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Lexington Was His Home Before He Became Stonewall Jackson

Posted on Monday, August 21, 2017 at 9:57 am

By Bob Ruegsegger

“It was genuine happiness to him to have a home of his own: it was the first one he had ever possessed, and it was truly his castle.”

Mary Anna Jackson.

When Thomas Jonathan Jackson came to Lexington, Virginia, he was already an army veteran and a war hero. He served with distinction as an artillery officer in the Mexican War.

At 8 East Washington Street in Lexington, the first and only house that Thomas Jonathan Jackson ever owned offers visitors a look at Jackson’s domestic life before he became known as Stonewall Jackson.

This house, built in 1800, is a typical Federal-style town house. It is a ten-minute walk from his post at Virginia Military Institute. The stone addition was added in 1845. It was the home of Thomas Jonathan Jackson, and his wife, Mary Anna. The Jacksons resided here with five of their six slaves before the Civil War.

“We tell Stonewall Jackson – the back story.  This is really about his life as a private citizen, a community member. It’s the private man,” said Michael Anne Lynn, the site director at the Stonewall Jackson House.  “During the decade that Jackson lived in Lexington, he was trying to establish himself in a new career, having been a career military man and becoming a professor,” she said. “Here he married. He mourned the death of his wife and his infant son. He married a second time.”

For Jackson – born in Clarksville, Virginia – Lexington offered a new career as a professor of natural and experimental philosophy at Virginia Military Institute.

During house tours guides use “The Major” in referring to Jackson to emphasize that the man who lived here had not yet become the Confederate hero – General Stonewall Jackson.

“We are talking about the man before he became the general,” said Lynn. “People can go to the National Park sites at Manassas, Antietam, and Chancellorsville and learn about the general. They can tell that story better than we can tell it,” she said.  “What we tell is the story we can tell better than anyone else.”

The old brick and stone house that Major Jackson purchased in November of 1858 offered him the opportunity to begin his own family and own his own home – things he had dreamed of since childhood.

After the deaths of his first wife Ellie and their infant son, it offered a new beginning with the true prospect of domestic happiness.

“It’s a personal look,” said Lynn. “We get a lot of people who are students of the Civil War and those who know a lot about General Jackson,” she observed. “They may know where he was just about every day of the war, but some of them are not as familiar with the man,” she said. “We try to introduce people to the man behind the beard.”

Had it not been for the outbreak of the Civil War, speculated Lynn, it is likely that we would never have heard of Thomas Jonathan Jackson. He would probably have labored on in obscurity – as most of us do – doing his job and living his life.

“To me, it was a very interesting transition from the very private citizen to the man whose name became almost a household word in the North as well as in the South,” said Lynn. “You could pick up papers in London, Edinburgh, or Paris and read about Stonewall Jackson.”

During her 35-minute tour of the Jackson House, docent Tamara Teaff provides visitors with a glimpse of the domestic life of the private man – a private man far different than the familiar public figure.

Teaff shares stories of Major Jackson and Anna dancing the polka in the parlor of their home and his fondness for playing pranks on Anna. Activities not usually associated with gods and generals.

Jackson’s backyard provided adequate space for a kitchen garden which he tended personally – enthusiastically. He took great pleasure in working the garden with his own hands, but the overall success of the garden also depended upon the labor of three of his slaves, his cook Hetty and her sons Cyrus and George.

To extend the growing season and protect delicate young plants from wind and frost, Jackson used cold frames – hotbeds. This practice furnished the Jackson household with fresh vegetables throughout most of the year. His kitchen garden was so successful that it was said to have generated more produce than the family could consume.

Jackson who was known to be “as methodical as a multiplication table” followed a detailed planting calendar and owned an 1858 edition of Robert Buist’s Family Kitchen gardener, a popular gardening manual.

According to an 1860 letter written by Jackson, his kitchen garden included lima beans, snap beans, parsnips, carrots, cabbage, onions, potatoes, turnip beats, and muskmelons.

When Major Jackson received orders on April 21, 1861, to lead his cadets from VMI to Richmond, he left his home in Lexington. He never saw Lexington again – alive.

The bones of Thomas Jonathan Jackson – the family man and gardener – are interred with the remains of General Stonewall Jackson in Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery on South Main Street in downtown Lexington.

Following her husband’s death on May 10, 1863, his widow Mary Anna Jackson retained their former residence as rental property until 1906 when she sold it to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  For fifty years the house served Lexington as the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital.

In 1979, the Jackson House was restored to its appearance at the time the Jacksons resided there.  The Stonewall Jackson House Museum is owned and operated by the Stonewall Jackson Foundation. It is open for tours daily.

Daily tours emphasize Jackson’s role as a professor, community leader, businessman, husband, and church leader. Visitors are invited to drop by the Jackson House Museum to enjoy a tour, stroll in the garden, or browse the gift shop.

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