Rachel Donelson was one of eleven children of Colonel John Donelson and his wife Rachel. They settled near Nashville, they were actually one of the two founding fathers of Nashville. The Donelson name figured prominently in early Tennessee history. They were pioneers, Indian fighters, businessmen, soldiers, and politicians, who always aligned themselves with General Andrew Jackson.
Just as the successes of the Donelsons placed their name in the pages of pioneer history, the marriage of Rachel Donelson to Andrew Jackson placed the Donelson name in the pages of American political and presidential history. Rachel and Andrews love story is one of America's classics. He was an American hero, climbing from orphaned obscurity to the Presidency. She was a frontier aristocrat who chose true love over society's rules. Although their marriage was slandered for political gain, their love endured, becoming legend for romance novels.
Rachel believed that her husband (Robards) had pursued divorce. Believing that Rachel was divorced, Jackson asked for her hand in marriage, and they married. However, divorce was still new, and Robards had only obtained permission to divorce from the general assembly, so almost two years into their marriage, the Jacksons discovered that Rachel was still married to her first husband, Lewis Robards. The confused circumstances of their courtship and marriage of the Jacksons haunted the couple for the rest of their lives. Andrew Jackson always believed the gossip and malicious rumors spread by political rivals contributed to the death of his beloved wife. Rachel. Rachel Jackson could never escape her past, the fact that she married Andrew Jackson without technically being free from her first marriage to Lewis Robards. Unwittingly Rachel had pushed the limits of acceptable society at a time when very few women claimed their independence, and their own means of happiness.
Despite two different views of the Robards/Donelson marriage, the Jackson perspective was written by Judge John Overton in response to Jackson's political rivals. Overtons remarks were used in the campaign to show that Rachel and Jackson were innocent of charges of adultery and bigamy brought by Lewis Robards. No record of Rachel's and Andrews's marriage survives in Natchez; however there are records of her divorce from Robards. (Divorce laws in the 1790's were vague, and dissolving a marriage was extremely difficult. Rachel and Andrew married for the record in Nashville.
When he ran for President in 1828, the circumstances of their courtship and marriage were dredged up repeatedly, including a pamphlet circulated by John Quincy Adams' supporters that asked "Ought a convicted adulteress and her paramour husband be placed in the highest offices of this free and Christian land?" Her husband won the election, but after his victory Rachel reportedly dreaded enduring four years of insults and innuendo. Weeks after the election, but before his inauguration, she died at age 61. Speculation was that she died of a massive heart attack from the stress. She was buried in the white dress she had purchased for his swearing in ceremony. Andrew never married again, and deeply mourned Rachel's death for the rest of his life.