Florida’s first Governor – Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson, first Governor of Florida 
March 10, 1821 to December 31, 1821


The first American Governor of Florida was an Irish-American, Andrew Jackson, Jr., who later became the 7th President of the United States.  Andrew Jackson was born to Scots-Irish immigrants Andrew and Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, on March 15, 1767, approximately two years after they had emigrated from Ireland.   Jackson’s father, Andrew Jackson, Sr., was born in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, Ireland around 1738.  He married Elizabeth Hutchinson, had two sons in Ireland: Hugh (born 1763) and Robert (born 1764), and then sold his land and emigrated with his young family to America in 1765. The Jacksons probably landed in Pennsylvania and made their way overland to the Irish community in the Waxhaws region straddling the border between North Carolina and South Carolina.  Andrew Jackson, Sr. injured himself while lifting a log and died in February 1767 at age 29.  The house that they lived in is now preserved as the Andrew Jackson Center, and is open to the public. Three weeks after his father’s death, Andrew Jackson, Jr. was born.  His exact birth site was the subject of conflicting lore in the area. Jackson claimed to have been born in a cabin just inside South Carolina. 


Though his early legal education was scanty, Jackson knew enough to become a country lawyer on the frontier. Since he was not from a distinguished family, he had to make his career by his own merits; soon he began to prosper in the rough-and-tumble world of frontier law.   Most of the actions grew out of disputed land-claims, or from assaults and battery.  In 1788, he was appointed Solicitor of the Western District and held the same position in the territorial government of Tennessee after 1791.  In 1796, Jackson was a delegate to the Tennessee constitutional convention. When Tennessee achieved statehood that year, Jackson was elected its U.S. Representative in Congress.  In 1797, he was elected U.S. Senator from Tennessee as a Democratic-Republican. He resigned within a year.  In 1798, he was appointed a judge of the Tennessee Supreme Court, serving until 1804.


Jackson’s service in the War of 1812 against the United Kingdom was conspicuous for bravery and success.  When British forces threatened New Orleans, Jackson took command of the defenses, including militia from several western states and territories.  He was a strict officer but was popular with his troops.  It was said he was "tough as old hickory" wood on the battlefield, which gave him his nickname. In the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815, Jackson’s 5,000 soldiers won a victory over 7,500 British.  The war, and especially this victory, made Jackson a national hero. He received the Thanks of Congress and a gold medal by resolution of February 27, 1815.


In December 1817, former US Senator and Major General Andrew Jackson was ordered by President James Monroe to lead a campaign in Georgia against the Seminole and Creek Indians.  Jackson was also charged with preventing Spanish Florida from becoming a refuge for runaway slaves. Critics later alleged that Jackson exceeded orders in his Florida actions.  His directions were to "terminate the conflict."  Jackson believed the best way to do this was to seize Florida.  Before going, Jackson wrote to Monroe, "Let it be signified to me through any channel… that the possession of the Floridas would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished."  Monroe gave Jackson orders that were purposely ambiguous, sufficient for international denials.


The Seminoles attacked Jackson’s Tennessee volunteers.  The Seminoles’ attack, however, left their villages vulnerable, and Jackson burned them and their crops.  He found letters that indicated that the Spanish and British were secretly assisting the Indians.  Jackson believed that the United States could not be secure so long as Spain and the United Kingdom encouraged Indians to fight, and argued that his actions were undertaken in self-defense.  Jackson captured Pensacola, Florida, with little more than some warning shots, and deposed the Spanish governor.  He captured and then tried and executed two British subjects, Robert Ambrister and Alexander Arbuthnot, who had been supplying and advising the Indians.  Jackson’s action also struck fear into the Seminole tribes as word spread of his ruthlessness in battle. Jackson was known to the Seminoles as "Sharp Knife".


The executions, and Jackson’s invasion of territory belonging to Spain, a country with which the U.S. was not at war, created an international incident.  Many in the Monroe administration called for Jackson to be censured.  Jackson’s actions were defended by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, an early believer in Manifest Destiny.  When the Spanish minister demanded a "suitable punishment" for Jackson, Adams wrote back, "Spain must immediately decide either to place a force in Florida adequate at once to the protection of her territory … or cede to the United States a province, of which she retains nothing but the nominal possession, but which is, in fact … a post of annoyance to them."  Adams used Jackson’s conquest, and Spain’s own weakness, to get Spain to cede Florida to the United States.  Spanish Florida was acquired from Spain by the Adams-Onís Treaty, which took effect on July 10, 1821. Parts of West Florida had previously been assigned to Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi; the remainder and East Florida became a military district, governed by the commander of the military force that had helped secure American influence in the region.   Andrew Jackson had already been named military governor by President James Monroe, was sworn in at Plaza Ferdinand VII in Pensacola, Florida, and served as Florida’s first Governor from March 10, 1821, to December 31, 1821. 


Andrew Jackson was subsequently elected to another term as US Senator from Tennessee, and on March 4, 1829 became the 7th President of the United States.




Filed under Florida Irish History

2 responses to “Florida’s first Governor – Andrew Jackson

  1. Pingback: What Would Andrew Jackson Say? | Tell my story.

  2. Robert

    Where are the Andrew Jackson’s of today? Not politically correct but was brave and courageous enough to take on military and political foes. Hated the central bank and paper money. Ironic that he’s on the twenty dollar bill, he demand gold. Knowing Jackson’s reputation he’d get it too. As one of his beloved slaves ask while Jackson laid dying, “Do you think Mr. Jackson will go to heaven?” Another answered the question, “If Mr. Jackson want to go to heaven, who’s going to stop Him?”

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