No national leader is associated with the early history of Mississippi as closely as the seventh president, Andrew Jackson. Indeed, he rose to prominence as a consequence of events that took place in the Mississippi Territory and just a few miles to the south in New Orleans. One of the earliest notable Americans to travel the Natchez Trace, Jackson first arrived in Natchez in 1789, probably in response to the proclamation welcoming Americans to Spanish Louisiana, which included the Natchez District. Like all Americans who wished to conduct business there, Jackson signed an oath of allegiance to the Spanish Crown, clearly an act of expediency and pragmatism by the xenophobic frontiersman.
In addition to his extensive business interests in Natchez, Jackson owned property along Bayou Pierre north of the town. And the Natchez Trace seems to be intertwined in his life. For example, in 1790 Jackson accompanied Rachel Donelson Robards on a boat journey to seek refuge from her estranged husband, Lewis Robards, returning to Nashville on the Trace. Probably in the spring or summer of 1791, Jackson rode back down the Trace to marry her, mistakenly believing that she had obtained an official divorce. Though no written record of the marriage has been found, according to tradition Col. Thomas Green, a former magistrate, performed the ceremony at the estate of his son, Thomas Marston Green, near Natchez. Later that year, accompanied by a large retinue of friends and relatives to assure safety, Jackson and his bride returned to Nashville via the Natchez Trace. When Jackson realized that the marriage had occurred before Rachel was legally divorced, they exchanged vows again in 1794 before a justice of the peace in Tennessee. No issue caused Andrew and Rachel Jackson as much grief throughout their lives as charges by political opponents that they had committed adultery.
Two decades after his marriage, Jackson became involved in a feud with the Choctaw Indian agent, Silas Dinsmoor. Some travelers on the Trace thought Dinsmoor was overzealous in his enforcement of an 1802 federal law that required persons escorting slaves through Indian territory to have a passport signed by an appropriate territorial official. The Choctaw Agency was located on the Trace just north of present-day Jackson. In 1811 Dinsmoor posted a notice that he intended to arrest and detain slaves traveling in the Choctaw nation whose masters lacked a passport and proof of ownership. Jackson, a partner in a firm that dealt in slaves, planned to challenge Dinsmoor with armed force while escorting some slaves from Natchez back to Nashville. However, Dinsmoor was away when Jackson arrived to confront him. Jackson’s traffic in slaves later became an issue in his presidential campaigns.
The events most closely associated with Jackson’s rise to fame relate to the War of 1812 and the concurrent Creek War, which was fought in Mississippi Territory. In January 1813 Jackson commanded some two thousand Tennessee troops. With two regiments of infantry he floated down the Cumberland, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers to Natchez, where cavalry forces that had ridden down the Trace awaited him. In Natchez, Jackson also found a letter from the secretary of war ordering him to dismiss all of the men under arms. Jackson ignored those orders and used his own credit to organize a march back up the Trace to Nashville, during which he displayed such personal toughness that his men affectionately described him as “tough as hickory.” He carried the nickname Old Hickory for the rest of his life.
After the Fort Mims Massacre north of Mobile, Alabama, on 30 August 1813, Jackson was chosen to lead a punitive expedition against the hostile Red Stick faction of the Creek Indians. During this campaign, known as the Creek War, Jackson and his men suffered tremendous privation. However, Jackson displayed remarkable courage and leadership, and his Tennessee troops concluded the campaign with a historic victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.
Jackson was now a full-fledged military hero. After a brief respite the secretary of war appointed him the chief commissioner responsible for negotiating a treaty with the Creek at Fort Jackson on the Alabama River. In this highly punitive document signed on 9 August 1814, the Creek ceded half of their domain, foretelling Jackson’s Removal policy and endearing him further to land-hungry southern frontiersmen. From Fort Jackson, the general hurried to Mobile to prepare for the anticipated invasion by the British. When he learned that the British armada was headed for New Orleans, Jackson marched his army from Mobile at a furious pace across Mississippi Territory, roughly following the thirty-first parallel to the Pearl River. From there he veered south to the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain and then sailed across to New Orleans to prepare for his historic confrontation with the British on 8 January 1815. Mississippians were among the diverse group that composed his victorious forces at New Orleans. After the battle, Jackson triumphantly returned to Tennessee via the Natchez Trace.
While Jackson was already a hero to white citizens of Mississippi when it became a state in 1817, they particularly appreciated him as the chief negotiator of the 1820 Treaty of Doak’s Stand, just north of present-day Jackson on the Natchez Trace. That treaty opened for settlement some five million acres of prime farmland now known as the Mississippi Delta. So appreciative were the members of the legislature that in 1821 they named the newly designated capital city on the Pearl River for the general.
Jackson remained highly popular in Mississippi. In his futile 1824 campaign for the White House, he carried every county in the state. Winning the presidency four years later, he again won every county but recorded much larger margins. En route to New Orleans for the 1840 celebration of the silver jubilee of the Battle of New Orleans, the former president stopped briefly in Vicksburg; on his return to Nashville, he stayed in Jackson for several days. His health had already begun to fail, and that proved to be his last visit to Mississippi.
- H. W. Brands, Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times (2005)
- Thomas D. Clark and John D. W. Guice, The Old Southwest, 1795–1830: Frontiers in Conflict (1996)
- John D. W. Guice, Journal of Mississippi History (Summer 2007)
- Jon Meacham, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House (2008)
- Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Democracy 1833–1845 (1984)
- Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Empire, 1767–1821 (1977)
- Robert V. Remini, Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822–1832 (1981)
- Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2005)