William Giles Harding

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William Giles Harding
Born 1808
Nashville, Tennessee
Residence Belle Meade Plantation
Nationality American
Education University of Nashville
Occupation Planter
Spouse(s) Mary Selena McNairy
Elizabeth Irwin McGavock
Children John Harding II
Selene Harding
Mary Elizabeth Harding
Parent(s) John Harding
Relatives William Hicks Jackson (son-in-law)
Military career
Allegiance  Confederate States of America (1861–1865)
Service/branch Confederate States Army
Years of service 1861–1865
Rank Brigadier General (CSA)

William Giles Harding (1808–1886) was an American heir, Southern planter, horse breeder and Confederate Brigadier General.[1][2][3][4][5][6] He was the owner of the Belle Meade Plantation in modern-day Belle Meade, Tennessee near Nashville.

Early life[edit]

William Giles Harding was born in 1808 near Nashville, Tennessee to John Harding (1777–1865), a Virginian, who one year earlier (1807) purchased 250 acres (1.0 km2) near Richland Creek.[1][2][4] He was educated at the old University of Nashville, the Partridge's American Literary, Scientific and Military Academy in Middletown, Connecticut, and he studied Law in Litchfield, Connecticut.[1][2][3]


Harding first moved to his father's McSpadden's Bend (now known as Pennington Bend) property, River Farm, between the Stones and Cumberland rivers in Nashville.[2][3] He inherited the Belle Meade Plantation at the age of thirty-one, in 1839.[1][2][3][4] At the age of forty-five, from 1853 to 1854, he began construction of a larger Greek Revival mansion on the Belle Meade Plantation which would become known as the Belle Meade Mansion (listed on the National Register of Historical Places since December 30, 1969).[1][4][6] Beyond breeding thoroughbreds and cashmere goats, he also engaged in horseracing.[1][3] In 1856, he served as the President of the Nashville Jockey Club.[4] He owned over a hundred slaves.[1]

Harding was a staunch proponent of the Confederate States of America and donated US$500,000 to the Confederate States Army to support the cause.[2][6] Prior to the American Civil War of 1861–1865, he attained the rank of Brigadier General in the Tennessee State Militia.[1] He headed the Military and Financial Board of Tennessee at the beginning of the Civil War, until his arrest by Union authorities in 1862.[1] He was imprisoned by Federal authorities in Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island in Michigan for six months.[1][3][5][6]

After the Civil War, his son-in-law William Hicks Jackson and his daughter Selene moved to Belle Meade Plantation to co-manage the farm with him.[1][2] They expanded the horse farm to an estimated 5,400 acres (22 km2). The Harding-Jackson families became world-renowned thoroughbred horse breeders, later purchasing a top stallion named Iroquois (1878–1899), the first American horse to win the prestigious English Epsom Derby in 1881.

Personal life[edit]

Harding married Mary Selena McNairy, and they had a son, John Harding II.[1][2] She died in 1837.[1][2] He remarried to Elizabeth Irwin McGavock, daughter of Randal McGavock (1766–1843), who had served as Mayor of Nashville, Tennessee from 1824 to 1825 and owned the Carnton plantation in Franklin, Tennessee.[1][2][3][7] They had two daughters, Selene and Mary Elizabeth.[1][2]

After the Civil War, his daughter Selene Harding married Confederate States Army General William Hicks Jackson, commonly known as General "Red" Jackson, the son of Dr. Alexander Jackson and Mary W. Hurt Jackson.[2][8] His brother was Howell Edmunds Jackson, who served as United States Senator from 1881 to 1886 and was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1893 to 1895. After the death of Howell's first wife Sophia Malloy in 1873, he married General Harding's youngest daughter, Mary Elizabeth Harding.

Death and legacy[edit]

Harding died in 1886.[1] His obituary in the Chattanooga Times Free Press called him 'a monarch in his own domain'.[1] He is buried in the family tomb at the Belle Meade Plantation. After his death, the Belle Meade Estate went in equal shares to :

  • John Harding II.[9] His first wife, Sophia W. Merritt, whom he married in 1853, died in 1855.[9] He married his second wife, Margaret A. L. Owen, in December 1856.[9]
  • Howell Edmunds Jackson (8 April 1832 – 8 August 1895) and wife, Mary Elizabeth Harding, General Harding's youngest daughter. They lived in West Meade, which they built in 1886 after he gave them a track of 2,600 acres.[10]
  • General "Red" Jackson (1835–1903) and his wife, Selene Harding.[2] They had a son named William Harding Jackson, Sr. (1874–1903) who later married Anne (Davis) Richardson (1897–1950). They also had a daughter named Selene Harding Jackson (1876–1913) who later married William Robert Elliston, and took the name 'Selene Elliston'. Their grandson by William Harding Jackson, Sr., William Harding Jackson (1901–1971), later served as the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from October 7, 1950 to August 3, 1950 under President Harry S. Truman and as U.S. National Security Advisor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. He inherited the estate with his aunt Selene Elliston when he was two years old. James B. Richardson, his grandfather, was named Executor of the Belle Meade Estate, and sold the estate.[2] It remained a private residence until 1953, when it was sold to the state of Tennessee.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Ridley Wills, II, William Giles Harding, The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, December 25, 2009
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Belle Meade Plantation: The Hardings & Jacksons
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Vanderbilt University Special Collections: William Giles Harding Collection: 1827-1872
  4. ^ a b c d e Perky Beisel, Rob DeHart, Middle Tennessee Horse Breeding, Arcadia Publishing, 2007, pp. 14-15 [1]
  5. ^ a b UNC Harding and Jackson Family Papers, 1819-1911.
  6. ^ a b c d e Mark Zimmerman, Guide To Civil War Nashville Nashville, The Battle of Nashville Preservation Society, 2004, p. 68
  7. ^ Friends of Metropolitan Archives of Nashville and Davidson County, TN
  8. ^ Tennessee State Library and Archives, the Papers of William Hicks Jackson (1835–1903)
  9. ^ a b c Tennessee Portrait Project: John Harding II
  10. ^ Battle of Nashville Preservation Society