Slavery was the source of Andrew Jackson’s wealth. Without the forced labor of men, women, and children, The Hermitage would not have been economically viable. Yet, the enslaved did not leave a written record. Their history, where it has been written, has been told through the eyes of others. Using the few pieces of oral history and the hundreds of thousands of artifacts that speak to their daily lives, Hermitage staff has begun to place their history upon this plantation landscape.
The Hermitage was a 1,050 acre self-sufficient plantation that raised cotton as its sole cash crop and relied on the labor of African American men, women, and children. The enslaved performed the hard labor that allowed for the Jackson Family survival and profit on this land. As Andrew Jackson acquired more land, he also bought more human beings to work that land.
When Andrew Jackson bought The Hermitage in 1804, he owned nine enslaved African Americans. By 1829, that number had increased through purchase and reproduction to over 100 African American men, women, and children. At the time of his death in 1845, Jackson owned approximately 150 human beings who lived and worked on this property. .
Enslaved African American men, women, and children were “quartered” in three different locations on the property, likely corresponding to their occupation and status in relation to the Jackson Family. The enslaved African Americans in domestic service for the Jacksons lived in the Mansion Backyard. Those who toiled in the fields lived in the more distant Field Quarter. It is not clear who was quartered at the First Hermitage, but it may have been enslaved African Americans who the Jacksons viewed as having special skills, such as blacksmithing.
The enslaved lived in “family units,” which often included extended kin and persons not related by blood. They lived in groups of five to ten individuals in 20-foot-square cabins with one floor, one door, one window, a fireplace, and a small loft. Archaeological excavations, in and around these cabins have informed us about aspects of their lives where they had some measure of control and choice. Some of these buildings were made of brick and others were made of logs. Three of the log cabins survive on the landscape today as a testament to the harsh conditions endured by the enslaved.
Domestic and wild animal and fish bone suggest that the slaves hunted and fished for themselves to add to the provisions supplied by the Jacksons. Guns, knives, and fishing tools excavated from slave dwellings provide other evidence for these activities. The presence of coins, combined with documents that indicate payment to certain slaves, provide proof that they had money and therefore access to cash markets. They accumulated numerous possessions and probably traded with a local network of slaves from other plantations. Within each cabin we have excavated root cellars which all vary in their size and construction. Their presence in the standardized housing indicates that they were built by the slaves and may have been used to store food, their possessions, and possibly items that they wanted to hide from the Jacksons.
Although the slaves had some material possessions and lived in what would be considered larger than average slave dwellings, they were none-the-less not free. While Jackson cared for his slaves as evidenced by adequate food, housing, and the ability of the slave women to reproduce, slavery was a brutal and cruel system. When Jackson felt offenses were severe, he did permit slaves to be whipped and did post runaway notices.
We can hardly understand what it must have been like to be enslaved. But, through the things that these individuals left behind, we can glimpse how these African Americans survived.
The Other Families of The Hermitage
Historians rely on letters, diaries, newspapers, and other written sources to create biographies of individuals. Unfortunately, these resources seldom existed for the millions of African Americans that were enslaved in the United States. Archaeology provides a glimpse of their lives but fails to evoke the emotion and personal connection provided by one’s own words written on paper.
For almost 30 years, research at The Hermitage has attempted to recover some of the personal biographies of the African American men, women, and children who also called this place home.
Andrew Jackson encouraged the enslaved to form family units. This practice was common among slave owners. Although the enslaved could not be legally married, the coupling of African American men and women in plantation “marriages” allowed for the creation of enslaved families which also discouraged escape as it would have been practically impossible for an entire family to safely flee their captivity.
Hannah and Aaron Jackson
Aaron was only six years old when he was bought by Andrew Jackson in 1791 and Hannah was less than twelve years old when purchased in 1794. As was common custom, Aaron and Hannah were likely named by their original owner and not provided with surnames. They took the surname “Jackson” following emancipation.
Hannah was Rachel Jackson’s “personal companion” and later became head of the “house servants.” Aaron was trained as a blacksmith, an important position on the plantation. Hannah and Aaron married around 1820 and raised ten children who all lived to adulthood. Their names were Byron, Rachel, Charlotte, Moses, Mary, Martha, Abraham, Ned, Margaret Ellen, and George Washington.
