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On April 17, 2012
While sitting at my desk pouring over old Harding-Jackson family letters, I sometimes feel like an uninvited voyeur. These documents, written over a century ago, were only meant for cetain eyes and here I am reading over them as relics of the past.
While reading the lines of each letter, I am transported back into the past and details become clearer and clearer. I have learned a great deal about family drama, farming, child rearing, love, and romance. History paints General William Hicks Jackson, master of Belle Meade, as a fierce soldier and avid sportsman. However, the letters I have read paint a very different picture of the character of the old General.
In 1868, the General married Selene Harding, granddaughter of the founder of Belle Meade farm. The General was head over heels in love with Selene and he remained dedicated to her until his death in 1903. Upon the birth of their first child, Selene began complaining of shortness of breath that was eventually diagnosed as asthma. her health steadily declined over the next few years. In 1879, The General rented a house in Colorado Springs and sent Selene out west to stay and take therapy at a spa that was said to help those suffering from breathing conditions.
Selene’s stay in Colorado was the first time the couple spent months apart since their marriage. The heartsick General wrote his wife often and in these very private letters, a softer and gentler General emerges. A doting husband and loving father appears to crack thorough the General’s rough exterior.
On Selene’s 34th birthday in 1880, the General sent his wife a loving letter…
“This bright, beautiful April morn at your old home is typical of your lovely character and on this, the anniversary of your natal day, I write to give expression to the unfeigned pleasure I have that you were born into the world just 34 years ago, that you were born again and received into the church 10 years ago, that there have been born unto us three such lovely children, Our joint pledge of true affection, our pride and hope will be the comfort of both of us as we advance in life. … My heart goes out to you more especially this day because of your birthday and because for my sake and your loved children, you have resolved to submit this day to a painful operation and may God strengthen and keep you in this hour of your trial. be assured, my loved one, that tho I can’t be with you to soothe, caress, and if possible, lighten the pain, yet the heart of your devoted husband beats responsive to every pang of pain and every feeling of depression that you may have… Kiss my dear sweet daughter Eunice and Lena for me. My kind regards to your good Doctor and remember me kindly to Joanna and tell her I say to take good care of you and the blessings of Heaven and the heart’s warmest affection of your husband attend to you. W H J.”