This Day in History: Andrew Jackson, captured

On this day in 1781, future President Andrew Jackson is captured by the British. He was only 14 years old. His older brother Robert was also captured.

Jackson’s childhood, including his imprisonment during the Revolution, no doubt explains the feisty nature of our 7th President. He once said of himself: “I was born for a storm and a calm does not suit me.”

Hmm. Well, I guess not!

Jackson was born in the Waxhaws region of the Carolinas. His dad passed away before his birth, so his mother was left to raise him and his two brothers with the help of relatives. She must have been pretty feisty herself. Reportedly, Jackson once described her as “gentle as a dove and as brave as a lioness.” When the Revolution began, his mother helped as a nurse, taking care of wounded and sick soldiers.

Some of these Revolutionary battles in the South were particularly brutal. At the Battle of Waxhaws (May 1780), British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton ruthlessly slaughtered or wounded nearly 300 Americans, despite the fact that these Americans were trying to surrender. The massacre caused a great deal of outrage. Soon, a small fighting force was being organized and the 13-year old Jackson signed up, as did his older brother Robert. (Their older brother, Hugh, had already passed away following the Battle of Stono Ferry.)

Andrew and his brother Robert were too young to serve as part of the regular militia, so they were probably errand boys and messengers. Unfortunately, a Tory neighbor gave away their location to the British. The British raided the home where they were hiding and took them to a British prison camp in Camden, South Carolina.

Jackson was defiant, even as he was being captured. Presumably to humiliate Jackson, a British officer ordered Jackson to clean his boots. Jackson refused. The officer raised his sword and swung it at Jackson, who had his arms up in a defensive position. Jackson’s forehead and hand were scarred for life as a result of the incident.

Jackson was eventually released from the prison camp when his mother arrived and convinced the British to include Andrew and Robert in a prisoner exchange. Like I said, Mrs. Jackson must have been feisty! By then, both boys had been exposed to smallpox in the camp and were very ill. Robert died of the disease shortly thereafter. Andrew recovered, but it took several months. His mother soon made another journey in an attempt to save her nephews from another prison camp, but she ended up contracting cholera and dying.

Thus, the future 7th President of the United States was an orphan by the age of 15.