Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Give Andrew Jackson a Tattoo!

Now and then an article pops up about surprising people in history who have had tattoos. Always included on those lists are Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Teddy Roosevelt.

Supposedly Roosevelt had his family crest tattooed on his chest, Polk had a Chinese symbol meaning "eager," and Jackson had---I kid you not---a tomahawk inked on his upper thigh.

Now, I don't want to call bullshit on all of these, because they're...possible? I guess? Especially Roosevelt because I could totally see him having a tattoo. The problem is that I haven't actually been able to find any proof other than the same articles repeating the same "general knowledge" without actually giving any sources. I'm inclined to believe that TR did not, in fact, have a family crest on his chest, but I'm open to the possibility that he did. Except I really doubt it.

I am perfectly willing to go out on a limb and call BS on Polk having a Chinese symbol tattooed on him. What, did he have a small butterfly on his lower back, too? I'm trying to figure out a scenario in which this supposed tattoo would have happened. Oriental art has found some popularity here and there ever since America started trading with China, but not to the level that some mid-19th-century white dude would get a tattoo of a Chinese character. Polk's predecessor John Tyler was president during the ratification of the Treaty of Wanghia after the first Opium War, but I'm not aware of any significant dealings Polk had with China that might have inspired this "eager" tattoo in some way. (To be fair, I know very little about Polk's foreign affairs outside of the Mexican-American War and the annexation of various territories, so maybe he was really into China? But again, I doubt it. If any Polk scholars want to weigh in, please do.)

That brings us to Jackson. I love the idea of Jackson having a tattoo, but on his upper thigh? For real? And a tomahawk? That would be a pretty dickish move considering his track record, although I suppose in a way that's fitting for him.

I decided to go to the best source I could to get some answers about Andrew Jackson's tattoo: I emailed the people at The Hermitage. I asked if Jackson really (or likely) had a tattoo, or if this was all an urban legend.

Less than 24 hours later I received a response: "Unfortunately, there is no definitive proof that Jackson had a tattoo on his thigh. This story more than likely an urban legend that has grown in popularity over time."


Regardless, I thought it would be fun to give people the chance to ink a few tattoos on Old Hickory, so I present to you an Andrew Jackson template. I've provided the tomahawk; you provide the rest! You can download the PDF here or you can click on the jpeg up above.

Some tattoo ideas to get you started: a dreamcatcher, the Bank of the United States, a heart with "mom" written inside. The possibilities are endless! (And, yeah, I've covered up his ankles and wrists, which are prime tattoo locations. Sorry. I just thought the boots would be funny and I can't draw hands.)

If you tattoo Andrew Jackson, please snap a photo to share on my Facebook page or tag me on Twitter @MsPresidentress

Happy inking!


  1. I'm thinking it's more likely Jackson had an actual tomahawk embedded in his thigh somehow.

  2. I am a "Polk scholar" and not only is there absolutely no recorded evidence that he had a tattoo, but everything I know about the man suggests he would be the last man to get one.
    He didn't drink and his wife banned dancing from the White House. Preoccupied with the Mexican-American war, Polk had very little Asian influence in his foreign policy in his 4 year term.

    1. Ah, thank you, Polk Scholar, for confirming the unlikelihood that Polk had a Chinese tattoo! (Or any tattoo at all.)

  3. I've read several books by and about Roosevelt and not one mentions a tattoo. Like you said, the claim makes the rounds almost exclusively on tattooing sites and "pop news" sites that copy and paste the claim without checking for evidence.

  4. Given the tendency to die of disease and general uncleanliness in the 1800s, I would be shocked at either of the first two. And given TR's reputation, I would think he would have made it very clear for posterity if he had such a thing. I could see Jackson's tomahawk as a sort of notch on a bedpost, but then I would expect him to have more.