Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reviewing The Slave Quarters Only

Site Review of Slave Quarters
At "The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson"

"Uncle" Alfred's Cabin

For Historic Preservation Class at University of Nebraska - Kearney; Masters of History Program

Taylor Speer-Sims
Museum Review – Due June 23, 2013
The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson, Slave Quarters

            This review of the home of President Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage only focuses on the slave quarters. The reason behind this choice is that this author in a previous class reviewed the mansion with the same professor. Another reason is that “The Hermitage is much more than the mansion.”[1] This presented the perfect opportunity to see the homes of the slaves that lived here. Just as the mission statement says, this is definitely an historical place that has relevance that includes more than just the big house.
            As the visitor enters through the visitor’s center, they watch a movie on Jackson. This documentary is informative, yet short. There is not very much information on the slave life there with the exception that there were very little in the beginning, growing to over a thousand at the time of Andrew Jackson Junior’s death. Once leaving the movie, visitors are encouraged to use headsets where at each location, they will be told information via an automated recording. Once the visitor enters the hall of the visitor’s center, which takes them to the path to the mansion, they encounter a few banners with slave names and information on them. This is limited, but still vital. Visitors also have the chance to purchase horse-drawn buggy ride/tours or walk the grounds. The limitations for disabled persons are shown in that there should be more benches through the grounds. They are also all outside with natural light. So, during extreme weather, or dim days, they are not easy to see.
            Walking to the big house from the visitor’s center is a good distance, then walking out the back of the door, the bells that called the house slaves can be seen on the wall. The house slave cabin remains are off to the left, just on the other side of the kitchen. This building is a tri-plex that included three 20’ x 20’ apartments. Only the outline is there currently from an archaeological dig. There is a large billboard for those that did not rent the headset, but also there is the verbal information for those that did. There is also some basic information on of the slaves, along with some basic information on slave life there at The Hermitage.
            Walking from the mansion toward the back of the farm, visitors see the first full slave cabin on the right. This duplex shows how small these rooms really were because the visitor can peer into the home of Uncle Alfred, who lived in one side. Here, the door size can be felt. Did Alfred have to stoop to go within? It is unknown because his height is not available to visitors. The furnishings are rather nice, but the information states that Alfred purchased these items from the Jackson’s after they sold the home to the Ladies Hermitage Association. So, the visitors are warned that this was not how the slaves actually lived while they were slaves.
            There are several stops and buildings before the next set of slave cabins. There are two log cabins here. One is the original Hermitage, which had been cut down to allow slaves to live within. This cabin has one hearth room that of course included a very large fireplace. This home has two other rooms that the visitor presumes to have been bedrooms. These other rooms are partitioned off so that the visitor can only look within. There is a ladder in the right bedroom to the attic for additional sleeping areas, but it is very difficult to see unless you crane your neck to look in. Inside the hearth room, there is a clear case that includes artifacts found around the home. There is also many large boards within that show Jackson’ history while he lived in the cabin. Outside is where the visitor reads and/or hears the information that the original house had been cut down, and the furnishings and wallpaper removed for the slaves.
            There is another duplex immediately next door that visitors understand had been completed solely for the purpose of slaves. This building is 20’ x 40’, and includes two apartments that are 20’ x 20’. There is an upstairs to both of these apartments also accessed by the built in ladder. How is this known? These ladders are very difficult to see, but are included on the boards outside. Across the buggy track is an outline of another duplex from an excavation. There are two other remains that appear to have been the chimney bases, which would possibly have been another duplex during the heyday of the farm. However, there is no information on these formations.
            The location of these particular slave quarters indicates that they were not as high in status as the house slaves, yet not as low as the field slaves.  These are half way between the mansion and the field slave quarters, just closer to the big house than the overseer’s cabin. Therefore, this author deduces that the people that lived there were probably trade workers, such as the millers, tanners, and cotton gin workers. However, there is nothing from the museum that indicates this to be so. In fact, there is no indication of the status of these individuals whatever. This information should be included for the visitor that should be affirming, disqualifying, or saying that their status is unknown.
            Then a full third of a mile down the buggy trail, there are three outlines of field slave duplexes, with information saying that another is underneath a copse. Here, there are some really great billboards with slavery information including the fact that there were ten to twelve individuals that lived in each side. Does the visitor have to walk all the way out here to get this information? The answer is yes and no. Yes, because to see these billboards, you have to walk there. No, because the visitor could have taken the buggy ride and heard some of this information from the driver, but not all.
            Also, there is an exhibit in the back of the Visitor’s Center where much is given. However, It is in an area where the visitor is not directed, and many do not enter because they are excited to get to the mansion. Then, when they exit the farm, they usually go the gift shop, leaving much of the slave story un-noticed. This is the only place that has lighting, air- conditioning and heat for inclement weather. This is truly sad that people are not herded here because many of the slave artifacts are within this room. In fact one that this author found very interesting is an Islamic medallion.  A notice from the staff reads that they found it odd that this type of item should have been a belonging of a slave in Tennessee. However, this does really not appear odd when one remembers that most of Africa was Islamic at the time, including all of northern, central and western Africa. Wasn’t this where the slave triangle began? Yes, it really was. It could easily have been handed down from ancestors, or given as gifts. This is really not that shocking. It is, however, wonderfully amazing that it was found after all of this time!
            Limitations include natural lighting for the slave’s homes. They are also difficult to get to in extreme weather, and for those with disabilities. Also, slave information should have more discussion in the movie. There should be arrows indicating the exhibit in the back of the visitor’s center that includes the slave artifacts. Perhaps, workshops could be done with this topic in mind? There are, in fact, very few negatives to this great place for any visitor interested in slavery.
            The strength of the slave exhibits at The Hermitage is that they are authentic. They have either been restored, or the outlines of the homes are easily located. The feeling of the farm is intact because it is still a working farm, even including cows and horses. The horse cart rides are great for an historic farm feel also. Many of the artifacts are on display and include information to anyone willing to learn. There are the billboards as well as the earphones. Many of the actual artifacts are included throughout the plantation. The theme is obvious as well as the mission statement. While the majority of the visitors are those that want to visit the Jackson Mansion, a lot of these same people find an interest in the slaves as well. This is not because of direct slavery promotion, but because of the promotion of the way of life there. The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson’s slave homes happens to be a very successful exhibit.

“Membership” The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson. N.d. (accessed March 31, 2013). Quoted in Taylor Speer-Sims, “Site Review Number Two: The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson, Visited on March 28, 2013.” Paper for class. Kearney: University of Nebraska, 2013.

[1] The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson. N.d. (accessed March 31, 2013). Quoted in Taylor Speer-Sims, “Site Review Number Two: The Hermitage: Home of President Andrew Jackson, Visited on March 28, 2013.” Paper for class (Kearney: University of Nebraska, 2013), 1.

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