Wednesday, 19 January 2011

General Robert Armstrong (1792-1854) - postmaster of Nashville

Robert Armstrong was born in Abingdon, Virginia, on 28 September 1792 of Ulster-Scots ancestry.  The Armstrongs were one of the reiver clans of the Scottish Borders and they were extremely powerful but after the Union of the crowns of Scotland and England in 1603, King James I moved to pacify the Borders and many Armstrongs were moved to Ulster.  Later various members of Armstrong families crossed the Atlantic to America during the Ulster-Scots migration of the 18th century.

Early in the 19th century, the Armstrong family moved from Virginia to Knox County, Tennessee.  This was named after Henry Knox (1750-1806), a revolutionary general and secretary of war, who was born in Boston of Ulster-Scots parents.

Robert Armstrong was educated in Abingdon but at the age of 20 he returned to Tennessee and was made lieutenant of a company of volunteer artillery.  He served under Andrew Jackson in the Creek War of 1813-14 and displayed considerable courage at the Battle of Enotochapko on 24 January 1814.  He was seriously wounded but recovered and also distinguished himself at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

On 9 June 1814 he married Margaret Dysart Nichol (1798-1834), a daughter of Josiah and Eleanor Nichol, and she too was of Ulster-Scots descent.  The marriage took place against the wishes of her parents and the ceremony was held in Andrew Jackson's living room at The Hermitage in Nashville.  Margaret's father Josiah Nichol (1770-1833), a prominent Nashville merchant, was born in Fahan, county Donegal, and emigrated from Ulster to America about 1788,

Robert Armstrong was postmaster at Nashville from 1829 to 1845.  During that period, in 1836, as brigadier general, he commanded the Tennessee Mounted Volunteers in the campaign against the Seminole Indians in Florida.  This culminated in the Battle of Waterloo Swamp, in which the Indians were defeated.

Armstrong was a supporter and friend of Andrew Jackson and he ran unsuccessfully for governor of Tennessee in 1837.

When James K Polk became president of the United States of America in 1845, Armstrong was sent as United States consul to Liverpool.  This was one of the most important positions in the foreign service.  Polk was also from Tennessee and of Ulster-Scots descent.

Before Armstrong left for Europe in the spring of 1845 and a few months before the death of Andrew Jackson, the former president bequeathed his sword to Armstrong.  This was a token of his personal friendship and his estimation of Armstrong's military service.  In 1855, after Armstrong's death, his family presented the sword to the United States government.

In 1851 Robert Armstrong and Andrew J Donelson (1799-1871), who also had Ulster-Scots ancestry, became the joint proprietors of the Washington Union, a Democratic newspaper.  Soon afterwards Donelson was forced out by several factions in the Democratic Party and Armstrong became the sole proprietor.  In this capacity he was appointed printer for the House of Representatives.

Robert Armstrong died in Washington DC on 23 February 1854 and his funeral was attended by President Pierce and his cabinet, with a corps of pall-bearers from the Senate and House of Representatives.  In January 1855 his body was moved to Nashville and finally reinterred in the city cemetery.

Robert Ewing, 'Portrait of General Robert Armstrong', Tennessee Historical Magazine, July 1919

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