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The People of Belle Meade

Biographies

a vintage photo of a man wearing a suit and tie

John Harding

1777-1865

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.

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Susannah (Susan) Shute Harding

1785-1845

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.

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William Giles Harding

1808-1886

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.

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Mary Selena McNairy Harding

1812-1837

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.

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Elizabeth Irwin McGavock Harding

1818-1867

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.

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Susanna Carter

1826-1892

Family oral history indicates that Susanna’s grandmother, Grandma Jonah, was a full-blooded Muscogee (Creek) and was married to an unknown black man. Their daughter would marry an English adventurer and give birth to Susanna and four other daughters. Susanna Carter’s descendants believe that she and her four sisters were born free and that they were illegally enslaved by Randal McGavock when their father died of cholera in New Orleans.

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Robert Green

1828 or 1829-1906

In 1829, Bob Green and his parents were given as wedding gifts to Mary Selena McNairy and William Giles Harding. There is little known about his early enslaved life, but he worked closely with the family by the mid-1800s. After emancipation, he chose to remain at Belle Meade to become the Head Hostler. At $30 per month, Bob was the highest paid staff member at Belle Meade. Mr. Green was nationally recognized as one of the most knowledgeable grooms in the country. When he died in 1906, his obituary was published across the country, and his funeral was attended by prominent Nashvillians, both black and white. 

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William Hicks Jackson

1835-1903

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.

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Selene Harding Jackson

1846-1892

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. 

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Mary Elizabeth Harding Jackson

1850-1913

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. 

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Eunice Jackson Marks

1871-1901

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.

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William Harding Jackson

1874-1903

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.

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Selene Jackson Elliston

1876-1913

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. 

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William Harding Jackson, Jr.

1901-1971

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.