Museum of the Waxhaws and Andrew Jackson
Waxhaw, North Carolina
Andrew Jackson was America's seventh President -- but he also owned slaves, banished peaceful Indians to the Trail of Tears, and killed men who annoyed him (He had a violent temper). Some modern Americans dislike Jackson so much that they want him kicked off the $20 bill and replaced with a woman.
But this view of Jackson is relatively new, and still in the minority in the Waxhaws region of North and South Carolina, where Jackson was born on March 15, 1767. Both states, proud of their home-grown President, claim Jackson's birthplace as their own: North Carolina with a lonely monument, South Carolina with an entire state park. In between, philosophically, is the Museum of the Waxhaws, whose Solomon-like position that Jackson belongs to both Carolinas frankly satisfies neither one.
"I'll be honest; as a history teacher in North Carolina I firmly believe he was born in North Carolina," said Tommie Wall, former principal of the Waxhaw elementary school and a board member of the museum. "But it's a friendly rivalry; it's not nasty."
"Jackson's mother was pregnant with him up here," said Bill Howie, the museum's Jackson historian, noting that the Jackson family lived in North Carolina before Andrew's mother awkwardly gave birth to him right on the state line. "If we really wanted to get sticky with it," said Bill, "we could say he was a 'person' in North Carolina" before he was born. "But I don't push that idea much. We want to be nice."
The museum makes no secret that it's pro-Jackson, regardless of his birthplace. A big Jackson head, commissioned by a local bank in 1996 when the museum opened, greets visitors with wide, staring eyes, probably similar to the last thing seen by those who unwisely made Jackson mad.
Exhibits in the museum are devoted to the Waxhaw Indians and the Scots-Irish settlers that replaced them, but we went straight to the Jackson section, which is headlined "The Birthplace Problem." It explains that the hardscrabble future President was born in the log cabin of one of his mother's sisters, who lived on either side of the North-South Carolina state line. But which cabin? "President Jackson did write that he was born in South Carolina," the exhibit concedes, but by then he was a politician, and he "could have merely been attempting to appeal to the citizens of South Carolina." The exhibit concludes delicately that Jackson "truly belongs with all Carolinians," but a supplementary museum handout has a big map that clearly shows Jackson's birthplace on the North Carolina side.
"You know, he never came back here," said Tommie, which is true; by the time Jackson was 15, both of his parents and all of his siblings were dead. Andrew Jackson moved away from both North and South Carolina long before he became a slave-owning, Indian-banishing, killer President, which, when it comes to Jackson, is just about the only thing that everyone in the Waxhaws can agree on.