This summer was a crucial one for the Jackson biography. Research funding from Cumberland University and the Filson Historical Society made it possible for me to finish the first draft of the biography, as well as to make progress toward completing research for a paper that I am presenting at this fall’s Southern Historical Association conference.
My university grant proposal consisted of two objectives. The first was to conduct some additional research on the role of slavery in the 1828 presidential election. Specifically, I wanted to examine in more detail two charges against Jackson during the election. One was his complicity in the death of one of his slaves, a man named Gilbert, who ran away on several occasions and died at the hands of Jackson’s overseer, Ira Walton, in 1827. The other was the accusation that Jackson was a slave trader prior to the War of 1812. A one-week Filson fellowship, which I discussed previously, allowed me to research discussion of the charges in Kentucky and the Lower Midwest. The Cumberland University grant funded a research trip to the Library of Congress to examine several newspapers and manuscript collections for discussion of the charges.
My second objective for the university summer grant was to find out whether Jackson owned land in Texas. I came across reference in the Donelson papers to the possible land ownership while researching my dissertation, but I never had occasion to follow up on the reference until this summer. Several trips to the Tennessee State Library and Archives allowed me to look through the Jackson papers to try to uncover exactly what this reference meant. I still don’t have all of the details, but it seems that the ownership claim traces back to a horse deal gone bad in 1839. In order to pay off a debt to Jackson, a Texas man ceded control of a tract of land to him. I don’t think that the land influences Jackson’s support of Texas annexation, which was already certain, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
Later this week, I’ll talk a little about why summer funding is so important to historians like me.