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Let’s Talk About Lyncoya


Uncovering Lyncoya’s “Valuable Purpose” at The Hermitage

Listen to Part 1 now:

Listen to Part 2 now:


You may have been directed here from a comment thread where someone—maybe even you—brought up the fact that Andrew Jackson adopted a Native American orphan. Interestingly, this fact is almost always brought up as a counterpoint to his actions regarding American Indians.

I was curious about the real story of this child named Lyncoya. (Also spelled Lincoya, Lincoyer, and Lincoier at various times.) What do we actually know about his life? Was he really like a son to Andrew Jackson? And how does this relationship fit into the narrative of Jackson as the architect of the Trail of Tears?

So I dug into the primary sources—including letters from Andrew and Rachel Jackson—and the work of recent historians like Dawn Peterson, Christina Snyder, and Melisa Gismondi, and I made not one, but two podcast episodes devoted to the story of Lyncoya.

In the first episode, we look at the history behind how Lyncoya came to be orphaned in the first place, and what we know about his childhood at the Hermitage and his role as a political tool in Andrew Jackson’s career.

Listen now:

 

Rendition of Lyncoya’s discovery from “A Pictorial Biography of Andrew Jackson” by John Frost, 1860


In our second and final episode about Lyncoya, we looked at his later years—including Jackson’s attempt to get him into West Point Military Academy and what happened when that plan fell through.

We also look at how Lyncoya (sometimes spelled Lincoyer) was memorialized in Ohatchee, Alabama in 2000.

This is the front of the Calhoun County memorial:

And this is the back:

You’ll notice the line drawing of Lyncoya etched into the stone. It appears to be based on John Trumbull’s 1790 drawing of Tuskatche Mico, or, The Birdtail King of the Cusitahs–a member of the Lower Creek Indians negotiating treaties with the United States.

Here is a side by side of the two:

In our episode we discuss just how much this rendition misses the mark not only in its biography of Lyncoya, but by portraying him as an adult member of a group that may have been involved in his village’s destruction. 

Listen to the episode now:

 

Sources:

The Papers of Andrew Jackson published by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Indians in the Family: Adoption and the Politics of Antebellum Expansion” by Dawn Peterson

“Andrew Jackson’s Indian Son” by Christina Snyder, from the book “The Native South: New Histories and Enduring Legacies” edited by Tim Alan Garrison and Greg O’Brien

“Rachel Jackson and the Search for Zion, 1760s-1830s” Unpublished dissertation by Melissa Jean Gismondi, University of Virginia, August 2017. Downloadable at https://libraetd.lib.virginia.edu/downloads/z029p4868?filename=GismondiMelissaRachelJackson2017PHD.pdf

A Narrative of the Life of Davy Crockett, of the State of Tennessee by David Crockett

The Journal of Richard Keith Call The Life of Andrew Jackson by John Reid and John Henry Eaton, 1817  

Lincoyer and the Battle of Tallasehatchee, Historical Marker Database

Read the Transcript 

▶ Transcript: The Adoption of Lyncoya: Andrew Jackson’s Native “Son”

Howard and Jess: Hello!

Howard: And welcome to Plodding Through the Presidents. I’m Howard Dorre.

Jess: I’m the wife, Jess Dorre, among other things.

Howard: Such as?

Jess: A mother, an occupational therapist, a woman.

Howard: You sound at the moment like a prisoner.

Jess: [laughs] Well, I mean, just kidding. I had a bit of a journey earlier getting here to record. I went to the wrong Starbucks where I placed the mobile order. The parking lot was a nightmare. The sun was in my eyes and I forgot my sunglasses. And then you texted me saying, you know, we’re going to be talking about Native Americans today, so it’s hard to feel bad about your journey.

Howard: Yeah, it’s true.

Jess: And, you know, screw you. But yeah, these are first world problems and I’m trying to get over it.

Howard: Yes. We take deep irreverent dives into lesser known stories of the early American presidents, founders and their families. And in this episode, we are going to dive into the story of a much lesser known family member of Andrew Jackson, a Native American boy named Lyncoya, an orphan who Jackson took into his home. This is the first of two episodes about Lyncoya.

Jess: This is a two parter?!

Howard: It is. It is. But this one is going to cover how he came to live with Jackson and his childhood. And the next one is going to focus on his legacy. First, I want to tell you why I decided to dig into this story. One of the most controversial historical presidents is Andrew Jackson.

Jess: That’s right.

