President Andrew Jackson Helps Coordinate the Purchase of Slaves for His Family

He uses the Presidential free franking signature on a letter from his aide and nephew, AJ Donelson, who comments on the skyrocketing price of slaves

When Andrew Jackson bought The Hermitage in 1804, he owned nine enslaved African Americans. Just 25 years later that number had swelled to over 100 through purchase and reproduction. At the time of his death in 1845, Jackson owned approximately 150 people who lived and worked on the property.

When his mother...

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President Andrew Jackson Helps Coordinate the Purchase of Slaves for His Family

He uses the Presidential free franking signature on a letter from his aide and nephew, AJ Donelson, who comments on the skyrocketing price of slaves

When Andrew Jackson bought The Hermitage in 1804, he owned nine enslaved African Americans. Just 25 years later that number had swelled to over 100 through purchase and reproduction. At the time of his death in 1845, Jackson owned approximately 150 people who lived and worked on the property.

When his mother remarried, Andrew Jackson Donelson moved to The Hermitage, the home of his aunt, Rachel Donelson Jackson, and her husband, Donelson’s namesake, future President of the United States Andrew Jackson. Donelson assisted his uncle during the 1824 and 1828 presidential campaigns, and in 1829, when his uncle was inaugurated as President of the United States, he became Jackson’s private secretary. His wife Emily served as White House hostess and unofficial First Lady of the United States following Rachel Jackson’s death in December 1828. Donelson remained Jackson’s private secretary throughout his administration.

William Pitt Lawrence was a physician residing in Nashville and McMinnville, Tenn. His eldest daughter, Phila Ann Lawrence, was married to Rachel Jackson’s nephew, Stockley Donelson, and his daughter Laura Matilda was married to another of Rachel Jackson’s nephews, John Donelson. Lawrence’s son, John Marshall Lawrence, moreover, later married Andrew Jackson Jr.’s daughter Rachel Jackson.

Autograph letter signed of Andrew Jackson Donelson to Dr. William Lawrence, with a free frank of President Jackson, Washington, July 3, 1835. “Dr. Sir, I wrote to you the other day, expecting to be able to say in a day or two that a purchase had been made for John (Donelson, Lawrence’s son-in-law and birth brother to AJ Jr). But it is not yet closed. Having received a letter from Col Williams in which he agreed to take all over the valuation for John, I thought the bargain would be at once closed but in the mean time I saw the owner of the slaves and came to the conclusion that it would be proper to have an inspection of them first. As I mentioned before I think them too high; and I should not think of being a party to the purchase but for the great necssity which Andrew (Jackson, Jr.) represents John as being under, and for the impatience which you expressed to him.

“Col. Williams was to have been here yesterday but he has not arrived. In anticipation of his arrival, however, Mr. Skinner (Baltimore postmaster) has sent me the $2000.

“In the lot of negroes there are 14 males—Five children under 8 years—one man near fifty and one near forty of weak understanding. The others are described as fair hands from 22 to 8 (but one of this age)—say 7 hands for good work. There are ten females—one woman near fifty—one near forty (valuable)—one 22—one 20—2 girls 9 & 10—the others children or too small for work—one of the women is near sighted. I would distribute the valuation of this lot at $8000 as follows:

counting the 9 males as seven good hands—5000
the six females-2000
the nine children-1000

“My friend Major Noland (Commissioner of Public Buildings in DC) has gone up to look at them. He will be back on Sunday evening the 5th instant. By that time Col. Williams will certainly be here: and I shall then either inform you that the bargain is closed or remit you the money.

“Eighteen months ago this lot of negroes would not have been valued at more than $4000. At this time the $8000 is less than the purchases in Mississippi are giving. Two run aways near this brought $1500—and I have since heard of 8 hands bringing $10000. The fact is there is no meeting the demand for the cotton market: and if the price of that article continues at 15 cents another year $1200 for a hand will be as common as 800 now is.

“We are all well and desire to be remembered to Mrs. Lawrence & your family. yrs. truly

p.s. “The President and our family go next Monday to the Rip Raps. I shall accompany them but will return to my post here in a few days after”

Lawrence has penned a draft letter to John Donelson on the same sheet.

“I a few days ago recd a letter from A J Donelson who infrd me that there was a prospect of buying the Negroes for you by taking a whole lot valued at $8000 dollars. he wrote to Robt. Williams Bro. of Willobee’s who is buying and he agreed to take all over the purchase for you. I have this day recd this letter and to prepare you I conclude to send it to you when I heard they were going to send the money back without, I did not like it and told A Jackson that I wish him to say to Andrew that he must do something I did not write to him. We recd your letter a few days ago Hopkins is in Louisville Ky when he come back I shall see what I can do with him The Cholera is all about in Memphis Sparta &c. as you will see by the papers. Nashville is healthy we have a few straggling cases and we have had it in a very mild form 25 have and house at the penitentiary. our family have not gone to McMnville yet but will in a week or two .”

President Jackson himself has signed the free frank.

This is an uncommon autograph of Jackson associating him with slavery.

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