The Other Families of The Hermitage
Archaeology may reveal a glimpse into the lives of Andrew Jackson’s slaves, but it fails to evoke the emotion and personal connection that can be found in a story recounted in writing. Letters, diaries and newspapers seldom existed for the millions of African Americans enslaved in the United States.
Andrew Jackson encouraged the slaves at The Hermitage to form family units, which was common for slave owners to do. 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. This was thought to discourage slaves from attempting escape, as it would be much more difficult for an entire family to safely flee from captivity.
For more than 30 years, The Hermitage has attempted to recover rare personal biographies of the African American men, women and children who also called this place home. Unfortunately, only a few of their stories are known.
List of the Enslaved Community
Andrew Jackson purchased his first enslaved African American in 1788. Over the next 77 years, the Jackson family would own more than 300 men, women and children. The maximum they ever owned at any one time was about 150. View a list of some of the enslaved known to have been owned by the Jackson family, arranged in family groups and listing their occupations.
Andrew Jackson owned about 150 slaves at the time of his death. By reviewing letters, plantation records, census documents and other materials, more than 500 names have been amassed of persons enslaved at The Hermitage or their descendants.
Hannah and Aaron Jackson
Aaron was only six years old when Andrew Jackson purchased him in 1791. Hannah was younger than 12 when she was acquired by Jackson. As was common practice, Aaron and Hannah were most likely named by their original owner and not provided with surnames. They took the surname “Jackson” following emancipation.
Hannah initially served as Rachel Jackson’s “personal companion;” later, she became head of the “house servants.” Aaron trained as a blacksmith, which was an important position on the plantation. The two married around 1820 and raised 10 children, all of whom lived to adulthood. Their names were Byron, Rachel, Charlotte, Moses, Mary, Martha, Abraham, Ned, Margaret Ellen and George Washington.
Entrusted with The Hermitage
Hannah was present at the death of both Rachel and Andrew Jackson. When Andrew Jackson Jr. and his wife Sarah briefly moved to Mississippi in between 1858 and 1860, they entrusted care of The Hermitage to Hannah and Aaron.
Hannah Gaining Freedom
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 before the enslaved community had actually been freed. In Nashville, Hannah worked as a midwife and Aaron as a huckster. Aaron died in 1878, and Hannah followed in 1894.
Owners often crafted the personal names of their slaves to distinguish them from other enslaved individuals with the same name since they were rarely given surnames. Such was the case with Hannah (1770-1846), who was purchased along with her daughter Betty (1793-1870) by Andrew Jackson in 1794. This Hannah became “Old Hannah,” as she was nearly twice the age of the other Hannah.
Old Hannah had two more children, Squire (b. 1799) and George (b. 1800). Originally, she was the Jackson family’s cook, a position her daughter Betty later “inherited.” George was Andrew Jackson’s “personal servant” and eventually became the carriage driver for the family. Squire, who chose the surname “Hayes” when he gained his freedom, was another “personal servant” to Jackson but later ran the cotton press that baled the ginned cotton. He also played the fiddle and provided music for parties.
Squire Hayes and his wife Gincy (b. 1811), a weaver, had at least 14 children (Morgan, Betty, Amanthus, Alexander, Buck, Hannah, Jim, Matilda, Cancer, George/Davy, Smith, Molly, Squire, Tom). They resided in the Hermitage neighborhood after emancipation.
George’s wife, Amanthus, lived on another plantation, but very little is known about their children. When Amanthus’ owner moved to Memphis in the late 1840’s, the Jacksons hired George out to a Donelson relative there so he could be near her.
Betty and Her Son Alfred
Betty had a son, Alfred, who assisted with the horses and maintained the wagons and farm equipment. After his emancipation, he became a tenant farmer on The Hermitage. He also worked as a handyman and tour guide for the Ladies’ Hermitage Association when the house opened as a museum. Alfred lived at The Hermitage longer than any other person, white or black. Upon his death in 1901, his funeral was held in the center hall of the mansion. He is buried in the Hermitage garden, near Jackson’s tomb.
Old Nancy and Her Children
Andrew Jackson purchased several slaves from a Colonel Hebb in the Washington area, during his presidency. One of them, “Old Nancy” (before 1790-1849), had three daughters; Gracy (1810-1887), Louisa (about 1816-1888), and Rachel (about 1816-1868). Her one son was named Peter Ferguson (1820-1885.)
Gracy, the Personal Servant
Gracy became the “personal servant” of Sarah Yorke Jackson, Andrew Jackson Jr.’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 Williams and Her Family
Louisa was the nurse for Andrew Jackson Jr.’s children. She married Smith Williams, a farm worker who cared for livestock. They had three children, Joseph, Ruben and Harriet. Rachel, who already had a child named 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 Jr. The couple had three children together, Billy, Nellie and Johnney.
Untold Stories of The Hermitage
Often not considered important enough to mention in the writings of others, the names of the enslaved families are rarely encountered beyond bills of sale, runaway notices and passing observations. The only evidence of existence they left behind were the footprints of vanished buildings, discarded or lost objects and, most notably, their impact on the land.
For almost 200 years, their histories remained untold other than through the memories of others. Archaeologists began uncovering the mysteries of their lives at The Hermitage in the 1970s. Since then, nearly 800,000 associated artifacts have been discovered, analyzed, catalogued and curated. These objects speak volumes about the enslaved individuals who also called this place home.
Visit the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery to examine the types of artifacts discovered and the stories they tell.
Over the years, many descendants have come to The Hermitage looking for information on their families. If your family ancestors were connected to The Hermitage or one of the Donelson plantations nearby, we would be pleased to hear from you.