Isaac Franklin, slave trader and planter, was born in Sumner County, the son of a Revolutionary War soldier who had received a military land warrant in Tennessee. Franklin served in the War of 1812, and at age eighteen, while working for his brother on a flatboat that ran from Gallatin to New Orleans, he conceived the idea of entering the slave trade. He formed a partnership with his nephew by marriage John Armfield to establish a slave trading business that soon came to be regarded as the largest in the South. The company of Armfield & Franklin at the time of its operation enjoyed an excellent reputation among the white planter class. Even an abolitionist who visited the company’s Alexandria office and slave pen in the 1830s was impressed by John Armfield’s manners. However, historians researching the records of the firm and correspondence between Franklin and Armfield have revealed the abusive and exploitative treatment of the enslaved people in whom they trafficked.
Franklin retired from the business in 1835, an immensely wealthy man. Thereafter, Franklin pursued the occupation of planter. He owned hundreds of slaves who worked six cotton plantations in Louisiana of approximately 8,700 acres in addition to Fairvue, a 2,000-acre plantation near Gallatin, where he raised tobacco, cattle, and thoroughbred horses. In 1839, at the age of fifty, the bachelor Franklin married Adelicia Hayes, daughter of Oliver Bliss Hayes, a Nashville Presbyterian minister, lawyer, and noted businessman.
The couple lived at Fairvue and had four children, one of whom died at birth. After seven years of marriage, Franklin died while visiting their plantation in Louisiana. According to his wishes, the body was returned to Fairvue for burial. His remains were preserved in whiskey for the riverboat trip back to Tennessee. Six weeks later, two of his children, Victoria and Adelicia, also died.
Under the terms of Franklin’s will, Adelicia Franklin inherited Fairvue with the stipulation that, upon her remarriage, the property should become Franklin Institute, a private school for his children, other relatives, and worthy poor children of the area. Adelicia Franklin and her new husband, Joseph Acklen, filed suit against the will and in 1852 the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned the will on the grounds that it established a perpetuity. Adelicia Hayes Franklin Acklen and her daughter Emma inherited all the Franklin holdings in Louisiana, shortly before Emma died of diphtheria at age eleven.