Andrew Jackson is said to have participated in 13 duels in his lifetime. In one of them, he killed a man named Charles Dickinson, a renowned duelist who had an unbroken winning streak — that is, murdering streak — of 26 before he make the fatal mistake of insulting Jackson’s honor in 1806.
This week, archeologist Dan Allen announced that he has located Dickinson’s grave. The duel itself took place in Kentucky, since dueling was illegal in Tennessee. But Dickinson was buried in Nasvhille, on his father in law’s Peach Blossom plantation. Until this week, the exact location has been a mystery.
When I read this news, I knew what I had to do.
I had to creepily drive up and down the street that news reports named as the excavation site, and look for the house with the dug-up front yard.
A neighbor confirmed that this is the spot. It’s been excavated three separate times over the last several years, as archeologists narrowed in on the exact spot. According to the neighbor, a divining rod was the trick that finally worked. The wood coffin and its contents have been moved to a cemetery in Nashville.
Just to contrast with Dickinson’s simple wooden resting place, check out how elaborate Jackson’s coffin was. Isn’t it amazing what you can find with one simple Google image search?:
Ok, fine, here’s the real gravesite:
That grave is on the ground of the Hermitage, which I also visited Thursday, making it a thoroughly Jacksonian day. The Hermitage was Jackson’s plantation on the eastern outskirts of Nashville, now maintained by the Ladies’ Hermitage Association.
Besides killing a man in a duel, Jackson was married to a bigamist; his wife, Rachel Donelson Robards, failed to officially divorce her first husband before marrying the handsome boarder in her family’s home. You wouldn’t know it from a casual tour of the Hermitage, however, which is overly focused on the moderately interesting history of the house itself, which fell into disrepair under Jackson’s hapless adopted son. (Funny how plantation life stopped being so profitable after the Civil War.) To be fair, I didn’t get the free audio tour — I hate audio tours — so maybe all the good stuff was there. But it’s my judgment that if a place is light on politics, it should be heavy on historical juiciness, and the Hermitage doesn’t have enough of either. The Telemachus scenic wallpaper in the front hall is lovely, however. But photos, even without flash, aren’t allowed inside, so you’ll just have to imagine it.
Perhaps I’m just being a grouch because admission to the Hermitage is a whopping $17 for adults. To compare, Jackson rival Henry Clay’s Lexington estate, Ashland, costs just $7 and is a much more satisfying experience.
And another thing: While gesturing toward the terrible realities of life under slavery, the Hermitage also makes an awkwardly grand to-do about the supposed happiness of the president’s long-time slave Alfred, who took the last name Jackson. Alfred stayed on at the Hermitage after his master’s death, eventually leading tours for early visitors and telling stories about his years with the Jacksons in return for donations. He was so devoted that he was eventually buried “next to” (way off to the side from) Jackson and his wife. You don’t have to have a degree in African American Studies to find the presentation of this narrative deeply uncomfortable.
Here’s Alfred’s grave:
Rest in varying degrees of peace, Alfred, Charles, and Andrew.