ANDREW JACKSON’S RETREAT IN THE INTERVALS OF HIS PUBLIC SERVICE
Andrew Jackson was a pioneer. From North Carolina he crossed the mountains to what was then the Western District. He was a lawyer, but he wanted to be a farmer also. His first land purchase was made in 1791. This land was lost in the effort to pay the debts of another.
The second effort at farming was more successful. This was begun in 1804, when he bought a tract of some twenty-eight thousand acres, six thousand acres of which he retained permanently as the Hermitage plantation. From the beginning he showed that he had a genius for farming. Crops were large, and his wealth grew rapidly, until he became the wealthiest man in all that country. After a few years he became famous as a breeder of race horses. He owned a track of his own not far from the mansion.
For fifteen years Mr. and Mrs. Jackson lived in a log cabin. But they maintained a large establishment. They had their slaves, and they drove in a carriage drawn by four horses. And they entertained royally. Jackson’s biographer, James Parton, tells of a Nashville lady who said that she had often been at the Hermitage ” when there were in each of the four available rooms not a guest merely, but a family, while the young men and solitary travellers who chanced to drop in disposed themselves on the piazza, or any other shelter about the house.”
The log house was still the plantation-house when General Jackson’s neighbors gathered to welcome him home as the victor of New Orleans. In the response he gave to their greeting he made a prophecy :
” Years will continue to develop our inherent qualities, until, from being the youngest and the weakest, we shall become the most powerful nation in the universe.”
General Jackson was popular with all in the neighborhood of the plantation. To his slaves he was a hero. To his wife he was devoted. Parton says that he always treated her as if she was his pride and glory. And words can faintly describe her devotion to him. She also was popular among the servants; her treatment of them was courteous in the extreme. A visitor to the Hermitage told of being present at the hour of evening devotions. Just before these began the wife of the over-seer came into the room. Mrs. Jackson rose and made room for her on the sofa. One of the guests expressed her surprise to a lady sitting next her. ” That is the way here,” the lady whispered, ” and if she had not done it, the General would.”
Peter Cartwright, the famous pioneer preacher, told in his Autobiography an incident that revealed the General’s nature. Cartwright was preaching, when the pastor of a church, who was with him in the pulpit, leaned forward and whispered, ” General Jackson has just come in.” The outspoken preacher replied, so that every one could hear : ” What is that if General Jack-son has come in? In the eyes of God he is no bigger than any other man ! ” After the service Jackson told Mr. Cartwright of his hearty approval of the sentiment.
That there might be more room for entertaining passing strangers like Mr. Cartwright, as well as hosts of friends, Jackson began to build The Hermitage in 1819, of brick made on the plantation. When this house was burned in 1836, a new house was built on the old foundation, and with the same general plan. The building has the rather unusual length of 104 feet. Six pillars support the roof in front and in rear.
Between the building of the first house and its successor came most of Jackson’s political career. During this period also was the visit of General Lafayette. On this occasion the Frenchman, recognizing the pair of pistols which he had given to Washington in 1778, said that he had a real satisfaction in finding them in the hands of one so worthy of possessing them. ” Yes, I believe myself to be worthy of them,” Jackson began his reply, in words that seemed far less modest than the conclusion proved them ; for he added : ” if not for what I have done, at least for what I wished to do, for my country.”
The Hermitage never seemed the same place to Jack-son after the death of his wife, on December 22, 1828, only a few days after his first election to the presidency.
Two years after his final return from Washington, after attending service at the little Presbyterian church on the estate, he begged the pastor, Dr. Edgar, to return home with him. The pastor was unable to accept, but promised to be on hand early in the morning. All night the General read and prayed. Next morning, when Dr. Edgar came, he asked to be admitted to the Church.
Parton says that from this time to the end of his life ” General Jackson spent most of his leisure hours in reading the Bible, Biblical commentaries, and the hymn-book, which last he always pronounced in the old-fashioned way, hime-book. The work known as ‘ Scott’s Bible’ was his chief delight; he read it through twice before he died. Nightly he read prayers in the presence of his family and household servants.”
Soon after he united with the Church, the congregation wished to choose him to the office of elder. ” No,” he said, ” I am too young in the Church for such an office. My countrymen have given me high honors, but I should esteem the office of ruling elder in the Church of Christ a far higher honor than any I have ever received.”
For six years he continued to be an unofficial member of the church. Then, on June 8, 1845, he said to those who had gathered about his death-bed : ” I am my God’s. I belong to Him. I go but a short time before you, and I want to meet you all, white and black, in heaven.”
Less than two months before his death, when the President and Directors of the National Institute proposed that an imported sarcophagus in their possession be set apart for his last resting-place, he declined, be-cause he wished to lie by the side of his wife, in the garden of The Hermitage.
Until 1888 Andrew Jackson, Jr., and after his death, his widow occupied the house, during the last thirty-two years of this period as caretakers for the State, which had bought the property for $48,000. Since 1889 the mansion and twenty-five acres of ground have been cared for by the Ladies’ Hermitage Association.