First Ladies: Rachel Donelson Jackson

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Rachel Jackson was the wife of Andrew Jackson.

a young Rachel Jackson

She died after her husband won the election for President, but before he ever took office.

Unofficially, she never served as White House. Her niece Emily Donelson took over her role as hostess after Rachel’s death.

Rachel Donelson was born to Colonel John and Rachel Stockley Donelson on June 15, 1767. Rachel and her ten siblings were born in Chatham, Virginia.

Rachel was about twelve when her family moved to Tennessee. They were among the first white settlers in the area.

As a young woman she married Captain Lewis Robards of Kentucky. Rumors state he was “cruel and jealous”. In 1790, Rachel returned to the Donelson home believing her husband would file for divorce.

Rachel Donelson Jackson

Rachel was 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.”

Rachel met Andrew Jackson, when he boarded with her mother. Believing Captain Robards had obtained a divorce the couple married. Later, they discovered the divorce had never been obtained. The divorce was granted in 1794, and the Jackson’s wed again at the Donelson home.

Rachel is said to dote on her husband, Andrew Jackson. She worried about him when he was away and doted on him when he was home.

The Jackson’s had no biological children. In 1809, they adopted Rachel’s nephew, Andrew Jackson, Jr.

In 1813, the couple adopted a Creek orphan boy named Lyncoya.

In 1917, Rachel’s grand nephew, Andrew Jackson Hutchings, was adopted by them.

Andrew Jackson was also guardian to the children of Rachel’s brother, Samuel Donelson, and close family friend, General Edward Butler.

Rachel Jackson

The Election of 1828, turned ugly and the situation around the Jackson’s marriage was constantly slandered. Rachel reputedly told a friend “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than live in that palace in Washington.”

In June 1828, Lyncoya Jackson, her adopted son died.

The stress of the campaign and loss of her son led to her eventual death on December 22, 1828. It is said that upon her death, Jackson “He held her body tightly until he was pulled away, and he lingered at the Hermitage until the latest possible date.”

Jackson never forgave his political opponents for his wife’s death, whom he blamed was responsible for her death.

Rachel was buried at The Hermitage. She was buried in the dress and shoes she’d bought for the Inaugural Ball. Her epitaph reads: “A being so gentle and so virtuous slander might wound, but could not dishonor.”


Tomorrow: the Women that were hostesses for President Andrew Jackson


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