President James K. Polk's Last Will and Testament

The tomb of President James K. Polk and First Lady Sarah Childress Polk, located on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol in the City of Nashville.

President Polk on the 28th day of February, 1849, while still in Washington, D.C., executed his will. He devised to his brother, William H. Polk, and his heirs forever, the remainder interest which he owned in the house and lot in Columbia, Tennessee, which at the date of the will was occupied by President Polk's mother, Jane Polk, who held a life interest in the property. President Polk's will is as follows:

I, James K. Polk of the State of Tennessee, but residing during the term for which I was elected President of the United States, in the City of Washington, considering the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death, do make, ordain and publish this my last Will and Testament, as follows: that is to say:

It is my will and desire, and I do so direct, that all just debts which I may owe at the period of my death shall be paid out of my estate by my Executors hereinafter named.

I devise and bequeath to my brother, William H. Polk and his heirs forever, the remainder interest which I own in the house and lot lying and being in the town of Columbia, Tennessee, at present occupied by my aged mother, Jane Polk, and in which she holds a life estate.

I devise and bequeath to my nephew, Marshall T. Polk, now a Cadet at the Military Academy at West Point, and to his heirs forever, all lands which I own lying in the State of Arkansas, which said lands were patented to me by the United States; and as I have much solicitude for the future welfare and prosperity of my said nephew, Marshall T. Polk, whose father and mother are both dead, and for whom I am guardian, it is my request that my beloved wife, Sarah Polk, will from time to time, give him such further aid and assistance out of the estate hereinafter devised and bequeathed to her as in her discretion she may think right and proper, provided he shall in her judgment, prove to be worthy of such aid and assistance, and she shall be in a situation to do so, without embarrassment or inconvenience to herself.

I devise and bequeath to my beloved wife Sarah Polk, to be held, used and enjoyed by her, during the period of her natural life, the dwelling house and lots and all the grounds, with the appurtenances thereunto attached and belonging, situated, lying and being in the City of Nashville, in the State of Tennessee, which said house, lots and premises I purchased from the estate of Felix Grundy, deceased, and from John M. Bass, and which on my return, I design to make my future residence.

It is my will and desire that my said wife, Sarah Polk, shall have the full right as long as she may live, to the exclusive possession, occupation and enjoyment of the said house lots and premises, and to add to, alter or change the improvements thereon as she may think proper. And as my beloved wife, Sarah Polk, and myself, have mutually agreed with each other, that at our respective deaths, it is desired by us, that our bodies may be interred on the said premises, which I have denominated the Polk Place,

This historical marker marks the site of "Polk Place," James K. Polk's house, which no longer stands, and Polk's tomb which was moved from Polk Place to the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol, less than one mile from its original location.

and as it is also our desire that the said house, lots and premises should never pass into the hands of strangers, who are not related to me by consanguinity, I do hereby, with a view to prevent such a contingency, devise, bequeath and give the said house lots and premises, and all the appurtenances thereunto belonging or appertaining, from and after the death of my said wife, to the State of Tennessee, but to be held by the said State of Tennessee in trust for the following uses, objects and purposes, and none other, that is to say:

the said State of Tennessee, through its Governor for the time being, or if he should decline to assume the Execution of the trust, then through such other person, as the legislature of the said State may from time to time empower and authorize for that purpose, shall permit the said house, lots and premises, to be occupied, used and enjoyed by such one of my blood relations, having the name of Polk as may be designated by the said State, or its authorized agent, preferring always my nearest of kin of the name of Polk, if there be such a person who shall be deemed worthy, and a proper person to occupy the same; but if at any time, there shall be no such blood relation bearing the name of Polk, then the said house, lots and premises shall be occupied, used and enjoyed by such other of my blood relations as may be designated by the said State to execute this trust.

Whichsoever of my blood relations, shall after the death of my said beloved wife, Sarah Polk, from time to time, use occupy and enjoy the said house, lots and premises, shall be required to keep the same in repair, so as to prevent them from delapidating [sic] or falling into decay, shall pay the public taxes thereon, and shall preserve and keep in repair the tomb which may be placed or erected over the mortal remains of my beloved wife and myself, and shall not permit the same to be removed, nor shall any buildings or other improvements be placed or erected over the spot where the said tomb may be.

