Tennessean

 
 
Tennessean

Two Marriages, One Wife

In the fall of 1788, Jackson took up his post as Western District public prosecutor in Nashville. Over the next two years, Jackson divided his time between courthouses in Nashville and Jonesborough and resided in frontier forts, including John Donelson’s Station where he met Rachel Donelson Robards. Rachel and her husband Lewis Robards clearly had a broken marriage and separated more than once. Rachel’s mother sent her to visit friends near Natchez in Spanish Territory. After hearing that Robards had won permission to sue Rachel for divorce, Jackson went to Natchez and they supposedly married. No one has ever located any written record of the Natchez wedding. When the couple returned to Nashville in 1791, they found that Robards had only initiated the divorce proceedings. With new evidence based on the Natchez “marriage”, Robards completed the divorce by charging Rachel with bigamy. Andrew and Rachel re-married in Nashville in 1794

Senator, Judge and Business Owner

Between 1790 and 1796, Jackson played an instrumental role in developing North Carolina’s western lands into the State of Tennessee. In 1791, he was appointed Attorney General of the Mero District (the present day area around Nashville). Jackson also made a name for himself in the world of politics. In his first elected position, he served as a delegate to the Tennessee Constitutional Convention in Knoxville where he helped draft a state constitution and bill of rights. In 1796, Jackson traveled to Philadelphia to lobby Congress to approve Tennessee as the 16th state. Jackson served as Tennessee’s first member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1796- 1797) and he was selected by the Tennessee General Assembly as U.S. Senator (1797-1798). Jackson, however, cut his senatorial career short because of mounting financial difficulties at home. Jackson returned to Tennessee and in 1799 took a well-paid position as a circuit judge on Tennessee’s Superior Court, a post that required him to travel throughout the state, including the state capitol at Knoxville. Simultaneously, Jackson maintained a law practice in Nashville and established several commercial business ventures—including general merchandise stores, whiskey distilleries, and boat making—at his plantations in northeastern Davidson County.

Founding The Hermitage as Home

He and Rachel lived first at Poplar Grove (1792-1796) and then Hunter’s Hill (1797-1804), a 640-acre riverfront plantation worked by fifteen enslaved African Americans. In order to keep his stores stocked with the latest fashions and merchandise from around the world, Jackson made many buying trips to major cities such as Baltimore, New Orleans, and Philadelphia, then the U.S. capital. In 1802, Jackson received an honor he had long coveted; the Tennessee militia elected him their Major General. Jackson also formed business partnerships to speculate in land sales throughout the region. One such partnership failed miserably. In order to avoid bankruptcy, he was forced to sell Hunter’s Hill. On July 5, 1804, Jackson purchased his neighbor Nathaniel Hays’ 425-acre farm, which Jackson named “The Hermitage.” Soon after, Jackson established a new riverfront enterprise at nearby Clover Bottom where he operated a general store, tavern, and tracks for racing thoroughbred horses. Jackson also quit his Superior Court judgeship to focus on The Hermitage and his Clover Bottom enterprises. Jackson would continue to add land and slaves to his Hermitage operations in the coming years.

Strategic and Perilous Connections

Despite Jackson’s stated intention to retire from public life, he corresponded with political leaders such as President Thomas Jefferson and entertained others, including Vice-President Aaron Burr. Jackson’s friendship with Burr, who conspired to break up the U.S. for his personal advancement, almost cost him his future, but Jackson realized Burr’s plans in time to separate himself from Burr’s plot.

Defending Family Honor

Although the Jacksons had no biological children, they did have a family at The Hermitage. They took in several wards, including Rachel’s nephew Andrew Jackson Donelson. In 1808, they adopted another of Rachel’s nephews and named him Andrew Jackson Jr.

Jackson continued to frequent Nashville taverns and maintained his reputation as being hot-tempered. In 1806, he quarreled with Charles Dickinson over a horse race, but it soon turned violent when Dickinson made rude comments about Rachel’s character. Jackson challenged Dickinson to a duel and the two men agreed to meet in Kentucky to settle the matter. Dickinson, well known marksman, shot first and wounded Jackson in the chest, but Jackson still managed to fire and mortally wound Dickinson. After several months, Jackson recovered from his wound. With his reputation tarnished by scandals and duels, Jackson retreated to The Hermitage. Then, in 1812, his country called on him to serve.