Many visitors arrive at Andrew Jackson’s home with their opinions already fixed, sometimes using words like “crazy” and “violent.” At first, I visited The Hermitage solely to enjoy the history. But I left with a clearer image of the man, whom I felt wasn’t as easy to label as I’d first thought.
Visitors are greeted by larger-than-life portraits of the general looming next to compassionate quotes from his military experiences. Guests progress through the visitors’ center detailing his pre-presidential life from lower economic class to legend, ultimately arriving into Jackson’s controversial rise to his time as the seventh U.S. president, the Born for a Storm exhibit.
Created in honor of the Battle of New Orleans’ 200-year anniversary, this exhibit is meant to explain the context of Jackson’s actions. The museum holds nothing back, detailing every Native American encounter and describing the struggles of the government that he inherited on his inauguration.
As an exhibition dedicated to the controversial “People’s President,” Born for a Storm invites guests to provide opinions on Jackson at the end of the exhibit. Since Jackson was known as the president who gave a voice to the people, the museum gave sticky notes, pens and a blank wall to guests willing to share their voice regarding Jackson. Most of the post-exhibit opinions that lined the wall reflected not a tyrant, but a man who pioneered Americans into a more democratic nation.
After my group meandered through exhibits, it was time to explore the lush grounds and mansion. I followed other visitors toward the sound of applause to find vintage baseball, complete with lace-up jerseys and breeches, held in the mansion’s garden. Players joked, thumped teammates on the back, and tossed nicknames to each other such as “The Mitt” and “Small Fry.” The throwback version of the game – bare-handed, elegant and raw – set the mood for the home of a rough-and-tough general.
Up next was the best part of the visit, the wagon tour across the property. The driver was an excellent storyteller who painted vivid images of the land’s heyday and the slaves’ lives, both public and secret. Plus, there’s a certain magic in traveling by horse at The Hermitage, something that adds volume to the echoes of the early 19th century.
During my time at The Hermitage, it became obvious that Jackson, with all his strengths and flaws, was not going to be concealed. The guides did not run from the controversial aspects of his character: slavery, Native Americans, bank wars, his temper. In fact, they seemed truly disappointed when our group didn’t ask tougher questions.
But the guides recounted tales of Jackson’s compassion for his former soldiers to his feelings toward his adopted children, including Lyncoya, his adopted Native American son. Paired with the Born for a Storm exhibit, these tales fleshed out his character as slave owner and guardian that gave a fuller picture of the man.
Rachel Novak is an MP&F 2016 winter intern. She is a senior at Belmont University, where she is majoring in public relations. Although The Hermitage is a client of MP&F, Rachel does not work with The Hermitage marketing team.