Probably 99.99 percent of the College of Charleston's students and faculty walk by a memorial to the mother of President Andrew Jackson every day with no clue about how wrong it is.

When history starts with a mystery, it only gets murkier.

This much is known: Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, mother of our seventh president, died in Charleston in the fall of 1781.

A new biography, Jon Meacham's "American Lion," describes how Jackson tried in vain to find her final resting place.

"The uncertainty over the fate of her remains was a matter of concern to Jackson even in his White House years," Meacham writes.

"He long sought the whereabouts of his mother's grave, but to no avail. Perhaps partly in reaction to what he may have viewed as the lack of respect or care others had taken with his mother's burial, he became a careful steward of such things -- a devotee of souvenirs, a keeper of tombs, and an observer of anniversaries."

Today, just off Cougar Mall in the heart of the College of Charleston's campus, a granite marker stands and notes that Mrs. Jackson is buried "near this spot."

But she most probably is not.

This marker was moved there in 1967 by well-intended folks who wanted to rescue it from its original location about 2 1/2 miles uptown.

In 1942, several service members at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island responded to a newspaper's call to honor Mrs. Jackson. These men, who mostly hailed from Columbia, commissioned the marker and placed it in a railroad right of way -- a sort of no man's land just east of King Street Extension and Heriot Street.

They didn't choose the site by chance: An 1825 letter from James H. Witherspoon of Lancaster tells Jackson: "Your mother is buried in the suburbs of Charleston about one mile from what was then called the Governor's Gate, which is in and about the forks of Meeting and Kingstreet Roads."

Today, the area can be considered Charleston's tattoo district, and it probably wasn't much more scenic a half-century ago.

Some of the service members complained as early as 1947 that no one was tending their marker.

Weeds were obscuring it, and it developed a lean from people sitting there to wait for the bus. Some small repairs were done, including giving it a new granite base.

In 1954, the Daughters of the American Revolution donated their own Elizabeth Jackson monument to the city.

It stands today at Washington Park. Virginia Doar Nielson's 1955 Letter to (The News and Courier's) Editor makes clear that this was done only after the DAR didn't get the men's permission to move the original marker to a nicer, more tourist-friendly part of town.

Concern over its "unkempt roadside surroundings" lingered, and local historians finally succeeded in getting it moved to the College of Charleston in 1967 -- just before Ted Stern became president.

It since has fared a little bit better, though the marker eventually was consumed by shrubbery until a 2005 project to spruce up Cougar Mall liberated it once again for people to see.

During much of the 20th century, those unable to solve the mystery of Mrs. Jackson's final resting place have noted that its location is less important than her example of selflessness and her advice to her youngest son, some of which is inscribed on the marker:

"Andy, never tell a lie nor take what is not your own nor sue for slander. Settle those cases yourself."

She already had lost her two eldest sons during the Revolutionary War before traveling here to care for two ill nephews. She also reportedly tended other sick soldiers here before succumbing to yellow fever, typhus or some other illness at the home of William Barton, a relative, a few miles north of Charleston.

The mystery of Mrs. Jackson's burial site is more than just a historical footnote; its impact was felt on the young nation.

"Bringing his mother home had been beyond his power," Meacham writes. "The story of Jackson's life was how he strove to see that little else ever would be."

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or rbehre@postandcourier.com.