The Duelists: Jackson and Dickinson

by Kathy B. Lauder.

Charles Henry Dickinson was born around 1780, the year Andrew Jackson, a scrappy 13-year-old, ran off to fight in the American Revolution. The two youngsters could hardly have been more different. Dickinson was born into wealth and privilege on a Maryland plantation; Jackson’s parents were immigrant Irish pioneers. When young Dickinson arrived in Nashville in 1801, he carried a letter of introduction from Chief Justice John Marshall. By late spring 1806 he owned a thriving law practice; had married Jane Erwin, the daughter of a prosperous Nashville family; and was the proud father of a two-month-old son. Jackson, 39, a self-taught lawyer married to the former Rachel Donelson (who had come to Nashville in 1780 with the town’s founding families), had already become a key figure in regional politics: he had been a judge and district attorney in the Mero District; had taken part in the state constitutional convention; had served in the U.S. House and Senate; was Major General of the State Militia; and had spent six years on the Tennessee Supreme Court. He also raised cotton on his plantation, The Hermitage, and bred racehorses. It was apparently a conflict over a horse race that led to Jackson’s fatal duel with Dickinson on May 30, 1806.

Horse racing in the 19th century

The details of the argument vary with the storyteller, but it seems that Jackson took offense at an insult (directed at his wife, his horse, or his integrity) uttered by Joseph Erwin, the father of Dickinson’s wife. Dickinson, who some think may have tipped the balance with a cruel comment aimed at Rachel, took up the challenge in Erwin’s stead. Jackson himself later told a friend, “I had no unkind feeling against Mr. Dickinson . . . My quarrel had been with his father-in-law, Col. Erwin.” Since dueling was illegal in Tennessee, the two men and their companions set out on horseback to Logan County, Kentucky, near the Red River. Afterward Jackson admitted to being “badly frightened” – “I knew Dickinson to be the best shot with the pistol I ever saw.  I therefore went upon the ground expecting to be killed.”

Dickinson would shoot first. To alter his profile, Jackson, who was six feet tall but weighed only 145 pounds, wore a large, bulky coat with a rolled collar, and apparently turned his thin frame sideways. Dickinson aimed and shot. When Jackson did not fall or cry out, Dickinson, startled, believed he had missed. Then, very steadily, Jackson took aim and fired. Later someone would claim that the gun had misfired and that Jackson broke the rules by re-cocking and firing again, but, in fact, the seconds reportedly accepted the second shot. Jackson himself was quoted as saying, “Under the impression that I was, perhaps, mortally wounded, and upon the impulse of the moment, I fired, and my antagonist fell.” The future president had indeed been shot as well. Surgeons were never able to remove the bullet, which was lodged near his heart. It would cause him intense discomfort for the rest of his life. (Several scholars have suggested that Jackson may finally have died, 39 years later, of lead poisoning from that bullet, so Dickinson’s shot may have been responsible for his death, after all!) Young Dickinson lingered for several hours in excruciating pain before his own eventual death. Jackson would always feel deep remorse over the outcome: in his last years he confessed to his old friend General William G. Harding that he regretted nothing in his life so much as this duel. 

Although dueling was illegal in much of the country, it was nonetheless a popular subject for artists.

Dickinson’s companions carried his body back to Nashville, where he was buried on Joseph Erwin’s estate, six miles west of Nashville, on June 1, 1806. For many years the site was marked by a large box tomb, but around 1926, as the land was being developed for housing construction, the tomb’s marble slabs disappeared, as did, gradually, local memory of the exact site of the grave. Meanwhile, Maryland historians insisted that a faithful slave had carried Dickinson’s body back to Caroline County and buried it in a lead coffin there. Decades later, when a metal casket was discovered on family property, the remains were examined by experts at the Smithsonian, who declared they were likely those of a female. 

Tennessee historians, meanwhile, were convinced that Dickinson was still in Nashville. On May 23, 2006, almost exactly 200 years after the duel, State Archaeologist Nick Fielder conducted a high-tech probe of a West End property and determined there was a “50-50 chance” that the grave was there, but no digging occurred at that time. The obliging new property owners, Mr. and Mrs. James Bowen, sought Chancery Court approval for the archaeological investigation and exhumation of any remains discovered on their land, asking permission, in so many words, for their front yard no longer to be a burial ground! On a cold December 15, 2007, neighbors and historians huddled in the sleet, watching as an archaeology team dug in several promising spots, but with no success. In a subsequent dig, in August 2009, archaeologist Dan Allen, guided by historical documents, located the angular outline of a coffin, a number of rusty coffin nails, a screw, and two small bone fragments, probably finger bones. Dickinson had been found!

A crowd gathers at the site of the first Dickinson dig, December 15, 2007.

Researchers knew that Dickinson’s in-laws, Colonel Andrew Hynes and his wife Ann, had been buried at City Cemetery. (Ann Erwin Hynes was Jane Dickinson’s sister.) On Friday, June 25, 2010, in the presence of more than 300 witnesses, Charles Henry Dickinson’s remains were laid to rest in the Hynes plot at the Nashville City Cemetery. The funeral eulogy was delivered by the Reverend Kenneth Locke, Downtown Presbyterian Church. And great-great-great grandsons of both duelists attended the dedication: Dickinson’s descendant Charles Henry Miller, along with Andrew Jackson VI and his daughter Rebekah. (2010)

The Jackson quotations are taken from “Gen. Jackson as a Duelist,” The Daily American (Nashville), February 18, 1877. 

For another look at this story, you may enjoy Betsy Phillips’s delightful article from the August 1, 2022, edition of the Nashville Scene: “On the Hunt for the Jackson-Dickinson Dueling Site.”

My gratitude to Dr. Wayne Moore, Jim Hoobler, Fletch Coke, Mike Slate, Carol Kaplan, and James Castro for their input.

Previously published in Monuments & Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery Newsletter.

George Woods, 1842-1912

by Kathy B. Lauder.

Most authorities agree that George Woods and his brother Joseph were the first African American archaeological field technicians in Tennessee,1 if not the nation. George Woods (born into slavery in March 1842)2 also became the first African American to supervise important mound excavations.

When Frederic Ward Putnam (1839-1915), curator of Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology for 34 years,3  came to Nashville in 1877 for  a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he stayed on to explore several important archaeological sites in Davidson and Wilson counties.4 Before returning to Harvard, Putnam employed railroad construction contractor Edwin Curtiss5 as his foreman for the Peabody digs; Curtiss hired the laborers, including, in 1878,6  brothers George and Joe Woods, the only two workmen mentioned by name in his extensive correspondence with Putnam. The Woods brothers rapidly earned a reputation for skill and reliability. Writing from an Arkansas dig, Curtiss complained that the available field hands were “not worth feeding . . . I can get two old hands that have been with me for two years in Nashville and do more with them than I can with 5 of those here and be sure of them every day.”7

After Curtiss’s sudden death in December 1880,8 George Woods wrote to Professor Putnam about continuing Harvard’s archaeological efforts in Tennessee. His letter initiated an interesting correspondence, its principals being one of America’s most prominent scientists and a working-class black man whose nearly illegible handwriting featured his own creative spelling.9 In one letter he mentioned some artifacts remaining at the Jarman dig, explaining that he would return to pick up “thos spesmints that I laft thir in Decbur”10 in order to pack them up for shipment to the Peabody.

A Mississippian figure discovered in Humphreys County, Tennessee.

During the 1882 and 1883 seasons,11 Putnam hired Woods as foreman on the Jarman Farm site12 (sometimes called the Brentwood Library site) in Williamson County, where archaeologists have classified many outstanding examples of Mississippian culture (700 – ca.1600 A.D.),13 including pots, bowls, and both human and animal effigies. Later Putnam placed Woods in charge of the John Owen Hunt Mound dig in Williamson County while still collecting artifacts from the Jarman and Hunt excavations, as well as Dr. Oscar Noel’s farm/cemetery in Davidson County and Judge William F. Cooper’s farm, “Riverside,” in East Nashville near the McGavock Pike ferry landing.

Woods ended his association with Putnam about 1884, but continued to work at Middle Tennessee sites with “local antiquarian archaeologist”14 Gates P. Thruston from 1885-1890. In the Gates P. Thruston Collection of Vanderbilt University, now housed at the Tennessee State Museum,15 may be found several artifacts collected by George Woods,16 who, in later years, worked as a blacksmith, railroad porter, and quarryman.

