Friday, September 5, 2014

Our 17th President – Lincoln’s Successor

We hadn’t gone for a long exploratory drive here in East Tennessee in quite a long time… Even more startling for those who know us, is that we have never really explored much of northeastern Tennessee beyond Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Gatlinburg.  I think that it’s because it takes over an hour to pass through Knoxville and arrive at the Kodak exit 407…Tennessee Highway 66, leading to the aforementioned tourist destinations.  I guess that it’s a mental block…

In any case, I decided that after over 5 years in East Tennessee, enough is enough!  So, on a recent Saturday we got in our car and took off on a 10 hour exploration of a small portion of upper East Tennessee.

Of course, I’d researched the area…looking for attractions and historical landmarks as well as restaurants where we might stop for lunch.  One of the main attractions on my list was the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville Tennessee.  This multi-faceted site is operated by the National Park Service.  I was a little unhappy because I’d forgotten my Golden Age Passport which gives us free entry to the National Park and Recreation system.  As it turns out, no admission is charged at this Historic Site…

Andrew Johnson is relatively unknown today… He was Vice President during Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd term and he succeeded Lincoln as President following Lincoln’s assassination.  Many Americans today might only remember that Johnson was the only President to be impeached by Congress…other than Bill Clinton.

FYI…To learn about Golden Age Passports, now called Senior Passes, you can go to Interagency Senior Passes are available to seniors over 62 years of age.  The cost is $10.00 at any of the National Recreation Areas or $20.00 via US Mail.  They are valid for the pass holder’s lifetime.  Holders of Senior Passes or Golden Age Passports and up to 3 adults in the same non-commercial vehicle are not charged when entering Forest Service, the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, or Bureau of Reclamation properties where Entrance or Standard Amenity Fees are charged.  It’s a heck of a deal!

This is the first of the locations in Greeneville that comprise the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.  This is one of Andrew Johnson’s early homes. (ca. 1830’s – 1851) It’s located at 201 East Depot Street.  The house is open on the first level and basement with information about Andrew Johnson's early life, the purchase of his first slaves, and his beginnings in the world of politics.  Exhibits consist of a family photo album and the time-line of national events as they related to Andrew Johnson's life.

In the early days of our government, it wasn’t uncommon for the President to be from one political party and the Vice President to be from another… In this case, Lincoln was a Republican and his successor, Andrew Johnson was a Democrat.  Although the Constitution actually states that the President and Vice President are to be chosen separately, in practice today they are chosen as a team.  This is because members of the electoral college from the different parties are committed to both candidates with the winning ‘team’ getting the votes.  Lincoln chose Johnson primarily because he was a southern Senator who was loyal to the Union...  

This is the back of the early Johnson home.  The building to the right, (the lighter brick), is part of the National Historic Site’s Visitor Center.  It’s actually across the street from this home. 

While living in this home, Johnson purchased his first slaves.  In 1842, Andrew Johnson was a State Senator.  During this year he bought his first slave.  Dolly was a fourteen year old girl who approached Andrew Johnson and asked him to buy her, because, according to her son William, she "liked his looks." A short time later, Johnson bought Dolly's half-brother Sam as well.  In time, Dolly would give birth to three children, Liz, Florence and William.

Sam and his wife Margaret, had nine children.  When Johnson freed his slaves in 1863, Sam and others stayed on as employees.  They lived in Johnson’s old tailor shop and an older family home.  Johnson allegedly never sold one of his slaves… After the Civil War, Sam was appointed as one of the Commissioners of the Freedmen’s Bureau.  His goal was to raise money for the purchase of a lot where the Bureau could build a School House for the education of the “Coloured children of Greeneville”.  Johnson donated one of his lots for this purpose.  To learn more about Johnson and his relationship with his slaves and household staff, go to

Note: By many accounts, Johnson actually set back many reforms that would have sped up the integration of former slaves into society.  His southern leanings and sympathies caused him focus on helping the former southern white establishment recover…to the detriment of the newly freed population.

This is Andrew Johnson’s former Tailor Shop.  It’s on display inside a portion of the Historic Site’s Visitor Center.

Andrew Johnson was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on December 29, 1808, to Jacob Johnson and Mary ("Polly") McDonough, a laundress.  Jacob Johnson was a poor man, as was his father, William, but became town constable of Raleigh before marrying and starting a family. He died of an apparent heart attack when Andrew was only 3 years old.  Polly Johnson continued as a washerwoman as the sole support of her children.  At the time, her occupation was considered less than respectable as it often took her into others' homes unaccompanied.  The Johnsons were considered white trash, and there were rumors that Andrew, who did not resemble his siblings, was fathered by another man. 

