Andrew & Rachel Jackson: Adulterer & Bigamist?
In 1788 Jackson met Rachel Donelson Robards while he was a boarder at her widowed mother’s home. Since 1785, Rachel Robards was in an unhappy and abusive marriage with Captain Lewis Robards, a man subject to irrational fits of jealous rage. The two parted in 1788 and were legally separated in 1790.
According to Jackson, he married Rachel after hearing that Robards had obtained a divorce. However, the divorce had never been completed, making Rachel’s marriage to Jackson technically bigamous and therefore invalid. After the divorce was officially completed, Rachel and Jackson remarried in 1794. However, there is evidence that Donelson had been living with Jackson and referred to herself as Mrs. Jackson before the petition for divorce was ever made. It was not uncommon on the frontier for relationships to be formed and dissolved unofficially, as long as they were recognized by the community.
The controversy surrounding their marriage remained a sore point for Jackson, who deeply resented attacks on his wife’s honor. Jackson fought 13 duels, most over his wife’s honor. Jackson had been wounded so frequently in duels that it was said he “rattled like a bag of marbles.” At times he coughed up blood from a bullet in his lung, and he experienced considerable pain from his wounds for the rest of his life.
Rachel died of a heart attack two weeks after her husband’s victory in the election in 1828. Jackson blamed John Quincy Adams for Rachel’s death because the marital scandal was brought up in the election of 1828. He felt that this had hastened her death and never forgave Adams.