Old Hickory’s Murky History
March 15, 2012 by Bob Livingston
The seventh President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, was born on March 15, 1767, according to conventional wisdom. But Jackson’s birth history may be murkier than that of the current President.
The official history lists Jackson’s place of birth somewhere in the woods of northern South Carolina or southern North Carolina to Irish immigrant parents. Supposedly, his father died in an accident shortly before or about the time of Jackson’s birth. His mother died during a cholera outbreak in 1781 while serving as a nurse to prisoners of war on board a ship in Charleston Harbor. Jackson was then raised by uncles.
But historian and novelist Allen W. Eckert claims in a footnote in his book, The Frontiersman, to have uncovered evidence that Jackson was actually born on a ship at sea in 1755. The evidence comes in the form of a story about a bar fight between Jackson and the book’s protagonist, Simon Kenton, that Kenton recounted in interviews later in his life. According to Kenton, he and Jackson, whom he did not know at the time, were about the same age. There is also, according to Eckert, a secondhand account of a remark by Jackson who responded to a question from a man named Marshall Anderson about his place of birth with the answer, “I was born at sea.”
This much is known: Jackson served as a courier in the Revolutionary War at age 13 (or 25). He was captured, along with his brother, by the British and held as prisoner of war. While in captivity, they both nearly starved to death. Jackson was slashed with a sword by a British officer for refusing to clean the officer’s boots. The sword left Jackson with a scar across his head and left hand, as well as a seething hatred of the British.
His military service during the War of 1812 was noted for his bravery, and he was a successful military leader. During the Battle of New Orleans he led about 5,000 soldiers to victory over 7,500 British soldiers.
He was tough as nails and never shirked from a fight. He loved to duel and, reportedly, engaged in as many as 100 duels in his lifetime. In one against Charles Dickinson over an argument stemming from a horse-racing debt, Jackson received a bullet to the chest, near the heart. He placed his hand over the wound to staunch the blood, took careful aim and killed Dickinson.
He was adamantly opposed to a central bank, believing it to be a den of iniquity. He once said of the bank: “You are a den of vipers and thieves. I intend to rout you out, and by the grace of the Eternal God, will rout you out.”
He was elected President in 1829, defeating John Quincy Adams. When the charter for the Second Bank of the United States came up for renewal in 1833, Jackson vetoed the renewal bill. It was about that time that Jackson told the bankers: “Gentlemen, I have had men watching you for a long time and I am convinced that you have used the funds of the bank to speculate in the breadstuffs of the country. When you won, you divided the profits amongst you, and when you lost, you charged it to the bank. You tell me that if I take the deposits from the bank and annul its charter, I shall ruin ten thousand families. That may be true, gentlemen, but that is your sin! Should I let you go on, you will ruin fifty thousand families, and that would be my sin! You are a den of vipers and thieves.”
He survived an assassination attempt and beat the assassin with his walking stick.
After serving two terms as President, Jackson retired to his Tennessee estate, The Hermitage, and died at age 78.
The Frontiersman, by Allan W. Eckert