was a native of North Carolina, daughter of Col. John Donelson, a Virginia
surveyor in good circumstances, who in 1780 migrated to the neighborhood of
Nashville in a very remarkable boat journey of 2,000 miles down the Holston
and Tennessee rivers and up the Cumberlan died During an expedition to
Kentucky some time afterward, the blooming Rachel was wooed and won by Capt.
She was an active, sprightly, and interesting
girl, the best horsewoman and best dancer in that country; her husband seems
to have been a young man of tyrannical and unreasonably jealous disposition.
In Kentucky they lived with Mrs. Robards, the husband's mother : and, as was
common in a new society where houses were too few and far between, there
were other boarders in the family among them the late Judge Overton, of
Tennessee and a, Mr. Stone.
Presently Robards made complaints against his wife, in which he
implicated Stone. According to Overton and the elder Mrs. Robards, these
complaints were unreasonable and groundless, but the affair ended in Robards
sending his wife home to her mother in Tennessee. This was in 1788. Col.
Donelson had been murdered, either by Indians or by white desperadoes, and
his widow, albeit in easy circumstances, felt it desirable to keep boarders
as a means of protection against the Indians. To her house came Andrew
Jackson on his arrival at Nashville, and thither about tile same time came
Overton, also fresh from his law studies. These two young men were boarded
in the house and lodged in a cabin hard by. At about the same time Robards
became reconciled with his wife, and, having bought land in the
neighborhood, came to dwell for awhile at Mrs. Donelson's.
Throughout life Jackson was noted alike for spotless purity and for a
romantic and chivalrous respect for the female sex. In the presence of women
his manner was always distinguished for grave and courtly
This involuntary homage to woman was one of the finest and most winsome features in his character. As
unconsciously rendered to Mrs. Robards, it was enough to revive the
slumbering demon of jealousy in her husband.
According to Overton's testimony, Jackson's conduct was irreproachable,
but there were high words between him and Robards, and, not wishing to make
further trouble, he changed his place of abode. After some months Capt.
Robards left his wife and went to Kentucky, threatening by and by to return
and " haunt her" and make her miserable. In the autumn of
1790 rumors of his intended return frightened Mrs. Robards, and determined
her to visit some friends at distant Natchez in order to avoid him. In
pursuance of this plan, with which the whole neighborhood seems to have
concurred, she went down the river in company with the venerable Col. Stark
and his family. As the indians were just then on the warpath, Jackson
accompanied the party with an armed escort, returning to Nashville as soon
as he had seen his friends safely deposited at Natchez.
While these things were going on, the proceedings of Capt. Robards were
characterized by a sort of Machiavellian astuteness. In 1791 Kentucky was
still a part of Virginia, and, according to the code of the Old Dominion, if
a husband wished to obtain a divorce on account of his wife's alleged
unfaithfulness, he must procure an act of the legislature empowering him to
bring the case before a jury, and authorizing a divorce conditionally upon
the jury's finding a verdict of guilty.
Early in 1791 Robards obtained the preliminary act of the legislature
upon his declaration, then false, that his wife had gone to live with
Jackson. Robards deferred further action for more than two years. Meanwhile
it was reported and believed in the west that a divorce had been granted,
and, acting upon this report, Jackson, whose chivalrous interest in Mrs.
Robards's misfortunes had ripened into sincere affection, went, in the
summer of 1791, to Natchez and married her there, and brought her to his
home at Nashville.
In the autumn of 1793 Capt. Robards, on the strength of the facts that
undeniably existed since the act of the Virginia legislature, brought his
case into court and obtained the verdict completing tile divorce. On hearing
of this, to his great surprise, in December, Jackson concluded that the best
method of preventing future cavil was to procure a new license and have the
marriage ceremony performed again -- this was done in January. Jackson was
certainly to blame for not taking more care to ascertain the import of the
act of the Virginia legislature. By a carelessness peculiarly striking in a
lawyer, he allowed his wife to be placed in a false position. The
irregularity of the marriage was indeed atoned by forty years of honorable
and happy wedlock, ending only with Mrs. Jackson's death in December, 1831
and no blame was attached to the parties in Nashville, where the
circumstances were well known. But the story, half understood and
maliciously warped, grew into
scandal as it
was passed about among Jackson's personal enemies or political opponents; and herein some of the bitterest of
his many quarrels had their source. His devotion to Mrs. Jackson was
intense, and his pistol was always ready for the rash man who should dare to
speak of her slightingly. -- Edited
Appleton's Cyclopedia American Biography Copyright©
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