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“Brave Elizabeth”

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Brave Elizabeth is a biography of Elizabeth Jackson, the mother of President Andrew Jackson.

I believe that environment and heredity influence a person, and it was fascinating to me to research the mother of one of our Presidents; here is a snippet of her life.

Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson were living in Boneybefore, Ireland, in 1764. They were tenant farmers and not making enough money from their crops and sheep to make ends meet. Taxes continued to go up, and the weather continued to cast blights on their harvests. The Scotch-Irish couple worked hard, but life under the British rule was a hard-scrabbble existence. Disrespect and prejudice for their Presbyterian religion was also challenging.

A new life in a new land captured their thoughts.

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In April, 1765, Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the colonies with their two children. Hugh was two, and Robert only a babe. The eight week voyage from Larne, Ireland, was uneventful.

They bought land close to Elizabeth’s family and erected a small one-room cabin. They planted crops and started over. Happily for two years, the Jacksons worked hard and struggled to eke out a living in this red clay, but in March, 1767, an accident occurred.

While chopping wood on a cold, spring day, Andrew Jackson had an accident and died shortly thereafter. Elizabeth, nine months pregnant with their third son, was a widow at thirty with all the responsibilities of a single mother in 18th Century America.


Though small in stature, Elizabeth was strong and resilient in spirit. She adapted to life’s changes and disappointments and put other’s needs before herself. Working hard and pushing forward through challenges was the model she set for her sons.

After Andrew’s death, her sister and brother-in-law, Jane and James Crawford, asked Elizabeth to move in with their family. Jane had been sick for several years and needed help with the housekeeping. Their eight children needed more supervision than she could give, so the Jacksons joined the Crawford household.

“I was born in South Carolina, as I have been told at the plantation whereon James Crawford lived about one mile from the Carolina road of the Waxhaw Creek……”
— Andrew Jackson, 1824

Busy with the daily chores of planning and preparing meals for 14 individuals in a fireplace, tending to the needs of 11 children and her ailing sister, mending, spinning, managing a garden, churning, etc., Elizabeth continued to weave cloth for the community. She earned money from the neighbors by selling it and was known for the quality and expertise of her work.

Elizabeth wanted her sons to have a formal education. All three attended the church and community schools, but Hugh and Robert had more aptitude for outdoor activities, and they wanted to farm. Andy learned to read at an early age, and his mother thought he might become a minister. His personality was not for a scholar’s life though, and the Revolutionary War interrupted his education.

Elizabeth’s faith in God and His Providence was a major ingredient in her character. She had a small Bible that she carried in her pocket and prayed often.  She taught her sons the importance of obedience to the Bible’s teachings and encouraged them in their loyalty to each other and the rest of their family. Elizabeth urged deeds and words honoring God, family, and country. She and her family attended the Waxhaws Presbyterian Church.

The Waxhaws settlement was connected to Charleston via the Catawba Path, also known as the Camden Salisbury Road, with many travelers. Merchants and Indian traders carried their wares to markets. Farmers drove their cattle to sale. New settlers in the Conestoga wagons or on foot were daily visitors. All of these travelers kept trade, culture, and news flowing into the upcountry where the Jackson family lived. Because of the proximity of the Crawford home, visitors kept them in the know with information and intelligence.

On June, 20, 1779, sixteen-year-old Hugh died after the Battle of Stono Ferry near Charlestown. The two hour battle was not a win for the Patriots, but the militia fought bravely. Hugh was not wounded but died of heat exhaustion.

Elizabeth nursed the dying and wounded after the Battle of Waxhaws. She hid with her family from the British, as they stole and burned the patriots’ farms.

Robert and Andy were under the command of the experienced Major William Richardson Davie. Because of his youth, only 13, Andy served as a messenger. Guerrilla warfare and destruction was the aim of both sides, and enemy neighbors paid back old insults.

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Then in the spring of 1781 both Robert and Andy were captured by the British, along with others in the Waxhaws militia. They were taken to the Camden Jail. Smallpox was in every cell, and before long both boys were afflicted.

Elizabeth Jackson was determined to rescue her sons from this hell hole. She audaciously went to see Lord Rawdon and asked for him to add her sons’ names to a prisoner exchange that was in the works. He was not unhappy to release two sick prisoners.

Their mother nursed them for several weeks, but Robert was too weak and died. She never left Andy’s side until he could walk by himself.

