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.

Chancery Court, the Adelphi, and Adolphus Heiman

by Linda Center.

The Davidson County Chancery Court dockets located at Metro Archives are a little known and greatly underutilized resource for Nashville history. Established in 1836, Chancery Court for this district was held in Franklin, Williamson County, until 1846. In that year a separate court was created for Davidson County with Terry H. Cahal appointed as Chancellor. In 1997-1998 Archives staff and volunteers took on the task of cleaning, flattening, and indexing dockets dating from 1846 through 1865, and they were able to complete the first five years (through 1851). From those first 800 dockets staffers created a database of over 16,000 entries listing the names of the principals, along with their family members and slaves.

The dockets from these early cases, some of which continued for years, contain a wealth of details about daily life in Nashville and Middle Tennessee. The depositions, exhibits, and supporting papers are lively documents describing personal items of dress, toiletries, medicines, and sometimes even personal appearance. In the depositions themselves, which were phonetically recorded by the clerk, the speech patterns, pronunciations, and idioms of the day come through loud and clear. Many documents contain vivid descriptions of people, places, and buildings long gone. Consider the case of Gilman et al. vs. The Adelphi Theatre Company, filed April 23, 1851.

In 1850 the Adelphi company was incorporated by the state and proceeded to purchase property on North Cherry Street (today’s 4th Avenue). The major stockholders in the company were Anthony Vanleer, J. Walker Percy, and Hugh Kirkman. The company hired Adolphus Heiman to design a “costly and handsome edifice suitable for theatrical performances.” Timothy W. Gilman, of Gilman & Hughes, submitted his bid of $8,000 plus $200 in stock in the company, and he was selected to be chief carpenter and mechanic under Heiman’s supervision. Major Heiman’s design, completed at a cost of $25,000, was indeed handsome and included a two-story arched entrance which led to the brick-paved lobby. A ventilation system and other up-to-the-minute features were highlights of the plan. At the time, the theater was reputed to have the second largest stage in America.

Gilman found Heiman’s supervision arbitrary and his plans “so vague and indefinite as scarcely to form a basis for a contract and so frequently and repeatedly were they departed from when they were specific that they furnish scarcely a shadow of the work after it was completed.” In several instances, Gilman stated, “when the work had been done according to the original design said Heiman would change his plan have it pulled down taken away and something different put in its stead.”

The theater’s opening night, July 1, 1850, was a gala affair. The opening notice ran in the Republican Banner immediately following the Sexton’s report of burials in the city cemetery: five of the seven deaths had been caused by cholera. “The Theatre – Opens to-night . . . and we expect to see a large audience on hand . . . to see the interior of one of the prettiest and best establishments of the kind in the West or South.” Although, as the notice stated, it was not considered “an auspicious time to commence operations,” Nashville’s finest did indeed turn out for the premiere performance.

The epidemic struck with a vengeance that week. The Banner called for the entire city to limit or cancel July 4th celebrations and did not publish on July 5th, but the Adelphi opened every night of its first week.

Johanna Maria “Jenny” Lind (1820-1887), Swedish soprano

In February 1851 after a successful campaign led by the local newspapers, P.T. Barnum was convinced to bring Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale, to sing in the shiny new theater. However, a third tier of box seats was deemed necessary to accommodate the anticipated crowds, and William Strickland was hired to design the added tier. Gilman & Hughes were once again chief carpenters. They agreed and bound themselves “to make the alterations and enlargements of the interior of the Adelphi Theatre according to the plan now furnished by W. Strickland as Architect…to be finished so it can be used comfortably on the night of the 31(st) March present, being the time fixed as the first concert to be given by Jenny Lind.” Gilman & Hughes charged $1,500 for their services: $1,000 from P.T. Barnum, $250 from the Adelphi Theatre Company, and $250 from ticket subscriptions by hotels and other businesses.

The company did not pay its debts in a timely fashion, and in April 1851 Heiman, Gilman, Strickland, and the other contractors sued. The depositions and bills give a vivid picture of the construction and finishing touches to the building. The court clerk’s copy of Heiman’s written “plan and specifications” describes “a ground story of 142 feet by 65 feet front on Cherry Street . . . with a room on each side of the main entrance of 19 by 23 feet, to be furnished with doors and side lights. All the doors of exit and entrance, are to be put upon pivots instead of hinges, so that they may be opened and shut in either way by any pressure from within or without.” All flooring, seats, doors, box fronts, and the roof shingles were “to be made of well-seasoned poplar.” The stage was furnished with four traps and two stairways leading to the rear of the stage from below.

