My Darling Wife…
On his thirty-third birthday in 1868, General William Hicks Jackson proposed marriage to Selene Harding, granddaughter of the founder of Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville (the setting of my Belle Meade Plantation novels). The General had his eye on Selene for quite some time.
But he wasn’t part of Nashville’s social circle, and Selene had the attentions of many eligible young fellows.
It was customary in that era for the elite to court and marry others from prominent local families (preserving the wealth, you know). The General was from west Tennessee and many in Nashville deemed him unfit to have Selene’s hand. He was seen as hot headed, temperamental, aggressive, and a ladies’ man. Nonetheless, Selene’s father gave his blessing and the couple was married just before Christmas.
Their marriage was quite unusual among Nashville society in the nineteenth century.
Theirs seemed to be a true love match instead of a marriage for money, power, or position. The General was head over heels in love with Selene and he remained dedicated to her until his death in 1903.
Upon the birth of their first child in 1869, Selene began complaining of shortness of breath that was eventually diagnosed as asthma. Her health steadily declined over the next several years. In 1879, The General rented a house in Colorado Springs and sent Selene west to take therapy at a spa that was said to help those suffering from respiratory conditions. (Sadly, Selene was also told by her doctors to smoke cigarettes to help her asthma. Not the best advice, of course, as we now know.)
Selene’s stay in Colorado was the first time the couple spent time apart since their marriage.
The heartsick General wrote his wife often and in his very private letters, a softer and gentler Billy Hicks Jackson emerged. The words of a doting husband and loving father appear to contradict the rumors that Jackson was simply a tough unfeeling military man.
In October of 1879, the General sent his wife a loving letter…
“… With your affection for my unworthy self, it is the pride of my life to know and feel that while I possess all thy heart, thy dearest offering, I can look into thine eyes and convey to thee that which is most gratifying to every wife, that I give thee all my heart and that “I shall love thee well in future days as in days of yore. For I am yours alone forever more. Until we reach that distant gleaming shore. Ah, I shall love thee well.”
And in sickness as in health, I shall be true and faithful to every vow made when you, the loving and confiding bride, first placed your hand in mine. I love you my darling, more and more each year of my life and may God spare your life for me and our children and restore you to health so that you can live here with me and ride about the farm with us, and I shall be happy and blessed beyond the lot of man. How fondly I love thee.”
Yours most affectionately, W. H. J
I’m so grateful to the Belle Meade curator and staff for sharing all the Harding family letters with me. Passages from these letters (like the one above) have allowed me to get to know these family members—and to write about them—in a way I never could without these insights. Although, I will admit, sometimes I wonder how the Harding and Jacksons would feel if they knew that 150+ years later, we’d all be reading their private thoughts. Hopefully, they wouldn’t mind. Would you? ; }
Do you have family letters from previous generations? Any love letters among them?