Thursday, July 26, 2007
Tennessee Tidbit for Thursday
Be careful to keep your words sweet; you never know which ones you'll have to eat.
I've written before about President James K. Polk and his remarkable wife, Sarah Childress Polk. Sarah was known throughout her life for her gracious hospitality, her fine education, her charm, her intelligence, and her beauty.
Apparently, Sarah's virtues and those of her bridal party combined were not enough to impress James' cousin, Lucious. In 1824, 22-year old Lucious served as a groomsman at James and Sarah's wedding in middle Tennessee. Later, he wrote to some relatives, "Tennessee girls are not of the first order either in accomplishments or beauty."
This was strange, coming from a boy who was born and bred near Spring Hill, Tennessee. He wasn't the only person in the country, however, to share the opinion that Tennesseans were down right countrified.
After all, at the time of the James and Sarah's wedding, middle Tennessee was only a decade or so past being raw frontier country. By 1824, local residents had established churches, schools, and businesses, as well as fruitful farms and plantations. Still, many people from the east looked upon Tennesseans as being rough and crude.
This prejudice followed Andrew Jackson, the first President to hail from Tennessee, all the way to the White House. Some Washington insiders compared "this coarse westerner" unfavorably to the distinguished men who had come before him.
As it happened, though, Andrew Jackson's wife, Rachel, had a great-niece from Tennessee. Her name was Mary Easton. Her great-aunt and great-uncle were extremely fond of her, and she spent a lot of time in Washington with them.
So, who fell head over heels in love with Miss Easton from Tennessee?
Lucious Polk, of course.
The boy who snubbed Tennessee girls was, in the end, smitten by a home-grown belle. Thus, he was forced to eat the snobbish words he had written earlier.
The only problem was that Lt. Bolton Finch of the U.S. navy, a popular young man, proposed to Mary Easton, and she accepted. Finch had previously been engaged a number of times. He seemed to have settled down under Miss Easton's influence, however. The couple had set a date and had already invited many of their guests.
Lucious decided to journey from Tennessee to Washington to make one last appeal to Miss Easton. He arrived in stately fashion, in his coach and four.
White House tradition says that Andrew Jackson advised his great-niece to choose wisely. He warned her of the sadness of a loveless marriage, and he told her of the happiness of a marriage with love. I don't know if he favored one man over the other. Some think that the Presdent's advice turned Miss Easton's heart toward Lucious.
At any rate, Miss Easton broke off her engagement with Bolton Finch and agreed to marry Lucious Polk. The ceremony was held in the White House in 1832.
Lucious's father, William Polk, owned a large plantation in Maury County, Tennessee known as Rattle and Snap. He built a beautiful house for the young couple on part of this land. The house was known as Hamilton Place.
The couple were known for their hospitality, and among the many guests they entertained were President Jackson, President Polk, and a number of generals. The couple had twelve children while living at Hamilton Place, including two sets of twins. Mary died in childbirth in 1847. Then, Lucious married a second time, to a widow -- from Tennessee.
As the old saying goes, "Be careful to keep your words sweet. You never know which ones you'll have to eat."