It is said that behind every successful man is a strong woman. This was certainly the case for our 17th President - Andrew Johnson. Eliza McCardle Johnson supported her husband throughout his rise in politics, through the tumultuous years of the Civil War and his presidency, and during the ordeal of his impeachment. But who was this attractive brunette, who stood by her man and family, when it seemed no one else would?
Eliza McCardle was born near Telford, Tennessee on October 4, 1810 to a shoemaker father - John, and his homemaker wife -Sarah. The family relocated to the small Scots-Irish community of Greeneville, Tennessee. After the death of her father, Eliza and Sarah supported themselves by making and selling quilts and leather goods.
Family tradition holds that in September 1826, a young Eliza saw young Andrew Johnson leading a blind pony hitched to a small cart into town and commented to her friends: “...there goes my beau, girls, mark it.”
Marriage and Early Life in Greeneville
Andrew and Eliza were married on May 17, 1827, by Mordecai Lincoln, a relative of Abraham Lincoln. Eliza was just sixteen years old. Her new husband started his own tailoring business in Greeneville, and in 1828, Eliza gave birth to their first child - a baby girl, Martha.
Unlike Andrew, Eliza had some formal education though the Rhea Academy in Greeneville. Andrew stated that his young wife helped him with his writing and arithmetic and even encouraged him in later business dealings as his reputation as a tailor grew. With more income, Andrew began speculating in real-estate. Eliza was always at his side, encouraging him, widening and deepening his education, all the while caring for their daughter and the household.
In the 1830s, Andrew purchased their first home - a small two story brick house on the corner of Water (College) and Depot Streets. This early home provided more space for the growing family, but also showcased their rise in status. Soon after, Andrew purchased a small wooden structure, which he moved to a lot across from their home. This building became his tailor shop. Both of these buildings still stand today.
Andrew’s sucessful transition from tailor to politician began in 1829, when he was elected town Alderman (1829, 1833). Later he became town mayor (1834, 1837), then State Representative (1835-37, 1839-41) and later still US Representative (1843 -53). Eliza had her hands full raising the family, keeping track of the various properties, managing the household and raising a garden.
To assist Eliza and further display their increase in stature, Andrew purchased their first slave, Sam, in 1842 to assist with the property. The following year, he purchased a second slave, Dolly - Sam’s half-sister, to assist with the household.
A Growing Family and Supporting Her Absent Husband
The Johnson’s immediate family numbered six, in addition to Eliza, Andrew and daughter Martha, a son, Charles was born in 1830, followed by Mary in 1832, and then Robert in 1834.
Last updated: August 6, 2021