December 31, 2014

My thoughts are forever on thee – Rachel Jackson

In late December 1814 to early January 1815, the British unleashed a major offensive on New Orleans and the surrounding area. Ultimately the Americans under Major-General Andrew Jackson managed to defeat the larger British force and inflicted major casualties on the British. Throughout the New Orleans campaign, Jackson looked to his wife Rachel for comfort and guidance.

The daughter of the co-founder of Nashville, Tennessee, Rachel Robards married Andrew Jackson in 1794 after supposedly obtaining a divorce from her first husband. Rachel and Andrew later discovered that the divorce was not finalized, causing them to remarry. Since Andrew was often away from home perusing professional and military duties, Rachel was left in charge to raise their adopted son and run their Tennessee plantation.

Andrew Jackson regarded his wife as his mainstay and Rachel felt similar by writing:

My thoughts are forever on thee. Wherever I go, wherever I turn my thoughts, my fears and my doubts distress me. Then a little hope revives again and that keeps me alive. Were it not for that, I should sink.

During the New Orleans campaign, Andrew Jackson was near physical collapse and asked Rachel to come to him. Andrew wrote, “I was taken verry ill, the Doctor gave me a does of Jallap & calemel, which salavated me, and there was Eight days on the march that I never broke bread.” Knowing that Rachel was on her way helped to lift Andrew’s spirits but by the time Rachel arrived, the Americans had already won a resounding victory. Despite the new fame thrust upon the Jacksons, Rachel continued to be a capable and devoted wife who maintained her strong relationship with her husband and her devotion to her faith.

The Jacksons were now occupied with fancy balls and celebrations for Andrew’s successful defence of New Orleans. At a grand dinner and ball held in February 1815, one guest described Andrew Jackson as “a long, haggard man, with limbs like a skeleton, and Madame La Generale, a short, fat dumpling, bobbing opposite each other like half-drunken Indians.” Not the most flattering of descriptions, but another contemporary described Rachel 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.”

In 1828, Rachel was by Andrew’s side during his presidential campaign. During the campaign, newspaper articles persistently referred to the circumstances of Rachel’s divorce from her first husband, causing much distress. As a result, Rachel’s health suffered and she died from a heart attack on December 23, 1828, two weeks after Andrew Jackson won the election. Rachel was buried in the garden of The Hermitage, the Tennessee plantation where she lived for many years. Andrew Jackson was heart broken and suffered from depression in the years that followed.    

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