north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
     John H. Eaton, a figure of national prominence in the Jacksonian era, was born in Halifax County on June 18, 1790. Deed research indicates that his father, also named John Eaton, kept his primary residence in the town of Halifax and that the younger Eaton almost certainly was born on one of four contiguous town lots (Nos. 77, 78, 96, and 97) in the block bounded by King, Granville, St. David, and Pitt streets.

     John H. Eaton was educated at the University of North Carolina, but did not graduate. In 1809 he moved to Williamson County, Tennessee, to live on land owned by his father. It was there that he met his first wife, Myra Lewis, raised as a ward of Andrew Jackson. Eaton’s association with Jackson would shape the rest of his life. Jackson once told his wife that Eaton was “more like a son to me than anything else.” In 1816 Eaton co-authored a biography of “Old Hickory.” In 1818 he was appointed to fill a vacancy from Tennessee in the U.S. Senate. There he remained until 1829 when he resigned to become Jackson’s Secretary of War.

     It was Eaton’s affair with and marriage to Peggy O’Neal (also spelled O’Neale and O’Neill) that brought him notoriety, leading to a shakeup in Jackson’s cabinet and ultimately changing the course of American politics. Jackson, through loyalty to his old friend, felt compelled to defend the moral reputation of Peggy Eaton and, by doing so, was made to appear ridiculous. John H. Eaton in 1834 was tapped to be governor of the Florida territory and two years later installed as U.S. minister to Spain. In 1840 he broke with Jackson by declining to support Martin Van Buren for president. Eaton lived the rest of his life in Washington, D.C., and it was there that he was buried. He died on November 17, 1856.


References:
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II (1986), 130 – sketch by J. Isaac Copeland
Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, V (1994), 609-610 – sketch by Thomas P. Abernethy
John Reid and John H. Eaton, Life of Andrew Jackson (reprint edition, 1974)
Robert V. Remini, Life of Andrew Jackson (1988)
Halifax County Deeds, North Carolina State Archives
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