Andrew Jackson never met his father, the man for whom he was named. The elder Andrew, son of a prosperous linen weaver, had emigrated to America from Ireland in 1765. The family–consisting of his wife, Elizabeth Hutchinson, and two sons, Hugh and Robert–landed in Pennsylvania and moved southward, ending up in the Waxhaws, a small settlement on the Carolina border where they settled on two hundred acres to begin their life in America. At this point, the Waxhaws consisted of little more than a Presbyterian church, a general store, and a few scattered houses. In February 1767, the elder Jackson died unexpectedly at the age of twenty-nine–just a few short weeks before his pregnant wife was to give birth again.

A small wagon bore the family patriarch to a nearby cemetery near the Waxhaw church. However, when the funeral procession arrived at the burial site, they discovered the casket had fallen off somewhere en route, and they were therefore forced to retrace their steps to find the body. After the funeral for Andrew's father, his mother moved in with relatives–most likely the Crawfords, the most prosperous of the Jacksons' relations. Elizabeth's grief soon brought on labor, and on March 15, 1767, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, naming him Andrew in honor of her deceased husband. In an odd note, both North Carolina and South Carolina claim that Jackson was born within their borders. North Carolina historians insist Elizabeth gave birth not at the home of her in-laws, the Crawfords, but at her brother-in-law's house just over the North Carolina border. Jackson, however, always believed he had been born at the Crawford house in South Carolina. Indeed, Jackson's mother raised him for the first decade of his life in the Crawford house, where she worked as a housekeeper.

Jackson was extremely bright and began reading at an early age–a hobby he would soon drop in favor of pastimes he felt more exciting. He studied Greek and Latin at the academy in Waxhaw, but never developed much talent in either field. Despite his intellectual promise, Jackson never showed much ability to write, and his poor spelling appalled his friends. Ultimately, his lack of interest in reading, coupled with his poor writing skills, left him poorly educated, even by eighteenth-century standards. He learned little about science or mathematics, and the only non-religious book he is known to have read cover-to-cover is the The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith. Whatever political intuition he later acquired came from his own experiences, as he never formally studied politics, law or history.

Though Jackson's mother hoped he would enter the ministry, from his earliest days he showed a proclivity for a rough-and-tumble, colorful lifestyle. According to many accounts, Jackson could out-swear just about anyone else in the Waxhaws, uttering a seemingly endless stream of obscenities when provoked. When he was not in school, Jackson passed his time by wrestling or racing other boys. He loved practical jokes and often gently teased his fellows. While he remained fiercely protective of those close to him, he would not hesitate to attack, either verbally or physically, anyone who opposed him. Jackson's temper, which would later become legendary, began to show early. Once, when some fellow boys dared him to fire a musket loaded to the muzzle with powder, he accepted the challenge, was knocked to the ground by the gun's recoil, and promptly jumped up to threaten to kill any boy who laughed at him. None did.

Physically, Jackson's build reflected his childhood on the frontier. Standing a hardy six feet tall, he weighed a lean 145 pounds and remained quite agile for most of his life. He had bushy blond hair and a sharp pronounced jaw. Many of his adversaries would later comment on his fiery blue eyes, which seemingly dared anyone to oppose him.

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