I request the public authorities of the State of Tennessee, whose people I have so long served in various public stations, and to whom I am under so many obligations of gratitude, at the death of my beloved wife, Sarah Polk, to accept and execute the trust specified in this devise.

I devise, bequeath and give to my beloved wife, Sarah Polk, and her heirs forever, all the balance of my estate, not hereinbefore disposed of, wheresoever situated, including all my lands and real estate, all my servants and personal property of any description, in the State of Tennessee and Mississippi or elsewhere, and including also money and debts and securities, which may be due or owning to me, or held by me. I have entire confidence that my beloved wife, Sarah Polk, who has been constantly identified with me in all her sympathies and affections, through all the vicissitudes of my public and private life for more than twenty-five years, and who by her prudence, care and economy has aided and assisted me in acquiring and preserving the property which I own, will at her death make a proper and just disposition of what property she may then possess, between her relations and mine. This is left entirely to her sole discretion, but with a request, if she shall deem it proper, that it may be distributed as equally as practicable, between such of her blood relations and my blood relations, whether they be the nearest of kin or not, as she may select and deem to be the most worthy recipients of it.

Should I survive her, unless influenced by circumstances which I do not now foresee, it is my intention to emancipate all my slaves, and I have full confidence, that if at her death she shall deem it proper, she will emancipate them.

I do hereby nominate, constitute and appoint my beloved wife, Sarah Polk, Executrix, and my faithful and trusty friends, John Caltron and Daniel Graham Executors of this my last will and testament.

In witness whereof I have hereunto subscribed my name and affixed my seal this twenty-eighth day of February in the year of Our Lord, one thousand, eight hundred and forty nine.

[Signed] James K. Polk [Seal]

Signed, sealed and delivered by the testator in our presence, and in the presence of each other, as his last will and testament, and witnessed by us at his request.

C. Johnson
James H. Thomas
H. L. Turney

Excerpted from "Discussion of James K. Polk's Will" published in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly, June 1956 issue.

Sevierville's "First Hero"...

In January, The High Road Agency approached me requesting permission to use some of my writing describing the life of John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero for a new exhibit at the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce Visitor's Center. That exhibit is now on display and open to the public. I'm eager to see it in person.

I've accepted an invitation to a book signing at the Visitor's Center on Friday, April 27, 2018, so be on the lookout for details about that event. In the meantime, Carroll McMahan, Sevier County Historian and member of the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce, graciously shared the following photograph of the exhibit with me. I'm grateful to Carroll for permitting me to publish this image here...

Image courtesy of Carroll McMahan, Sevierville Chamber of Commerce

I'm glad that my book helped to inform and inspire this exhibit. One of my goals in writing a book about John Sevier was to draw public attention to a long-neglected historical figure I've devoted several years of my professional life to studying. I hope that this exhibit also accomplishes that goal. I'm also pleased to learn that historical artifacts from Marble Springs, John Sevier's plantation home, are currently on loan to the Visitor's Center and on display.

The exhibit will remain open through 2018, so if you find yourself traveling near Sevierville, I encourage you to visit this display and learn something new about "Tennessee's First Hero."


Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

Fort Nashborough reopens to visitors

On July 13, 2017, I had the opportunity to attend a "ribbon hacking" ceremony (a clever historical spin on the traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony) for the reopening of Nashville's Fort Nashborough historic fort.

Nashville's Mayor and selected dignitaries gather to hear opening remarks to the assembled crowd before the ribbon cutting ceremony at Fort Nashborough.
Author photo

According to The Tennessean...

"The new Fort Nashborough, which is the third replica of the original Nashville settlers' fort on the Cumberland River, reopens with a ribbon cutting and dedication and an invitation to the entire community to explore the new fort grounds.
Metro Parks Assistant Director Tim Netsch explained that this week's opening of the $1.7 million phase one of the riverfront fort in downtown Nashville will give visitors a more comprehensive look at the lives of the early settlers than previous fort replicas offered.
The new fort and interpretive center, which will be free to visit and will be operated by Metro Parks, showcase how the settlers lived and worked, and allow people to see the exterior of the fort's log cabins and block houses that were built with historically accurate construction...
...One important addition is an interpretive plaza area on the south end that focuses on Nashville's Native American history and includes an 8-foot-tall feather sculpture as well as interpretive signage detailing the various tribes and their roles in early Nashville history."

