I can't believe that my first post in this new space is going to be about one of my least favorite historical characters ever.
But just because he is my least favorite does not mean that his life and accomplishments are not worth studying. He was an fascinating man who achieved a lot and embodied the development of America and the new direction it was heading in the early 19th centery.
As a historian you either love him or you hate him, I have yet to meet someone in between. We will get into that later.
In October I went to visit my best friend and her husband in Nashville and we visited Andrew Jackson's plantation, The Hermitage.
And it truly is an extraordinary interactive place that brings history and Jackson himself to life. This is the first of many post's about Andrew Jackson's life and the place he called home, the Hermitage.
First we are going to start with his childhood.
Born into humble beginnings with tragedy hitting every couple of years Jackson spent his childhood as an orphan. His father died a mere two weeks before his birth in Camden, South Carolina. His widowed mother left with Jackson and his two older brothers to go live with her family, Scots-Irish immigrant farmers, who had high hopes for Jackson becoming a Presbyterian minister.
But as Jackson's rascal like demeanor quickly became obvious he became most known for his pranks, mischief, and fighting (crushing the Presbyterian minister dreams of his family).
By Jackson's 8th birthday the Revolutionary War was in full swing, with Continental Congress declaring independence on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, and would forever have profound effects on the rest of his life.
At age 13 he joined the Patriot army with his two brothers Hugh and Robert.
Jackson's oldest brother Hugh joined the Patriot regulars and died of heat stroke following the Battle of Stono Ferry in 1779. Both Andrew and Robert, being to young to join the regulars, joined the irregulars fighting in the Carolina back country where ambushes and sharp skirmishes were the regular exposing Jackson to the realities, required toughness, and the harshness of war.
In 1781 Jackson and his brother Robert were captured by the British and held as prisoners of war. There is a famous story that Andrew Jackson was slashed with a sword by a British officer when he defied his captor by refusing to polish the officers boots. His brother was next asked to do the same thing and refused.
Jackson's mother was in the process of getting her two young boys released from prison. They started the 45 miles back to their home in Waxhaw, North Carolina. Jackson walked beside two horses, one carrying his mother and the other his brother Robert who had been strikes on the head by an office. While on the long journey home a massive storm hit at the same time Small pox struck leaving Jackson very ill. For Robert these would be his last two days as he "had suffered greatly; the wound on his head...having never been dressed, was followed by an inflammation of the brain, which in a few days after his liberation, brought him to his grave."
Jacksons mother finished nursing him back to health from small pox and then left to go care for her two nephews who had fallen ill in Charleston but caught cholera and died on November 2 of 1781 leaving Andrew Jackson an orphan at just 14 years old.
Shortly after being taken in by his mothers remaining family, he would fall into a pattern of lashing out and troublemaking. His mother's family did little to comfort their orphan who had just lost his two brothers and his mother. After starting a fight with a house guest his relatives sent him to another relative in Charleston as "having the unstable orphan around presented too many problems." Once in Charleston he was introduced go drinking, gambling, horse racing, and duels that were the daily agenda for the young, tough, and lost Jackson; and the way his life was going you could categorize him as a common trouble maker not to make a mark in the history books. But it is quiet the opposite.
After spending his entire inheritance that he received from his grandfather's timly death in Ireland, Andrew Jackson got to work. Very few people understood the ambition and drive that the young redheaded kid from the Carolina's had. He was 17 in 1784 and decided to become a lawyer. He moved to Salisbury North Carolina for a three year apprenticeship shadowing prominent lawyers of the area. As soon as he received his license to practice law he began building a reputation for himself as a charismatic and ambitious man. He was known for his temper but also his confidence and decision making and cool headedness to get done what needed to be done.
This rough and unfortunate childhood would help the American people rally behind the man that had started out so similar to them; bringing rise to the era of the common man.
The picture below is an illustration from newspapers of Andrew Jackson as a "brave child standing up to the British officer."
Meacham, Jon. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. New York: Random House, 2008.