Hermitage Field Quarter
Enslaved African American men, women and children were “quartered” in three different locations at The Hermitage, likely corresponding to their occupation and status.
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 unclear who was quartered at the First Hermitage, but it may have been enslaved African Americans whom 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. Groups of five to ten individuals would inhabit a single cabin that was 400 square feet in size with one floor, one door, one window, a fireplace and a small loft.
These buildings were made of either brick or logs. Three of the log cabins survive on the land today and are a testament to the harsh conditions endured by the enslaved.
Discoveries from the Field Quarter
Domestic and wild animal bone remains suggest the slaves hunted and fished for themselves to add to the provisions supplied by the Jacksons. Guns, knives, and fishing tools exhumed from the slave dwellings provide additional evidence of these activities.
The presence of coins, combined with documents that indicate payment to certain slaves, provides proof the slaves had money and access to cash markets. They accumulated numerous possessions and probably traded with a local network of other slaves from nearby plantations. Within each cabin root cellars have been unearthed which all vary in their size and construction. Their presence in the normally standardized housing indicates they were built by the slaves and may have been used to store food, belongings and possibly items they wanted to keep hidden from the Jacksons.
Although the slaves at The Hermitage had some material goods and lived in what would be considered larger than average slave dwellings, they were still not free. While Jackson cared for his slaves, as evidenced by adequate food, housing and the ability of the slave men and women to reproduce, slavery was a brutal and cruel system. When Jackson felt offenses were severe, he permitted 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 objects these individuals left behind, we can get a glimpse into how they lived and survived.Read more on slavery