Very little is known about Lyncoya, the adopted Muscogee (Creek) son of seventh President, Andrew Jackson. During the Creek War (1813-1814), Colonel Andrew Jackson, accompanied by around 5,000 Tennessee militia troops, was sent to the Mississippi Territory (modern day Alabama) to quell and halt the recent uprising of Creek peoples against White settlers. One of the many skirmishes ordered by Colonel Jackson was the Battle of Tallushatchee, in which an estimated 186 Creeks were killed by Jackson’s men and an additional 80 were taken hostage. In the unfortunate aftermath of this battle, an infant was discovered clinging to his mother’s dead body. Unsure of what to do with the baby boy, he was presented to Colonel Jackson who would write later in a letter to his wife Rachel that he felt “unusual sympathy” towards the child, and decided to adopt him. Lyncoya was the name bestowed upon the infant by Maria Pope, daughter of a Jackson acquaintance Colonel Leroy Pope, who cared for the child until the conclusion of the Creek War. His true name is unknown.
Lyncoya would not be the only Muscogee child to be adopted by the Jackson family and live on his estate, The Hermitage. At least two other children were adopted or gifted to Colonel Jackson to be companions or “petts” of his sons Andrew Jackson Donelson and Andrew Jackson Hutchings. Named Theodore and Charley, the fate of these two boys are unknown. Another unknown is the day to day experiences of Lyncoya living with the Jackson family; Lyncoya was probably educated alongside Jackson’s own sons, evidenced by an alleged encounter Jackson had with a Senator in 1816, during which “Old Hickory” implored upon the Senator to divulge to Congress how well Lyncoya was being educated in Jackson’s care. Twelve years later, Lyncoya would die of consumption at sixteen years old while apprenticed to a saddler out of Nashville.
United States policy towards Native American groups and their ancestral homelands reached a physical, emotional, and psychological fever-pitch in the 19th century. It was during this one hundred year period that official federal stratagem regarding Native Americans morphed into what was referred to as “allotment and assimilation”; the goal of this policy was to re-socialize Native peoples and further integrate them into the dominant Anglo-American culture. This included forced relocation, allotment of tribal lands to specific indigenous families (particularly egregious as Native Americans historically had no concept of private ownership of land), and indoctrination Native children at industrial or religious boarding schools where they were instructed to forgo their Native identities and conform to the dominant culture (this included altering the manner of dress, changing or receiving a “White” name, and ingraining within these children that their darker skin color was something to be shameful of).
Arguably, no single American President can stand against Andrew Jackson as the harshest enforcer of these policies on Native groups. The Indian Removal Act, signed into law by President Jackson in May of 1830 after significant demand by American citizens to acquire Native lands, authorized the executive branch to grant unsettled lands West of the Mississippi River in exchange for Native lands within already existing state borders. Two Supreme Court Cases – Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) and Worcester v. Georgia (1832) – had rendered opinions regarding forced relocation of Native Americans. The first case, Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, was not heard by the Supreme Court on merit. The delegation representing the Cherokee Nation led by Chief John Ross argued that state legislation in Georgia that granted Cherokee lands to White settlers was illegal, as the United States had deemed the Cherokee Nation an independent foreign power acting within the U.S. with the Treaty of Holston in 1791. Thus, Georgia had no right to allow settlers territory on or within Cherokee lands. As their most prominent argument was that Cherokee territory was an independent foreign power, this is why the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Chief Justice John Marshall would write that “the majority is of the opinion that an Indian tribe or nation within the United States is not a foreign state in the sense of the constitution, and cannot maintain an action in the courts of the United States”. The second case, however, was heard by the court and reached an entirely opposite conclusion. In Worcester v. Georgia, the 6 to 1 majority ruled that the Cherokee Nation was in fact a sovereign entity existing within the boundaries of the United States, and therefore Georgia had no constitutional right to infringe upon or usurp Cherokee land.
President Jackson, who entered office in March of 1829, disregarded the ruling of the Court and proceeded to send United States military forces into Cherokee and other tribes’ lands and forcibly remove them, most commonly to middle America in present-day Oklahoma and Nebraska. This twenty-year period of suffering and death is remembered today as the “Trail of Tears”. This act of ethnic cleansing resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 Native Americans, from tribes including the Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek), and Cherokee.
Considering his paternal relationship towards Lyncoya, President Jackson’s treatment of Native Americans appears contradictory. Historians do posit that Jackson’s adoption of Lyncoya may have been a public relations stunt more than anything – even before the Battle of Tallushatchee, Jackson had obtained a reputation for being extremely brutal on the battlefield, especially towards indigenous Americans. Thus, by adopting poor, orphaned Lyncoya, Jackson could begin to amend his reputation of cruelty. However, in this period of American history, to adopt a Native child meant to essentially gain a servant or, in Jackson’s case, a companion for your children. The case of Lyncoya and Jackson is still unique however, and may exist as an exception to this rule; Jackson wanted Lyncoya to follow in his footsteps and attend West Point, even going so far as exhibiting eleven-year-old Lyncoya as a candidate to attend the military academy to President James Monroe and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun in 1824.
While Lyncoya’s life largely remains shrouded in mystery, his legacy is even more confounding. What were President Jackson’s motives in adopting him? Did he consider Lyncoya to be a true son, or simply a mode of entertainment for his children? And perhaps, most importantly, what was Lyncoya’s opinion on his adopted father, arguably the most loathsome individual in the eyes of Native Americans attempting to maintain their sovereignty? Unfortunately, as is the case with history, we will most likely never know. However, Lyncoya Jackson deserves the recognition of all Americans – not just as a PR pawn in the hands of his famous father, or as an orphan to be pitied, but as a human being who endured even in the face of adversity.
*Author’s note: Andrew and Rachel Jackson did not have any children. Thus the term “sons” of Andrew Jackson used in this article refers to his nephews who he and his wife adopted when they were orphaned.*
Written by Katie Costanzo, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum.