Shortly after the Civil War ended and up to the beginning of World War I, it was common for wealthy Americans to take their families over to Europe for a grand tour lasting at least one year. Adelicia Acklen (1817–1887) was no different.
Adelicia Acklen, a native of Nashville, Tennessee, was one of the wealthiest women in the United States. Her first husband died after seven years of marriage.
He was one of the most notorious slave traders and owned nine plantations. After his death, Adelicia inherited Fairvue Plantation in Gallatin, Tennessee as well as cotton plantations in Louisiana, undeveloped land in Texas, and stocks and bonds.
Adelicia remarried and along with her husband, Joseph Acklen, built the Belmont Mansion in Nashville. They had six children of whom three reached adulthood. Adelicia ultimately married for a third time and shortly before her death, the mansion was sold. Today, it is part of Belmont University. She’s buried in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville. It is similar to the Parisian cemeteries that are so cool to walk around.
During the summer 1865, Adelicia and three of her children (William, Claude, and Pauline) arrived in London. William Ackland (1855–1940) kept a diary and had this to say about their arrival: “From Liverpool we hastened to London and as we drew near, from the car window under a pall of smoke were seen the chimney pots row upon row on little houses all alike.”
From London they traveled to Adelicia’s favorite city, Paris. No wonder. She was invited to the court of Napoléon III and attended extravagant balls given almost every evening in the Tuileries Palace. Adelicia and the children spoke fluent French and I’m sure that didn’t hurt.
Another reason she was so readily accepted into the higher societies was the fact she was from America and the South. Few Americans traveled to Paris at the time she was there. Benjamin Franklin had been a very popular visitor to Paris prior to the French Revolution and that popularity only grew as time went on. The French were sympathetic to the Southern side during the Civil War and Adelicia had many stories to tell them about her wartime experiences.
On the evenings without any structured activities, Adelicia and the children would walk through the Palais Royal and its many shops full of the best clothing, jewelry, and restaurants. William’s diary indicates his favorite site was Versailles Palace (“the most wonderful of its kind in the world”). Another family favorite was the Bois de Boulogne.
One of the best books I’ve read concerning American ex-pats living in Paris is David McCullough’s The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. But then again, I think every book written by McCullough is wonderful. He has a very unique talent in making history fun.
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What’s New With Sandy and Stew?
Stew is working on creating the walks and individual stops for the next books: Where Did They Put the Gestapo Headquarters?—A Walking Tour of Nazi Occupied Paris (1940–1944). It’s clear that almost every building in Paris has a story associated with the Occupation years. It is a matter of identifying them and then prioritizing the stops for you. This is quite a process considering the tangents and rabbit holes I end up going down. But it is a lot of fun if not quite depressing at times. One of my friends, Mark Vaughan, has suggested a walking tour book based on Napoléon. What do you think?
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Copyright © 2016 Stew Ross