Alfred Jackson, An Enslaved Man ~

Imagine living to be 99-years-old and living your entire life in the same place, never going beyond what you know.  This is the story of Alfred – Alfred Jackson – an enslaved man who spent the better part of his life in servitude to President Andrew Jackson.

Alfred Jackson

Alfred Jackson sitting in his cabin

Alfred, was the son of Betty, Andrew Jackson’s enslaved cook for 50 years.  Betty, inherited the job of cook from her mother, Old Hannah.  Alfred, was born at the Hermitage and he lived on the plantation longer than anyone on record.  He was responsible for maintaining the wagons and farm equipment, and he tended the horses.  He married Gracy and they had two children.  Alfred also served as Andrew Jackson’s personal man servant.

The right side was Alfred's cabin.

The right side was Alfred’s cabin – located just aside the back of the mansion

This was just part of Alfred’s story told to us by the period-dressed docent on our tour of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage plantation.

I think what makes the Hermitage such a fascinating place to visit is that the home was never occupied by anyone outside of the Andrew Jackson family line and because of this something like 90% of the furnishings are original to the home.  It’s a complete rarity to find such a thing!  Think about it.  We’re talking about a mansion that was built in 1821, lived in by generations of the same family, and their possessions are still in the home.

The Hermitage

The Hermitage

Alfred Jackson

But, back to Alfred.  As it was explained to us, after emancipation Alfred stayed on the land and became a tenant farmer, living in the same log cabin he lived in throughout his life as a slave.  After the civil war, the south was destitute, the confederate dollar was worthless and while the last two remaining members of the Jackson descendants were still living in the mansion, the mansion and the farm fell into a state of disrepair.  Alfred, who had been able to save some money as a tenant farmer, purchased a few pieces of furniture from the mansion.

The Hermitage - back entrance

The Hermitage – back entrance

The kitchen and the smokehouse

The kitchen and the smokehouse

Original bells used to call the house slaves

Original bells used to call the house slaves

Original bell used to call the field slaves

Original bell used to call the field slaves

In 1889 the newly chartered Ladies Hermitage Association gained control and ownership over a section of the plantation including the mansion, outbuildings and 25-acres of land.

“It took over 110 years, but in 2003 the LHA finally had control of the entire 1,050-acre Hermitage cotton plantation that Andrew Jackson owned when he died in 1845. Today, the LHA manages 1,120 acres, making The Hermitage one of the largest and most popular historic site museums in America.”   The Hermitage

Alfred, owning several pieces of the original mansion furnishings, was asked if he would sell the pieces to the LHA so they could be returned to the mansion.  He did so, but he had one request and that request was that he be buried near President Jackson and his wife, Rachel.  The LHA held up their end of the bargain and Alfred’s grave is in the garden, just to the side of the Jackson shrine.

President Jackson and Rachel's tomb/shrine.

President Jackson and Rachel’s tomb/shrine

Alfred's grave

Alfred’s grave

Alfred Jackson died at the age of 99.  He was born a slave, was emancipated and became a tenant farmer and he volunteered as the first tour docent at the Hermitage.  I’m adding Alfred to my list of those I wish I could invite to dinner.  Think about the stories he could tell!   I can’t help but wonder, why did he stay after he was freed?  Was he loyal to Jackson or was he simply content to stay in the only place he had ever known?

From what we learned on the tour and from what I’ve read, Andrew Jackson was a man of contradictions.  Like many men of wealth at the time, Jackson built his wealth on the backs of slave labor having owned a large number of slaves.  As the 7th president of the United States he campaigned for the common man, but he owned slaves.  He considered his slaves his black family and from what was explained to us, by the docent, he felt he was good to them because he clothed, fed and housed them, but he was not opposed to having them whipped for insolence.  If they were in his good graces, all was well, but if someone crossed him, there were harsh consequences.  But yet he actually took legal measures (against the overseer) when his overseer killed one of his slaves.  To view a list of slaves owned by Andrew Jackson, click here.

The Hermitage is an amazing historical site; not only the mansion, but the outbuildings as well and the surrounding farm lands.  Located just outside of the thriving city of Nashville, our docent reminded us that in 1821 – when the Hermitage mansion was completed – Nashville was considered living remote; back country.  The wild west if you will, where one had to be self-sufficient and live off of the land.

The log home of Andrew and Rachel Jackson, before the mansion was built.

