Death and Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson was born on March 15th, 1767. Since that day he claimed he had “been tossed upon the waves of fortune.” Jackson’s personality is nearly impossible to sum up in a single sentence. On one hand, you have the hell-razing, short-tempered, and fearless madman that was ready to pump a bullet into somebody at any moment. On the other, you had this deeply emotionally available man who could recognize real pain in a person’s eyes; he too had felt that unbearable pain life can deal the most undeserving of God’s innocent children.
Today, we focus on the boy born into impoverished tragedy, raised in the chaotic hell on earth that is war, and who ultimately would live to see each of those he held nearest to his heart die.
After reading his story, it will begin to make sense why nobody can quite accurately describe this man’s persona.
Just a few weeks before Andrew Jackson was born, his father passed away in what many believe to be a logging accident. According to Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, “His parents, Andrew and Elizabeth, along with his two brothers, Hugh and Robert, emigrated from Ireland two years earlier.”
Growing Up in Poverty
Thankfully for the now fatherless unit, they had many relatives nearby that would lend a helping hand when possible; though none of this extended family was wealthy and most were immigrant farmers. Also, that’s not to necessarily say the family was happy to help, for example, Mrs. Jackson’s sister “allowed” her to be their housekeeper in exchange for giving the widowed family a place to live. Guess that’s better than nothing.
Their situation was pitiful and in reality, Jackson’s mother, Elizabeth, was thrust into the nearly impossible role, particularly for the time, of raising three boys alone. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Lion – Andrew Jackson in the White House, Jon Meacham site’s a family relative of the time describing Jackson’s childhood, saying “His childish recollections were of humiliating dependence and galling discomfort, his poor mother performing household drudgery in return for niggardly maintenance of herself and her children.”
Mom Becomes His Hero
Elizabeth was the hardest working person in Andrew’s life and arguably the most influential. It would be so beneficial to society if women like this were added to the history books alongside the men they raised. When the famed Battle of New Orleans came along during the War of 1812, many were sure the city would fall, believing it could not be worth the bloodshed to mount a desperate defense. The British had already set fire to Washington D.C.
By this time, Jackson’s life had become so intertwined with the United States of America that he considered the nation itself his family. He was going to do whatever it’d take to safeguard one of the few remaining entities he held dear to his heart; in General Jackson’s mind, there was never another option but to fight, it’s all he ever knew – it’s all he had ever seen his mother do. She sacrificed all she had or ever could have for the sake of her family and so would he.
Drawing from the strength, values, and resourcefulness his mother forever instilled in him, General Jackson would force the world’s most powerful army to its knees. In many ways, Elizabeth’s spirit was there that glorious day – defending the city of New Orleans along with preserving the great American experiment.
The Revolutionary War
His Brother, Hugh, Dies
For the rest of his life, Jackson would tie the birth of our nation to the loss of his mother and brothers. The tragedy began in 1779, when Meacham documents that “Andrew’s brother Hugh, just sixteen, was fighting at the front and died, it was said, “of heat and fatigue” after a clash between American and British troops at the Battle of Stono Ferry, southwest of Charleston. It was the first in a series of calamities that would strike Jackson, who was twelve.”
The death of his brother only reassured Jackson’s hatred for the British, according to a biography Jackson approved of himself, John Reid and John Eaton describe Elizabeth telling the boys tales of her Irish father fighting the tyrannical British king at the Battle of Carrickfergus, adding, “Often she would spend the winter’s night, in recounting to them the sufferings of their grandfather, at the siege of Carrickfergus, and the oppressions exercised by the nobility of Ireland, over the laboring poor.” Apparently, “Impressing it upon them, as their first duty, to expand their lives, if it should become necessary, in defending and supporting the natural rights of man.”
War Arrives on His Doorstep
The war would eventually make its way into Andrew’s hometown of Waxhaw. Elizabeth always hoped he’d become a man of the church, however, after a nearby skirmish the church became a makeshift hospital. Their family went that Sunday to help the wounded, Jackson recalls “None of the men had less than three or four, and some as many as thirteen gashes on them.”
Amos Kendall was close to Jackson and in listening to him reminisce on the brutality of the war, he noted “Men hunted each other like beasts of prey and the savages were outdone in cruelties to the living and indignities on the dead,” adding, “Boys big enough to carry muskets incurred the dangers of men.” – Jackson was of age to partake.
In April of 1781, he and his brother Robert found themselves trapped in a relative’s house after stirring up trouble with the British. The soldiers found them, ransacked the home, and ordered the boys to polish their boots.
His Remaining Brother, Robert, Dies
Fourteen-year-old Andrew refused the officer’s demand that he shine their shoes, saying “Sir, I am a prisoner of war and I claim to be treated as such.” The officer then swung his sword at Andrew’s head. He managed to block the blade with his hand, however, he says “The sword point reached my head and has left a mark there…on the skull, as well as on the fingers.”
