Part of the American History & Genealogy Project

Rachel (Donelson) Robards Jackson 1767 ~ 1828

 


Rachel (Donelson) Robards Jackson

When, in the year 1789, Andrew Jackson, a tall, red-haired, strong-featured young man, made his appearance in the new settlement of Nashville, Tennessee, he went to live in a boarding house that was kept by a Mrs. Donelson. Mrs. Donelson was a widow. Her husband, who had been a pioneer in the settlement of Nashville, had been killed, by Indians, it was supposed. With Mrs. Donelson lived her daughter, Mrs. Robards, and the society of this lady Jackson found to be the pleasantest feature in his boarding house life.

Mrs. Robards was an interesting woman. She was of the regular pioneer type, such as was often to be met with in the frontier days of our country during the earliest days of the Republic. Courageous, daring, full of life and spirit, she was universally liked as a merry story-teller, a rollicking dancer, a daring horsewoman and, altogether, a most jolly and entertaining companion. She had been a belle among the hearty young woodmen and planters who had gone out with Colonel Donelson to take charge of the frontier region beyond the big salt lake. But it was not to one of those first Nashville settlers that she gave her heart and hand. She married a Kentuckian, Mr. Lewis Robards. The story of this marriage is not a happy one. It is that of a cruel husband and an early divorce, after which she came back to take up her life again in the valley of the Cumberland.

It is not surprising that Andrew Jackson and Rachel Donelson, living in the same house, as they did, subjected to the common peril of hostile Indians and violence and bloodshed, for which this region was noted, congenial in tastes and characteristics, should have grown to love each other. In the year 1791 they were married, and their life together, from their wedding day until the death of Mrs. Jackson, is delightful to contemplate.

In 1804 took place the removal to the "Hermitage,'' an unpretentious little block house that stood in the midst of flourishing cotton fields, and only a few miles from Nashville. And it is with the "Hermitage" that one associates all the pleasantest memories of Andrew Jackson and his wife. They were known as the "King and Queen of Hospitality." No one was ever turned away from their door. We read of times when each of the four rooms, which was all the house possessed, was filled with a whole family, and when the piazza and other places of half shelter about the house were transformed into bunks for the young men and boys of the visiting party.

In spite of its free-and-easy character, life at the "Hermitage" was a very busy affair. Mr. Jackson was a man of many occupations. He was a slave owner, and a farmer, a store-keeper, a lawyer and a soldier. We may imagine that there was much for him to do, and much also for his helpful wife to do. In his absences from home Mrs. Jackson took charge of all things at the "Hermitage," and an excellent manager she made. Unlearned though she was' in the lore of schools she was very wise in knowledge of the woods, the fields, the kitchen and the dairy. The simple life in and about the "Hermitage," free from all ceremonies and conventions, was exactly suited to Mrs. Jackson. She was charming in all its phases.

But it was different when, as the wife of the "Hero of New Orleans" Jackson having been made Major General by the National Government, she was to visit the scene of her husband's triumphs. She could not feel at home among the elegantly clothed people of that city, but confessed that she knew nothing of fine clothes and fine manners. The General himself was delighted to have his "Bonny Brown Wife," as Mrs. Jackson was called, with him at headquarters. He was blind to the difference between her and the other women, and he made it evident to all that he thought his wife "the dearest and most revered of human beings," and nothing pleased him so much as regard bestowed on her.

It was rather more than five or six years later that the General was appointed Governor to Florida, and he and Mrs. Jackson, with the two young nephews, one known as Andrew Jackson Donelson, went to live in this region of fruit and flowers. From Mrs. Jackson's pen which, although occasionally stumbling, was an interesting one, we have a picture of the final evacuation of Florida by the Spaniards, and the formal taking possession of the country, Jackson coming in "under his own standard," as he had vowed he would. But, hard as had been Mrs. Jackson's life with all the hardships and adventures of frontier exposure, she was homesick in the midst of the flowers and fruit of Pensacola for her log cabin home in Tennessee. "Believe me," she wrote to her friends at home, "this country has been greatly overrated. One acre of our fine Tennessee land is worth a thousand here." Mrs. Jackson's letters give a true picture of the General's state of mind. "The General is the most anxious man to get home I ever saw," she said. And it was, indeed. General Jackson's desire to return to the adopted son Andrew and his beloved wife Rachel. But though they did return to the "Hermitage" the happy days which again saw Rachel Jackson mistress there were not many.

In the year 1824 Jackson was elected United States Senator. During the period of his senator ship the mighty game was played which was to make him chief magistrate of the land. From the time of Jackson's nomination his victory was sure. It is almost impossible to defeat a military hero. His nick-name was "Old Hickory," and hickory poles were set up in his honor all over the country. But there are always two sides to an election and Jackson was made to taste the bitterness of malice and slander as well as the sweetness of glory. He could endure that aimed at him, but what was directed at his wife he could not endure. He raged and fumed at the insults that were dealt her with the fiery wrath of an old soldier. Mrs. Jackson herself was grieved and appalled at the cruel things that were said of her, when into the peace and harmony of her quiet, retired existence there broke as fierce a volley of taunts as ever issued from a political campaign. When the news of her husband's election reached her at the Hermitage she received it quietly. "Well, for Mr. Jackson's sake, I am glad," she said. "For my own part, I never wished it."

The ladies of Tennessee, who were all proud of Mrs. Jackson, were preparing to send her to the White House with the most elegant wardrobe that could be found, and the people of the neighborhood were planning an elaborate banquet in honor of the President-elect. On the evening before the fete, worn out with the excitement and pain of the contest through which she had been passing, the mistress of the Hermitage died. Mrs. Jackson was heard to say when she was dying that the General would miss her, but if she lived she might be in the way of his new life. It was thus that she reconciled herself to leaving him. Andrew Jackson proceeded to his place at the head of the nation, a lonely, broken-hearted man. The memory of the wrong that had been done his wife was always present in his mind. Years after, when he came to die, the clergyman bent over him, asking the last question. "Yes," said the old general, "I am ready. I ask forgiveness, and I forgive all, all except those who slandered my Rachel to death."

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.

 

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