The restored log home of Andrew and Rachel Jackson, before the mansion was built

Visiting the Hermitage is a fascinating study in history and it paints a realistic picture of daily life in that era.  But it’s a picture of contradictions.  To read more about Andrew Jackson:  Trail of Tears

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40 Responses to Alfred Jackson, An Enslaved Man ~

  • I’m having a hard time thinking that Andrew Jackson was a swell guy because he thought of his slaves as his “black family”. Do we know if the legal action Jackson took against the overseer who killed his slave was for loss of his “property” or the murder of a human being? I have visited the Hermitage. There are some interesting stories there—i.e. Rachel Jackson’s story.
    Suzanne Fluhr recently posted…Singapore Selfie (A Visit to Singapore)My Profile

    • Completely agree, Suzanne. I don’t think we can ever begin to comprehend the mind set of the era that condoned owning another human being. On our Dec/Jan road trip we certainly learned a great deal in different locations. When we visited the slave mart in Charleston, we were dumbfounded to learn freed black men owned slaves. How could that be? Such an accepted practice?

      Here is a link to the case about Jackson suing his overseer, if you’d like to read more. And yes, Rachel had quite the story of her own. Our docent told us that Andrew and Rachel were devoted to each other – another contradiction I can’t fathom – to be so devoted and yet so cruel to others.

    • Not only did he have a black family but easily sold families and broke them up. He was heartless. I can not think of one redeemable thing about him

  • I wish to be a fly on the wall at your dinner party! What an amazing man, no doubt he would have stories: important, mezmerizing stories.
    Tracey recently posted…Open Air Market BarranquillaMy Profile

    • It sounds so ridiculous, but there are times when I feel jipped that I can’t get the behind the scenes story – the truth behind the legends. There is so much from history that we just don’t know, and never will. To be able to have a conversation with someone like Alfred, would just be so enlightening.

  • Very cool tour and history of this amazing person, what a historic house. I would love to visit it some day
    noel recently posted…4th Street in BerkeleyMy Profile

  • So the question I have and wonder if it is explained is – who was his father? Andrew Jackson? After watching the movie, 12 years a slave, I can’t understand how human beings can mistreat anyone or anything and feel justified.
    Neva @ Retire for the Fun of it recently posted…Vizcaya, an American CastleMy Profile

    • No, Jackson wasn’t Alfred’s father. According to the list of slaves Jackson owned, Alfred’s father was a slave named, Ned. He was a carpenter on the plantation. Most slaves did not have last names so they were often given a nickname such as Old Hannah. I read that when Alfred, his wife and two children were emancipated, Alfred took the last name of Jackson, while his wife and children chose another last name.

  • I have not travelled the American south where slavery was king, and so it is quite a foreign concept to me. Thank goodness it was abolished! This does look like an interesting site and I will visit if I make it to Nashville.
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…a visit to the Original Hawaiian Chocolate FactoryMy Profile

  • I am amazed that he lived until the age of 99 given all the hard work and labor he must have endured. I only visited my first plantation earlier this year. The docents we heard also whitewash history a bit but it is fascinating to learn the details of how life was then.

    Loved the way you captured the story too!
    Irene S. Levine recently posted…Bicycle Tourism: Cycling in midlifeMy Profile

    • That’s one of the things we appreciated at the Hermitage. They seemed to be very good about painting the whole picture, the good, the bad and the ugly. Our docent was an elderly woman and she was awesome because she told stories from her grandmother and what the south was like at the turn of the century.

  • I loved reading this story of Alfred! He must have been quite content to stay in the same place for 99 years. I can’t help but think he had a pretty happy and healthy life to live so long. I’m glad to hear a story about slaves being treated well. My opinion of Andrew Jackson just went way up. I don’t think Alfred is that different than some of my high school friends who have never left the small town they grew up in almost 30 years after graduating from high school.
    Michelle recently posted…Dog Sledding in June on the Mendenhall Glacier in AlaskaMy Profile

    • Thank you for sharing your perspective. I can’t imagine Alfred had a happy life because he was born into slavery. If he was “in favor” with Andrew Jackson then he may have been spared some of the atrocities cast upon the slaves at Hermitage. One of the questions asked of school groups who visit the Hermitage is – do you think Jackson was a good slave owner or a bad slave owner? The answer is, he was a bad slave owner because no man who owned another man could be seen as a good man.

      • Of course you are correct looking at it from todays stand point. However the children’s question is legit for the time they lived. Was he bad for todays time of course.

  • I find it incredibly sad he lived for 99 years in the same place –
    He sounds institutionalised – Lived so long being ‘cared’ for he couldn’t see beyond the ‘walls’:(
    I’m not surprised his wife and children wanted no part of Jackson’s name –
    Thank you for telling this tale of American history.
    Linda ~ Journey Jottings recently posted…How to Travel Journal like a Map-MakerMy Profile

    • That’s a good way to look at it, being institutionalized, it’s a good description of it. I can see where it might have been frightening to leave a place where you lived your entire life. Maybe the lessor of two evils kind of choice?

