Young Andrew Jackson Assaulted by Major Coffin

Jackson Attacked by Major Coffin


   An incident that occurred during Jackson’s imprisonment was the subject of an 1876 Currier & Ives lithograph. While imprisoned in Camden, South Carolina, Jackson was attacked by a British officer, Major Coffin, for refusing to clean his boots.  Coffin slashed Jackson with a sword, Jackson ducked and threw up a hand.  He was scarred on his left hand and forehead and developed a hatred for the British.  A biographer wrote: “It was cut to the bone, and a gash on his head left a white scar that Andrew Jackson carried through a long life that profited little to England or any Englishman.”

Tomorrow, a salute to the the only US President to own a US patent.  Rita Bay


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5 responses to “Young Andrew Jackson Assaulted by Major Coffin

  1. Mark Colwell

    My loyalist ancestor, John Colwell, was a sergeant in John Coffin’s troop of about 60 dragoons and was likely present when this incident occurred. Jackson, who was about 14 at the time, served as a courier for several of the patriot militia officers from the Lancaster district of S. Carolina where he grew up. Around the 10th of April, 1781 (the exact date is not clear) Coffin led his troopers into the Waxhaws settlement to break up the militia and capture its leaders. Young Andrew was present and, along with his brother Robert and a number of others, taken prisoner. Jackson appears to have related several different accounts of the incident over the years between the war and his presidential campaign. His own written recollection of the event, published many years after the occurrence, is rather confused. In it, he named Lt.Col. Banastre Tarleton as the officer who struck both him and his brother – Robert being the more severly injured. Tarleton was far more famous (or infamous – he had a reputation for brutality) than Coffin, but he was not present at the Waxhaws and it is highly unlikely that either he nor Coffin would have been hanging about the Camden jail. The prisoners were escorted from Waxhaw to Camden under the custody of a loyalist infantry detachment. Further, one of Jackson’s accounts has Robert being carried, wounded from their home to the jail at Camden. It is likely that the incident occurred during the raid at the Waxhaws settlement and not at Camden. As is the case in many such incidents of the faded past, numerous mythical aspects arose once the principal character became an important public figure. History often falls victim to a combination of scant contemporary documentation, faulty memories and the need to mythologize the past for political advantage.

    • Fascinating story, Mark. Jackson whose parents, I think, immigrated from Ireland developed a lifelong hatred for the British. He blamed them for the deaths of his whole family which left him an orphan at 14. With little supervision he grew up rather wild and frequently engaged in fistfights and duels. It’s amazing that an orphan working in a stable could become a General and President. Thank you for your comment and interesting info. Hope you’ve recorded it somewhere for posterity. Rita Bay

  2. Dave Orr

    If Major Coffin was the man who attacked Jackson, it opens up interesting possibilities. Coffin was a fire-eater in the Jacksonian mold–he seems to have enjoyed combat, and as a politician and judge in Canada after the Revolution, fought several duels with men whose loyalty to George III he doubted.
    What if the feisty Jackson had known the true identity of the man who injured him, and that he lived only a few hundred miles north of him? Would he have called Coffin out, and would Coffin have accepted? It doesn’t seem unlikely. If Coffin had won, it would have changed history

    • Interesting, Dave. Love those “What if” speculations. Hope you read the other fascinating comment on that post. I suspect that he knew about Coffin who was stationed in the area at the right time, but had moved on. He had enough hell-raising to do locally over his honor and to defend his wife when she was accused of bigamy.

  3. Dave Orr

    Yep, although I learned from the other post that Coffin–if it was Coffin–also killed Jackson’s brother, who died right after this incident. The Tories of the Revolution, like Coffin, may have founded English Canada, but they were an unforgiving bunch. Another historical hatred which we’ve outgrown.

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