Howard: On the Plodding Through the President’s Facebook page, whenever I post something about him, the comments get nasty.

Jess: Yeah, people’s true character come out.

Howard: For sure. Sometimes the arguments are about slavery or the National Bank, but usually they focus on the subject of Andrew Jackson and Indian removal, and the Trail of Tears, which was the forced removal of 60,000 Native Americans from their homes in the Southeastern United States to the Oklahoma area, a travesty that resulted in thousands of deaths. We’re going to talk more about that in an upcoming episode. But I bring that up to say that when people are arguing back and forth about Andrew Jackson’s role in the Trail of Tears, inevitably, at least one person brings up this one fact to defend him. And here’s an example, an actual comment about Jackson verbatim from a recent post.

Jess: Okay. You’re not going to say who it was though? I don’t think that’s necessary.

Howard: No. No. No. “He was a great man. Don’t try to say otherwise. No, he wasn’t a saint. Do you know any saints? By the way, did you know that he adopted an Indian baby that had been orphaned after a battle? Read up on it.”

Jess: My gosh. That… Okay. Yeah. That was… I mean…could have been worse.

Howard: Yeah, yeah. But a lot of people bring that up. That’s just one example of a lot of comments like that that bring up the fact that Andrew Jackson adopted an Indian son, an orphan. But the only time anyone seems to bring it up is as a counterpart to absolve Jackson of his actions against Native Americans to say, see, he’s not a bad guy. He adopted one.

Jess: Yeah. He forced the removal of 60,000 Native Americans and they think he should be absolved because he adopted a baby.

Howard: Right. Yeah.

Jess: Recently, Emerson asked me like, what country are Native Americans from? And I said this country, this was their country first. And she was like hmm, and processed that and then started playing.

Howard: OK. Yeah, baby steps.

Jess: Yeah, baby steps.

Howard: Read up on it!

Jess: Read up on it, that is an order!

Howard: Well, I have read up on it, Alice. Thank you. And now we are going to dig into the full story of the Native American child known as Lyncoya. What happened to his biological family? Was he actually adopted by Jackson?

Jess: Or was he kidnapped?

Howard: What do we know about him and his life? And what role did he play in Andrew Jackson’s life?

Jess: I swear I feel like the main motivator for certain podcast episodes is people’s posts on Facebook that you want to be able to defend or argue better.

Howard: You’re not wrong. I want to warn you, Jess, and you at home or in your car or in someone else’s car wondering why they’re playing this…there’s going to be some graphic violent content. But bear with us because I think this is an important subject and I’m excited to share the recent work of some historians in this area. Like Dawn Peterson’s great work in her book, Indians in the Family, Christina Snyder in her essay, Andrew Jackson’s Indian Son from the book, The Native South, and Melissa Gismondi in her unpublished dissertation, Rachel Jackson and the Search for Zion. And just one note about language. I’m going to interchangeably use the terms Native American, Indigenous, and Indian along with tribe names. It’s about striking a balance between the historical context and understanding and storytelling.

Jess: Okay. Yeah.

Howard: This is a story in two acts.

Act One: The Battlefield

Howard: As the story is told, Lyncoya was found by one of Jackson’s soldiers after the Battle of Tallushatchee.

Jess: How old was the baby?

Howard: He may have been about 10 months old, maybe a year. He was found either in his dead mother’s arms or still suckling her breast.

Jess: My God.

Howard: I want to give you some historical context of that battle, and what the fighting was all about, because I think it’s important to understand. I’m going to try not to oversimplify it. So get ready.

So this was all part of the broader war of 1812 that was between the United States and Britain. It was also part of a continuation of something called Tecumseh’s War, which was a rebellion against the United States by some tribes that started as a huge religious movement led by Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa. He was known as the prophet. And this was a spiritual movement that was all about rejecting European ways. We’re not going to assimilate. We’re not going to accommodate the whites anymore. We’re going to fight. And we’re going to fight anybody that tries to stop us, including other tribes.

There’s a whole fascinating background with witch hunting and a comet and earthquakes and how future president William Henry Harrison fits into the picture. We might cover that sometime in the future, but for now, the gist is that this spirit of rebellion made its way to the Muskogee or the Creek Confederation of Indians in 1811, and it sparked a civil war between the Upper Creek Indians and the Lower Creek.

