Rachel Donelson Jackson
Biography: Wearing the white dress she had purchased for her
husband's inaugural ceremonies in March 1829, Rachel Donelson Jackson was buried in the
garden at The Hermitage, her home near Nashville, Tennessee, on Christmas
Eve in 1828. Lines from her epitaph--"A being so gentle and so
virtuous slander might wound, but could not dishonor"--reflected his
bitterness at campaign slurs that seemed to precipitate her death.
Rachel Donelson was a child of the frontier. Born in Virginia, she
journeyed to the Tennessee wilderness with her parents when only 12. At
17, while living in Kentucky, she married Lewis Robards, of a prominent
Mercer County family. His unreasoning jealousy made it impossible for
her to live with him; in 1790 they separated, and she heard that he was
filing a petition for divorce.
Andrew Jackson married her in 1791; and after two happy years they
learned to their dismay that Robards had not obtained a divorce, only
permission to file for one. Now he brought suit on grounds of adultery.
After the divorce was granted, the Jacksons quietly remarried in 1794.
They had made an honest mistake, as friends well understood, but whispers
of adultery and bigamy followed Rachel as Jackson's career advanced in
both politics and war. He was quick to take offense at, and ready to
avenge, any slight to her.
Scandal aside, Rachel's unpretentious kindness won the respect of all who
knew her--including innumerable visitors who found a comfortable welcome
at The Hermitage. Although the Jacksons never had children of their own,
they gladly opened their home to the children of Rachel's many
relatives. In 1809 they adopted a nephew and named him Andrew Jackson,
Jr. They also reared other nephews; one, Andrew Jackson Donelson,
eventually married his cousin Emily, one of Rachel's favorite nieces.
When Jackson was elected President, he planned to have young Donelson for
private secretary, with Emily as company for Rachel. After losing his
beloved wife he asked Emily to serve as his hostess.
Though only 21 when she entered the White House, she skillfully cared for
her uncle, her husband, four children (three born at the mansion), many
visiting relatives, and official guests. Praised by contemporaries for
her wonderful tact, she had the courage to differ with the President on
issues of principle. Frail throughout her lifetime, Emily died of
tuberculosis in 1836.
During the last months of the administration, Sarah Yorke Jackson, wife
of Andrew Jackson, Jr., presided at the mansion in her stead.