able to find the sign this time, but I remember that last time I was there I read one that said in fact almost ALL the former slaves but a small handful (I think the number was like three?) had run away from them, telling you pretty much everything you needed to know, at least about how Jackson’s son had treated them.

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