Orphan

Spark from the Start

No one could have possibly imagined the story that would become Andrew Jackson’s life.

Despite a humble beginning and the numerous tragedies woven throughout his childhood, young Andrew Jackson became a fiery, passionate fighter determined to take life by the reins and succeed.

Early Life

Andrew Jackson was born on March 15, 1767, near Lancaster, South Carolina. His parents, Andrew and Elizabeth, along with his two older brothers, Hugh and Robert, emigrated from Ireland two years earlier.

Jackson’s father, for whom he was named, died shortly before he was born. Raised by his widowed mother in the Waxhaws settlement located near the North Carolina and South Carolina border, Jackson grew up with a large extended family that were also Scots-Irish immigrant farmers. His mother had hopes of him becoming a Presbyterian minister but young Jackson quickly dashed those hopes with his propensity for pranks, cursing and fighting.

Saved, Yet Orphaned

The battles of the American Revolutionary War that raged in the Carolinas from 1778 to 1781 had a devastating effect on Jackson’s life. Andrew, along with his brothers, joined the patriotic cause and volunteered to fight the British and when he was only thirteen.

His oldest brother Hugh died of heat stroke following the Battle of Stono Ferry in 1779. In 1781, Jackson and his brother Robert were captured. During their captivity, a British officer slashed Jackson with his sword after he refused to polish the officer’s boots. Additionally, both Andrew and Robert contracted smallpox in prison and were gravely ill when their mother arranged for their release in a prisoner exchange. Shortly after their release, Robert succumbed to the illness and died. Jackson survived.

After Jackson recovered, his mother traveled to Charleston to aid the war effort by nursing injured and sick soldiers. Tragically, while there she contracted cholera and died leaving Jackson an orphan at the young age of fourteen.

A Spirited Youth

After the war, Jackson briefly resided with members of his mother’s family but soon went to Charleston and embarked upon a campaign of youthful adventure and mischief.

About this time, Jackson received a modest inheritance from a grandfather still in Ireland. When his money ran out, Jackson finished school and, although he disdained studying, worked as a schoolteacher for a short period. Tall and lanky with red hair and piercing blue eyes, Jackson was known for his fiery temper, fearlessness, playful personality and daring spirit.

Budding Lawyer

In 1784, when he was seventeen, Jackson decided to become an attorney. He moved to Salisbury, North Carolina, where he studied law by apprenticing with prominent lawyers. After three years, Jackson received his license to practice law in several counties scattered throughout the North Carolina back country. To supplement his income he also worked in small-town general stores.

While living in North Carolina, Jackson gained a reputation for being charismatic, wild and ambitious. He loved to dance, entertain, gamble and spend his free time with friends in taverns.

A Start in Public Office

Soon after his twenty-first birthday, Jackson’s friend and mentor, John McNairy was elected Superior Court Judge of the newly formed “Western District” by the North Carolina General Assembly. This territory stretched from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River. As one of his first acts, McNairy appointed Jackson as the district’s prosecuting attorney.

In 1788, Jackson followed the Wilderness Road across the rugged Allegheny Mountains to Jonesborough, TN and practiced law briefly in Jonesborough and Greeneville. In the fall of 1788, he moved to Nashville.

Two Pistols Belonging to Andrew Jackson in His Youth
Many people think Andrew Jackson fought hundreds of duels. He did have a temper, and he was challenged and he challenged others several times. But only one duel resulted in shots fired – the duel in 1806 when he killed Charles Dickinson.
Marsha Mullin, Chief Curator of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage

A Man of Controversy

Jackson maintained his reputation as being hot-tempered. In 1806, a quarrel with Charles Dickinson over a horse race soon turned violent when Dickinson made rude comments about the character of Andrew’s wife, Rachel.

Jackson challenged Dickinson to a duel in Kentucky to settle the matter. Dickinson, a well-known marksman, fired the first shot wounding Jackson in the chest. Despite this, Jackson still managed to shoot and mortally wound Dickinson. After several months, Jackson recovered from his physical injuries but his reputation was tarnished by such scandals and duels. Consequently, he retreated to The Hermitage.

Then, in 1812, a war began.

Jackson was elected the General of the Tennessee Militia in 1802. Thus, when troops were needed on the southern and western frontiers, the War Department sent Jackson along with the Tennessee Militia.

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