The Upper Creek were more traditional. They didn’t want to be a part of white culture. They wanted to go about their own traditional ways. The Lower Creek had incorporated into a lot of American society, intermarried with whites, built plantations, even enslaved people. So the traditional upper Creek, they were known as the Red Sticks because they had ceremonial and maybe actual red clubs that they fought with. And this war, it was called the Red Stick War or the Creek War. And it took place mostly in what is now Alabama and the Gulf of Mexico.

None of this really involved the United States until both the British and the Spanish. They were supplying the Upper Creek with supplies and weapons because they all had a shared interest in stopping the United States from expanding further. So things took a turn when a group of Red Sticks were on their way back from Spanish Florida.

Jess: Now remind me, Red Sticks were part of which Creek?

Howard: Red Sticks were part of the Upper Creek. The Red Sticks are the ones who are driving the fighting. They do not want to assimilate.

Jess: Gotcha.

Howard: They were fighting back. They’re fighting back against the whites and against other Indians who don’t agree with them.

Jess: Got it.

Howard: And things took a turn when a group of red sticks were on their way back from Spanish Florida with ammunition from the Spanish governor. He called it a hunting gift because he could not say, this is for killing Americans. On their way, the Red Sticks were ambushed by American troops who tried to take their weapons. Two Americans ended up being killed along with about a dozen of the red sticks. And that’s called the Battle of Burnt Corn because it was fought near Burnt Corn Creek in Alabama.

What really started the fighting that brought Andrew Jackson to Alabama came next. After the Battle of Burnt Corn, the Red Sticks wanted revenge. They set their sights on Fort Mims, a fortified settlement that was built to protect settlers from this Creek fighting.

There were about a thousand people at Fort Mims, a mix of white settlers, militia, Creek Indians who were friendly to the United States, and about a hundred enslaved blacks. Some of the militia had left to defend another fort that they thought was a target, so Fort Mims may have been poorly defended when the Red Sticks attacked. It was a massacre. The Red Sticks killed or captured at least 250 people, including men, women, and children. A few dozen escaped. They didn’t kill the enslaved people, but they did capture them.

This became known as the Fort Mims Massacre, and it caused a huge panic in the white population of the Southeast. They were terrified and motivated. People demanded that the government do something. US troops, the federal troops, were pretty occupied with the northern part of the War of 1812—there’s stuff going on in Canada, there’s the British. So state militias were deployed to fight the Red Sticks.

Andrew Jackson led the Tennessee Militia. He published a notice in the newspaper to motivate the troops. So they’re really drumming up the fear.

Jess: Yeah, it’s a lot of fear mongering. As I’ve noticed, politics seems to use that from day one.

Howard: Yeah. And this wasn’t completely like made up. The threat was real. But, you know, the US certainly played a role in it. But yeah, these people were motivated to fight and Jackson took advantage of that.

Jess: Because they were there first. It was their land.

Howard: Yeah. Yeah. Jackson made it clear that he would be there in person with the fighting, which wasn’t obvious because he’d just been in a violent gunfight where he was shot in the shoulder and reportedly soaked through two mattresses in blood.

Jess: That can’t be right.

Howard: I’m not a bed historian, but I have to imagine that mattresses back then were thinner.

Jess: Okay.

Howard: Like dorm mattresses maybe.

Jess: Right.

Howard: Who hasn’t soaked through those?

Jess: I mean, still a lot of blood.

Howard: It is, it is. That brawl left Jackson with a bullet in his shoulder that was seriously painful, but he wouldn’t let that stop him. He led troops into Alabama, including his nephew-in-law, John Coffee, who was with him at that gunfight. They were close. He promoted Coffee to the rank of brigadier general, giving him a command of mounted troops, and he sent them into a village full of red sticks, a Creek village called Tallushatchee. This is the battle where Lyncoya was found. So, we’re going to focus in on it.

Jess: Okay.

Howard: John Coffee led a group of about 900 mounted soldiers. They surrounded the village, undetected. They sent a couple of small bands into the center of town and all the Muskogee warriors saw them and they came together to attack. That drew them out into the open and made them easy targets for the Americans who closed in on them from all sides. So the Creek were armed with clubs and bows, and the Americans just started shooting them down. The Red Sticks retreated inside their buildings and the Americans pursued.

One of Coffee’s soldiers in that battle was Davy Crockett, who later wrote about his experience there. Crockett said that he counted 46 men running into one house. So they approached the house and in the doorway they saw a Muskogee woman sitting there, with her feet in front of her holding a bow. She held it there with her feet. She drew and shot an arrow at the men, hitting one and killing one. And that was the first time he’d ever seen someone killed with an arrow. He says that’s when the militia became enraged. They shot her and they shot everyone like dogs, he said, and they set fire to that house, killing everyone inside. He wrote about how he saw a boy about 12 years old, lying wounded near the house being burned alive.