When his brother Robert refused the order, the soldier bashed the sword over his head, knocking him to the ground. Afterward, the boys were marched to a prisoners camp where Robert fell horribly ill.
Eventually Elizabeth was able to get her boys out, however, Jackson says his brother “Had suffered greatly; the wound on his head, all this time, 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.”
Now both of Andrew’s brother’s were dead; both at the hands of the British. Unfortunately, it’s easy to write that sentence as a simple matter of fact. Truthfully, Jackson suffered the horror of watching his only brother die day by day, before his very eyes, while likely understanding that his life would shortly come to an end.
His Mother, Elizabeth, Dies
Soon after the death of Robert, Elizabeth left to Charleston to care for two of her nephews. Andrew would never see his beloved mother again. All that returned to him was her clothes, not even her body.
The idea his mother was buried in obscurity with little to no respect haunted Jackson his whole life, as Meacham would put it, “The uncertainty over the fate of her remains was a matter of concern to Jackson even in his White House years. He long sought the whereabouts of his mother’s grave, but to no avail.”
For this reason, “he became a careful steward of such things – a devotee of souvenirs, a keeper of tombs, and an observer of anniversaries.”
Later, his wife Rachel believed Jackson drew strength from the many hardships his mother faced while on this Earth, saying he “obtained the fortitude which has enabled him to triumph with so much success over the many obstacles which have diversified his life.”
At fourteen years old, Jackson was officially an orphan who would spend his days bouncing between relatives homes. From 1781 to 1784 he tried to become a saddle maker and then a school teacher, however, neither of those goals worked out. At 17 years of age, he left his hometown to study law in North Carolina.
Deaths Later in Life
Adopted Native American Son, Lyncoya, Dies
In the year 1813, while Jackson was fighting a war with the Creek Indian Nation, he spotted a boy in the aftermath of a battlefield. The boys family and home had been completely “destroyed,” as it burned all around him; everything he had known to be true in life, up to that point, was forever wiped from the face of the Earth in a single day. The boy’s name was Lyncoya.
The pain in Lyncoya’s eyes was familiar to Jackson, he had felt that too. The Revolutionary War had brought hell & chaos to his doorstep, ultimately consuming his entire family. Jackson essentially adopted Lyncoya, quickly having him sent from the battlefield to his estate.
When writing his wife Rachel of meeting Lyncoya, Jackson said “He is a savage but one that fortune has thrown in my hands….I therefore want him well taken care of, he may have been given to me for some valuable purpose. In fact, when I reflect that he as to his relationships is so much like myself I feel an unusual sympathy for him.”
Lyncoya would live with the Jackson’s for 15 years before dying of illness in 1828.
His Wife, Rachel, Dies
The moment Rachel Jackson learned her husband would be the next President of the United States, she proclaimed “Well, for Mr. Jackson’s sake I am glad; for my own part I never wished it.”
Rachel had unfortunately become a political talking point for Jackson’s opponents throughout his campaign; they’d call her “a black wench” or “profligate woman.” Many people of the time took issue with how Andrew and Rachel’s relationship began.
Rachel had been previously married. She and her family came to hate her husband and eventually Rachel’s family took her back to live with them at home. Her husband then petitioned for a divorce in December of 1790, it was not granted until September of 1793.
Upon hearing the two had split, Jackson immediately rushed to Rachel’s side in the winter of 1790-91 and “married” her on the spot. However, because the divorce was not officially granted until the fall of 1793, he was technically living with, sleeping with, and loving another man’s wife. This is where the controversy lay.
I will write another article that dives deeper into their passionate love story, as their relationship is so noteworthy.
Throughout the campaign, Rachel would not just read the libel attached to her name, she would hear it in town as she walked the streets. There was no way to escape such horrible rumors.
Following her husband’s election, she fell ill and eventually died of a heart attack on the evening of Monday, December 22nd, 1828. Jackson would enter the White House without his wife and First Lady. He had her buried at their home, The Hermitage, in Tennessee.
Learning From Hardships
Life can be a difficult process. Pain is a guarantee, especially when tragedy begins plucking its strings at such an early age. On one hand, Jackson was a deeply disturbed man due to these hardships he encountered, on the other, it is because of them that he became the unstoppable force that he was.
The greatest figures throughout the history of mankind have always turned their challenges into opportunity. The next time you’re feeling down on yourself, consider destiny may be strengthening you for a greater challenge that lye ahead, as it did a 14-year-old orphan boy in the 1700s.
The bitter reality is that we need pain in this world, it breeds the strongest leaders.
“Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream things that never were, and ask why not.” – Robert Kennedy