Many of the leading businesses in Nashville filed claims against the theater company. A.G. Payne supplied the stone for the two-foot-thick foundation and completed the masonry work. Samuel Watkins finished the brickwork for $3,437.89. Painters Hutcherson & Flemming used paints purchased from Kirkman & Ellis Hardware – and what remarkable colors they were: sienna, yellow ochre, rose pink, Vandyke brown, Paris green, Prussian blue, Venetian red, chrome yellow, red, and green. From McNairy & Hamilton came books of gold leaf and gallons of lead and turpentine. Claiborne & Macey supplied braces, pulleys, plates, chains, hooks, and brackets. From W. & R. Freeman came gilt frames, yards of damask and gimp [ribbonlike braid or cord used to trim furniture or clothing], silk tassels, a pair of “curtain ornaments,” and 689 feet of gilt molding.

Chancellor A.O.P. Nicholson decreed that the theater should be sold at public auction to pay all debts against the company. Heiman, acting as agent for the creditors, offered the winning bid of $10,000. The property was to be “vested in them as tennants (sic) in common,” the share of each creditor to be in proportion to his claim against the company. After Heiman failed to “execute his notes,” the theater was again put up for sale. This time W.W. Wetmore made the winning bid, and the creditors were paid at last. William Strickland, as a Class III claimant, was paid only after all other debts were satisfied. He received $100 for his services. 

In the 1870’s the ownership changed again, and the Adelphi became the Grand Opera House. The theater was gutted by fire in 1902, but the facade with its arched entry remained standing. The theater was rebuilt and opened once again in 1904 as the Bijou. Because other theaters and businesses on Church Street were drawing the crowds away from Fourth Avenue, the Bijou closed its doors in 1913. However, it was rescued one more time in 1916 when the Bijou Amusement Company opened it as the Bijou Theater for Negroes, one of a chain of theaters throughout the south.

Bijou Theatre

The Bijou was a venue for movies, vaudeville shows, concerts, and boxing matches. Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey entertained to packed houses. Special nights were set aside for white audiences to hear blues greats like Smith and her sister Mamie with her band the Jazz Hounds. The tornado of 1933 lifted the roof and dropped part of it across the street. However, not a performance was missed, and under a temporary roof, the Bijou was open again the next day.

The Adelphi/Grand/Bijou Theater stood at 423 4th Avenue North for over one hundred years through bankruptcy, fire, and storms. In 1957 it fell to the wrecking ball to make way for the new Municipal Auditorium. (1998)

Adolphus Heiman’s Cemetery Stone Work

by John S. Lancaster.

At the height of his career in Nashville, 1837 to 1861, Adolphus Heiman designed over 30 structures, ranging from churches and public buildings to residences, forts, and even a bridge. By the mid-1850s his architectural skills and achievements had received so much recognition he was referred to as “Nashville’s Architect.”

Until recently, Heiman’s efforts in designing and creating tombstones and vaults had not been investigated, but three newly identified examples of his work show another side to the talents of this Prussian immigrant.

Located within the Old City Cemetery on Fourth Avenue South are two very different markers. The simpler of the two tombstones was made for Benjamin Sharpe in 1848. It has experienced such severe weathering that the acroteria on the four corners and much of the inscription have eroded away. Chancery Court records of a lawsuit between F. Scott, Adm., vs. Heirs of Benjamin Sharpe provide clear documentation that this stone is a Heiman creation.

Benjamin Sharpe’s tombstone in the City Cemetery. (photo courtesy of the Nashville City Cemetery Association)

As part of the docket evidence now preserved at the Nashville Metropolitan Archives, an entry on an itemized ledger page shows that A. Heiman was paid for a tombstone on September 8, 1848. Also included is a note written in Heiman’s own hand confirming payment from Mrs. Ann Sharpe for the “forty-seven dollars on account of a tomb for Benj. Sharpe deceased.” Heiman seems to have been a friend of the family: his name also appears on the Sharpes’ wedding bond and as an executor of Mrs. Sharpe’s will.

As further documentation is discovered, other tombstones in the Old City Cemetery may also be attributable to Heiman . One such record was recently discovered in the Chancery Court case of J. W. Birdwell & wife vs. William H. Harris: a payment receipt for William Harris’s monument lists the payees as Heiman and Stevenson. (Stevenson was a popular stonecutter in Nashville and signed his name to the Mexican War Memorial in Gallatin, Tennessee.) Although we know Mr. Harris was buried in Old City Cemetery, his stone has yet to be located.

The other Heiman tombstone in City Cemetery marks the grave of Nancy Maynor. The wife of Pleasant Maynor, Nancy passed away on the 28th of May in 1836. Pleasant Maynor remarried on February 21, 1837 to Jane M. Iredale. Of interest is the fact that Heiman is believed not to have arrived in Nashville until 1837. While there is sufficient space to carve another name on the opposite side, only Nancy’s information appears on the monument. This stone also bears the signature “A. Heiman” near the base.