On January 1, 1780, James Robertson founded Nashville when he led his group of pioneers across the frozen Cumberland river to a place called The Cedar Bluffs. These men built a fort called Nashborough, which is replicated here.

I'm happy to see this important period of early Tennessee history back on display in a prominent location in Nashville's growing skyline. I'm particularly pleased to see that the story of Nashville's Native American settlers--here long before Robertson and Donelson--have a place of honor in this plaza. Hopefully, with the opening of this new interpretive center, more people will learn about the deep and diverse history of Nashville.

The eagle feather honors the heritage of Nashville's indigenous peoples.
Author photo

"The First Peoples" interpretive panel at Fort Nashborough.
Author photo

Fort Nashborough History Center is now open to visitors.
Author photo

I took a few more photographs of the fort and the ceremonies and posted them on Twitter. I invite you to click the preceding link for a sampling.


Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

A fond look back, and the road ahead...

On April 12, 2014, Traci and I celebrated the official launch of our book tour in support of John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero...

Since that time, reader interest in our book remains strong, even as John Sevier enters its second printing and third year in publication. Along the way, we've had the opportunity to visit individuals, bookstores, heritage and lineage societies, colleges and universities, and historic sites to speak about the book. During our book tour, we've met a lot of interesting folks who share our passion for history. We're grateful for each opportunity, and we look forward to continuing our book tour in the days to come. If you're interested in hosting us for a lecture at your next gathering, please visit the "Events" page of this blog to learn more. We'd be honored to receive your invitation.

While we continue to schedule speaking engagements, our primary focus now is setting our sights on research and writing for our third book. Traci and I intend to explore several stories chronicled by Tennessee's earliest explorers and their encounters with Native Americans, drawing on letters, diaries, journals, legends, and folktales to tell the story of what I like to call "America's First Frontier." In the coming months, posts to The Posterity Project will be far and few between as we begin exploring this topic in greater detail through our research. However, I am looking forward to sharing a few of these stories with you from time to time as this next book project begins to take shape, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I want to express how grateful we are for the support we've received for our books, including our first publication, Onward Southern Soldiers: Religion and the Army of Tennessee in the Civil War. To learn more about both titles, and to order author-signed copies of each, visit the "Books" page for more information.

Gordon Belt and Traci Nichols-Belt are a husband and wife team of authors and public historians. Together, they have collaborated on two books. Traci Nichols-Belt is the author of Onward Southern Soldiers: Religion and the Army of Tennessee in the Civil War. Her book explores the significant impact of religion on the Army of Tennessee, C.S.A., on every rank, from generals to chaplains to common soldiers. Gordon Belt is the author of John Sevier: Tennessee’s First Hero, which focuses on the life and legend of Tennessee’s first governor, John Sevier. Both books are published by The History Press, an award-winning publisher of local and regional history titles from coast to coast. Gordon and Traci’s writings focus specifically on stories from their home state of Tennessee.

An interview with Pat Nolan on INSIDE POLITICS...

On Friday, August 19th, I had the opportunity to chat with Pat Nolan for an interview that aired on NewsChannel5+ later that evening. In that interview, Pat and I talked about 'John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero' and how writers viewed his life through the lens of history and memory.

Pat Nolan, NewsChannel5 Political Analyst, hosts INSIDE POLITICS, a weekly political interview show, and CAPITOL VIEW, a weekly on-line political commentary, airing on NewsChannel5+ and online. A friend and colleague pointed out to me that Pat is also the former president of the Friends of the Nashville Metro Archives, and he has spoken at Society of Tennessee Archivists annual meeting.

I'm honored by the kind words Pat shared with me after the interview...

"Thanks for coming on the show, Gordon! You've written a fascinating book about a legendary and critically important person in Tennessee's early history as well as how John Sevier's legacy has waxed and waned in the public's mind over the last two centuries."