This is an early photo of Andrew Johnson’s Tailor Shop in Greeneville Tennessee.  His mother Polly was unable to support her family so she apprenticed out Andrew and one of his brothers to a tailor in Raleigh.  Andrew was only 9 years old.  In those days, being an apprentice meant that you had to stay and serve in that role until you were 21 years old.  At 14 or 15 years of age, Andrew and his brother ran away from this situation.  The tailor to whom they were apprenticed put a $10 reward out for their capture and return. ($230 in 2013 dollars)

Johnson stuck with his trade…and he definitely prospered.  Once he moved to Greeneville, he established a successful tailoring business in the front of his home. In 1827, at the age of 18, he married 16-year-old Eliza McCardle, the daughter of a local shoemaker.  The Johnsons were married for almost 50 years and had five children.  Although she suffered from consumption, (tuberculosis), Eliza strongly supported her husband.  She taught him mathematics skills and tutored him to improve his writing.  Johnson's tailoring business prospered, enabling him to hire help and giving him the funds to invest profitably in real estate. 

We had some time between our tour of the Visitor Center and the early home and before our scheduled tour of the family homestead.  We opted to drive a few blocks to visit the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.

The 23 acres of land that comprises the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery was bought by Andrew Johnson in 1852.  According to family tradition, Johnson enjoyed coming to this spot for peace and meditation. It afforded superb and unpopulated views of the mountains in the distance.  Because of its height, it was used during the Civil War for signaling, and it became known as "Signal Hill."

It was Andrew Johnson's request that he be buried here.  He was interred here on August 3rd, 1875.  The family plot also includes graves of his wife, sons and other family members.

This National Cemetery is one of the few controlled by the National Park Service to contain soldiers of both World Wars, Spanish-American War, Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Gulf War.  Aside from Andersonville National Cemetery, it is the only National Cemetery controlled by the United States Department of the Interior to accept new burials.  The views from Monument Hill are spectacular…

This is Johnson Family Homestead. It’s located at 209 S. Main Street in Greeneville.  Andrew Johnson owned this home for 24 years, and he lived in it both prior to and after his presidency.

During the Civil War, soldiers occupied the house and left it in disrepair. The Johnsons renovated the home when they returned from Washington. Three generations occupied the home before placing it in the stewardship of the National Park Service. The Homestead is filled with many original family belongings and memorabilia.

Laurie snapped this photo of yours truly waiting for our National Park Ranger to take us on a guided tour of the Johnson homestead.  There were 2 other couples on this tour with us.  The Park Ranger who conducted the tour started ‘working’ at this house when she was only 6 years old… She had played the piano during a Christmas celebration.  She spent so much time hanging around the property that, as she tells it, the Park Service finally gave in and hired her!

This is one end of Andrew Johnson's bedroom.  The interior of the Johnson Homestead was nicely furnished and quite intimate.  The Homestead is maintained to look as it did when Andrew Johnson and his wife lived there from 1869 to 1875.  Johnson had originally purchased the home in 1851. 

During the war years, the house was occupied by Confederate soldiers so most of the original belongings ‘disappeared’ and graffiti covered the walls.  It was also used as hospital.  When the family returned home after Johnson left the presidency in 1869, extensive renovations were required.

This is a view of other end of Andrew Johnson’s bedroom.  Due to his wife’s consumption/tuberculosis, the couple had separate bedrooms.
There are some very interesting facts about Andrew Johnson.  He was the first President of the United States who wasn't a military hero or who hadn't studied law.  Known in his time as the "courageous commoner," this former tailor's apprentice rose to the top from poverty… Johnson held nearly every political office available on his way to the Presidency…without attending a single day of school!  Johnson was a town Alderman, Mayor, member of the Tennessee House of Representative, the Tennessee Senate, the US House of Representatives, the US Senate, and Vice President, subsequently, following Lincoln’s assassination, he became President.  He was also the first and only President to ever be elected to return to Congress (as a Senator) after serving as President.

This is a view of the parlor...with a portrait of Andrew Johnson.  Note: Most of the interior photos were 'borrowed' from the National Park Service's website.  It was very difficult to take quality photos inside the Johnson homestead.

