|Greeneville, TN||July 18, 2006|
Many wives of nineteenth-century U.S. presidents did not play an active role in White House proceedings due to their poor health. Eliza Johnson fell into that group. Embattled with tuberculosis, Mrs. Johnson made only two public appearances in her four years as first lady. Despite her condition, she managed to outlive her husband by six months. Then in winter 1876 she joined former President Andrew Johnson at his burial site atop Signal Hill. This image shows a portion of a wayside that my father and I saw at the gravesite when we visited on July 19, 2006. We first stopped by the Johnson gravesite the previous night, but even with the occasional flash of heat lightning we would have struggled to read the text had we tried to do so.
A different wayside, placed more than a decade and a half after that 2006 trip, explains why Eliza Johnson and her kin are buried where they are. In 1852, then-Representative Andrew Johnson admired the view from the summit and told one of the people he enslaved, Sam, that he desired for his family to rest there eternally. He subsequently purchased 15 acres at that location. In 1878, after Andrew and Eliza Johnson had been buried, a striking 28-foot marble monument was erected over their graves. At that point Signal Hill was renamed Monument Hill.
Eliza and Andrew’s daughter, Martha Patterson, wished for the Federal Government to acquire the Johnson family’s burial grounds, and it did so in 1906 after her death. The acreage is now called Andrew Johnson National Cemetery and is comprised mostly of burial plots occupied by military veterans and their spouses. The cemetery is operated by the National Park Service as part of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.
Born: October 4, 1810 in Telford, Tennessee
Spouse: Andrew Johnson (m. 1827-1875)
Second Lady Tenure: 1865
First Lady Tenure: 1865-1869
Died: January 15, 1876 in Greeneville, Tennessee
Cause of Death: Tuberculosis
Interment: Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, Greeneville, Tennessee
"I knew he would be acquitted. I knew it."
- Eliza Johnson
May 16, 1868, when informed by presidential bodyguard William H. Crook that her husband, Andrew Johnson, was acquitted on the eleventh article of impeachment
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
@andrew_johnson_nps. “A SNEAK PEEK.” Instagram, March 9, 2022. Accessed April 6, 2022. https://www.instagram.com/p/Ca4eMgVu42b/.
@andrew_johnson_nps. “A SNEAK PEEK II.” Instagram, March 9, 2022. Accessed April 6, 2022. https://www.instagram.com/p/CbH6SAfrv2f/.
Wineapple, Brenda. The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation. New York: Random House, 2019.