Each February, the people of the United States celebrate the advances and innovations that were made by our citizens who happen to be black. All across the country stories will be told during February about individuals who have made a difference on a national level.
While reading these stories it is easy to overlook stories that made an impact much closer to home. The story of Andrew Jackson is certainly one of the lesser-known stories, and one that should never become lost, in part, due to his ties to Broome and Tioga Counties.
The story of Andrew begins in 1847 in Madison County, Georgia and ends in 1917 in Binghamton, New York. His story begins with his life as a slave on a southern plantation and ends with him living free in Binghamton, N.Y. It also is a story about someone who by trustworthiness and hard work gained respect and a place in Binghamton society.
In August of 1862, men from the Binghamton region gathered to form the 137th New York regiment. The unit was supported in part by Sherman Phelps, a local banker.
While the regiment was marching through northern Georgia, far from home, Major Edward B. Stephens hired a personal “body servant” from among the local population. That servant was Andrew Jackson. Stephens, a quartermaster, brought the teenage Andrew back to Binghamton at the end of the war when he returned in 1865. For Andrew, this must have been the opportunity of a lifetime.
Shortly after the war, Sherman Phelps may have spoken to Stephens about wanting to hire a trustworthy man. Stephens provided a good reference for Andrew, who was hired by Phelps.
Andrew Jackson moved into the Phelps home as the only male employee. (In the 1880s, Etta Davis, another ex-slave who was born in Virginia about 1834, was hired as the cook.) Upon Sherman’s death in 1878, he left Andrew the sum of $2,000. This was a generous bequest in that time and day for an employee. When Sherman’s son, Robert died in 1881, Robert left another $2,000 to “Andrew Jackson, colored.”
The story of Andrew Jackson’s relationship with the Phelps family and respect he had earned in the community may best be shown however in two newspaper accounts.
In the July 23, 1885 edition of the Broome Republican, it’s reported that Minnie Shanahan of Port Jervis had stolen a pet pug that belonged to Andrew Jackson. The pug had been a gift to Andrew from Hattie Taylor Phelps. Sheriff Foster Black recovered the dog, and Shanahan was tried and sentenced for petty larceny and sent to Albany for six months. The paper reported that the pug was restored to his happy owner.
Another newspaper account stated that while none of Sherman’s heirs, after the deaths of Robert and Hattie, chose to live in the house due to the expense of maintaining it, the house did not sit empty. For almost a decade, Andrew lived in a basement apartment and looked after the property. Andrew’s residence is listed as the Phelps home at 191 Court Street until 1889.
After leaving the Phelps home, Andrew worked, for a short time, as horse trainer and laborer while boarding at 31 Fayette St.
Around 1900, Andrew began working for the Jerome B. Lanfield family at 34 Stuyvesant Street, almost across the street from the Phelps home. Lanfield was a banker with a small family, and Andrew was one of two servants.
By 1905, Andrew then lived in the home of Miss Mary E. Lockwood, still at 34 Stuyvesant St., and continued to stay with that family until his death. Mary Lockwood had been a friend of Sara Phelps, and was the only daughter of Rev. Peter and Matilda Lockwood. Rev. Lockwood had been the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church where the Phelps family had attended.
In 1913, the congregation of Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church elected Andrew to be the Sunday School Usher. He was very well liked, continued to be trustworthy, and was very popular among the local children.
In late September of 1917, Andrew became ill with pneumonia. After a week of suffering at home, Mary Lockwood’s niece, Mrs. William Bishop Gates, had him admitted to the City Hospital. He died early in the morning on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 1917. His funeral was held at the Miller & Cafferty Funeral Parlor, with Rev. J. W. Nicholson officiating. Andrew’s place of burial remains unknown.
Countless individuals like Andrew Jackson have shaped our past. ndividuals who may not have become famous, but who individually helped to shape the central New York region we know today. It is only by remembering our past that we can truly understand the struggles that people faced and how we have come to where we are today.
Tamara Manker Gates is a historian who has done a great deal of research on Sherman Phelps and the individuals who lived in the Phelps home in Binghamton, N.Y. She has presented programs on a number of historical topics and is presently working with a local historical firm, Yesterday’s Gentlemen, helping to research for an upcoming presentation involving several historians as they share stories about 1902. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.