Readings from

and Tyler too: A Biography of John & Julia Gardiner Tyler

by Robert Saeger II. McGraw-Hill, 1963.

Reading 1. "He had no choice"

The necessity of having to sell a favorite house slave, Ann Eliza, to raise cash to move to Washington in 1827 was a sad experience for Tyler. He had a genuine fondness for the Negro woman, and he sincerely regretted having to part with her. But he had no choice. "My monied affairs are all out of sorts," he confessed to Curtis; "my necessities are very pressing, more so than at any previous period, and the time has arrived when I must act definitely." First he tried to sell Ann Eliza to Curtis, knowing that with him she would have a good home. When Curtis declined the purchase, Tyler tried without success to sell her in the immediate neighborhood. Under this arrangement either he or Curtis would be certain to learn of any ill treatment at the hands of her new owner. Only as a last resort did Tyler finally instruct Curtis "to put her in the wagon and send her directly to the Hubbards" auction block in Richmond. While the ultimate fate of Ann Eliza is not known, it is certain that Tyler did not have the heart to accompany the poor woman to Hubbard's pens. . . . His philosophy of slave management was best summed up in 1832, a year after the bloody Nat Turner slave revolt in Southampton County resulted in the wanton butchering of fifty-seven whites and the retaliatory slaughter of nearly a hundred Negroes. He wrote, "My plan is to encourage my hands, and they work better under it than from fear."

Chapter 5. "The Middle Years.", Page 103

Reading 2. "Encouraged by His Presence"

Tyler spent three or four hours a day on horseback among the slaves in the wheatfields "encouraging them by his presence." To protect himself from the sun while he was in the hot fields he purchased a huge Panama hat, which, in Julia's words, had a "brim so broad that his face was quite lost. I thought I should have killed myself with laughing. Since which he has been turning it up in every direction to lessen the size and made me also admire it." In the late afternoon Julia would join her husband, he on horseback, she on her pony, and they would ride across the flat acres. And in the early evening hours they would sit together on the piazza and "listen to the corn song of the work people as they come winding home from the distant fields."

Chapter 12. "Retirement to Sherwood Forest", Page 198

Reading 3. "Paternalism at its best"

At Sherwood Forest plantation Julia found the good life. As she described it to her city-bound sister in June 1845 it seemed almost idyllic:
I am writing to you seated in the door of the south piazza with my paper and inkstand resting on a book in my lap. The President [is] in a large armchair near me on the piazza with feet raised upon the railing.... The reapers have come to their labors in the field about five hundred yards from us and their loud, merry songs almost drown the President's voice as he talks with me. Once in a while a scream from all hands, dogs and servants, causes us to raise our eyes to see a full chase after a poor little hare. This moment we have looked upon one, and I see they have caught it --there is a regular scuffle between dogs and men. With these hares and squirrels our place abounds. We are removed about a mile, in a direct line, from the river, that is to say the mansion --the estate runs down to it --and the trees on the bank that intercept the view have already been nearly cut away. Since I have been seated here I have noticed some five or six vessels pass up and down. Louisa and Fanny Johnston [See Reading 5] are sewing the carpet in the dining room --and now if you have any fancy you can picture us all.
Nothing in the slave system disturbed Julia or shocked her sensibilities. As conducted by Tyler at Sherwood Forest it functioned easily and humanely. No whips or lashes, no brutal overseers were found on the President's property. The seventy-odd "servants" (as they were always politely called) were adequately clothed and housed, and if there was discontent among them it was not manifested by runaways or by recorded instances of "sassiness." Instead, slavery at Sherwood Forest was an example of Southern white Paternalism at its best.

Chapter 12. "Retirement to Sherwood Forest", Page 300

Reading 4. "Robin Hood Meets Pocahontas"

[Four "hearty Negro oarsmen" manned Julia's "Royal Barge."] This small boat was a farewell gift to Tyler from the family of Commodore Beverly Kennon [when Tyler left the White House]. It arrived at Sherwood Forest already christened "Pocahontas." Julia decided to rename the boat Robin Hood-- "the Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest," but she gave up the idea when reminded that boats were "always of the feminine gender." Margaret wanted her to go one step further in nomenclature reform and drop the word "Forest" from the name of the plantation. (" 'Forest' seems associated with everything that is wild and unacclimated and remote," she argued.) After consultations with Tyler on the problem, Julia decided that "Forest" would stay and "Robin Hood" would go. Thus Pocahontas invaded "Sherwood Forest." Julia had the little craft painted a bright blue and she lined its seats and thwarts with damask satin cushions richly trimmed in matching blue. She had long had a weakness for colorful uniforms, one dating back to her prom week end at West Point in 1839. Her imagination was therefore at its creative height when she designed the garb of her oarsmen:
Bright blue and white check calico shirts-white linen pants-black patent leather belts-straw hats painted blue with Pocahontas upon them in white and in one corner of the shirt collar (which is turned down) is worked with braid a bow and arrow (to signify the Forest)....

Chapter 12. "Retirement to Sherwood Forest", Pp. 194-5

Reading 5. "Give Up Nothing!"

[During the Civil War] Sherwood Forest was turned over to local Negroes and they sacked its interior. Early in June General Wild placed the plantation house in the possession of two of the Tyler slaves, Randolph and Burwell. Within a few days the house furnishings had disappeared. Beds were carted off, marble table tops were smashed, and furniture was removed to the open-air Negro camp Wild had established near his command post at Kennon's Landing. Sofas were stripped of their velvet and "mirrors crushed all to atoms." Busts and windows were broken. "Old Fanny [Johnston, Reading 3] was the leader in tearing down the curtains and gathering things up generally," Clopton reported. Randolph, Burwell, and some half-dozen other Negroes from surrounding plantations (the remaining Tyler slaves had run aimlessly off) temporarily moved their women and children into the debris.... Structurally, the main house was not harmed beyond a few smashed windows and a split door or two, but the plantation itself was rendered a wasteland. The white laborer, Oakley, was "no better than the negroes," and he joyously joined in the plunder. When [John's son,] John C. returned to Sherwood in mid-July the Negro occupants sassily refused to vacate the main house. "Give up nothing to anyone," Wild had instructed them.

Chapter 19. "Mrs. Ex-President Tyler and the War, 1862-1865", Pp. 490-1

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