Jess: God.

Howard: It’s pretty awful. I’m not even sharing all the details because it’s it’s just pretty gross. Another soldier was Richard K. Call, future governor of the Florida territory. He witnessed the aftermath of the battle the day after he wrote about the carnage he saw on the battlefield. He said, “It was to me a horrible and revolting scene. The battle had ended in the village, the warriors fighting in their board houses which gave little protection against the rifle bullets or musket ball. They fought in the midst of their wives and children who frequently shared their bloody fate. Humanity might well have wept over the gory scene before us. He described what he saw saying, we found as many as eight or ten dead bodies in a single cabin. Sometimes the dead mother clasped the dead child to her breast. And to add another appalling horror to the bloody catalog, some of the cabins had taken fire and half-consumed human bodies were seen amidst the smoking ruins. Heartsick, I turn from the revolting scene. Very different seems the picture in the cool moment of inaction than in the excitement of battle, in the one, passion, the desire to triumph and vengeance make demons. In the other, as the brain becomes more composed, the pulse to beat less quickly, the heart resumes its sway, and it would be a relief to shed tears over the carnage around us.”

Coffee’s men killed 186 of the Red Stick men, as well as several women and children. Most of the women there were taken prisoner. Only five American troops were killed.

Jess: Wow, that’s quite a difference.

Howard: Yes, yes. They were outgunned. They were outmanned. How did Andrew Jackson describe this battle in a letter home to Rachel?

Jess: I’m scared.

Howard: He said that General Coffee executed his orders “in elegant style.”

Jess: Wow.

Howard: Yeah.

Jess: Seems like a strange description, obviously, in comparison to what everyone else who was there said.

Howard: Yeah.

Jess: And it’s hard to know if that’s his personality or if he’s a sociopath or, you know, he just wanted to sound like he was successful. And ignoring the horror of it. I’m not sure why he would describe it that way.

Howard: I mean, it was successful with his objectives. After the battle, one of Jackson’s men was surveying the dead and found the body of a Muskogee woman holding a still living baby. This was brought to the attention of Jackson. And Jackson later wrote, “there were many squaws taken prisoner on that day—” The females in the tribe.

Jess: Yeah.

Howard: “Some of whom had children at the breast. To these, I applied to take this child and take care of him, offering to reward them for doing so. They all refused, saying, all his friends are killed. Kill him also.”

Jess: My God.

Howard: Now we have to question what exactly went down there with the women from the village, because this doesn’t really line up with the Creek extended family clan idea. So it’s, I don’t know, it’s dubious that they had the logic that any child without kin should be killed.

Jess: Right.

Howard: And I mean, these women, they were in shock. They were traumatized. They just lost their families, their friends. They were taking care of children themselves. And now they’re prisoners. So how they reacted to Andrew Jackson or the thought of taking on the responsibility of another life should be considered in light of that and not taken to represent the barbarity of their culture, which is how that was often played.

Jess: Right. And also we don’t really know how what they said versus how he interpreted it.

Howard: Right.

Jess: Versus what they really said or, you know, or maybe he didn’t even offer, who knows?

Howard: Yeah. And he said that when they refused to take care of the baby, he then volunteered himself. He would send the child somewhere safe until he could be brought to the Hermitage where his wife, Rachel, and presumably the people they enslaved, could raise him. In the meantime, they had nothing to feed the kid. Their own provisions were pretty much out. So Jackson had his servant Charles feed the baby a mixture of biscuit crumbs scraped from the bottom of barrels with water and a little brown sugar.

Jess: Wow.

Howard: And that’s what he lived on for days until he could be sent to a nearby family, the Pope’s. He ended up living there for around six months. He may have been kind of sickly.

Jess: I can’t imagine why.

Howard: Yeah. Their daughter, Maria Pope, she’s the one who named the boy Lyncoya. As far as we know, it wasn’t based on anything. She just made it up because it sounded Indian. Jess: Okay. Howard: But that’s how he got his name. Now, when the story is brought up today, the story that Andrew Jackson adopted an orphaned Indian boy, they don’t usually mention that he orphaned that boy too. That he’s responsible for the situation he was in.

