Adelicia Hayes

One of the most colorful characters in the nineteenth-century South, Adelicia Hayes is now principally known for her role in the history of Belmont University in Nashville, TN.

Another early source associated with women’s music in Middle Tennessee is a manuscript, now in the collection at the Belmont Mansion, that belonged to Adelicia Hayes [Franklin Acklen Cheatham] (1817-87), who at age twenty-nine was the wealthiest woman in Tennessee.[1]  Adelicia’s music book includes no sheet music, only manuscript entries, and bears the date June 1833. The music that this remarkable woman studied as a girl differs from most of her contemporaries in that it is entirely in manuscript. Several hands wrote in this book, and it is likely that one of them is hers. Handwritten sources are more common in the late-eighteenth and very early-nineteenth centuries, but volumes consisting only of manuscript material are unusual for affluent young women of the 1830s.

The music itself varies. Marches, popular songs, and dance music intermingle, and the copyists rarely include a composer attribution. Those receiving identification are “Oh They March’d through The Town” by S. Nelson, “Away with Melancholy” by Mozart, “Auld Lang Syne with Variations” by Ross, and “We have lived and loved together” by “Henry” Herz. The works by Nelson and Herz date from about 1830. “Away with Melancholy” derives from Die Zauberflöte and appeared with this text in London in the early 1790s; American imprints date from 1797 onwards. Some of the dance music includes directions for performing the dance, which suggests that Adelicia may have used the music for recreation at home. The vocal music includes signs for ornamentation and written-out cadenzas.


[1] Adelicia married Isaac Franklin in 1839, and upon his death in 1846 she inherited Fairview Plantation in Gallatin (2,000 acres in Sumner County), as well as cotton plantations measure 8,700 acres in Louisiana, over 50,000 acres in Texas, more than 750 slaves, and other assets, with an estimated worth of over $1 million. She remarried in 1849, to Joseph A.S. Acklen of Huntsville, Alabama, with whom she built Belmont Mansion in Nashville, now part of Belmont University. The couple moved into the mansion in 1853, and Adelicia allowed the citizens of Nashville to visit the zoo on the grounds. In 1859 the Acklens added the “Grand Salon” to Belmont, a room used for musical performances and other social events. At this point, the house included approximately 10,000 square feet of living space, with an additional 8,400 square feet in the basement for service. Joseph Acklen died in 1863 in Louisiana (on Angola Plantation), leaving 2,800 bales of cotton in storage. The Confederate Army was under orders to burn such valuable commodities to keep them from Union troops, but Adelicia Hays Acklen (with her cousin Sarah Ewing Sams Carter, also a widow) famously made the trip to Louisiana to save the cotton. She persuaded General Leonidas Polk, a family friend, to allow her to move the cotton to safety in an area along the Mississippi River. This area was protected by Federal gunboats under the direction of Admiral David D. Porter. Undeterred, Adelicia convinced the admiral to grant her safe passage, and with a Union gunboat as export, she delivered to the cotton to New Orleans, where she sold it to the Rothchilds of London for almost $1 million in gold. See article by S. E. Sams Carter in Confederate Veteran, quoted in http://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2014/07/adelicia-acklen.html.

After Lee’s surrender in 1865, Adelicia took her children to Europe to collect the money from the sale of the cotton. The family toured extensively for a year and were presented at the court of Napoleon III. The next year, at age 50, she married for a final time. Her new husband, Dr. William Archer Cheatham, was a respected Nashville physician. Unusually for the period, he had signed a prenuptial agreement. The couple separated later, and Adelicia sold Belmont Mansion in 1887. Christine M. Kreyling, Wesley Paine, Charles W. Warterfield, Susan Ford Wiltshire, Classical Nashville: Athens of the South, Nashville, Tennessee: Vanderbilt University Press, 1996, p. 105; and Belmont Mansion History.

[2] Sarah Ann Foster’s manuscript book, which includes the date 1812, is much more typical. Duke, Rubenstein.

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