A Scotch-Irish Heritage
No one could have possibly written the story that would become Andrew Jackson’s life. Born on March 15, 1767, near Camden, South Carolina, his parents, Andrew and Elizabeth, and two older brothers, Hugh and Robert, had emigrated from northern Ireland two years earlier. Jackson was named after his father who died shortly before he was born. Jackson spent his early life in the Waxhaw settlement located near the North and South Carolina border. Raised by his widowed mother, Jackson grew up with a large extended family—aunts, uncles, and cousins— who were also Irish immigrant farmers. As a youth, Jackson attended a good school and his mother had hopes of him becoming a Presbyterian minister. However, young Jackson’s propensity for pranks, cursing, and fighting quickly dashed those hopes.
A Young Soldier
From 1778 to 1781, the American Revolutionary War raged in the Carolinas. The war had a devastating effect on Jackson’s life. When he was thirteen, Jackson and his brothers joined the patriotic cause and volunteered to fight the British. His oldest brother Hugh died of heat stroke following the Battle of Stono Ferry in 1779. The following year, Jackson saw battlefield action at the Battle of Hanging Rock. In 1781, Jackson and his brother Robert were captured. After their capture, a British officer slashed Jackson with his sword because he refused to polish the officer’s boots. Both Andrew and Robert contracted smallpox in prison and were gravely ill when. Jackson’s mother arranged for their release in a prisoner exchange. Jackson survived, however, his brother died. After Jackson recovered, his mother traveled to Charleston to aid the war effort by nursing injured and sick soldiers. She contracted cholera and diedleaving Jackson an orphan.
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. When his money ran out, Jackson finished school and although he disdained studying, he even 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.
At age seventeen, Jackson decided to become an attorney. He moved to Salisbury, North Carolina, where he studied law by apprenticing with prominent lawyers. In 1787, after three years of studying law, Jackson received his license to practice law in several counties scattered through 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 Jackson celebrated his twenty-first birthday, the North Carolina legislature elected John McNairy, whom Jackson studied law with, Superior Court Judge of its “Western District,” which stretched from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River. McNairy appointed Jackson public prosecutor. In 1788, Jackson followed the Wilderness Road across the rugged mountains to Jonesborough. Jackson practiced law in Jonesborough and Greeneville. He boarded in a log farmhouse outside Jonesborough where he trained racehorses. Jackson purchased his first African American slave, a woman named Nancy, in 1788 while in Jonesborough.