Need a break from the politics surrounding the 45th president? At the Chief Vann House this weekend, you can travel back in time to see what the fifth president, James Monroe, was up to 200 years ago.
To honor the bicentennial of Monroe's visit to Spring Place, Georgia, where he spent the night as Joseph Vann's guest, the Vann House is hosting a limited run of an exhibition about Monroe's 1819 presidential tour of the South. The exhibit takes its viewers on the road with Monroe and his family as they traveled through the Southern states, taking time to stop at some of the schools and missions within the Cherokee Nation.
If you go
› What: “Your Obedient Servant: James Monroe’s 1819 Presidential Tour of the Southern States” exhibition
› When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, May 9-11; 1-5 p.m. Sunday, May 12 (last daily tour begins at 4 p.m.)
› Where: Chief Vann House State Historic Site, 82 Highway 225 N, Chatsworth, Ga.
› Admission: $5.50-$6.50
› Phone: 706-695-2598
"They were gone 19 weeks, traveling by horseback and carriage," says Dan Preston, editor of the Papers of James Monroe at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Students and faculty from the university created the exhibition.
A supporter of national unity and political conciliation, Monroe made three consecutive national tours during his first term, beginning with the Northern states in 1817 and the Chesapeake Bay area in 1818. He reached out to the South in 1819 with "an agenda dominated by his administration's interest in defense, frontier settlements, Indian affairs and education," according to his historical papers.
The tour of the South took the president and his entourage through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Indiana. History records that Americans received him with enthusiasm and deep admiration for his "unostentatious, mild and affable manner." Accounts of the tour speak of his exemplary sense of civic duty and genuine dedication to serving the nation as its "obedient servant."
Irina Garner of Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites says Monroe spent the night in Spring Place, near Chatsworth, even though the Vann House was not on his itinerary. His stay came on May 25, 1819, after several treacherous days traveling flooded roads in Georgia.
The Vann House, a 2 1/2-story brick mansion, was completed in 1804 by James Vann, an influential Cherokee leader and businessman who established the largest and most prosperous plantation of the Cherokee Nation in what is now Murray County. After he was murdered in 1809, his son Joseph, also a Cherokee leader, inherited the 1,000-acre property. Records included in the exhibition suggest that the home "though owned by an Indian, compared favorably with many American homes of the time."
The circumstances behind Monroe's impromptu visit were recorded in the daily logs written by the Moravian missionaries who occupied Spring Place. Brother John Gambold wrote: "On May 25, I had the pleasure of seeing the President of the United States for a minute. He had arrived the evening before in the company of Gen'l. Gaines and his wife and two young gentlemen, during heavy rain, in Vann's house ... I ... invited him to come to us for breakfast. He said he regretted not being able to accept this invitation, because he would be glad to see our school, etc., and assured me he would always take pleasure in furthering the well-being of the Cherokees in every way possible, and wished us God's blessing for our efforts."
Likewise unplanned, or at least unannounced, was his visit to the Brainerd Mission in Chattanooga. The boarding school for Cherokee children was in its second year of operation when Monroe visited. The unannounced arrival allowed him an unscripted introduction to the everyday life of the mission.
Jarod Kearney, assistant director and curator of the James Monroe Museum and Library at the University of Mary Washington, says the exhibit has no other nearby stops "in the foreseeable future," though more locations could be added before its bicentennial run ends.
"We've gotten wonderful feedback from [visitors]," he says. "It's a neat chapter of history people don't know about."
Contact Lisa Denton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6281.