Monday, June 19, 2006

A Young Man From the Waxhaws

I’ve completed several hours of research regarding Andrew Jackson over the last few days. Andrew Jackson and I are old friends. You see I’m from Georgia and, you can’t be from Georgia and not know how Jackson impacted our young state.

Georgia had many of her true natives ripped from their family farms and homes so they could be forced to march along the Trail of Tears. This occurred during Jackson’s presidency. Many of the Cherokees were rounded up and held in open pens close to my father’s property at Fort Buffington. There is no evidence of the fort now, but there is an elementary school near the site. My mom’s family used to hold family reunions at the school and, I would sometimes walk out to the road to read the historical marker concerning the fort.

Jackson is one of those presidents that history teachers simply can’t ignore. His life story is just too good to leave out of our American story. I like to begin introducing Jackson during my colonization unit as we begin talking about the frontier. I always tell students, “Now remember that name…Andrew Jackson… you’re going to hear about him again.” Later he can be brought up during the American Revolution when we discuss how children and women helped in the war effort. Jackson was also very influential in the settlement of Tennessee and served as a military leader during the Seminole Wars. By the time we reach the War of 1812 Jackson has become an old friend to my students. They can look at his entire life and begin to predict his actions or understand some of his choices. Students begin to analyze…a real skill they need in the real world.

Jackson’s contribution to the American war effort during the War of 1812 cannot be ignored, and as I already mentioned he was prominent during the Trail of Tears. Jackson was also a figure during the election of John Quincy Adams that I wrote about in a past post, and Jackson’s presidency was full of interesting events as well.

However, in this post, I want to focus on President Jackson’s childhood.

He was born in the Waxhaw area between North and South Carolina in 1767 to a family of Scots-Irish heritage. His father died while Jackson was still quite young and his mother took her three sons and moved onto property with other family members.

As the Revolutionary War began Jackson and two brothers joined the Continental Army. Jackson was assigned to be a courier as he was only thirteen. Some sources states Jackson’s brother died in battle while others mention Hugh died from heat exhaustion as was the case with many soldiers. More than likely Hugh expired from heat exhaustion during a battle.

Unfortunately Jackson and his brother, Robert, were captured by the British and held at the Redcoat’s pleasure. Jackson found himself alone when Robert passed away in captivity. Jackson exhibited his strong will and stubbornness when a British officer ordered the young man to clean his boots. Jackson refused and was soundly beaten by the officer. At one point the Redcoat raised his sword and slashed towards Jackson who received severe wounds to his hand and face. He was scarred for life. Jackson became an orphan when his mother died from Cholera while nursing soldiers.

Can you image at such a young age loosing your mother and brothers? Many biographers state that Jackson had a burning hatred for the British which is understandable. It is also easy to understand his feelings towards Native Americans, especially the tribes who allied with the British. Students are able to determine what drove Jackson to be so successful in his zeal against the British at the Battle of New Orleans and during the Seminole Wars.

It is true that our past generally shapes our future. Jackson is a clear example of this whether we agree with his actions or not.


Jennie W said...

Really interesting! Thanks!

Jeff Mather said...

I must quibble with a couple small parts of your interesting post. Jackson was instrumental in defining and promoting the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the forced removal of the Cherokee and other tribes from the eastern US. But the actual removal of Cherokees didn't happen until 1838, after Jackson's presidency.

Jackson also refused to enforce certain decisions of the US Supreme Court that would have protected Native Americans from unjust state laws in Georgia. One of these rulings (Worcester v. Georgia) also precipitated the Trail of Tears.

The feelings of Jackson toward Native Americans are complex, but they mostly devolve to paternalism. Like many of his predecessors, he said that removal was a way of protecting tribes from rapacious whites. But he also adopted an Indian child. After some reading (mostly Remini and Prucha) it seems most likely that Jackson possessed one of the typcial, early 19th-century attitudes toward Native Americans: namely a desire to be rid of them and the "trouble" they caused the states as non-citizens.

You might be interested in a paper I wrote on this several years ago.