Jess: Right, right. It’s like he wasn’t just, whoops, he’s an orphan. He murdered his family and then took him.

Howard: Yeah. And the word “adopted” is questionable too, because Lyncoya was never officially adopted. He was never treated in quite the same way as Jackson’s other wards. Right from the start, it was obvious that the boy was not looked at as a son. And that brings us to:

Act Two: The Hermitage


Howard: In the same letter to Rachel, where Jackson said that the battle was executed in elegant style, he closed by saying, “I send on a little Indian boy for Andrew. All his family is destroyed. He’s about the age of Theodore. In haste, your affectionate husband, Andrew Jackson.” He said, “I sent on a little Indian boy for Andrew.”

Jess: Who’s Andrew, his son?

Howard: Yeah, he—

Jess: So is this another enslaved person in his mind? Like someone to play with and entertain him?

Howard: He was sending home a plaything to his not quite five year old son, Andrew Jr.

Jess: Mmm hmm. Yeah. That’s what it sounds like.

Howard: That’s what it was. In another letter, he referred to Lyncoya as a “pet” for little Andrew. And in another, he asked if Lyncoya had arrived yet, “if Andrew has got him, how and what he thinks of him.”

Jess: What a good father thinking of his own son on the battlefield and getting him a human to play with!

Howard: Yes. Andrew Jackson Jr., he wasn’t Jackson’s biological son. They didn’t have any biological children. He was actually Andrew Jackson’s nephew by marriage. So Rachel’s brother and his wife, they had twin boys and they gave one to Andrew and Rachel. When Andrew Jackson referred to his son, he always met Andrew Jackson Jr., but there were several other kids who grew up at the Hermitage too, other wards that he took care of. In fact, there were two other Andrew Jacksons.

Jess: That’s confusing.

Howard: Andrew Jackson Hutchings and Andrew Jackson Donaldson, other relatives that they took in. So you’ve got three Andrews, but only one Lyncoya. It’s not really fair, is it? Well, don’t worry.

Jess: Okay. Yeah. I was worried about fairness at that point. It didn’t occur to me earlier at all. But now you’re like, Hey, what about fairness? What about the Andrews? The other Andrews?

Howard: Well, don’t worry, because before Lyncoya even arrived at the Hermitage, Jackson wrote to Rachel, “Say to my little darling Andrew that his sweet papa will be home shortly and that he sends him three sweet kisses. I have not heard whether General Coffee has taken on to him little Lyncoya. I have got another pet given to me by the chief, Jame Fife, that I intend for my other little Andrew Donaldson. And if I can get a third, I will give it to little Andrew Hutchings.”

Jess: Okay, I’m really disturbed. Is he talking about more people?

Howard: He’s talking about more Native American boys.

Jess: Like if I can find some more orphan children because I’ve murdered their families, I’ll give them to the other kids and each one can have one. Well, that kind of what he’s saying.

Howard: Well, one of them was was just given to Jackson by a chief. We don’t know how that chief came by him. He could have been captured from another tribe or just some sort of…gift. We know of two other Native American children at the Hermitage. Theodore and Charley. We don’t know where Theodore came from. Charley was from that chief. And even though Jackson may have intended to spread that ownership of these boys among his Andrews, there was one problem. Andrew Jackson Jr. wanted them all for himself.

Jess: My gosh. So he’s like five years old. This is like the Heathers. You know, from the 80s. Gosh. Okay, so the little Andrew didn’t want to share his pets.

Howard: That’s correct. Now, I don’t know what you expect to happen when you raise a child to be a slave master and you give them another human being as a pet, but young Andrew Jackson Jr. sounds kind of like a monster.

Jess: I mean, it seems like there are some key neurons in his brain that aren’t being fed, such as the humanity neurons or the good person neurons.

Howard: Yeah.

Jess: You know, it seems like they’re skipping over those lessons.

Howard: Yeah, I don’t think those are being nourished because when you’re given a human as a pet, when that’s your starting point…

Jess: That’s kind of the biggest lesson right there.

Howard: Yeah. Jess: Is that you can have humans as pets.

Howard: Yeah. Jess: And for your entertainment.

Howard: Exactly. So Charley wasn’t meant for, we’ll call him Junior, Andrew Jackson Jr., but Charley arrived before Lyncoya did. And Rachel wrote to Jackson, she said, “your little Andrew is well, is much pleased with his Charley. I think him a fine boy indeed.” So Charley now somehow belongs to Junior. The next day, Junior wrote to Jackson himself, complaining.

