“Old Hickory” was a fitting nickname for our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, in more ways than one.
The War of 1812 hero was known for his physical and mental toughness. But did you know Andrew Jackson had a disagreement over a racehorse that led him to fight in a deadly duel?
Passionate About Horses
Jackson was passionate about horses and horse racing. As a young lawyer — well before he became president — Jackson became famous as the leading breeder and owner of thoroughbreds in his native state of Tennessee.
Interestingly, in the early 19th century, horse racing was the leading sport in the country. Tennessee alone had 10 established tracks by 1839.
Jackson was part-owner of Clover Bottom, a track near his home, and he trained his horses there, including Thruxton, his prized Virginia born racehorse. Thruxton, born in 1800, was sired by Diomed, a thoroughbred brought to this country from England, where his lineage was directly traced to the Godolphin Arabian.
“I Challenge You to a Duel!”
In March 1806, a match race between Thruxton and Joseph Erwin’s undefeated horse Ploughboy was canceled.
According to the rules, Erwin was supposed to pay Jackson a forfeit fee. As the story goes, Erwin and his son-in-law Charles Dickinson disagreed with Jackson about the amount of the fee.
In the midst of the ensuing argument, Dickinson insulted Jackson’s wife, Rachel. Things escalated until Dickinson wrote a letter to a Nashville newspaper calling Jackson a coward. That prompted Jackson to challenge Dickinson to a duel. It was Jackson’s third duel so far.
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Because Dickinson, age 25, had the reputation of being a good marksman, friends of Jackson, age 40, advised him to let Dickinson fire first in the hope that the first shot would not be fatal and Jackson could then take his time to return a shot.
On the morning of the duel, Dickinson did indeed strike first, hitting Jackson in the chest. Jackson struggled but was able to hit Dickinson in the abdomen, and that wound proved to be fatal.
According to Jackson biographer Jon Meachem, the over-sized coat Jackson wore may have interfered with Dickinson’s aim.
Left With a Bullet Inside Him
Jackson’s doctors were afraid that they would kill him by trying to remove the bullet, and with the wound never completely healing and causing Jackson chronic discomfort, the bullet remained lodged near the future president’s heart for the rest of his life.
Many people criticized Jackson for killing Dickinson, but Jackson never apologized for the duel.