     Horrific tales about how the Patriots were being treated on the British prison ships in the harbor of Charlestown began to circulate. Elizabeth found out that several of her nephews were on those ships suffering with cholera. Knowing their chances to survive were small without some kind of nursing, Elizabeth and a couple of women from the Waxhaws community decided they needed to go help the young men. In the fall of 1781, three women left home on a mission of mercy.

Elizabeth’s nephews survived, but she did not. She caught cholera and was buried in an unmarked grave in Charleston.

Elizabeth taught her sons the (1) difference between right and wrong, freedom and oppression (2) the importance of helping family and friends (2) reverence for truth, justice, and freedom, (3) a deep patriotic devotion to country.

      Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson was a Patriot, a SC Revolutionary War Heroine, and the mother of President Andrew Jackson. Her story is worth remembering.

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Toys and Stories

Last night I attended a Rocking with Reading event at an elementary school in Greenville. Community leaders like firemen, policemen, a mayor, and various authors read to the students, and all the students took home a free book.

The music was loud, and the students enthusiastic. It was not a normal school environment. Teachers opened their rooms for various readings and monitored the halls. Babies in strollers, as well as fifth graders who had hit a growth spurt, wandered the school. Parents, grandparents, and children sat around an open desk in the speech room where I was. And what fun we had!

Besides my four books about the American Revolution in South Carolina, I had taken a couple of toys with me to start conversations.

One of my first visitors was a first grader and her Poppy. I asked her what her favorite doll was (sounds like an innocent question). Her eyes became huge, and she backed away from me, emphatically saying, “I’m afraid of dolls.” In my hands was a church doll that I had made out of a cloth napkin. As I put my hand inside the doll and held it up, that sweet girl exclaimed, “It’s a puppet!” and moved back toward the table.

All smiles now, I talked about the “puppet.” Then she reached for it and placed it on her own hand. She felt the head and pulled the ribbons tied around the arms, as I told her how children used to take these “dolls” to church because they made no noise when dropped. Explaining that 200 years ago, the parents made the toys for the children. (I smothered my smile, as she looked at her Poppy with his long, gray beard that touched his chest. Perhaps in her eyes, he qualified!)

Another group of three siblings wandered in with their mother. They eyed the Jacob’s Ladder I had on the table and patiently listened to me read a couple of pages from Courageous Kate.

Finally, I picked up the Jacob’s Ladder and asked if they knew what it was. All three negatively shook their heads. (One even responded, “No, ma’am.”)

Showing off this folk toy crafted of wooden blocks held together by ribbons, I emphasize that the parents would have made this during colonial days. The blocks would have started as a tree; the father cut the blocks. Also called “tumbling blocks,” the mother would have spun the thread to make the ribbon. Once again, I shared that this would have been an allowed Sunday toy, since it was named after the Old Testament man who saw the ladder to heaven.

How fascinated the three were, as they quickly learned the ease of playing the Jacob’s ladder. They were ready to stay and play with this simple toy that had no batteries attached to it.

There are YouTube videos that show the tricks that can be played with the Jacob’s Ladder; here is one.

A fourth grader entered with both his parents. Showing John’s pictures in Brave Elizabeth, I shared some South Carolina history. Never having heard of a Marsh Tacky, he found out they were our state horse, the Carolina Parakeet was extinct, and President Andrew Jackson learned to read at an early age. As they left, his dad questioned him about the name of the horses and the Jacob’s Ladder he played with. shares some beautiful pictures of Marsh Tackies.

I loved to see how both the parents and children enjoyed the stories of how children used to entertain themselves with handmade toys and rode horses. Several even asked where a Jacob’s Ladder could be bought.

Living on a farm left little time for childhood play. Most of the time, they raced each other to complete the different chores they had. They also enjoyed tongue twisters that seem quite difficult like, “The skunk sat on a stump and thunk the stump stunk, but the stump thunk the skunk stunk.”

Charles Swindoll commented, “Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.”

It was a fun evening at Armstrong Elementary, and I appreciated the invitation. There is something about spending time with children that is a blessing; it is better than a B 12 shot. They are inquisitive and open to learning. It shows in their eyes when they see or hear something new. We educators have called them sponges for years, and they are. Even though the world is a strange mystery, they are equal to the task of putting the puzzles together.

Perhaps we should volunteer more at schools or churches; it could help keep us young and engaged with the next generation.

As Nancy Reagan said, “To my young friends out there: Life can be great, but not when you can’t see it. So, open your eyes to life: to see it in the vivid colors that God gave us as a precious gift to His children, to enjoy life to the fullest, and to make it count. Say yes to your life.”