Am I Related to President Andrew Jackson?

Tracing Your Roots: A historical article in the Chicago Defender raises questions about a slave-owning head of state.

U.S. President Andrew Jackson in 1845, months before his death
U.S. President Andrew Jackson in 1845, months before his death Edward Anthony, Matthew Brady/Wikimedia Commons

Dear Professor Gates:

I just discovered an interview with my ancestor in the Aug. 10, 1935, edition of the Chicago Defender, which states my ancestor Burrell Jackson was the grandson of President Andrew Jackson. It described him as an anti-lynching activist who barely escaped lynching himself. According to history, Andrew Jackson did not have children, but this interview stated it had “authentic sources” verifying that Burrell was his son.

I know that Burrell was the brother of my maternal second-great-grandmother, Eliza Evans Jackson, who was born about 1856 in Georgia and died in 1904 in Mississippi. Their father was Stephen Jackson, born 1823 in Georgia. The Defender article states that Burrell was a native of Columbus, Ga.,“born a slave on the plantation of Thomas Stanford.” He was “carried to Mississippi in 1852.”

My own research shows that my family was in Lincoln County, Miss., in the 1870 census. They settled in Brookhaven, Miss., and that’s where Burrell lived from 1910 until his death Dec. 25, 1935. He is buried in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Brookhaven, which you can find on Find a Grave. —Juan Castille

Your ancestor sounds like quite a man in his own right, even without a connection to our nation’s seventh president. As a general, Andrew Jackson famously led American troops to victory against the British in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans (a battle won with the aid of free troops of color, as mentioned in a previous Tracing Your Roots column).

Andrew Jackson’s legacy also features the forcible removal of Native Americans from the U.S. South to the West, which included the deadly “Trail of Tears” death march of the Cherokee to present-day Oklahoma. Closer to home, he owned more than 150 slaves at his Tennessee plantation, the Hermitage.

Though he had no biological children, as you note, President Jackson did adopt several children, including his wife’s nephew, named Andrew Jackson Jr. (1808-1865), and a Native American boy named Lyncoya (circa 1811-1828), a Creek orphan he purportedly rescued during the Indian Wars he led.

Given these facts, a possible connection between Andrew Jackson and your family is likely to come through the president’s adopted descendants or slaves. According to the article published about Burrell Jackson in the Chicago Defender, Burrell had originally been enslaved by Thomas Stanford of Columbus, Muscogee County, Ga. We decided to begin with this information in order to potentially trace Burrell back to Andrew Jackson.

Establishing the Stanford Connection

If Burrell Jackson was brought to Mississippi in 1852, he should have been enumerated in the 1860 United States Census Slave Schedule in Mississippi. Though they’re not recorded by name, focusing on the age, gender and race of people in the same household can help narrow down potential entries for Burrell.

Burrell Jackson is enumerated with his family in the 1870 U.S. census. Based on the census record, six members of the Jackson family—father Stephen, Mary (“keeping house”), and younger members Elizabeth, Burrell, your second-great-grandmother Eliza and Harriett—should have been enumerated in the 1860 U.S. Census Slave Schedule.

We located a potential match for your Jackson family in that schedule (via; subscription required) under an Elizabeth Stanford of Township 18, Choctaw County, Miss. This may be a match for your Jackson ancestors because of a connection to the Stanford family that we will detail below. Though the 1860 Slave Schedule lists nine slaves belonging to Elizabeth Stanford rather than six, the genders, ages and races of six of the nine slaves are near-perfect matches to your Jackson ancestors.

Hoping to learn more about Elizabeth Stanford and a connection to Thomas Stanford of Columbus, Ga., we searched genealogies related to the Stanford family. We located a Stanford genealogy online: Descendants of Joseph Stanford of Somerset County, Maryland (pdf). We were able to locate an entry for the Thomas Stanford of Columbus, Muscogee County, Ga., on whose plantation Burrell Jackson states that he was born.

The genealogy provides the connection between Thomas Stanford of Columbus and Elizabeth Stanford of Choctaw County, Miss., and provides a potential explanation as to how your ancestors may have come to Mississippi in 1852. The entry of Thomas Stanford (1774-1839), beginning on page 43 of the family history, suggests that the Elizabeth Stanford listed in the 1860 Slave Schedule in Choctaw County could be Thomas’ widow, Elizabeth (Freeney) (Reynolds) Stanford, or his sister, Anne Elizabeth Stanford.

In 1847, Thomas J. Stanford, the son of Thomas Stanford, and others from Columbus established a textile mill in Choctaw County, Miss., which could explain why your Jackson ancestors were brought from Georgia to Mississippi. However, the Stanford genealogy does not mention Andrew Jackson or his adopted son, Andrew Jackson Jr. (who “briefly moved to Mississippi in between 1858 and 1860,” according to the Hermitage website), buying or selling slaves to the Stanford family.