History from Home – Alfred Jackson
Alfred lived at The Hermitage longer than any other person, white or black. As part of the enslaved community, the 1,000-acre, self-sustaining plantation relied completely on the labor of enslaved African American men, women and children.
Today we share part of his life and story.
We can trace Alfred back to his grandmother, Hannah. She was purchased by Jackson in 1794 as shown in this bill of sale. Hannah had a small child named “Bet” (Betty) who was Alfred’s mother. She also had two other children, Squire and George.
Hannah’s family grew to make up more than 20 enslaved people at The Hermitage. Andrew Jackson encouraged the Hermitage enslaved to form family units, which was common for slave owners to do. This was thought to discourage enslaved people from attempting to escape, as it was much more difficult for an entire family to safely flee from captivity, all to Jackson’s advantage.
Although his birth year is questionable Alfred is thought to have been born in the kitchen of what is known as the First Hermitage by 1812.
Alfred’s mother, Betty, was the Jackson’s enslaved cook for many years. Betty inherited the job of cook from her mother, Hannah. His father was Ned, a carpenter on the property.
Alfred had various jobs on the plantation but mainly assisted with the horses and maintained the wagons and farm equipment. Alfred also may have been a jockey, racing some of Andrew Jackson’s thoroughbreds at local racetracks in his pre-teen years.
In 1848, Andrew Jackson, Jr. hired Roeliff Brinkerhoff to tutor his two sons and his wife’s nephews. As they walked the grounds one evening, Brinkerhoff encountered a gloomy Alfred. Alfred said to him, “You white folks have easy times, don’t you?”
Brinkerhoff countered by pointing out the benefits of Alfred’s situation, such as a kind master and a pleasant home. He even told Alfred, “Freedom had its burdens, as well as slavery.”
At this, Alfred looked at Brinkerhoff and asked, “How would you like to be a slave?”
Brinkerhoff had no answer.
Alfred married Gracy Bradley, Sarah Jackson’s enslaved personal maid, with whom he had two children, Augustus and Sara. He witnessed the growth of The Hermitage into a cotton plantation and its decline before and after the Civil War, and finally its rebirth as a shrine to Jackson.
After the Civil War, Alfred, now free, worked for the Jackson family and rented land as a tenant farmer. He raised food and produced a small amount of cotton and butter for sale. By the 1880s, Alfred had moved into another log dwelling that over time became known as Alfred’s Cabin.
When the Ladies’ Hermitage Association took over The Hermitage in 1889, Alfred worked for them as a caretaker and guide for visitors. Alfred held the key to a lot of the history we know about the Jackson family and the enslaved community—because he lived it.
On September 4, 1901 Alfred died at the Hermitage. Before his death, Alfred traded some Jackson heirloom items he purchased at an estate sale years ago. Alfred traded these items for the ability to live his remaining years in his cabin, have his funeral in the Mansion and to be buried with the Jackson family.
Alfred’s funeral service was held in the entry hall of the Mansion surrounded by his family and members of the Ladies’ Hermitage Association, who respected him for his immense contributions to The Hermitage.
Alfred’s final resting place is in The Hermitage’s garden next to the tomb of Andrew and Rachel Jackson. Although his headstone reads “Faithful Servant of Andrew Jackson,” Alfred was enslaved under a watchful eye most of his life and lived to see his freedom.
We could not tell the Hermitage story without telling Alfred’s story and the story of 300 other individuals who were enslaved because, without them, there would be no story to tell. Preservation, Education and Inspiration are what The Hermitage strives for. It is our duty to future generations to ensure we tell the story of all who lived here.
To hear more of Alfred’s story, as well as many other stories of those once enslaved at The Hermitage, we invite you to experience the new In Their Footsteps: Lives of The Hermitage Enslaved tour, now available daily.