Nancy Maynor’s tombstone in City Cemetery. (photo courtesy of Nashville City Cemetery Association)

Carvers and designers rarely signed tombstones unless the work was unique. The Maynor monument is an above-ground stone box topped with a shaft-like pedestal surmounted by an urn. Two notable details of this piece are the carved butterfly on the pedestal and the anthemion designs on the four corners of the tombstone. In memorial art a butterfly represents the soul and/or resurrection; the anthemion is purely decorative. The use of an above-ground stone vault was common in the Nashville area, but the bodies were buried in the ground beneath rather than inside the vault.

The third and most elaborate example of Heiman’s known stonework was the Franklin Vault in Sumner County, Tennessee. Located on the property of Fairview Farm, the vault was built for the wealthy slave trader Isaac Franklin and his family. Only seven years after marrying the much younger Nashvillian, Adelicia Hayes Acklen, Mr. Franklin died suddenly in Louisiana in 1846 at the age of 57. His wishes were to be returned to Tennessee for burial, and his remains were shipped in a lead-lined casket filled with alcohol. His body was placed in a temporary brick structure until a permanent vault could be constructed. Tragedy struck the Franklin household again only seven weeks after Mr. Franklin’s death when his two oldest daughters, Victoria and Adelicia, succumbed to croup and bronchitis only two days apart.

The loss of her husband and children devastated the young widow, who soon moved back to Nashville. Her father, Oliver Bliss Hayes, was appointed to handle her affairs. It is not clear who hired Heiman to create the Franklin Vault, but he designed it along with an octagonal cast iron fence for $2,500.00. By 1850 the mausoleum still had not been finished. The local builder hired to do the job had subcontracted the work. When the builder died in 1849, the subcontractor, who had not been paid, tried unsuccessfully to sue the trustees of the Franklin estate for monies still owed him.

The Sumner County Chancery Court case of Henley vs. Armfield specifies that the material for the vault was to be solid stone masonry except for the brick interior arches for the ceiling. The dimensions were twenty-eight feet square and fourteen feet high, excluding an obelisk. The walls were to be two feet thick with the outside rubbed and with four interior pillars, two feet square, to assist in the support of the superstructure. Four partition walls would create an eight-foot-wide central passage giving access to six apartments on each side, and two sets of stone shelves that were to be no less than six inches thick. The floor was to be made of “chiseled flagging of stone diamonding with stone of different colors” and the arched brick ceiling was to be “plastered with hydraulic cement.” The outward door was to be made of iron and the inner door of cedar. A window with an iron grate would provide ventilation. The roof was to be made of stone slabs five to six inches thick laid in such a way as to prevent leaks. As cost was not a prohibiting factor, the finest materials available were to be used.

It was specifically noted that Heiman himself was expected to erect the monument on top of the vault and to create the design on the two frontispieces. Some of the details appear never to have been finished, but the design of the frontispiece was completed as an Egyptian motif — an orb flanked by winged serpents. Almost certainly the largest vault Heiman ever designed, it had a style more readily found in the St. Louis Cemetery of New Orleans than on a Sumner County farm in Tennessee. A 1911 picture of the Franklin Vault has been published in Margaret Lindsley Warden’s booklet, The Saga of Fairvue, 1832-1977, p. 10.

In 1912 the vault was struck by a tornado and collapsed. Fortunately, the remains of Franklin and his children had been removed to Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville years earlier. For years the Egyptian-styled lintel remained, lying in the tall grass. Today, with the fence long since removed, the ruins of the vault are threatened by development.

Although not common knowledge, many prominent architects of the early 19th century, including Robert Mills, Gideon Shyrock, and William Strickland, accepted commissions to design tombstones or monuments, in addition to their buildings. Even after the completion of his First Baptist Church project, Heiman continued to rely on stonemasonry as a primary form of income until after his return as a hero from the Mexican War in 1847. Thenceforth, his enhanced status thrust him into the spotlight of Nashville society and he began to be offered commissions for all types of building projects.

Confederate Monument, Mt. Olivet Cemetery (photo from NHN collection)

It is ironic that the favorite architect of ante-bellum Nashville would fade into obscurity. Most of Heiman’s work has now been destroyed, including the majority of his public buildings and private residences. Even his final resting place is uncertain. Adolphus Heiman lies in an unmarked grave beneath the forty-five-foot granite monument in Mt. Olivet Cemetery’s Confederate Circle. (2000)