Finding Strength in Family and Community
For nearly thirty years - from the construction of the brick dwellings in 1829 to the sale of this parcel of land in 1856 - the Field Quarter was home to at least eight enslaved families at The Hermitage. With fifty to eighty inhabitants, the Field Quarter was much life a small village on the Hermitage landscape. Although virtually vacant during the long workdays, the quarter was filled with activity during the evenings and the few days without work. Once "home," the enslaved, even though tired, still had work to do for themselves; cooking one-pot meals over open hearths, tending gardens that likely surrounded the quarter, and caring for chickens and other poultry that the Jacksons allowed them to keep.
With large families and cramped living spaces, the enslaved likely spent much of their time outdoors in the common area between the cabins. Along with daily activities, weddings, funerals, celebrations, and ceremonies also took place in this common space.
James Thomas, a free black man, said in his memoirs, "I was at the Hermitage during the Christmas week and they (the genls men and women of all work) commenced to dancing in the morning. Some played cards, while others would seek some secluded spot for Cock fighting around the city."
Men, women, and children laughed, loved, fought, and cried as they forged lives largely out of their control. This was a place where the enslaved rose above their role as laborers and became members of families and a community with a rich culture that helped them survive the brutality of slavery. In spite of the fact that they owned neither their persons nor their property, they made this place their own.
Hannah Jackson, the head of the house servants, recognized that being sold was always possible, and her husband Aaron, as the quote to the right suggest, took much pride in the fact that he and Hannah were never separated.
Ole mistus was very good to us all. She would sometimes scold a little, but we didn't mind it. Ole master never scolded, for when he said a thing it had to be done right off...They used to pick us up and sell us in those days, even little children not higher than your cane; but ole master never did. Husband said to me just before he died: 'White man never separated us; no man ever separated us.´ No, we lived with each other over sixty years, and never had any trouble.
Hannah Jackson, Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, June 22, 1880
This painting, "The Old Plantation," shows a group of slaves gathered for music, dancing, and storytelling during their limited leisure time. Although not a picture of the Hermitage Field Quarter, it is likely that the slaves who lived here entertained themselves in similar ways.
The two photographs above are linked by the brick pavement visible in both. Archaeologists discovered this brick pavement at this Field Quarter dwelling site. It is the only place at The Hermitage where archaeologists have found brick pavement next to a brick building with a limestone foundation. We believe the photograph on the left was taken at this dwelling site. The photograph, taken in 1867 by C.C. Giers, is believed to be of Jackson's slave Betty, who was Alfred's mother. The children likely belonged to Alfred's daughter Sarah.
Objects, such as this gunlock found at the Field Quarter, suggest that the enslaved could also hunt and fish to supplement and diversify their meager and unchanging allotment of pork and corn.
We had a great wedding here last night - Morgan, Squire's son to Jinney Sally's daughter. The boys went to see it was well done, they were quite merry upon the occasion, they were anxious that Alfred should perform the ceremony Morgan thought he could do it better than any one else, much to the amusement of Gracy.
- Sarah Yorke Jackson to Rachel Jackson, December 29, 1849