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"Hey Wally, when did life get so tough?" - Beaver, "Still the Beaver"

johnson10.jpgHistory seems to waver back and forth when deciding if Andrew Johnson was good for our country or not. Having survived John Wilkes Booth’s plot to overtake the government when his would-be assassin lost his nerve, Andrew Johnson was sworn in as our nation’s 17th president following the death of Abraham Lincoln on April 15, 1865. Charged with the monumental task of the post-Civil War Reconstruction, Johnson would feud openly with Congress who wanted harsher treatment of the southern states. It is because of Johnson’s compassion for the South that he was later heralded as a great leader.

However, because he was an inexperienced leader, he removed political enemy Edward Stanton from his post as Secretary of War in violation of the Tenure of Office Act. This opened the door for him to become the first of two presidents to be impeached by congress. Having narrowly escaped impeachment by one vote and his policies having alienated so many people, he failed to win the Democratic nomination at the end of his term in 1869.

The following are the major locations relevent to the life of Andrew Johnson which I have visited:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 – Birthplace of Andrew Johnson– There is little dispute that Andrew Johnson was born in the city of Raleigh, North Carolina. However, like many U.S. Presidents, the exact location is often subject to oral tradition and circumstantial evidence. But the kitchen and residence that sat behind Casso’s Inn on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh is as close as we are going to get. Descendants of Mr. Casso indicated that Johnson was born in this kitchen – and circumstantial evidence that Jacob Johnson, the future President’s father, worked and even lived at Casso’s in 1808 during the year of Andrew’s birth seems to support the theory.

As for the location itself, the kitchen has been heavily restored to its original form, but contains just a fragment of the original building material…and it no longer sits in its original spot, which is just a stone’s throw from the Raleigh state capitol building. The kitchen currently sits in Mordecai (pronounced Mord-e-key) Park, with just a plaque remaining on Fayetteville Street designating the former site of Casso’s. It had been relocated from its original site in the 1880’s and then donated to the city of Raleigh by the Colonial Dames (their actual name; I didn’t make that up), who purchased the kitchen in 1904. It sat in Pullen Park for a time and then was relocated to Mordecai in 1970.

My friend Ashleigh Heath and I explored all pertinent locations to the birth of Johnson during our walking tour of downtown Raleigh.

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This plaque indicates the site where Casso’s Inn once stood, specifying that the kitchen was 125 feet away

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My best guess at 125 feet away

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Across the street from the Capitol building stands yet another sign indicating that Johnson was born ‘near here’

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Statue at the Capitol (near the site of the birthplace) honoring the (supposed) North Carolina Presidents – Polk, Jackson, and Johnson.

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At the entrance to Mordecai Historic Park

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And still another marker indicating a Johnson birthplace

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The kitchen where Johnson was born

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Okay…enough plaques already

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If Johnson was in fact born here, it may have been in this room in the attic. How’s that for certainty?

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Morning coat on display that was made by Andrew Johnson while working as a tailor in Greenville, Tennessee

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I loved this t-shirt found in the Mordecai gift shop

Sunday, March 16, 2008 – Andrew Johnson homes and tailor shop in Greenville, Tennessee– On the way back from my trip to Savannah, Georgia with my cousin Chris, we went out of the way to visit Greenville, Tennessee, home of and final resting place of Andrew Johnson. I was impressed with the town and their preservation of so many key places in Johnson’s history.

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Me and the Andrew Johnson statue in Greeneville, Tennessee

Downtown Greenville was set up as a shrine to Andrew Johnson. The visitor center to the National Historic Site housed a museum, small gift shop and theater where a presentation on the President was shown. The film mentioned that Johnson had owned a tailor shop in the area. Before I could ask where it was located, we had to catch a tour of Johnson’s final home. Upon returning to the visitor’s center to further explore, we discovered that an area of the center had been built around the actual original tailor shop where Johnson had worked in the 1820’s and 30’s.

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The enclosed original Johnson tailor shop

Across the street was a two-story brick house where the Johnson family lived from the 1830’s until 1851. There was no formal tour into this house, but we could walk through it on our own. Also in the immediate vicinity was a statue of Andrew Johnson and a replica of Johnson’s birth home.

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The Johnson family home – 1830’s – 1851

Just up the road was the homestead that the Johnson family purchased in 1851. While Johnson was away in Washington, it was used by both the Confederate and Union army to house soliders in the war. One area revealed where graffiti about Johnson had been written by soldiers. Following Johnson’s presidency, he and his family returned to the house and resided there up until his death. The house was preserved as it had been during Johnson’s final years – at which time a second story on the ell was added. Chris and I toured the house along with an annoying family with children who asked a lot of dumb questions. Chris also didn’t care for the docent.

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Johnson’s homestead 1851 – 1875

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Johnson’s bedroom. Note the trunk with his name embossed on the side.

Sunday, March 16, 2008 – Andrew Johnson Grave – Before stopping in downtown Greeneville, Chris and I came upon the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery which is also part of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. Although we could have probably driven around and spiralled our way to the top, we chose to take the long flight of stairs to the grave of Andrew Johnson.

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 That’s the grave up there, right on top of the stoop

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 The impressive grave of Andrew Johnson

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 Scofflaw inside the fence

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Me and Andrew Johnson

With reckless abandon, we hopped the fences to pose for photos next to the grave of the President (who was buried with a copy of the United States Constitution) and the First Lady Eliza Johnson.

Continue to the next President

Return to Sunday in Tennessee 2008…

Return to Tuesday in North Carolina 2009…

3 Responses to “Andrew Johnson and Me”

  1. That docent was no good. She said that the “theory” that people were shorter and smaller back then wasn’t true. Her evidence was one jacket and the fact that someone supposedly said that Johnson was average size. And she was annoying.
    I hate to think about what people must have said about me after I gave them tours in Savannah.

    Chris

  2. What did the graffiti say?

    Heidi

  3. “Eat at Andrew’s”

    Brad

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