June 15, 1767|
Halifax County, Colony of Virginia, British America
|Died||December 22, 1828(aged 61)|
|Spouse(s)||Lewis Robards (1787-1790; divorced)
Andrew Jackson (1791-1828, her death)
(1791–1794 later deemed invalid)
Rachel Donelson Robards Jackson, born Rachel Donelson, (June 15, 1767 – December 22, 1828) was the wife of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States. She lived with him at their home at The Hermitage, where she died just days after his election and before his inauguration in 1829—therefore she was never First Lady, a role assumed by her niece, Emily Donelson.
Early life and education
Rachel Donelson was born near the Banister River, about ten miles from Chatham, Virginia in Pittsylvania County on June 15, 1767. Her father was Colonel John Donelson (1718–1785), co-founder of Nashville, Tennessee, and her mother was Rachel Stockley Donelson (1730-1801). Her great-grandfather, Patrick Donelson, was born in Scotland about 1670. She had seven brothers and three sisters:
- Alexander Donelson (1749-1785)
- Mary Donelson Caffery (1751-?)
- Catherine Donelson Hutchings (1752-1835)
- Stockley Donelson (1753-1804)
- Jane Donelson Hays (1754-1834)
- John Donelson (1755-1830)
- William Donelson (1756-1820)
- Samuel Donelson (1758-1804)
- Severn Donelson (1763 or 1773 -1818)
- Leven Donelson (1765-?)
From about 1770 to 1779, her father operated the Washington Iron Furnace at Rocky Mount, Franklin County, Virginia. With her family, she moved to Tennessee at the age of 12. Her father led about 600 people from Fort Patrick Henry to Fort Nashborough, down the Cumberland River. The Donelson family was among the first white settlers in Tennessee.
When Andrew Jackson migrated to Nashville, Tennessee in 1788, he boarded with Rachel Stockley Donelson, the mother of Rachel Donelson Robards. Shortly after, they married in Natchez, Mississippi, believing that her husband had obtained a divorce. As the divorce had never been completed, their marriage was technically bigamous and therefore invalid. Historians found that a friend of Lewis Robards had planted a fake article in his own newspaper, saying that the couple's divorce had been finalized. The Jacksons later found out about Robards' action in planting the article, and that he had never completed the divorce. Later, Rachel ensured the divorce was completed. Jackson and she remarried in 1794. During the presidential election campaign of 1828, supporters of John Quincy Adams, Jackson's opponent, accused his wife of being a bigamist, among other things. Despite the accusations, he won by a comparative landslide; he was a popular military hero after his victory in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.
Rachel attracted much attention from suitors because she was very beautiful as a young woman, described by a contemporary as having "lustrous black eyes, dark glossy hair, full red lips, brunette complexion, though of brilliant coloring, [and] a sweet oval face rippling with smiles and dimples." Later in life, her country manners and full figure were severely in contrast with Jackson's tall, spindly form and developed genteel manners. However, her love for her husband was unmistakable: she languished when he was away for politics, fretted when he was away at war, and doted on him when he was at home. Unlike Jackson, Rachel never liked being in the spotlight of events. She would consistently warn her husband to not let his political accomplishments rule him; for example, after Jackson's victory at the Battle of New Orleans, she warned Jackson that his subsequent popularity (on the scope of George Washington) would tempt him to value his glory over his own family. Andrew and Rachel Jackson had three adopted children: Andrew Jackson Jr., Lyncoya Jackson, and Andrew Jackson Hutchings.
She was a Presbyterian. She was also an avid reader of the Bible and religious works as well as poetry. She died suddenly in 1828, probably of a heart attack, given her symptoms according to Jackson: "excruciating pain in the left shoulder, arm, and breast." That her death came immediately before Jackson left for Washington was more than an inconvenience; it was crippling. He held her body tightly until he was pulled away, and he lingered at the Hermitage until the latest possible date. She was buried on the grounds at The Hermitage.
Popular culture depictions
Rachel Jackson was the title character of a 1950 historical novel by Irving Stone, The President's Lady, which told the story of her life and also Andrew Jackson's life from their first meeting until her death. In 1953, the novel was made into a film of the same name starring Susan Hayward and Charlton Heston as the Jacksons. In the 1936 film The Gorgeous Hussy (a fictionalized biography of Peggy Eaton), Rachel Jackson was portrayed by Beulah Bondi, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.
Rachel Jackson is also a major character in the Broadway rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. She performs the solo song "The Great Compromise", in which she laments how Andrew Jackson's public life and political desires have overwhelmed their relationship and opened her up to public ridicule. Her death begins Andrew Jackson's lament "Public Life".
|Rachel Jackson, C‑SPAN|
- Brands, H.W. (2005). Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-50738-0.
- John Fiske (1914). "John Quincy Adams". In James Grant Wilson. The Presidents of the United States, 1789-1914. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. In Wikisource.
- Brinkley, Alan. American History: A Survey. 12th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.
- National First Ladies' Library
- White House History biography
- Brands, H. W. (2005). Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times. New York: Anchor Books. ISBN 978-1-40003072-9.
- Jane Donelson Hays on Find a Grave, retrieved 12 February 2016.
- Anne Carter Lee (September 1972). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Washington Iron Furnace" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
- Meacham, Jon (2008). American Lion. New York: Random House. p. 33. ISBN 0812973461.
- "Rachel Jackson". C‑SPAN. March 25, 2013. Retrieved March 25, 2013.
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