George Woods, who died January 26, 1912,17 is memorialized on Tennessee Historical Commission marker #3A 217 near the entrance to Greenwood Cemetery, where he is buried.18

Note: Several sources give Woods’s death date as September 28, 1912, but both the Tennessee Death Records, 1908-1958, and the Tennessee, Deaths and Burials Index, 1874-1955, cite the January date, which is listed on his death certificate. (2015)


1 Moore, Michael C., and Kevin E. Smith. “Archaeological Expeditions of the Peabody Museum in Middle Tennessee, 1877-1884.”  Nashville: TN Department of Environment & Conservation, Division of Archaeology, Research Series No. 16, (rev. 2012), 8.

2 Moore, Michael C., Kevin E. Smith, and Stephen T. Rogers. “Middle Tennessee Archaeology and the Enigma of George Woods.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol. LXIX, Number 4 (2010), 321.

3 Tozzer, Alfred M. Biographical Memoir of Frederic Ward Putnam, 1839-1915, Vol XVI, No. 4. National Academy of Sciences: Presented to the Academy at the annual meeting, 1933, 127.

4 Moore, Michael C., et al. “Middle Tennessee Archaeology,” 320.

5 Browman, David L., and Stephen Williams. Anthropology at Harvard. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013, 105.

6 Browman and Williams, 105.

7 Moore and Smith. “Archaeological Expeditions,” 8.

8 Moore and Smith, “Archaeological Expeditions,” 5.

9 Moore, Michael C., et al. “Middle Tennessee Archaeology,” 323.

10 Moore, Michael C., et al. “Middle Tennessee Archaeology,” 323.

11 Browman and Williams, 106.

12  Putnam, F. W. “Abstract from the Records,” February 18, 1884. Annual Report of the Trustees of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Volume 3. Boston, Massachusetts: John Wilson and Son, 1887, 351.

13 “Mississippian Culture: Ancient North American Culture.” Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., n.d.  Web.  (Accessed 10 May 2015)

14 “George Woods, 1842-1912.” Tennessee Historical Commission Marker #3a 217, on north side of Elm Hill Pike between Spence Lane and entrance to Greenwood Cemetery.

15 Smith, Kevin E. “Gates P. Thruston Collection of Vanderbilt University.”  Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Nashville: Tennessee Historical Society. Online Edition ã 2002-2015, The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, Tennessee.

16 Moore, Michael C., et al. “Middle Tennessee Archaeology,” 324.

17 Tennessee Death Records, 1908-1958, Roll #5. Nashville: Tennessee State Library and Archives.

18 “George Woods, 1842-1912.” Tennessee Historical Commission Marker #3a 217.


Moore, Michael C. The Brentwood Library Site (A Mississippian Town on the Little Harpeth River, Williamson County, Tennessee). Tennessee Division of Archaeology Research Series (Book 15). Nashville: Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, 2005.

Moore, Michael C., Kevin E. Smith, and Stephen T. Rogers. “Middle Tennessee Archaeology and the Enigma of George Woods.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol. LXIX, Number 4 (2010), pp. 320-329.

Smith, Kevin E., and James V. Miller. Speaking with the Ancestors: Mississippian Stone Statuary of the Tennessee-Cumberland Region. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2009.

John Dillahunty and Baptist Origins in Nashville

by Robert Lyle Williams.

 The first Baptist church south of the Cumberland River, the Richland Creek Church, was founded by John Dillahunty, a Maryland-born Baptist preacher. His father is recognized as having been a Huguenot, but John was raised as a Catholic, in his mother’s religion. His “De La Hunte” paternal grandparents reportedly fled from France to the Netherlands in 1685 and then to Ireland in 1695. No primary-source documentation has been located regarding Dillahunty’s grandparents, their ancestry, or the definitive spelling of their surname.

After John married Quaker Hannah Neal in 1747, their respective churches excommunicated them. Around 1751 they relocated to North Carolina where John became the first sheriff of Craven County. He received a colonial land agent commission which spelled his name “Dillahunty,” a spelling he and his Tennessee descendants continued to use.

