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Andrew Jackson, b. 1814
Narrative and Writings of Andrew Jackson, of Kentucky; Containing an Account of His Birth, and Twenty-Six Years of His Life While a Slave; His Escape; Five Years of Freedom, Together with Anecdotes Relating to Slavery; Journal of One Year's Travels; Sketches, etc. Narrated by Himself; Written by a Friend
[Syracuse: Daily and Weekly Star Office, 1847].


Little is known about the life of the Kentucky slave known as Andrew Jackson other than the information contained in this autobiographical sketch. According to the narrative, Jackson was born into slavery on a farm near Bowling Green, Kentucky, on January 25, 1814. For the first twenty years of his life, Jackson worked for a Methodist preacher named George Wall. After Wall died, Jackson was deeded to a James McFadden and then to Stephen Claypoole as part of a property settlement. He spent eleven months with Claypoole relations in Illinois and then lived with his brother in Wisconsin for a year. In 1846 and 1847, Jackson traveled throughout New York and other Northeastern states to lecture about the ills of slavery. Since the publication of this narrative, no confirmed records of Jackson have been found. In the October 7, 1862, issue of the New York Times, a "List of Negro Prisoners" lists an "Andrew Jackson, Free, Pennsylvania" as a prisoner of war in Libby Prison—a warehouse converted into a POW camp in Richmond, Virginia, during the Civil War. Jackson had spent some time lecturing in Pennsylvania, so it is plausible that he may have returned there after publishing the Narrative and rejoined the Union Army.

The full title of Jackson's Narrative and Writings of Andrew Jackson notes that Jackson's biography was "written by a friend," one who is not explicitly identified in the text. The writer says he has known Andrew Jackson "during the several years he has been zealously engaged in . . . striving to awaken the people of the north" (p. 6), suggesting that Jackson's writer may have been the "gentleman [who] offered to pay [Jackson's] expenses if [he] would speak at an abolitionist meeting in Prairieville, Wisconsin (p. 22). The writer also notes that "Andrew is a young pupil, so far as knowledge of letters is concerned . . .the writer has employed his phraseology to express them" (p. vi). If Jackson was not able to write his autobiography after spending time lecturing and writing the poetry, letters, and essays following the narrative, it seems likely that the Narrative's author wrote for and traveled with Jackson. Evidence of the writer's presence can be found in a lecture journal attached to the biography. While most of the lecture journal uses the pronoun "I," it also occasionally employs the pronoun "we." For example, an entry from February 5, 1847, notes that "we had a little annoyance" (p. 106), and an entry from February 26, 1847, states that "there was one man after the meeting present with us" (p. 107).

Jackson describes little of his life as a slave, focusing instead on the moment that provoked him to escape from bondage. Around 1838, Claypoole ordered Jackson to marry a female slave, Clarilda, so that the couple would produce children for Claypoole to enslave. Refusing to obey, Jackson fled the Claypoole estate (p. 9). After many weeks of travel and near escapes, Jackson reached Illinois, where a man led him to a "safe" location only to be taken into prison. Jackson escaped from his prison escort briefly, but was caught again and taken to prison "to be kept for six weeks, and sold according to law to pay [his] jail fees" (p. 19). After being sold to a man who "treated me as well as if I had been a white man" (p. 21), Jackson escaped from bondage for the last time.

Jackson frames his escape in political and religious allusions. In an allusion to the nickname of President Andrew Jackson, who was likely his namesake, he talks frequently of trusting in a walking stick of "young hickory" (pp. 11, 14, 19, 22) for self-defense and strength. Jackson also compares himself to the "the Israelites when they fled from the slavery of Egypt" (p. 13). He appeals to the reader's sense of "God-given rights" (p. 13), applying retrospectively a revolutionary paradigm to his own history: "I was after a prize, for which I was willing to risk my life . . . And if it was right for the revolutionary patriots to fight for liberty, it was right for me . . . and were I now a slave, I would risk my life for freedom. 'Give me liberty or give me death,' would be my deliberate conclusion" (p. 14).

As a free man, Jackson makes his way to Bloomington, Illinois, where he stays with Mr. Claypoole's sons—who, for unstated reasons, decide not to send him back to their father. Eleven months later, Jackson leaves for Wisconsin to find a brother about whom he says little. With his brother, Jackson "lived well and happy . . . But I could not sleep, often, when I would turn my thoughts to my countrymen in chains" (p. 21). When a man invites him to speak publicly against slavery in Prairieville, Wisconsin, Jackson agrees. He goes on to state, "I have been lecturing and talking to the people, selling books and papers in this state [New York], up to the present time" (p. 22). Jackson is proud of his oratorical abilities, noting that "it is my intention soon to write a long letter to my old master, showing him the difference between the effect of twenty-six years of slavery and five years of freedom—leaving him to judge which is best for man" (p. 23). This statement reflects an underlying theme throughout the work, that slavery limits human progress and potential.

Following this brief account of Jackson's life (a mere 23 pages) are texts portraying "how slavery tends to destroy the intellectual and the perceptive powers" of the slave holder (p. 72). These texts include a series of antebellum anecdotes, essays, poems, speeches, a letter to Mr. Claypoole, and a journal of Jackson's travels.

Works Consulted: "List of Negro Prisoners," New York Times, 18 Nov. 2011.

Mark Tonkinson

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