When visiting the city of Nashville, TN, consider taking a day trip to a plantation outside of the city. We chose The Hermitage – the home of the seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson. We wanted a look into what plantation life was like in the 19th century, and seeing as we could view one of a former president, we settled on the Hermitage.
Being from the Northeast, my family and I had never been to a plantation, so for us, it made for the perfect day trip, and way to understand southern living from a bygone era. The Hermitage is about 10 miles outside of Nashville in beautiful farm country, and takes about 20 minutes to drive to (from downtown Nashville). We had a car rental, and the drive was easy to navigate. If you do not have a car, however, don’t fret – many people take shuttles, Ubers and taxis as well.
About The Hermitage
The Hermitage was the plantation and home of Andrew Jackson from 1804 until his death in 1845. Jackson was president of the U.S. from 1829 – 1837, and is famous for being the “Peoples’ President”, and for forging the way – and fighting for the rights of – the “common man” against a crooked aristocracy. His life saw great triumphs before his role as president as well, serving as general in the U.S. army and winning numerous battles, including the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and the Battle of New Orleans, which made him a national hero, and ultimately propelling him to presidential status.
Long before he became president, Jackson married his beloved wife Rachel, with whom he purchased the site of the Hermitage. It was Rachel, in fact, that had eyed the land and thought it would make for the ideal home. Initially they lived in cabins on the farm…it wasn’t until 1821 that the first of the Hermitage versions was built, a Federal-style brick mansion. In 1831 it underwent a major renovation, however in 1834 a devastating chimney fire burned much of the house and it had to be rebuilt. By the time it was reconstructed in 1837, it was one of the most talked-about homes in the state of Tennessee. A modern-day Greek temple with Corinthian columns, it was fashionable and trendy for the time.
Today the Hermitage is one of the best-preserved presidential homes, and you can see original home furnishings, wallpaper and family possessions, as well as the beautiful garden and grounds outside of the home. The Jackson family and descendants were the only occupants for years to come, which means many of the home décor and furnishings are original – rare for a home so old as the Hermitage! Both Andrew and Rachel loved and spent time in the garden, and subsequently both were buried in the garden, first Rachel who tragically died in 1828. It is said that Andrew would visit the garden every evening after her death. He, too, was later buried beside her.
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Slavery was very much a part of the Hermitage, starting with a few slaves at its inception, and ending in over 100 by the time Jackson was president. As Jackson acquired new land, so he did slaves, who worked tirelessly to produce the Hermitage’s cash crop, cotton. Andrew Jackson was a complicated man it seems, or just a man of his times – for he fought for the “common man”, yet believed in slavery. This is, I find, a tough part about visiting a plantation – on the one hand it’s fascinating to learn about and look into the life of the people from an era long ago, yet it also comes with knowing and being reminded that slavery was once a thriving thing in our nation. I couldn’t help but have mixed feelings on our visit to the Hermitage.
Currently there are three slave cabins on the property to view – Alfred’s Cabin, and the first Hermitage Kitchen and Farmhouse cabins. Alfred was a slave who was born on the plantation and continued to live on the property even after he became a free man, and lived there until his death in 1901. It is said he was the first docent/tour guide of the Hermitage when it opened to the public, and asked to be buried next to Andrew and Rachel Jackson, which he was. I find this fascinating and have wondered since about the relationship between him and Andrew Jackson. Was it closeness, or just familiarity? In any case, his house, Alfred’s cabin, is located right in the mansion’s backyard.
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Visiting The Hermitage
The Hermitage is open year round (minus certain holidays) and is accessible by general admission, private and group tours. General admission includes the mansion, grounds, exhibit gallery and store. Note that no matter which ticket you purchase, including general admission, you must take a guided tour of the mansion, led by a costumed tour guide.
My family and I were traveling with a big group of extended family, and decided to do a private tour. I’m not always a tour kind of person, but as it turns out this was one of the best decisions of our trip. There is so much history about the life of Andrew Jackson as well as the plantation itself, that we learned on our tour.
Our guide was absolutely fabulous. She was engaging, fun and knew how to grab the attention of the kids, all the while educating us all about Andrew Jackson and his Hermitage. She clearly was very passionate about the Hermitage and her job there, and this passion was contagious. Even the kids enjoyed, god forbid, the private tour! The other key thing was that, with the private tour, we did not have to wait in line for the mansion tour. We did see long lines to get into the mansion – how long the wait was I cannot say, but just as a heads up.
I’m so glad we decided to do a plantation tour during our trip to Nashville and would recommend the Hermitage to anyone – it’s beautiful, educational and an interesting look into southern life from a bygone era.
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