Dillahunty heard the celebrated George Whitefield preach in 1755 and was later converted by the preaching of Shubal Stearns and baptized by Philip Mulkey, both Baptists. He became a deacon and licensed preacher prior to the Revolutionary War, during which he served as a chaplain.

John led a group of families to Davidson County in 1795. The following year he founded Richland Creek Church. The church building was a log structure sited on the south bank of Richland Creek. A 1925 eyewitness account placed the location across from the Belle Meade golf course, about 300 yards west of the clubhouse.

John Dillahunty died February 8, 1816, in his 88th year. Hannah died soon thereafter, on May 5, 1816. Their 67-year marriage had produced nine children, all of whom lived into adulthood. John and Hannah were buried together in a small cemetery next to the Richland Creek Church, the stone foundation of which survived into the 20th century, along with the cemetery. A 1931 Colonial Dames survey documented seven tombstone inscriptions, including those of John and Hannah Dillahunty.

Local historian and General Harding descendant Ridley Wills II recalls playing among the Dillahunty graveyard tombstones on Nichol Lane near Richland Creek. In early 2003 the Davidson County Cemetery Survey located the likely cemetery site on Nichol Lane. In March 2003, employing a probe, Tennessee State Archaeologist Nick Fielder verified the presence of two graves at this location.

The Dillahunty tombstones were moved to a memorial chapel at Baptist Hospital sometime after World War II. The hospital has since been unable to determine their disposition; their present location is a mystery awaiting resolution.

Elder Joel Anderson succeeded John Dillahunty as pastor of Richland Creek Church. Anderson moved the church one or two miles west from its original location and changed the name to Providence Church. He was succeeded by Elder John Little, then by the Rev. Jesse Cox, who served the church for 42 years. It is no longer extant.

In his 85th year Jesse Cox wrote, “I heard Elder Dillahunty preach regularly once a month for about eight years; he was a man of small stature, and was, being old, quite feeble. He was not an orator, but sound in the faith, of unblemished character and commanded large congregations. Some of his members were among the best citizens of Nashville.”

Garner McConnico, a Virginia Baptist minister, came to Tennessee around 1798. He had personal doubts about continuing his ministry but was inspired by John Dillahunty to found, in 1800, the Harpeth Baptist Church, which he led as pastor until his death in 1833. McConnico was instrumental in the 1803 organization of the Cumberland Association; he was its first Moderator and served in that capacity until his death.

John Dillahunty was also involved with the Mill Creek Church, the second Baptist church south of the Cumberland (founded in 1797). In 1806 the Mill Creek Church met in conference and chose “Brother Dillahunty” as Moderator. Mill Creek’s first and long-time pastor, James Whitsitt, served as an executor of Dillahunty’s will.

Postcard image of First Baptist Church from NHN collection

There was no Baptist church in Nashville until James Whitsitt aided Jeremiah Vardeman in establishing the first one in 1820. Its initial membership was comprised of transfers from Mill Creek. The new church adopted the name First Baptist Church of Nashville in 1830.

Slavery at the Hermitage: Fascinating Finds

by Ashley Layhew White.

The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s imposing home, survives today as a memorial to American history, to the old days of Tennessee, and to true love. Still standing proud and stately, it has endured poverty, the War Between the States, and the 1998 tornado. Today, perhaps more than ever before, The Hermitage serves to inspire and instruct us.

Recent archeological work at The Hermitage has uncovered some significant details of everyday 19th century slave life. Interesting finds in and near slave cabins on the property include sewing items, toys, and bits of money. The discovery of pencils and slates in every excavated cabin, indicating that Andrew Jackson’s slaves were literate, is surprising and leads us to re-examine some of our ideas about slave life. Good luck charms found at the dig sites are also fascinating, especially the Hand of Fatima which was used to ward away evil spirits. Underground “hidey holes” have also been great sources for archeologists at The Hermitage. Items stolen from the main house or passed along from a slave on a neighboring farm were commonly hid in these secret places.

Though it has become more or less expected to find them on plantation digs, the excavation of gun parts at The Hermitage is nevertheless startling. Hammers, flints, and lead shot have been found, pointing toward gun possession among the slaves. Why would Andrew Jackson allow slaves to bear arms? One plausible explanation is that the slaves used guns to hunt game which included raccoons, squirrels, turtles, and deer. By allowing slaves to hunt, plantation owners could promote self-sufficiency in the slave community.