I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to meet Pat and to have had this conversation. I'm also grateful to my Library & Archives colleague, Blake Fontenay, who arranged this interview along with NewsChannel5's Executive Director Rick Casebeer. Research gathered at the Tennessee State Library & Archives played a crucial role in the telling of this story, so I'm always happy to return the favor as an advocate for this venerable institution.

And now, I'm happy to share our interview with you here on The Posterity Project. The interview airs in three parts. Visit the NewsChannel5 website to view our conversation HERE.


Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

A visit to Franklin...

Last week, my wife, Traci, had an opportunity to visit the Williamson County Archives and Museum in Franklin, where an audience gathered to hear her speak about her book, Onward Southern Soldiers: Religion and the Army of Tennessee in the Civil War.

Five years after first publishing Traci’s book with The History Press, we remain grateful for the outpouring of support and interest we’ve received for Onward Southern Soldiers. It is a testament to the durability of her scholarship and to the passions readers have for her topic.

Traci delivers a lecture before one of many audiences that have gathered over the years to here her speak about the role religion played in the motivations of men who fought with the Army of Tennessee in the Civil War. Author photo.

Franklin, of course, was once the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. At the Battle of Franklin in November of 1864, the Army of Tennessee lost over 6,000 dead and wounded, including six dead Confederate generals. Altogether, some 10,000 American soldiers became casualties at Franklin. When recollecting the battle years later one man said simply, “It was as if the devil had full possession of the earth.”

Following her talk, Traci took a self-guided tour of Franklin’s Civil War sites, including a brief walk along an area of Franklin once overrun by development. In the years that followed this bloody battle, the march of progress overtook portions of the battlefield. Commercial development consumed the land.

Concern for the loss of tangible remnants of the Battle of Franklin served as one of several factors that motivated Traci to pursue a degree in Public History. This shared concern also led the community of Franklin to preserve portions of the battlefield from the ravages of modernity.

Franklin now serves as a model for battlefield preservation throughout the nation. The citizens of Franklin deserve praise for their diligent work to restore these historic sites. The effort remains a work in progress, but after years of struggle, the results are beginning to pay off.

Sergeant John Johnston, Army of Tennessee, CSA, fought at the Battle of Franklin. Years later, he visited the site of the bloody engagement and drew a map of the battle along with notes of his personal recollections. Johnston’s hand-drawn map shows areas where specific skirmishes occurred and where his ancestors lived and their final resting places.
Image courtesy of the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The demolition of the Pizza Hut in 2005 (left) and the marker commemorating Patrick Cleburne's death as it appears today.
Image and caption credit: The Civil War Trust.

This artist's rendering shows what a Battle of Franklin park will look like in the not-too-distant future. By purchasing land and removing commercial buildings, the citizens of Franklin have created a contiguous park allowing visitors to reflect on one Civil War's bloodiest episodes.
Image and caption credit: The Civil War Trust.

Times have changed dramatically since our nation’s earliest efforts to preserve Civil War memory. While Civil War monuments and the mythology of the “Lost Cause” continue to influence our narrative and shape public memory, they are no longer the sole source of remembrance.

Following the sesquicentennial anniversary of the war, a healthy debate has emerged from this period of commemoration concerning how best to present a more complete picture of the war and its primary cause—the institution of slavery. Still, society continues to struggle to come to grips with this “peculiar institution” and its legacy.

Battlefield preservation efforts like those taking place in Franklin provide us with an opportunity to learn. By asking difficult questions at the very site where conflict boiled over into battle, we move beyond the mere recitation of battlefield maneuvers and military strategy. We gain an opportunity to engage the public in a conversation about our shared Civil War memory by exploring the painful truths of war.

As Franklin continues to preserve the history of its role in the Civil War through battlefield preservation, we should commend its citizens for their commitment to preserve the past. We must not forget what took place here. To do so would be a disservice to the memory of those who died on this hallowed ground.

Traci Nichols-Belt is the author of Onward Southern Soldiers: Religion and the Army of Tennessee in the Civil War, published by The History Press. Traci holds a Master's degree in public history from Middle Tennessee State University and a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from Anderson University. Her principal research interest is the Civil War, with a particular focus on the impact of religion on the military. Traci has appeared on radio and television to speak about the role of religion in the Civil War, and she has had her writings published in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly and in The New York Times Civil War blog, Disunion.