John Harding was born in Goochland County, Virginia on November 2, 1777. The family moved to Tennessee when John’s mother died in 1798. Both his father (Giles) and grandfather (William) owned slaves and John was hired as an overseer by his father and uncle. John founded Belle Meade, meaning “beautiful meadow” in 1807 and managed it until 1839.
Susannah (Susan) Shute Harding
Susannah Shute was born at Laurel Hill in Pennsylvania on August 22, 1785. Her family moved to Tennessee in 1790/1791, first to Sumner County then to Davidson County. On August 6, 1806, Susannah Shute married John Harding. They had three children: Amanda P. Harding born on October 23, 1807; William G. Harding born on September 15, 1808; and Elizabeth Virginia Harding born on April 5, 1812.
William Giles Harding
William Giles Harding was born in 1808 and was Susannah and John Harding’s only son. At the age of 14, he enrolled in Cumberland College. Two years later, he left to attend the American Literary and Scientific and Military Academy. In 1827, William’s father, John Harding purchased the 579 acre tract of land called McSpadden’s Bend for William to begin farming, until he inherited Belle Meade in 1839. William would be the proprietor of Belle Meade from 1839-1883.
Mary Selena McNairy Harding
On Nov 19, 1829, William Giles Harding married 17-year-old Mary Selena McNairy. They lived together on the property named Stones River. They would only have one child survive to adulthood, John Harding Jr., who was born at Stones River and named for his grandfather. On March 29, 1837 Mary Selena died from complications of childbirth.
Elizabeth Irwin McGavock Harding
Elizabeth was born in 1818 at her family home, Carnton, in Franklin, Tennessee. Her father, Randal McGavock, was the 11th Mayor of Nashville. On a snowy night in January of 1840, Elizabeth Irwin McGavock married William Giles Harding. Her parents gave her and her new husband a 14-year-old enslaved girl, Susanna Carter, “to assist in establishing and managing her new household”. Elizabeth died in August of 1867 at the age of 48.
Oral histories provided by the descendants of Susanna Carter tell us they believe she and her sisters were born free and that they were illegally enslaved by Randal McGavock when their father died of cholera in New Orleans. When Elizabeth McGavock married William Giles Harding, Susanna was a part of Elizabeth’s dowery. Oral histories from both the Jackson and Carter families tell us that throughout her life, she carried a tremendous amount of domestic responsibility at Belle Meade. An acknowledged hard worker, she oversaw the success of numerous large-scale events with thousands of guests. In 1871, at the Fair of the Davidson County and Middle Tennessee Agricultural and Mechanical Association, Susanna’s culinary skills were recognized when her blackberry wine, apple and peach cordials received awards. Susanna Carter died in 1892 and was buried at Mount Ararat Cemetery.
1828 or 1829-1906
In 1829, Robert Green and his parents were given to Mary Selena McNairy and William Giles Harding as a wedding gift. There is little known about his early enslaved life. However, between his innate ability and his years of experience at Belle Meade, Robert was known to be one of the foremost authorities on breeding in the thoroughbred industry. After emancipation, he chose to remain at Belle Meade and became the Head Hostler, overseeing the training and grooming of all horses. That responsibility earned him the highest paid position at $30 a month. As one of the most knowledgeable horse grooms in the business, when Robert died in 1906, his obituary was published nationwide and his funeral was attended by prominent Nashvillians, black and white alike.
William Hicks Jackson
William Hicks Jackson (Billy) was born in West Tennessee on October 1, 1835. He graduated from West Point in 1856 and attended the U.S. Army’s Calvary School in Carlisle Pennsylvania. He was a member of the Mounted Rifle unit in New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado and left the U.S. Army when he became aware that Tennessee was planning to secede. He was made a Captain in the Artillery Corps of Tennessee and fought in numerous campaigns across the South. Additionally, he was made a Brigadier General by Jefferson Davis in December of 1862. His father, Alexander Jackson, was a friend of William Giles Harding, and Billy started accompanying his father to Belle Meade after the war. By the Fall of 1866, William Hicks Jackson was courting Selene Harding. Billy was the proprietor of Belle Meade from 1883-1903 and passed away on March 30, 1903.
