Pvt. Jacob Jackson & The War of 1812
By A.William Bodine
Director of the Pennsylvania Society of the War of 1812
Jacob Jackson was a native son of Pennsylvania and South Philadelphia in particular. He was the son of John and Elizabeth Jackson. Born in 1779, at age 33 Jacob joined the U.S. Navy and served as a Boatswain aboard the Little Adams and also the Scorpion with Capt. Jonathan Jones of the 1st Pennsylvania Militia directed by Col. Jeremiah Shappell.
It is clear that Jacob had great courage because he served on only two of eighteen battle ships owned by the U.S. Navy compared to six hundred maned by the British whom the world recognized ruled the oceans. In fact, while the war was primarily a land war with small armies from both sides confronting each other in periodic and brutal skirmishes but with a low level of casualties, the fundamental issue of the war was freedom to navigate the seas.
While little more is known about Jacob Jackson from his service, he military efforts contributed to a war which established some of America’s most enduring symbols including the USS Constitution, our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, and Andrew Jackson. It was also a remarkable war because Jacob was joined in his military war efforts by five men who would become President of the United States including James Buchanan, Zackery Taylor, John Tyler, William Henry Harrison and Andrew Jackson whose defense of New Orleans was the basis for his heroic and legendary status in American history. On a personal level, Jacob Jackson married Catharina Ohnmacht and fathered eight children. He lived a full life experiencing the joy and comfort of his large family and died at age 86 having also witnessed the Civil War from 1861 to the year of his death in 1865.
This occasion also offers an opportunity to share some little-known facts about the War of 1812. First, for the British the War of 1812 was a side show. They were deep into fighting the French with their best military leaders while many of the British military and naval officers fighting in America and Canada against the Americans were second rate. In fact, Henry Patrick Proctor bungled the British defense so badly at the Battle of Moraviantown that he was court martialed as the record shows for his “deficiency in energy and judgment.”
For Americans, the war became unpopular because it carried on for several years even beyond the official end of the war in the Treaty of Ghent signed on Christmas Eve in December 1815. In fact, the largest battle of the war was fought in New Orleans mainly because word of the peace treaty had not yet reached America. It was also especially unpopular with New Englanders who suffered economically from the disruption of trade from England and Europe. Not unlike our time, with the War in Viet Nam in the 1960’s and today in Afghanistan, long wars become unpopular.
As the War of 1812 progressed, the President (in this case James Madison) and the Federal Government were accused of grabbing too much power. We have certainly heard this alarm sounded in the past fifteen years. You might enjoy the “grabbing” that occurred at the White House just before the British came to town and burned down the place. It seems that the President’s wife, First Lady Dolly Madison, has been commonly credited with saving the famous Landsdowne portrait of George Washington when, in fact, the White House gardener, a Frenchman, saved the painting while Dolly Madison ran off with the silver! It is also notable especially in today’s political climate that a Muslim slave helped save a Georgia plantation during the war.
In the end, no one is quite sure who won the war since the peace treaty ensured what was recorded as “status quo ante bellum” or “the state that existed before the war.” Notably, the issue of the British capturing Americans to serve in their military was never resolved. Perhaps, the Canadian historian Pierre Berton summed it up best: “It was as if no war had been fought . . . save for the graves of those who fought . . . for a trifle.” For our dear brother, Jacob Jackson, we thank you for your sacrifice in the final war that secured our independence and the liberties we so cherish in America today. Thank you for your kind invitation to share these remarks with you. May God Bless America and our dear brother, Jacob Jackson.