Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage

By Lloyd Paul Stryker | Go to book overview

ANDREW JOHNSON

I
UP FROM OBSCURITY AND POVERTY

IN the backwoods of Kentucky, twenty days before President Jefferson turned over the reins of office to his follower, James Madison, there took place an unheralded event,--the birth of Abraham Lincoln. Six weeks earlier and on the 8th day of December, 1808, at Raleigh, North Carolina, in a little one-story log house, humble and plain enough, there was an equally obscure occurrence. A good mother brought into this world of pain, travail and injustice,--a son, and called him Andrew Johnson.1

Jacob, his father, had been a captain in the militia of North Carolina.2 Such livelihood as he was able to supply his family came from his joint earnings as city constable, sexton, and porter to the state bank. One day in 1811, he found sufficient leisure from these many duties to join a fishing party at Hunter's Mill Pond.3 Young Col. Henderson, the editor of the Raleigh Star, and his friends, Pearce and Callum, were out fishing in a skiff. Whether the colonel's buoyant spirits arose from some fine catch or as a result of those artificial and now prohibited aids which fishermen from time immemorial have found stimulating, is an historical fact which must be left in doubt. Whatever was the cause of the editor's emotion, its manifestation was the rocking of the boat and its result that all three of its occupants were thrown into deep and treacherous water.4 William Pearce, the second member of the party, was rescued from the shore with little difficulty and thus emerges from history. Callum, the third in that ill-fated boat, in a frenzy of fear seized Col. Henderson and dragged him to the bottom. Jacob Johnson was on the

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