THE WAXHAWS, Carolinas — South Carolina claims Andrew Jackson as its only president. But wait, on the grounds of the North Carolina capitol, a bronze statue of Jackson sits with two others as "Presidents North Carolina Gave the Nation."
For a century, the two Carolinas have quarreled over which can claim to be the birthplace of the seventh American president.
Dueling monuments sit within miles of each other south of Charlotte, N.C. For decades, one high school in Lancaster County, S.C., and another in Union County, N.C., played a football game in which the winner got to claim Jackson for the next year. And don't look to the White House for the answer: its website lists Jackson's birthplace a "backwoods settlement in the Carolinas."
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In history's great sweep, where exactly Jackson was born on March 15, 1767, doesn't matter much. In fact, Jackson went on to become a proud Tennessean, moving there in his 20s and claiming that state as his own for the rest of his life. The plantation he built just outside of Nashville, The Hermitage, is one of the country's most visited presidential homes. The Tennessee Capitol grounds boast a statue of Jackson on horseback, routing the British as a general in the War of 1812.
Any state would gladly claim the larger-than-life president who was nicknamed "Old Hickory," a man who lost his father before birth and his mother in his teens, rose from poverty to become a war hero and then president.
A scar on his face came from a sword blow received after he refused to shine a British officer's shoes after being taken prisoner in the American Revolution. At his 1829 inauguration, Jackson opened the White House to all for a party so raucous that one account had Jackson leaving through a window, the revelers lured out by punch bowls set on the lawn.
Textbooks from either state in the Carolinas don't solve the birthplace mystery.
One North Carolina textbook said Jackson was born "near North Carolina's borders," according to Courtney Thomas, a senior editor at textbook publisher Gibbs Smith Education. South Carolina's book doesn't mention the exact spot either though it stiffly asserts Jackson was a "South Carolina native."
Teachers don't dwell on the controversy because it's just part of an eventful life, said Leslie Wallace Skinner, who helps with designing social studies curriculum for the South Carolina Education Department. Skinner notes, "By the time we talk about him as a president, he's a Tennessean."
Don't tell that to people in the Carolinas.
The question lives on because of tragedies in Jackson's early life. His father died late in his mother's pregnancy, and he was born as his mother made an arduous dozen-mile trip back from burying him to the farms where her family lived in what was then a backwoods wilderness called The Waxhaws. There, Scots-Irish Presbyterians struggled to settle land so remote that the border between North and South Carolina hadn't been officially surveyed yet.
Jackson wrote a letter in 1824 saying he was born at his uncle's plantation in South Carolina and approved a map around that time indicating his birth home was in that state's Lancaster County. Some suggest Jackson claimed to be a South Carolinian to attempt to find kinship with a state that wanted to nullify a federal tariff.
A few decades later, a son of a woman who said she was present when Jackson was born wrote a letter saying his mother placed Jackson's birth at another uncle's home in North Carolina.
Jackson's mother died when he was 14 from cholera while caring for sick Revolutionary War soldiers in 1781, taking away any light she could shed on the matter.
South Carolina backers suggest the reason the dispute began was someone was trying to sell the North Carolina land and figured declaring Andrew Jackson's birthplace would make it more valuable.
The dispute intensified when a chapter of the North Carolina Daughters of the American Revolution erected a monument in 1910 on the North Carolina land, claiming it was the spot where Jackson was born. Later, a statue of Jackson was placed at the North Carolina state capitol, along with those of James Polk and Andrew Johnson — two presidents definitively born in that state.
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South Carolina responded by building Andrew Jackson State Park on the site of South Carolina uncle's plantation. Schoolchildren raised funds for a statue there.
"People believe he is either from here or there and that's part of their story," said Laura Ledford, a ranger at Andrew Jackson State Park.
Ledford gets several visitors a month who want to argue the matter. She reckons it ultimately doesn't matter where exactly in the Carolina wilderness Jackson was born, adding, "It's not like the difference between being born in New York City and Lancaster, S.C.
Jackson's popularity is obvious. A statue of him on horseback dominates
The stories of what Jackson did as the American hero of the War of 1812 and as president are far more important than bickering over a birthplace, said Jean Goss, an eighth-grade teacher at Jamestown Middle School in Guilford County, N.C.
"There's some mysteries we don't get to solve I guess," Goss said. "We'll just stake our claim where we can."
Where Jackson's story ends is not in dispute. The man who survived a dozen duels and the Battle Of New Orleans died quietly at The Hermitage on June 8, 1845. He was 78.
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