Following the American Revolution, Giles Harding moved his family from their failing farm in Goochland County Virginia to the new western lands beyond the mountains in what would become Tennessee. He made the decision to settle along the Cumberland River, near the settlement of Nashville. Most of the fertile land along the river had been purchased and settled, so he moved further west to the Harpeth River. He purchased land and developed several successful farms.
Belle Meade’s Beginning: John Harding
Giles Harding’s son, John Harding, married Susannah Shute in 1806. John and his young bride chose to purchase their own farm and acquired from Daniel Dunham, 250 acres of land along Richland Creek called “Dunham’s Old Station.” John and his young wife lived in a small log home built near the creek in the 1790’s. They had six children, and John worked to expand the old house for his growing family. Of their six children, only three lived past infancy: Elizabeth, William, and Amanda. John expanded his land and slave holdings through the 1810’s and 1820’s. He purchased land from neighbors to expand his Richland creek farm. In addition, John bought land in the Pennington bend between the Stones and Cumberland rivers, while also purchasing land further west in Mississippi County, Arkansas. John Harding traveled south and purchased slaves at the markets and brought them to work his various land holdings. He operated his Arkansas property as a cotton farm, along with his Pennington Bend property. However, John’s Richland Creek farm was different. It was never used to raise a single cash crop but was instead a multi-faceted business with an operating cotton gin, grist mill, blacksmith shop, and saw mill. John Harding sold products and provided several services to customers using this approach to farming.
A New Era: William Giles Harding
John was an investor in the Nashville Female Academy and enrolled both of his daughters to attend the school. His son, William Giles Harding, was sent to a military academy in Connecticut. Following his graduation from the academy, William returned home and married Mary Selena McNairy in 1829. William took over management of the Pennington bend property and moved his new bride there. Mary Selena gave William five children with only one son, John Harding II, surviving to adulthood. Following the birth of their fifth child, Mary Selena’s health was failing. She died in 1837. William returned home to Belle Meade in 1839 to assume management of his boyhood home. He married again in 1840 to Elizabeth McGavock. Elizabeth was from Carnton Plantation in Franklin, TN owned by her father, Randall McGavock, a former mayor of Nashville.
William & Elizabeth: A Growing Belle Meade
Following their marriage at Carnton, William brought his new bride home to Belle Meade. She assumed management of their household slaves and oversaw the day to day operation of their household. She gave him a daughter in 1841. Unfortunately, the child was born dead. Tragedy in their personal lives continued over the next several years. Of the nine children born to the couple, only two survived childhood. They had two daughters, Selene, born in 1846, and Mary Elizabeth, born in 1850. Despite his personal tragedy, William and Elizabeth were very successful and revered by the Nashville community. In 1860, the Harding’s were listed in the census as one of the largest land holding and slave holding families in Nashville. Though William never held public office, he had strong political opinions. He was an avid supporter of the Confederate cause and in 1861, worked to secure funds to arm and equip Nashville men to take the field for the South. The newspapers in the city reported that he had given $500,000 of his own money to support the cause.
New Management: William Hicks Jackson
Though many southerners lost everything when the Civil war ended, the Harding family held on to the Belle Meade farm, and it flourished following the war. Elizabeth (McGavock) Harding died in 1867. The following year Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, Selene, married a former Confederate General, William Hicks Jackson. Twelve years her senior, he proposed on his thirty- third birthday while visiting Belle Meade. William Harding gave his blessing with one condition: that the couple stay at Belle Meade following their marriage. Selene managed their household affairs and William Harding continued supervising the operation of the farm. General Jackson did not have responsibility of the farming operation until 1883 when William Harding suffered a debilitating stroke. William Harding died three years later in 1886. He was 78 years old.
A New Generation: The Jacksons
General Jackson and Selene Jackson had three children, Eunice, William, and Selene. The Jackson family remained at Belle Meade, following the death of William Harding. They were joined by Selene’s cousin, Lizzie Hoover, who never married and needed a place to live after the deaths of her parents. Lizzie Hoover lived at Belle Meade and assisted Selene in running the household. She also worked as a nanny for the Jackson children who affectionately called her “Ninnie.”
The End of an Era: Leaving Belle Meade
Following the birth of her first child, Selene began experiencing trouble with her breathing. Her physician, Dr. Briggs, diagnosed her with asthma. Selene’s health gradually worsened and in 1892 at age 46, she died of an asthma attack.
General Jackson never remarried and slowly turned the day to day running of Belle Meade over to his children and their spouses. General Jackson died in 1903. Following his death, his children made the decision to sell Belle Meade Farm. The operation had been failing financially for years, and they were drowning in debt.
The Jackson family left Belle Meade in 1906.
The best plantation tours in Nashville, near Hermitage, Franklin, and Charlotte. Enjoy Tennessee’s rich history and discover the preservation of the Belle Meade Plantation today!
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Open Daily 9am-5pm
Tours start every 30-45 minutes with the last tour at 4pm.