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|Andrew Jackson helped launch horse racing in Natchez|
As settlers began to pour into Natchez country in the 1770s and 1780s, horse racing and its counterpart, gambling, soon became exceptionally popular. One of the men who helped develop horse racing in Natchez would become President of the United States.
On the frontier, there were many single men -- farmers, soldiers, speculators, merchants, rivermen. Most enjoyed gambling, drinking and prostitutes, each popular in all frontier settlements.
Longtime Natchez settler George Willey said that in 1788 there was a quarter horse track under-the-hill at Natchez, located just north of King's Works, a Spanish battery. Willey said the track began at the foot of the bluff and stretched to the river for a quarter mile. Historian Jack Elliott's research shows that the track was located to the north of the buildings on Silver Street while the battery was probably located on the south end of the casino parking lot site, looking down on the landing.
Joseph Dunbar Shields said Native Americans loved horse racing, too, writing that "daredevil white men would run from the bluff to the river, but the Indians had more discretion; they didn't fancy the idea of being ducked in the river by their hard-mouthed, unruly mustangs, so when they ran races, they would start from the bank and run to the bluff."
Even Andrew Jackson, who would become the seventh President of the United States (1829–1837), raced his own quarter horses and bet on races in Natchez country. Jackson actually lived in this region -- in present day Claiborne and Jefferson counties -- on and off for a three-year period beginning around 1789. Here, too, he courted and married Rachel Donelson, who, like him, came south from Tennessee. The two were married by Thomas M. Green Sr. at Springfield Plantation in Jefferson County in 1791 (though some dispute this), but questions over the validity of the marriage would arise years later.
Jackson's arrival here came just a year after Peter Bryan Bruin of Virginia settled on Bayou Pierre in Claiborne County in 1788 after acquiring a Spanish land grant. Bruin would become one of the first territorial judges in Mississippi. When he and other families arrived on flatboats, Bruin's cargo included sheep and horses. He, too, would race horses and wager when Jackson arrived a year later.
At the mouth of Bayou Pierre, which flowed into the Mississippi, a small settlement arose. French explorers had given the bayou its name after noticing the stream was filled with rocks. They called it "Pierre" (the French word for rock). Some called the bayou Stony River.
A man who knew much about Jackson's early years in Natchez was William Sparks, who wrote a book called "The Memories of Fifty Years." Sparks said Jackson in those days was "a restless and enterprising man," who tried many schemes to make a fortune. He enjoyed success as a slave trader in Mississippi and Louisiana, said Sparks, which is what initially brought him to Bayou Pierre.
"Jackson had a small store, or trading establishment, at Bruinsburgh, near the mouth of Bayou Pierre, in Claiborne County, Mississippi," wrote Sparks. "It was at this point he received the negroes, purchased by his partner at Nashville, and sold them to the planters in the neighborhood."
During this three-year period, beginning in 1789 or 1790, Sparks said Jackson became acquainted with the Thomas Green family and sold slaves to his sons -- brothers Thomas Jr. and Abner Green. At Jackson's store, located "immediately upon the bank of the Mississippi, there was a race-track for quarter-horses, (a sport Jackson was very fond of) and many an anecdote was rife...in the neighborhood, of the skill of the old hero in pitting a cock or turning a quarter-horse."
This location was also where former Vice-President Aaron Burr was arrested in 1807 and the spot where, five and one-half decades later, Gen. U.S. Grant landed his federal army in a river crossing from Hard Times in Tensas Parish while advancing on Vicksburg during the Civil War.
While Jackson would be given a hero's welcome in Natchez on more than one occasion during the early 1800s, the biggest came after the Battle of New Orleans. His early years here, though, were a time when he romanced and eventually married the love of his life, Rachel Donelson, who was then living in Jefferson County. It is known that while the couple may have thought they had legally married that in actuality Rachel was still married to her first husband back in Tennessee. There is also no record of the marriage at Springfield although the Green family attested to it. This was to be the source of great scandal during Jackson's campaign for President and was as well covered in the newspapers then as was President Bill Clinton's sexual trysts during his campaigns in the 1990s.
In 1835, as his Presidency was winding down, the writer William Sparks visited Jackson along with members of the Green family from Natchez country. Sparks was married to the youngest daughter of Abner Green, one of the men Jackson first met and befriended in the 1790s. Green eventually settled on Second Creek near the homes of Anthony Hutchins and William Dunbar south of Natchez.
Sparks wrote that when Jackson was introduced to his wife at the White House and told who she was that Jackson "did not speak, but held her hand for some moments, gazing intently into her face." Soon he was overcome with emotion and wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly.
"I must kiss you, my child, for your sainted mother's sake," said Jackson, who held her at arms' length and gazed into her eyes. "Oh! how like your mother you are," he said, "she was the friend of my poor Rachel, when she so needed a friend -- I loved her, and I love her memory."
Rachel, Jackson's wife, had died before he took office and for the rest of his life, Jackson blamed his critics for her death. He believed she died from a broken heart and embarrassment over newspaper coverage during the Presidential campaign of their alleged adulteress life in Natchez country.
There at the White House, the President visited with his old Natchez friends for the rest of the evening. In his sitting-room, Jackson puffed on his pipe and said, "Now, my child, let us talk about Mississippi and the old people."
Before the night closed, Sparks said Jackson asked about Jack and Bellie, two slaves he had fished and hunted with back in Natchez four decades earlier. Sparks was moved by affection for the old general whose troops once in admiration gave him the name "Old Hickory" when marching home from Natchez to Tennessee along the trace.
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