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 also owned and traded enslaved people. 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 sometime between 1790 and 1791. 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 manage, until he inherited Belle Meade in 1839. William would be the proprietor of Belle Meade from 1839 until 1883. During the Civil War, William was initially a supporter of the Confederacy. After being imprisoned at Fort Mackinaw in Michigan, he took the oath of allegiance to the Union and did not take an active part in the conflict from 1862 onwards. William would manage Belle Meade until the 1880s, when a stroke forced him to retire. Under his stewardship, Belle Meade expanded to 5,400 acres or roughly 8 and a half square miles. He died on December 15, 1886 at Belle Meade.
Mary Selena McNairy Harding
On Nov 19, 1829, 21-year-old William Giles Harding married 17-year-old Mary Selena McNairy. They lived together on the property named Stones River east of Nashville. Their only child that survived to adulthood, John Harding Jr., was born at Stones River and was named for his grandfather. On March 29, 1837 Mary Selena died from complications due to childbirth.
Elizabeth Irwin McGavock Harding
Elizabeth was born in 1818 at Carnton, her family home, 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. She and William would have two daughters, Selene Mary Elizabeth. During the Civil War, Elizabeth managed the farm while her husband was imprisoned, meeting with future president Andrew Johnson to protect the interests of Belle Meade. 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 Selene Harding was born, Susanna was a part of her inheritance from her grandmother. Oral histories from both the Jackson and Carter families tell us that throughout her life, she responsible for running the domestic side of Belle Meade. She was married to Isaac Carter, and together they would have five children, Alice, Robert Porter, Joe, Willie, and Isaac Jr.
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, canned blackberries, apple cider vinegar, and apple cordials received awards. Susanna Carter died sometime after 1892 and before 1900.
1828 or 1829-1906
In 1829, Robert Green and his mother were given to Mary Selena McNairy and William Giles Harding as a wedding gift. There is little known about his early enslaved life. While William Giles Harding was imprisoned in 1862, his wife, Elizabeth, planned on visiting him in Michigan with Robert as her driver. During the Civil War, Robert also protected the horses on the property from theft, risking his life in the process when he was shot in the leg by a union soldier.
After the Civil War ended, Robert chose to remain at Belle Meade and was known to be one of the foremost authorities on breeding in the thoroughbred industry. He became the Head Hostler, overseeing the training and grooming of all horses. That responsibility earned him the highest paid position at $20 a month in 1879.
He married Ellen Wadkins in 1872 and together they would have 7 children. As one of the most knowledgeable hostler in the business, when Robert died in 1906, his obituary was published nationwide. His funeral was attended by prominent Nashvillians, black and white alike.
William Hicks Jackson
William Hicks Jackson 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. Jackson left the U.S. Army when he learned 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 Harding family, and General Jackson started accompanying his father to Belle Meade after the war. By the fall of 1866, William Hicks Jackson was courting Selene Harding. They would marry in the winter of 1868. He and Selene would have three children that survived to adulthood: Eunice, Selene, and William. General Jackson worked alongside his father-in-law managing Belle Meade until 1883. In that year, the reigns of the business were handed over to General Jackson and his brother, Howell Jackson. He passed away on March 30, 1903.
Howell Edmunds Jackson
Howell Jackson was born in West Tennessee on April 8, 1832. He graduated from Cumberland Law School in 1856 and practiced in Memphis and Jackson, Tennessee. After the death of his first wife, Sophie Molloy, he married Mary Elizabeth Harding on April 30, 1874. They would purchase property west of Belle Meade and complete their own home, West Meade, by 1883. They would have 3 children together. He and his brother would work together to run Belle Meade before parting ways by 1890 to focus on his political career. He had been elected to the legislature in 1880 and began his judicial career in 1886. President Grover Cleveland appointed him to the sixth circuit court in that year. He was promoted to the Circuit Court of Appeals in 1891 and the Supreme Court in 1893. Judge Jackson would serve until his death in 1895.
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, her husband, was 35 years old and worked as a carriage driver. Their two children, Jacob, aged 18, and Milly, aged 14, were also living at Belle Meade with them.
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. In 1872, Alexander Vaulx would buy his own property on Granny White Pike, and Harriet would live there for the rest of her life. According to the 1880 census, Alex worked as 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. She passed away sometime between 1890 and 1900.
Selene Harding Jackson
Selene Harding was born on April 6, 1846. On December 15, 1868, Selene Harding and William Hicks Jackson were married at Belle Meade. Before the wedding, Selene’s father had asked General Jackson 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.” She would have three children with General Jackson: Eunice, Selene, and William. 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. Mary Elizabeth would have three children with Howell and also took over the care of his four children from his previous marriage. After the death of her husband in 1895, Mary Elizabeth continued living at West Meade, inviting different relatives to live with her, such as her half-brother, John Harding Jr. She passed away at the age of 63 on October 25, 1913.
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 stepmother Sarah. It is possible that he attended a model school for children staffed by Fisk University students. There was a student named Sam Nichols listed in the 1870 school register, and Sam Nichols 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 to 1899, he worked as Iroquois’ groomsman. This was 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.
Joseph Carter, son of Susanna and Isaac Carter, was born in 1861. He was interviewed in 1943 for an article in The Tennessean. In it, he discusses his experiences at Belle Meade. As a young adult, Joseph worked at Belle Meade as a personal attendant, ushering guests around the property and attending to their needs. Joseph was working at Belle Meade during Grover Cleveland’s presidential visit in 1887 and shaved the President’s face with a razor he kept as a souvenir. 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 that 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 General 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. Eunice’s health was delicate, and she spent time with her mother travelling to Colorado in the hope that the clear mountain air would help them both. 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 General Jackson’s only son. He helped his father 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 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. Both were popular socialites in Nashville society. For a time in the late 1890s, all of General Jackson’s children and their spouses were living together at Belle Meade: Selene, Eunice, and William Harding. Selene and William had a single son, William. In 1901 Selene and her brother refinanced their 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. Belle Meade, by this point, had been divided up and sold, leaving William Jr. A $90,000 mortgage, the family mansion, and just over 2,000 acres. William Jr.’s mother, Annie Davis Richardson Jackson and her father, James B. Richardson would hold numerous dispersal sales to settle the debt, and they finally sold Belle Meade in 1906.