Hannah was present at the death of both Rachel and Andrew Jackson. When Andrew Jackson Junior and his wife Sarah briefly moved to Mississippi in between 1858 and 1860, they entrusted care of The Hermitage to Hannah and Aaron.
Despite the seemingly close relationship between Hannah and Aaron, and the Jackson Family, Hannah and her daughter Martha fled The Hermitage to Nashville to gain their freedom during the Civil War even though the slaves had not yet been freed. In Nashville Hannah worked as a midwife and Aaron as a huckster. Aaron died in 1878 and Hannah about 1895.
Old Hannah’s Family
Since the enslaved were rarely given surnames, their personal names were often crafted by their owners to distinguish them from other enslaved individuals with the same name. Such was the case with Hannah (1770-1846), who was purchased with her daughter Betty (1793-1870 by Andrew Jackson in 1794. At the same time, Hannah became “Old Hannah” as she was nearly twice the age of another Hannah purchased around the same time.
Old Hannah had two more children, Squire (b. 1799) and George (b. 1800). Old Hannah was originally the Jacksons’ cook, a position her daughter Betty “inherited.” George was Andrew Jackson’s “personal servant” and later the family carriage driver. Squire, who chose the surname “Hayes” when he gained his freedom, was another “personal servant” to Jackson and later ran the cotton press to bale the ginned cotton. Squire also played the fiddle and provided music for parties.
Betty’s son Alfred assisted with the horses, maintained the wagons and the farm equipment, and after emancipation was a tenant farmer on The Hermitage. He lived at The Hermitage longer than anyone, white or black, and worked as a handyman and tour guide for the Ladies’ Hermitage Association when the house opened as a museum. He died in 1901 and his funeral was held in the center hall of the mansion. Alfred is buried in the Hermitage garden, near Jackson’s tomb.
George’s wife Amanthus lived on another plantation and we know nothing about their children. In the late 1840’s, Amanthus’ owner moved to Memphis and the Jacksons hired George out to a Donelson relative there so he could be near her. Squire Hayes and his wife Gincy (b. 1811), a weaver, had at least fourteen children (Morgan, Betty, Amanthus, Alexander, Buck, Hannah, Jim, Matilda, Cancer, George/Davy, Smith, Molly, Squire, Tom). Squire and Gincy lived in the Hermitage neighborhood after emancipation.
Old Nancy’s Family
While Andrew Jackson was president; he purchased several slaves from a Colonel Hebb in the Washington area. “Old Nancy” (before 1790-1849) had three daughters, Gracy (1810-1887), Louisa (about 1816-1888), and Rachel (about 1816- 1868) and a son, Peter Ferguson (1820-1885.)
Gracy became the “personal servant” of Sarah Yorke Jackson, Andrew Jackson Junior’s wife. She married Betty’s son Alfred and had two children, Sarah and Augustus. Following emancipation, Alfred took the surname Jackson, while Gracy and their children chose the name Bradley.
Louisa was the nurse for Andrew Jackson Junior’s children. She married Smith Williams, a farm worker who cared for livestock. They had three children, Joseph, Ruben, and Harriet. Rachel, who had one child, Nancy, when Jackson bought the family, worked in the mansion and married John Fulton an enslaved African American who worked as butler for both Andrew Jackson Donelson and Andrew Jackson Junior. The couple had three children together, Billy, Nellie, and Johnney.
Andrew Jackson purchased his first enslaved African American in 1794. Over the next 66 years the Jackson Family would own over 300 men, women, and children, with about 150 being the most they ever owned at one time. View the complete list of the enslaved known to have been owned by the Jackson Family. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the file.
Click here to view a complete list of Hermitage slaves.
Andrew Jackson owned about 150 slaves at the time of his death. By reviewing letters, plantation records, census documents, and other materials, we have accumulated over 500 names of persons enslaved at The Hermitage or their descendants. Over the years, many descendants have come to The Hermitage looking for information on their families. If your family has a tradition that your ancestors were enslaved at The Hermitage or in the neighborhood at one of the Donelson plantations, we would be pleased to hear from you.