  • Wow, I would love to go on that tour at the Hermitage and visit the site in general, Patti. I was shaking my head from side to side saying “wow…” then came to where you wrote being born into slaving and it REALLY hit home there. This was a fantastic read and you know how much I love history! Thank you 🙂
    Mike recently posted…I’m Phoenix, A Golden Retriever: A Lionheart Against CancerMy Profile

    • Thanks Mike. I love knowing someone else finds history as interesting as I do. I always say that walking in the path of those who came before us is one of my favorite things to do. I have more stories coming up, so stay tuned.

  • Thanks for the virtual tour of this historic plantation. I hope to visit the Hermitage in person some day.
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers recently posted…Travel Articles: Travel Insurance InfoMy Profile

  • I always thought the only Hermitage was in St. Petersburg, Russia so thanks for educating me! I imagine that with little education and probably few opportunities staying put was probably a reasonable choice for Alfred. Have you read Sue Monk Kidd’s newest book The Invention of Wings? It’s about two women – one white and one black – during slavery in the South and is a really compelling and deeply thought-provoking read that I highly recommend. I don’t believe it was possible to be decent and own slaves but many people did at the time.
    Kay Dougherty recently posted…UNESCO World Heritage Site: Prambanan Temple, IndonesiaMy Profile

    • Well, I had no idea there was a Hermitage in Russia! Thank you for the book recommendation, it’s right up my alley for reading and I’ve already ordered it on my Kindle. Looking forward to reading it!

  • Thank you for sharing the other side of history.
    Lisa Richardson recently posted…Father’s Day 2014: Recalling Travels with DadMy Profile

  • What an interesting read and fascinating story! You made Alfred come to life for me and I would love to visit the Hermitage. Thanks for your virtual tour!
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go recently posted…Tamarindo or TamaGRINGO: Tourist Mecca On The Costa Rican RivieraMy Profile

  • Patti, What a story. It is difficult for us to think that Jackson was a great guy, but times have changed and I think you did a great job telling the story.

    • Thanks so much, Corinne! My goal was to approach the Hermitage/Jackson from a different view point for those who have read other blogs about similar experiences. Something about Alfred staying on after emancipation and being buried near Jackson and his wife stuck with me.

  • My family was at Fort Nashborough at its beginning. My 4th Great-grandfather Ebenezer Titus was a signer of the Cumberland Compact in 1780. They were living in the area when Andrew Jackson arrived in 1788 and boarded with the Donelson’s. I have visited the Hermitage two times and absolutely love the place. My 3rd great grandfather, James Titus was President of the Legislative Counsil of the Mississippi Territory. I have a copy of a letter he wrote in 1816 to Major Generall Andrew Jackson asking for his influence of friends in politics to help Mississippi gain statehood. He started the letter…..To an old acquantance. Obviously, as early settlers, he had known Jackson who is a favorite of mine. I look forward to seeing the Hermitage again.

  • I would love for all of you to come to the Hermitage and take our “Beyond the Mansion” tour. We do the tour with a team of horses pulling a wagon that tells the history of the enslaved families that made the life style that General Jackson and Rachel were able to live. Yes it breaks my heart to hear the stories of the enslaved people that lived there, but it also reminds me that this should never happen again!
    We get all of our facts from the Historians at the Hermitage that unearthed over 800,000 artifacts. So please I invite anyone to come see this in person.

  • I agree with the comments about he was institutionalized. To him it was like a prisoner onced released from prison would rather go back because they know other way.
    A good story about Alfred he was the first tour guide 1st the Hermitage. It only cost $0.10. But for $0.10 he would greet you at the front door and take you straight to the back door. If you have him more money he would show you the rest of the mansion!

  • I just visited The Hermitage – and have the brochure in front of me. I can’t figure out the dates that are being mentioned – – Alfred was 99 years old when he died in 1901, which means he was born in 1802. It was stated that he lived his entire life at The Hermitage. However, according to the brochure, the property was purchased by Jackson in 1804. ???

    Also, my husband heard a nationally known political commentator state this morning that Jackson funded the building of his home from profits gained by the sale of Indian lands. ???

    • Alfred was actually 89 when he died in 1901. He was born in the kitchen that was built in 1805. Alfred thought he was born in 1803 but Jackson didn’t purchase the property until 1804. I’ve seen a document that shows Alfreds age when he was a teenager, so he was born around 1812.

  • I’ve always been fascinated with history and had the pleasure of visiting yesterday…You can really feel the broad disparity in how the slaves lived…I agree with the person who made the comment about how Alfred and many other slaves felt institutionalized after being emancipated….I think there’s a vast majority of our current population that doesn’t realize the reiduial effects of Slavery on Blacks and Whites….What happened for those hundreds of years during slavery still effects our mindset now, politically and socially….That’s why I’m an advocate for studying History, not just American but world history as well….I highly recommend visiting The Hermitage, the hosts ( dressed in period wardrobe ) were graceful and knowledgeable as they guided us through a dark part of our history.

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We are Patti and Abi. We retired early to live a simpler life, travel the world and hopefully, inspire others to redefine retirement.


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