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Andrew Jackson’s Cursing Parrot

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 1, 2023 3:01 am

Andrew Jackson’s Cursing Parrot

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 1, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, History professor Mark Cheathem tells us why Andrew Jackson’s pet parrot had to be removed from his funeral.

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Exclusions apply. This is our American Stories and some of our favorite stories to tell are stories about our history. From George Washington to Jackie Robinson, we love bringing you in-depth looks into the lives of great Americans. Today's story is less about a great American, but his pet parrot that had to be removed from his funeral. History professor Mark Cheatham tells us one of his favorite stories that he learned while working at Andrew Jackson's plantation, the Hermitage.

Here's Mark. When I was a docent at the Hermitage the summer between my junior and senior years of college, one of my favorite stories to tell was that of Paul the Parrot. I never questioned its validity at the time, but several years ago I decided to check on this story and see, was it actually true? Marsha Mullen, the authority on all things Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, directed me to Rev. William Menifee Norman's Recollections, which are in volume 3 of Samuel G. High School's book, Andrew Jackson and Early Tennessee History. In speaking about Jackson's 1845 funeral, Norman recorded, Before the sermon, and while the crowd was gathering, a wicked parrot that was a household pet got excited and commenced swearing so loud and long as to disturb the people and had to be carried from the house. It's a great anecdote and it's one I've told many times over the years, but the story became even more interesting for me because Norman was a graduate of Cumberland University where I currently teach. He was one of a group of Cumberland University students who visited Jackson shortly before the former president died in June of 1845. According to one Norman obituary, there are few if any people living today who saw Gen. Andrew Jackson in the flesh. Since the death of Judge Nathan Green of Lebanon, Tennessee a few years ago, Rev. Norman is the only survivor of that little group of students of Cumberland University that in the spring of 1845 visited Old Hickory at his famous country home, the Hermitage, 15 miles from Nashville.

Here Rev. Norman described their visit. Cumberland University is at Lebanon, about 15 miles from the Hermitage. In the early spring of 1845, six of us Cumberland students decided we wished to meet Gen. Jackson.

One Saturday morning, we packed our lunches and got in a stagecoach, which went near the Hermitage on the way to Nashville. When we arrived, Andrew Jackson Donaldson, nephew of the general, met us and conducted us to the big east room where the general was sitting before the fire. It was a wood fire and huge logs were burning. The fireplace was about five feet high. Mr. Donaldson introduced us to the general as courteously as though we were distinguished guests and without rising, the hero of New Orleans shook hands.

At once, we saw that the famous man was very feeble. After this introduction, we all sat around the fire. The general puffed occasionally at a short-stem silver pipe which he held in his left hand. In his right hand, he held a long Hickory cane.

A Bible lay on the floor beside him. The general was very religious at this time and when we told him who we were, some of us studying for the ministry, he leaned forward with his chin on his stick and exclaimed, a noble calling, young gentleman. He then advised us to make the most of our opportunities and become upright citizens. To tell the truth, we were rather disappointed because he did not tell us of battles and duels. Could this gentle religious old gentleman be the man whose by the eternal had sounded in the halls of Congress on the field of battle and dueling ground? Yet we sat looking at the living reality of our boyish dreams, an old man, feeble and lonely, who spoke of his wife as that sainted woman and whose grave he daily visited. Up above the mantelpiece hung two long dueling pistols, mute witnesses of days gone by.

And I think these pistols occupied most of our attention. We spent more than an hour talking with the general and when we were ready to leave, he again shook hands and wished us happiness and health. Norman's obituary went on to report, while still at school, word reached Cumberland University that General Jackson was dead.

Only six weeks before, he had shaken his hand. Reverend Norman says he went to the funeral and that the general's parrot, excited by the multitude and the wailing of the slaves, let loose perfect gusts of cuss words. The slaves of the general were horrified and awed at the bird's lack of reverence.

The last quotation from this obituary is interesting for more than just Paul swearing. Norman's claim that the enslaved people's wailing set off Paul's blue streak and that they were horrified and awed by the parrot's lack of reverence presents a view of enslaved people as being more pious than their southern slave owners. That's an interesting perspective, but it isn't surprising. White views of African Americans were complicated during and after slavery. Mark Smith's book How Race is Made, Slavery, Segregation, and the Senses offers the simple yet powerful argument that southern whites viewed African Americans as dirty and loathsome at the same time that they allowed them in their homes as servants and nannies or, in the case of some white masters and enslaved women, as they raped them.

The same dichotomy holds true for African American morality and religion. Whites believed enslaved people practiced a heathen African religion, not religions mind you, yet they also thought enslaved people often possessed a spirituality that gave them greater moral insight and wisdom than their white Christian masters. In the case of Jackson's funeral, the perception is that members of the Hermitage's enslaved community were appalled by Paul's language, which she presumably learned from Old Hickory or other whites on the plantation, because they were too moral to have used that language themselves. Of course, this interpretation ignores the agency of enslaved African Americans and the complexity of their religious beliefs and practices. It also overlooks the reality that the enslaved people at the funeral might have been mourning the uncertainty they faced. But those enslaved at the Hermitage needed only to look at his son to see how things could get worse. Andrew Jackson Jr. struggled with alcoholism, and unlike his father, he was a terrible money manager. The prospect of Jr. taking over may have been enough to produce the wailing that Normand and others heard that spring day in 1845. If that was the reason for the enslaved people's sorrow, they were right to worry.

Over the next 11 years, Jr. not only sold off the Hermitage piece by piece, but he also sold many of them as well. And great job as always to Joey, and a thanks, a special thanks to Cumberland University history professor Mark Cheatham, telling us the story of Andrew Jackson's cursing parrot, but also about so much more. And my goodness, to meet, imagine meeting a president under those circumstances and to hear the reading of a memoir and to get back into the mind and time of the day. And we love bringing people back in history.

What we also do is try not to judge people out of their context, out of their historical context, because, well, it wouldn't be too kind of people to do it 100 years from now to us. And what a life Jackson led, by the way, a general in the U.S. Army. He served in both houses of Congress, went by the name Old Hickory. You also heard the hero of New Orleans. And of course, in the end, there's King Mob, too.

Those were his three big nicknames. And by the way, if you have stories about American history, we love telling them, but send them to us. Send them to And if you want to be a part of this team, a part of the Our American Stories Nation, as we like to call it, feel free to give or donate as well. We are a nonprofit, and it is free to listen to Our American Stories, but it is not free to make. Again, if you want to be a part of our team, go to and give, too. We'd love your stories, and we'd love any help you can give us. Do a little, do a lot. But if you can, help do your part.

This is the story of Andrew Jackson's Cursing Parrot, here on Our American Story. Ah, summer's here, and you know what that means. It's time to heat up your wardrobe at Lulu's, the only stop you need for affordable, high-quality, on-trend items that look as good as they feel.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-01 04:35:49 / 2023-06-01 04:40:47 / 5

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