Jess: He’s a five -year -old?

Howard: Yeah.

Jess: Okay.

Howard: Yeah. He writes, “My dear father, no one will fetch my Lyncoya. I have a thought of going myself for him. I like Charley, but he will not mind me. My mother thinks highly of his understanding. She treats him as well as any person on earth could.”

Jess: He didn’t like that.

Howard: No, he’s like daddy, where’s my pet Indian?! The one you sent isn’t listening! And mommy’s being too nice to him.

Jess: Yeah, that’s basically, what a brat.

Howard: Yeah, by the way after this letter Charley’s never mentioned by anybody again.

Jess: What?

Howard: We don’t know what happened to Charley.

Jess: No. It’s like…it’s like Andrew Jr. didn’t like Charley. So Andrew Jr. took care of Charley.

Howard: I mean, I don’t know if I’d go that far. We don’t know what happened.

Jess: This is like a story of The Good Son.

Howard: Yeah. One historian I was reading supposed that Charley may have run away because that’s what a lot of adopted Native American boys did.

Jess: I feel like that would have been mentioned, no? Like, “whoops, we lost Charley, Andrew Jr. is not pleased.”

Howard: I mean, if your dad is away and he sends you a gift and you lose it, you know, are you necessarily going to tell him?

Jess: If he sent three gifts that are people and one ran away, yeah, probably.

Howard: Well, he’s very busy. Jess: Well, apparently, you know, George Washington’s mother wrote him about wanting butter.

Howard: Yes.

Jess: So you think it’d be okay.

Howard: And that probably annoyed him.

Jess: Well, we don’t know that because he could have come across some butter.

Howard: It’s true.

Jess: But I feel like it should have been mentioned or maybe they were ashamed and didn’t want to talk about it in letters.

Howard: I mean, it’s also true that not every letter from them survives.

Jess: Sure. Howard: So we just don’t know.

Jess: OK. I was just speculating.

Howard: No, yeah, I was just saying your speculations were wildly inaccurate and woefully unspeculated.

Jess: Look, after years of listening to you, I consider myself somewhat of an expert.

Howard: Yes, on speculating.

Jess: A speculating expert.

Howard: I taught you well. But the most disturbing thing with Junior, that Melissa Gismondi called out in her dissertation…

Jess: There’s more disturbing things about Junior? He’s already a little monster.

Howard: Well, it’s the way that he reacted to Theodore’s death.

Jess: What?

Howard: Shortly before Charley and Lyncoya arrived, Theodore, the other Native American boy that was probably around the same age as Lyncoya, died. We don’t know the details of his death at all. But we know that when Jackson heard the news, he wrote to Rachel that he expected Andrew Junior would be sad about Theodore’s death. And Rachel wrote back saying that Junior hardly even mentioned Theodore’s name. And when she herself was crying about Theodore, Junior asked her, what are you crying about? And she told him. And he asked her why she was crying over “one little thing.”

Jess: Wow. I don’t think that’s normal for a five-year-old. I think even when you think of it, say we did equate this human to a pet. Say he was like a dog or a bunny rabbit or whatever, you know, you could equate to how this is meant for their kids.

Howard: A five-year-old would grieve.

Jess: A five-year-old would cry over a bunny or a dog dying. Yeah. I’m really, now I’m leaning towards sociopath. I don’t know. I mean, maybe there’s some nature, but there’s some nurture here too with those neurons not being nourished.

Howard: Yeah.

Jess: The humanity and empathic neurons.

Howard: Agreed.

Jess: That’s disturbing.

Howard: It is disturbing. Yeah.

Jess: We have a five year old with autism and he would be upset.

Howard: For sure. For sure. Jess: You know, and this is a child, you know, who has to work on, you know, his social skills.

Howard: Yeah, he’s not great at sharing his Native Americans.

Jess: Right. I can picture, you know, no, I can’t. No, I can’t. I can’t picture it at all. I was like, I’m actually not picturing that. No. So, yeah. I think our five-year-old who’s a very emotional child would have a lot of grief over a lost pet or a lost human.

Howard: Yeah. Yeah.

Jess: I don’t understand.

Howard: It seems like it disturbed Rachel a bit too. I mean, giving him the huge benefit of the doubt, this was told through Rachel, maybe that was his way of just comforting his mother? And it was hard for a five-year-old to really process grief?

Jess: Yeah, perhaps. And then I want to say, well, maybe it was like a cultural or timely thing, but you know Rachel was crying.