Archeologists at The Hermitage are optimistic about what the future will teach us about the past, and their successful work reinforces the role of the great plantation as a national treasure. The many fortunate discoveries they have made tempt us to ask: Has the Hand of Fatima had something to do with it?

Ashley Layhew White was a junior at McGavock High School in Donelson, Tennessee, when she wrote this essay for the May-June 2000 newsletter. Since that time she has become a respected historian in her own right.

The Gilding of Nashville’s Athena Parthenos

by Marianne Hillenmeyer.

In the summer of 2002 Alan LeQuire and Lou Reed supervised the gilding of Nashville’s Athena, the tallest indoor statue in the Western world. The statue, unveiled in the Centennial Park Parthenon in 1990, stood large (41′ 10″ tall), white, and incomplete for 12 years. The mission of Nashville’s full-scale replica of the Parthenon is to provide modern visitors a glimpse into the Athenian Parthenon of 438 B.C. Today the gilding project is complete and we are closer to our goal. Remarkably, the project (including gilding and painting) took just over three months, from June 3 – September 5, 2002.

The statue is a re-creation of Athena Parthenos that once stood in the Parthenon in Athens. The Athenian sculptor Pheidias constructed the massive statue from gold and ivory. The statue disappeared around 400 A.D. and little evidence remains to explain what happened to it. However, a number of ancient writings describe the statue before its loss. Sculptor Alan LeQuire studied these writings and relied on historians and his instincts to re-create Athena.

Archaeologists could spend hours discussing the minutiae of LeQuire’s decisions. It is impossible to reproduce the statue to the last detail. No one can duplicate the bridge of her nose; no one can cast a mold of her ancient sandals. She is gone. However, new scholarship circulates and new research stirs lively academic debate.

Kenneth Lapatin, of the Getty Museum, spoke in Nashville on chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statuary on September 23, 2002. His lecture provided listeners the opportunity to learn about the historic precedent of the gilding project. When Lapatin came to Nashville five years ago and saw the ungilded statue, he was politely impressed but expressed relief when he learned that we would not leave the statue white, absent of her gold decor.

The gilded Athena (photo by Gary Layda)

In his lecture Lapatin did not offer a head-to-toe comparison of the two figures. Rather, he explained the extravagance, expense, and purpose of the original compared to our own. For example, the gold plates on the Athena statue in ancient times weighed approximately 1,500 pounds and were one-eighth to one-sixteenth of an inch thick. The 23.75-karat gold leaf on Nashville’s Athena weighs about 8.5 pounds and is three times thinner than tissue paper. Our extravagance pales in comparison to the lavish spending of the Greeks.

Lapatin is especially fascinated with the work of ancient ivory craftsmen. Athena’s exposed skin, mainly that of her face and arms, was mysteriously carved or molded from sheets of ivory. Lapatin has even attempted to duplicate ivory casting on a small scale, but we still may never know the ancient techniques. To create a statue exactly as Pheidias did would be economically impractical today. The craftsmen of Nashville’s Athena painted her skin an ivory color to give the impression of delicately carved bone.

The Greeks’ dedication to Athena motivated them to spend and overspend on her monument. The Parthenon in Nashville is a tribute to the art of the 5th century B.C. Our Athena provides us the opportunity to understand the skill and devotion of the ancient Greeks. Lapatin called her “otherworldly” and, to anyone who sees Nashville’s Athena, the archaeological particulars do indeed seem less important. Like the building in which she resides, Athena is impressive…and as accurate as scholarship allows.

List of Artists (Gilders and Painters)
Alan LeQuire
Lou Reed
Allison Byrd
Amy Calzadilla
Micki Cavanah
Smith Coleman
Patricia H. Coots
Carol Lynn Driver
Jenny Gill
Susan Jane Hall
Susan Harris
Charlotte A. Hester
Shana H. Keckley
Margaret A. Krakowiak
Dennis C. Lake
Patrick J. Paine
Andrew Rozario
Jean B. Spencer
Luke C. Tidwell