Nashville travels: Facing history at The Hermitage

Please forgive me if I don’t get the story exactly right, as I’m mostly writing from memory and didn’t take notes or a picture of the marker, but there’s a story on a marker at The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s Nashville-area estate, about a conversation between one of Jackson’s slaves and a white man.

In the story, the white man tells the slave that freedom isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, and as Jackson’s slave, he at least had good accommodations and worked for a loving family. The slave’s reply was either to ask (again, working from memory, although I believe I’m getting the gist right) if the man had ever or would ever contemplate being a slave himself.

It was a reply that drew no answer.

The actual tour of the house at The Hermitage centers largely on family life within, and people are left to their own devices on the grounds outside the back entrance.

Before the house is a museum that chronicles Jackson’s life, including substantial information on his heroism at The Battle of New Orleans (it is noted multiple times that he preferred to be addressed as a general instead of as a president, which he obviously also was) and his time as a populist, “man of the people” president.

However, Jackson was only a man of certain people — white ones. Not only did he own slaves, it was his Indian-removal policy to aid westward expansion that ultimately led to the Trail of Tears.

Both are covered to some degree in the museum, slavery more than Indian removal, although Jackson biographer Jon Meacham talks at some length about the latter in a video that plays continuously in the museum. The Hermitage website and educational materials cover slavery and Indian removal in more detail.

Whether it’s Jackson’s manifest flaws being part of The Hermitage experience, acknowledging at Monticello the likelihood of Thomas Jefferson fathering children with his slave Sally Hemings or noting on a tour of the LBJ property that Johnson could be … let’s call it “mercurial,” sites that are naturally devoted to the positive achievements of presidents and other historical figures must have the intellectual honesty to present, if not a warts-and-all presentation, an experience that at least shows that warts existed.

3 thoughts on “Nashville travels: Facing history at The Hermitage

  1. Pingback: Nashville travels: Thanks for the past four days – Bill's Writing Place

  2. Pingback: When I don’t want to read it … I don’t – A Silly Place

  3. Pingback: Nashville travels: Thanks for the past four days – A Silly Place

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s