Howard: Yeah, and she did mention in the same letter that Junior didn’t want to share the boy that was coming. So there was a possessive weird aspect to that.

Jess: Yeah, and maybe that’s just how he coped, by not coping at all.

Howard: Yeah, I don’t know.

Jess: But he sounds a little monstrous.

Howard: Yeah. Lyncoya was referred to as a thing as a “pet” for a spoiled child. Not as a brother, not as a son. He wasn’t truly seen as one of the family. But he existed in a space that was closer to the white Jacksons than to the black enslaved people at the Hermitage. From early on, Jackson instructed Rachel that though he was a savage, Lyncoya should be kept in the house. That apparently needed to be said.

Jess: OK, so that was made clear. Didn’t these children also have body servants who were also their age and put in the house to grow up with them and learn their needs so they could be a good slave when they were older?

Howard: I’m not sure. I know that they had enslaved people that were probably tending to their needs. There may have been little enslaved playmates for the kids. I don’t think that’s talked about a lot. I don’t know that it was quite the same as Thomas Jefferson’s upbringing. When Rachel and Junior traveled with Jackson, Lyncoya did not come along. So Jackson, he’s in New Orleans. He invites Rachel and Andrew Jackson Jr. to meet him there. And he asked Rachel to leave Lyncoya with her sister. So leaving Lyncoya there didn’t quite go as planned. Rachel’s sister, Mary, didn’t adhere to Jackson’s wishes.

So Lyncoya was apparently kept outside with the enslaved population without much clothing. Jackson wrote to Rachel later thanking her for bringing Lyncoya home, saying, “How thankful I am to you for taking poor little Lyncoya home and clothing him! I would have been much hurt to see him there with the Negroes, like a lost sheep without a shepherd.”

Jess: Yeah. Okay. So many things…

Howard: There was a hierarchy of humans as they saw it. In her dissertation about Rachel Jackson, one of the things that Melissa Gismondi looks at is how Rachel felt about Lyncoya, since she spent more time with him than Jackson did. She believes that the fiercely religious Rachel wasn’t cool with what she saw as a savage heathen eating at her table, especially as he got older and grew into his Indian-ness. She also blamed Indians for murdering her father, so there was a lot of baggage there. And likely some resentment for Jackson, who wasn’t even around. He was fighting these murderous Indians while she was forced to raise one. So we’re not sure how those feelings might have affected life at the Hermitage for Lyncoya. But there’s evidence that he was excluded from family meals.

Jess: He was separate.

Howard: He was also very much seen as an other, even by Andrew Jackson. Jackson later wrote that when Lyncoya was about five years old, he liked playing by himself and he displayed a “mechanical genius” by making a bow. And Jackson said, “it was the first I ever saw on my plantation was one made by him.” As if the boy had the instinctual blueprints for bow making, like built into him. And the story doesn’t check out at all because Jackson actually brought home for Junior a bow and quiver that he pilfered from the battlefield. So it wasn’t the first bow that was there.

Jess: Right.

Howard: Jackson said that he was surprised at Lyncoya’s bow making skills because he said “he had no intercourse with the Indians except when the chiefs visited me,” which seems kind of like a big deal. Jackson says that “whether from instinct, or seeing the chiefs who paid but little attention to him, he had all the habits of an Indian by dressing his head with all kinds of feathers he could pick up and amusing himself with his little bow.”

We can only speculate, but I mean, the fact that he was given to Andrew Jr. as a pet Indian makes me think that he was probably made well aware of what he was to them, possibly conditioned to play the part even, and maybe inclined to emulate the chiefs that he saw that he was told represented who he really was. And as far as playing by himself, that’s not surprising given that his playmate’s status was above him. And consider that Rachel’s possible coldness toward him compared to the other children, it doesn’t, I don’t know, it doesn’t surprise me.

Jess: Yeah, he’s clearly alienated.

Howard: Yeah. Jackson wrote to Rachel from the battlefront that he wanted Lyncoya well taken care of, saying, “he may have been given to me for some valuable purpose. In fact, when I reflect that as he is to his relations is so much like myself, I feel an unusual sympathy for him.” Jackson himself was orphaned at a young age.

Jess: Okay, I didn’t know that.

Howard: His father died before he was born, I believe, and his mother died sometime around when he was 13 or so. She was nursing like prisoners of war during the Revolutionary War. So the British and their Indian allies, he sort of blamed for killing his family because one of his brothers also died of a sickness during that time.

