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 already been purchased and settled so he moved further west to the Harpeth River. He purchased land and developed several successful farms. His son, John Harding married Susannah Shute in 1806. John and his young bride chose to purchase their own farm and acquired from Daniel Dunham, 200 acres of land along the Richland Creek called “Dunham’s old station.” John and his young wife lived in a small log home built near the creek in the 1790s. 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 worked to expand his land and slave holdings through the 1810s and 1820s. He purchased land from neighbors to expand his Richland creek farm, He purchased land in the Pennington bend between the Stones and Cumberland rivers, and he purchased land further west in Mississippi County Arkansas. Harding travelled 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. His 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. Harding sold products and provided several services to customers using this approach to farming.
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 the Carnton Plantation in Franklin owned by her Father, Randall McGavock, A former mayor of Nashville.
Following their marriage at Carnton, William brought his new bride home to Belle Meade. She assumed managing their household slaves and seeing to 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 had never held public office, he definitely 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.
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 Harding died in 1867 and the following year, her eldest daughter married a former Confederate General, William Hicks Jackson. Twelve years her senior, he proposed on his thirty third birthday while visiting Belle Meade and William Harding gave his blessing on one condition that the couple stay at Belle Meade following their marriage. Selene managed their household affairs and Harding continued supervising the operation of the farm. General Jackson did not receive much responsibility with the farming operation until 1883 when Harding suffered a debilitating stroke. Harding died three years later in 1886. He was 78 years old.
General and Selene Jackson had three children of their own, 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 following the deaths of her parents. Lizzie lived at Belle Meade and assisted Selene with the running of their household and she worked as a nanny for the Jackson children who affectionately called her, “Ninnie.”
Following the birth of her first child, Selene began to experience trouble with her breathing. Her physician, Dr. Briggs, diagnosed her with asthma. Her health gradually worsened and in 1892, 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 and 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.
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Tours start every 30-45 minutes with the last tour at 4pm.