Andrew Johnson, who spoken out and fought against secession in Tennessee, was the only senator from the South to remain loyal to the Union after his state seceded.  He resigned from the Senate in 1862 when Lincoln appointed him as Tennessee’s military governor. Then Lincoln chose Johnson as his running mate in 1864.  When Lincoln was assassinated, Johnson himself escaped death.  John Wilkes Booth’s original plot had also targeted the vice president and U.S. Secretary of State William Seward.  Seward was attacked but survived, while Johnson’s assigned assailant lost his nerve at the last minute and did not go after Johnson.

This is a closeup of the portrait of Andrew Johnson.  I couldn't figure out how to straighten it out... Like most successful politicians (Presidents and many large company CEO's as well), Johnson had a large ego and he could be very obstinate.  He wasn’t big on compromise either…  Today, President Johnson remains a controversial figure.  There has been a debate over the results and impact of his presidency as well as his leadership role ever since he stepped down from office and Ulysses Grant took on the role.

His impeachment was nominally based on his firing of his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton.  Congress didn’t like Johnson and to spite him they’d passed a law stating that the President couldn’t fire members of his cabinet once they were approved by the Senate.  When he fired Stanton anyway, (who was a Lincoln appointee), he already had such bad relations with Congress that they moved to impeach him.   It is important to note that while Andrew Johnson was impeached, in the end, like President Clinton, he wasn’t convicted. (He only missed being convicted by one vote!) 

To explain this situation further, I’d have to write a book and this blog posting is already long enough.  For a brief summary of Andrew Johnson’s life, his successes and his travails, go to or  Suffice it to say, politics after the Civil War was even more divisive and mean spirited than it is currently…

This is Eliza Johnson's bedroom.  Due to her consumption, she slept in this early model recliner to help her breathe.  In those days, recliners were only meant for invalids... 

This is a guest bedroom... Almost all of the furniture is original.  Only the lighting, a few of the chairs, the wallpaper and the drapes have been replaced.

Margaret Johnson Patterson Bartlett, the closest surviving descendant of President Andrew Johnson and a key figure in the establishment of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, died in 1992 just before her 89th birthday. Funeral services were held at the homestead, the last home of her great-grandfather, where she was born, reared and married, and where she lived much of her adult life.  She didn't move out and turn the house over to the Park Service until 1956.  

Mrs. Bartlett provided many of the original artifacts and when she moved out of the house, she left the original furnishings behind.  Margaret served as hostess at the Andrew Johnson Homestead from 1942 until her retirement in 1974.  This was a unique role as a direct descendant of the president actually welcomed visitors into the home where she’d been born and lived in… Even after her retirement, Mrs. Bartlett continued as a retiree volunteer to serve at the Homestead until October 9, 1976.  Our guide told us that she had learned many of the stories and knowledge about the family, the slaves and the house itself directly from Andrew Johnson’s granddaughter.

This was Andrew's Johnson Jr.'s bedroom.  It was set up with a separate entrance on the second floor of the house…so he could come and go as he pleased.

Unfortunately, none of the Andrew and Eliza’s sons produced any heirs.  Charles, a surgeon during the Civil War, fell from his horse in 1863 and died.  Robert died of consumption in 1869, only a short time after the family returned from Washington. The youngest son, Andrew Jr, was the only son who married but he and his wife didn’t have any children.  He died only 4 years after his parents passed away…

This is the kitchen at the Johnson Homestead.  It’s located under the house on one end and all food had to be carried outdoors and up the stairs to the porch, then into the dining room.  Fortunately, the porch is extensive and very wide providing shade in the summer and some shelter from the elements in the winter. 

Eliza, Andrew’s wife, actually outlived him by 4 months.  This was despite the fact that she’d suffered from consumption for many, many years.  All descendants of Andrew and Eliza are from the daughter’s families.  Mary died in 1883 but Martha lived until 1901.  Martha had served as the hostess for her father at the White House due to her mother’s illnesses.  

I could keep writing but it’s time to move on… If you’d like to learn more about the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville Tennessee, you can go to

Just click on any of the photos if you’d like to enlarge them...

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave  


  1. Great post, BDD! Thanks for the history lesson! I knew next to nothing about Johnson and enjoyed reading this.

  2. Very interesting info Dave. You may know this but you were near Davy Crockett's birthplace as well.

  3. I have to say I knew practically nothing about Andrew Johnson. Very informative post and the antebellum architecture is simple and quite pretty and so well preserved too.

  4. Looks like a nice way to spend the afternoon. It certainly is interesting to see how people lived back then. Blessings, Catherine