As Jackson’s fame and ambition grew, there came to be some attacks on his reputation based on his well-earned reputation for brutality. Some folks love that about him, but there were plenty of people who didn’t support the harsh treatment of natives, especially like Northern religious reformers. So to counter his reputation, Jackson and his supporters started to leverage the story of Lyncoya.

The story appeared in a fawning biography of Jackson that was written in part by his good friend John Eaton in 1817, when Lyncoya was only four or five years old then. It goes on to recount how the mothers in the tribe said the child should be killed and how Jackson “then adopted it into his family and has ever since manifested the liveliest zeal toward it, prompted by benevolence. And because its fate bore a strong resemblance to his own, who in early life and from the ravages of war was left in the world forlorn and wretched without friends or near relations.”

Jess: So a lot of propaganda.

Howard: Yeah. And it wasn’t just buried in a book that was published. It was printed as an excerpt in newspapers all across the country. It was a puff piece.

Jess: I mean, yeah, it’s clearly propaganda.

Howard: It’s a lovely tight little story that shows Jackson as a tender, compassionate, generous man, and it reminds you that he himself was an orphan and a self -made man. He’s not a killer. In fact, he’s a savior, saving the Indians from themselves.

I found another version of the story that takes the tenderness train even further. It’s probably good that it wasn’t published. It was inserted into the memoirs of Richard K. Call. It’s in the middle of his recollection of the Battle of Tallushatchee. I’m not sure when or for what purpose it was inserted. It may actually have been written by his daughter years later. Anyway, what I wanted to call out is that it introduces the story of Lyncoya’s discovery by saying, “I must record an incident which proved the woman -like tenderness of his heart. This is Jackson. Although a man of iron nerve, he was yet to girl in the softer feelings of his nature.”

Jess: Interesting. Howard:

Yeah. Jess: All right. Another quote with a lot to unpack there.

Howard: Not sure that would have helped him in his campaign.

Jess: Right. I think they were trying to distract, like a magician distracting from the real issue, which is that he massacred people.

Howard: Yeah. The passage from Eaton’s biography, newspapers published it explicitly saying, here is evidence of the general’s private virtues and humanity. Lyncoya was his ticket to humanity, a political tool to improve his reputation. His existence became, and it still is, a, “but what about this?” talking point meant to offset and distract from Jackson’s violent history. And to prove that he doesn’t hate Indians.

Jess: Yeah, but if you look a little deeper, it proves just that, that he thinks of them as inferior and a pet for his children.

Howard: So when you bring up Andrew Jackson’s adoption of an Indian orphan as a humanizing story to offset his effectively genocidal actions, you’re repeating propaganda that came from Jackson and his camp. You’re fulfilling that “valuable purpose” that Jackson spoke of. Because the truth is Jackson sent home at least three small Native American children as pets for his white children. Novelties.

Jess: Souvenirs.

Howard: Yeah. He took pity on Lyncoya for the situation that he himself put the child in, and he saw that the boy was cared for. Lyncoya was a ward, yes, but not at the same level as his white wards, and definitely not at the level of an adopted son. As Lyncoya got older, Jackson had even higher ambitions for the boy and how he could reflect positively on Jackson.

And in our next episode, the second part of Lyncoya’s story, we are going to hear from Lyncoya in his own words.

Jess: That’s exciting.

Howard: And we’re going to look at his remaining years and his legacy.

Jess: Okay. Wow. That’s great. I mean, not great. You know what I mean?

Howard: Yeah. That’s, that’s Lyncoya. So yeah, if you like what you heard, spread the word.

Jess: This was kind of a sad episode. I’m not feeling sorry for myself anymore.

Howard: Okay.

Jess: About my journey with the sun in my eyes on the way here at 10 minutes.

Howard: No?

Jess: No. But. It’s good.

Howard: Hey, this fulfilled one purpose.

Jess: Goals.

Howard: Yes!

Jess: I’m looking forward to hearing how Lyncoya grows up and what he does as an adult. Does he live into adulthood? Can you tell us that right now?

Howard: …what do you consider adult?

Jess: Geez. Okay, never mind.

Howard: Okay. You can find out more at PlodPod.com, which has links to show notes with sources and our Patreon if you’d like to support our efforts.

Jess: Yes!

Howard: This has been an Airwave Media podcast. Thank you for ploding along with us.

Jess: Thank you for plodding. See you for part two!

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