Thomas Jonathan Jackson was born on January 21, 1824 to Jonathan and Julie Neale Jackson in Clarksburg, VA. (Now West Virginia) He had brown hair and blue-grey eyes. He was christened Thomas in honor of his mother's father.
Thomas had two older siblings, a sister Elizabeth born in 1819 and a brother Warren born in 1821. When Tom was two years old, his father and sister Elizabeth fell ill with typhoid fever and died. His mother, a few weeks later, gave birth to a little girl she named Laura. Julia Jackson, 28, was left penniless with three small children.
Julia, well educated, taught school for a time and took in sewing to earn a few dollars. Sometimes the people of Clarksburg donated funds to help clothe and feed the family. It was not easy for a woman alone to raise three small children. Tom watched his mother struggle to care for her children. He was a sweet child who didn't smile very often.
When Tom was seven, his mother married Clarksburg attorney, Blake Woodson. Woodson was not loving to the three children. Soon after the marriage, the little family moved 125 miles south to Fayette County far away from family and friends. Julia was very ill at this time. Shortly after the family arrived, she had to send her three children to live with other family members far away. Saying goodbye to his mother was one of the hardest things young Tom would ever have to do. He adored his mother and it broke his heart to be torn away from her.
Tom and Laura were sent to Jackson's Mill to live with the large Jackson family while Warren went to live with his mother's family, the Neale's. Shortly after arriving at Jackson's Mill, a 1,500 acre estate, the children had to return to Fayette County to receive their mother's last farewell and blessing. Julia Neale Jackson died a month later.
Four years later, Laura was sent to live with the Neale family in Parkersburg after all the females at Jackson's Mill had died or married and moved away. Parkersburg was over 80 miles from Jackson's Mill, another loss for the young lad who had to say good-bye to his baby sister Laura.
Tom would spend the next 11 years at Jackson's Mill learning to fell trees, plow, harvest crops, care for livestock, sheer sheep, and in more leisurely times, fish in the West Fork River. He became a very good fisherman and would sell his fish in the nearby town of Weston. He learned to be a good carpenter and worked at the family sawmill as well as the grist mill on the property. He became a good horseman and rode in horseraces held at Jackson's Mill. Tom was a hard worker and no one ever called him lazy.
When he was twelve and his brother Warren, fifteen, they decided to visit their sister Laura in Parkersburg. The Neale's graciously welcomed the boys and a warm reunion was held with their sister, Laura.
The boys felt the adventurous lure of the great Ohio River. They decided to sell wood to steamboats on the river like their successful Uncle Alfred Neale was doing. They traveled downriver and took up residence on an island with an abandoned cabin. There they cut wood for sale to passing steamboats. The adventure turned out to be more than the young boys anticipated. They battled insects and hunger and only received a small income for all their hard work. Both boys contracted malaria and the adventure ended. They made their way back home. Warren would never fully recover from malaria.
In 1838 Tom met the Lightburn family. The Lightburn family moved from Pennsylvania to a farm about an hour's walk from Jackson's Mill. Joseph Lightburn was only eight months younger than Tom and they became fast friends. The boys had a common bond: they both loved to read. The Lightburns had a lot of books and made the books available to young Tom Jackson.
Joseph Lightburn also introduced Tom to the Bible. This changed Tom's life. He devoured the Bible, reading all about the military campaigns in the Old Testament and the promise of hope and love in the New Testament. He attended church with the Lightburn family at the nearby Baptist church. Tom thought about entering the ministry when he grew older but abandoned the idea because he had a limited education and was embarrassed to speak in public.
When Tom was about 13 he worked as an engineering assistant on the Parkersburg-Staunton Turnpike being built through the mountains to connect Parkersburg on the Ohio River with Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley. Later he taught school in nearby Weston sharing what knowledge he had from his one room school education at Jackson's Mill. He wrote in a schoolbook: "A man of words and not of deeds is like a garden full of weeds." As he grew older he understood how important a good education was for success in life.
Around the age of 15, Tom developed stomach problems. At that time it was called dyspepsia. He had problems digesting his food. Today we would say he probably had a hiatal hernia or acid reflux disease. This would plague him for the rest of his life. Doctors in Weston prescribed mustard plasters to his chest and vigorous horseback riding.
At age 17 young Tom was appointed a Constable (police officer) in the West Fork District. He served court papers, found people with outstanding debts, and performed what other duties the Sheriff or court requested of him. Usually this important job was given to a much older person but, because of his influential family, Tom was given the job. Even though he was a quiet modest youth, he did an excellent job as Constable.
While Tom was Constable in 1841, his brother Warren died. Now the young man only had his sister Laura left from his immediate family. He wrote his sister letters containing references of love for Almighty God and an all-wise Providence.
On January 21, 1842, Thomas Jackson turned 18. He was almost 6' tall, weighed 170 pounds had his father's blue eyes, high forehead, curved nose, and thin lips. He was well-tanned from his outside work and his brown hair had a tendency to curl so he kept it cut short. His usual expression was one of bashfulness and thoughtfulness.
Tom understood that the way to success was through a good education. Tom heard that Congressman Samuel Hays would be interviewing candidates for an appointment to the Military Academy. At that time West Point was one of the finest educational institutions in the United States. Tom met the basic requirements of being between 16-21 years of age, five feet tall, reasonably healthy and unmarried. Tom's only drawback was his very limited education.
Four young men interviewed for the appointment; Tom did not get it. A young man named Gibson Butcher, who had a formal education and excelled in grammar, received the appointment to West Point. But the appointment only lasted one day. When Gibson arrived at West Point and realized the demands and hardship of cadet life, he quit and returned to Lewis County.
This opened the door for Tom Jackson. With letters from influential neighbors and businessmen in his saddlebags, Tom rode to Washington, D.C. to plead his case before Congressman Hays. Hays was impressed with what the letters contained and on June 19, 1842, Tom Jackson was appointed to the military academy. However, he had to pass the rigorous physical and oral examinations the first week of school to be a cadet at West Point. He managed to pass his exams even though he was at the bottom of the accepted list. Thirty other young men did not pass the rigorous exams. The orphan boy from the backwoods of western Virginia was now in the company of the sons of the rich and powerful.
The tall farm boy began his life away from Lewis County and took his first steps toward the man who became known as "Stonewall Jackson".