1840-date of death unknown
Harriet Vaulx worked at Belle Meade as part of the domestic house staff. According to the 1870 census, there are four members of the Vaulx family, all born in Tennessee and living at Belle Meade: Harriet was 30 years old and her noted occupation was “dining room attendant,” Alex, possibly her husband, was 35 years old and worked as a carriage driver, and two children, Jacob, aged 18 and Milly, aged 14. In 1871, at The Fair of the Davidson County and Middle Tennessee Agricultural and Mechanical Association, Harriet won awards for her strawberry cordial and her canned pears and cherries. By 1880, the Vaulx family was no longer living at Belle Meade. Instead, they lived in the 10th Civil District, northeast of Belle Meade. According to the census, Alex’s job was a “laborer,” while Harriet was “keeping house.” In the early 1890s, Harriet Vaulx was photographed at Belle Meade along with Susanna Carter and the Jackson family, indicating their respect for her and Susanna both.
Selene Harding Jackson
Selene Harding was born on April 6, 1846. On December 15, 1868, Selene Harding and William Hicks Jackson (Billy) were married at Belle Meade. Before the wedding, Selene’s father had asked Billy to make their new home at Belle Meade because, “There was plenty of room and plenty of work for them both, and because he was growing old and did not wish to be separated from Selene, who had charge of his household affairs.” Selene died at the age of 46 in December of 1892.
Mary Elizabeth Harding Jackson
Mary Elizabeth Harding was born on February 5, 1850. She and her husband, Howell Jackson owned their own property named West Meade and they would inherit a one-third share of Belle Meade. Howell Jackson, William Hicks Jackson’s older brother, would be nominated to the Supreme Court by President Harrison in 1892.
1858 or 1859-date of death unknown
Sam Nichols was born at Belle Meade in 1858 or 1859. After emancipation, he remained at Belle Meade to work for the Harding family along with his older sister Patsy, his father Essex, and step-mother Sarah. It is possible that he attended a model school for children staffed by Fisk University students since there was a Sam Nichols listed in the 1870 school register and he was literate, according to the 1880 census. By that time, Sam was married to a woman named Dicie, who was born around 1860. Though his earlier roles are unknown, from 1886-1899, he worked as the groomsman of Iroquois, a prominent position at Belle Meade, due to Iroquois’ international fame. In the 1900s, Sam moved to Chicago. Dicie had passed during this time and he married a woman named Mollie around 1908. The last record of Sam in Chicago shows him widowed, living with an Irish immigrant family, and working as a stable hand in 1920.
Joe Carter, son of Susanna and Isaac Carter, was born around 1860. According to a 1943 article in The Tennessean, Joe worked at Belle Meade after emancipation as a personal attendant, ushering guests around the property and attending to their needs. Carter was working at Belle Meade during the presidential visit by Grover Cleveland in 1887 and was noted to have shaved the President’s face. Around 1896, Carter married Kate Dungey. According to the 1890 census, Joe was able to read and write, both he and Kate were working as “house servants,” and lived in the 10th Civil District, just northeast of Belle Meade. Eventually, Joe and Kate moved to a log cabin on Charlotte Avenue, where Kate’s father had operated a toll road. Joe and Kate had no children. Joe died in the Charlotte Avenue cabin on February 27, 1947 and was buried at Mt. Ararat Cemetery in Nashville.
Eunice Jackson Marks
Eunice Jackson, the first daughter of Selene and Billy Jackson, was born on February 8, 1871. By the age of 9, she was leading a Sunday School class at Belle Meade, using the Bible to teach staff how to read and write. She married Albert Marks in 1894 and died at the age of 30 on March 25, 1901. Her husband died one year later on June 14, 1902.
William Harding Jackson
William Harding Jackson was born in the summer of 1874 and was Selene and Billy’s only son. He helped his father, Billy, manage Belle Meade by the 1890s and had extensive knowledge of all the horses and their bloodlines. He married Annie Davis Richardson in 1897 and they had one son, William Harding Jackson Jr., born in 1901. Knowing Belle Meade needed to reinvent, William went on investment trips to Chicago and New York where he contracted typhoid fever and died on July 19, 1903, three months after his father Billy passed away.
Selene Jackson Elliston
The youngest of Selene and Billy Jackson’s children was born in August of 1876. In 1896, Selene married William Elliston in a surprise ceremony in Nashville. By January of 1900, Selene’s husband had shot a man and fled the country. As 1900 came to a close, Selene filed for divorce. In 1901, without their father Billy’s consent, Selene and her brother took out a second mortgage on Belle Meade for $90,000. Selene died at the age of 37 in 1913.
William Harding Jackson, Jr.
In 1903, two year old William Harding Jackson, Jr. was the sole inheritor of Belle Meade. Both his father and grandfather had passed away within three months of each other. Since Belle Meade had been divided up amongst other family members, William Jr. inherited a $90,000 debt, the house and just over 2000 acres. William Jr.’s mother, Annie Davis Richardson Jackson and her father, James B. Richardson would hold numerous dispersal sales and sold Belle Meade in 1906.