New Documents Shed Light on Nation’s Seventh President


By Colin Woodward

John A. Fleming, a historian at the National Archives, recently discovered documents that shed new light on Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States. The documents, which include letters as well the “Secret Diary of A.J.,” will prove of great interest to nineteenth century historians, biographers, and those studying early American foodways.

Perhaps most disturbing are the passages dealing with cannibalism, particularly the cannibal feasts Jackson had in the White House during the Blizzard of ’31. “These documents do nothing less than re-frame how we view President Jackson,” said Fleming.

Jackson’s “Secret Diary,” which was written in code, provides grim details of the president’s decision to dine on White House staff when food ran out in the nation’s capital. The blizzard of January 17-20, 1831 was the worst in Washington D.C.’s history. The storm left six feet of snow in the nation’s capital. Many people were house-bound for weeks. Some, such as Jackson, resorted to eating fellow Washingtonians.

Here are excerpts from the diary:

Jan. 17, 1832, 8:04 p.m: “Snow still falling. Food running low. Should have made a bread and milk run. Thankfully, the wine cellar is well stocked.”

8:13: “Servants tell me that Quincy Adams made off with all wine, except the port. I hate port.”

8:13 p.m. “Nope. Port gone, too. Blast his Yankee eyes!”

Adams: loved port.

8:22 p.m. “All servants gone. Only workers left are the Irish, who were laboring on the west garden wall before the storm hit.”

9:11 p.m. “Forced to break bread with the Irish. Made me feel unclean.”

10:32 p.m. “Bed.”

Jan. 18, 1832,7:09 a.m. “Rose. Read paper in office. Snow piled high outside.”

8:11 a.m. “Calhoun here. Made him wait outside my office for forty five minutes while I played cup and ball.”

Calhoun: Jackson irritant.

9:55 a.m. “Calhoun just left. I reckon I said two words during the meeting. The man’s tongue runs like a foul stream. Resumed cup and ball.”

10:48 a.m. “Snow still falling. All liveries and grog shops closed due to bad weather.”

1:11 pm. “Felt hungry, went to kitchen to look through cabinets.”

1:12 pm. “Servants and Sons of Erin ate all food. Cabinets bare. Chef looking nervous.”

2:24 pm. “Van Buren visited. Made him hold my cup and ball while I polished my boots.”

3:11 pm. “Van Buren left. Said he was to visit friends in Sleepy Hollow via carriage. . . . He’ll never make it.”

3:11 pm. “Told Van Buren he’d never make it.”

3:12 p.m. “Van Buren left the room, crying.”

3:12 p. m. “Pursued Van Buren into hallway. Gave him a taste of the sole of my hobnail boot, ‘Old Hickory’.”

3:13 p.m. “Had to polish ‘Old Hickory’ again after the Little Magician’s stern but well-deserved reprimand.”

5:08 pm. “Hungry. Chef informs me food gone.”

5:31 p. m. “Still hungry. Snow falling. Have ordered White House shut down. All servants ordered to better quarters in Alexandria.”

5:55 p.m. Chef: “I have nothing!”

Me: “I care not a whit! I wish to sup!”

6:09 p.m. “Still waiting. About to unleash ‘Old Hickory’ for the second time today.”

6:22 p.m. “Stomach growling.”

6:47 p.m. “Peeved.”

7:04 pm. “Irritated.”

7:14 p.m. “Ravenous.”

7:52 p.m. “Maybe I should check on the chef.”

8:08 p.m. “Cracked open kitchen door. Saw the Irish dining on the chef. Reminded me of some of my leaner days on the frontier. Slowly closed door so as not to disturb.”

8:23 p.m. “Thinking.”

8:29 p.m. “Realized chef was from Liverpool. Figured the Irish were justified, given the current political situation in the U.K.”

9:14 p.m. “Realized the Irish might come for me next.”

9:15 p.m. “Time to make an executive decision.”

9:23 p.m. “Burst into the kitchen, a pistol in each hand and two in my belt. Blasted away at the Irish. They dropped like cord wood.”

9:24 p.m. “Kitchen a mess. Wish servants were still here.”

9:27 p.m. “Lit a fire. Looking around for good Irish recipes.”

10:30 p.m. “Damn. The Irish cook slow.”

12:12 a.m. “First course not bad. Wish I had potatoes and a glass of Madeira.”

12:47 a.m. “Made a crude ice cream using snow scooped from the backporch and an Irishman’s gall bladder.”

1:09 a.m. “Bed.”

7:02 a.m. “Morning indigestion. Wish I had dined on Calhoun instead.”

9: 42 a.m. “Still sick. Have dubbed my ailment ‘Revenge of St. Patrick.”

10:18 a.m. “Hungry. Went to kitchen.”

10:22 a.m. “Sated. The Irish, much to my surprise, taste fairly good cold.”

12:33 p.m. “Revenge of St. Patrick.”

1:07 p.m. “Have tired of my fare. Sent out for Thai food.”

“This is appalling,” said Shelly Eaton, the head of Vegans for a Better America. “To think one of our presidents would eat other people! We hate the idea of anyone eating meat, even if that meat is human.”

The New Orleans city council has considered voting on removing Jackson’s statue in Jackson Square in the Crescent City.

new orleans 128.JPG

“I know, he, like, won a battle or something,” said Brad Fishman, a native of the French Quarter. “But who cares? He was a slaveowner and an Indian killer and that’s pretty bad. But a cannibal, too? That’s, like, way too far.”

When asked to comment on Jackson’s cannibalism, Jackson biographer and Pulitzer Prize winner John Meacham said, “Uh, what?”


Colin Woodward is the author of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War (University of Virginia Press, 2014). He works at Stratford Hall in Virginia and is writing a book on Johnny Cash, which is not a satire.










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