Marriage to Andrew Jackson and Life at The Hermitage

The Duel

Andrew Jackson killing Charles Dickinson, woodcut

The Hermitage, the residence and burial place of General Jackson

A hand-colored lithograph of the home of Rachel and Andrew Jackson in Tennessee.

Copy of agreement for a duel to take place between Andrew Jackson and Charles Dickinson.

Copy of the agreement signed by Andrew Jackson's and Charles Dickinson's seconds for their duel, which took place on May 30, 1806.

It is obvious just by looking at the letters Rachel and Andrew Jackson exchanged that they had a loving and caring relationship.  Andrew addressed Rachel as “my love” or “my dear wife,” and Rachel lovingly called Andrew “my dear one” or “my dear husband” in her letters.  In person, Rachel affectionately called Andrew “the General,” as many people did for his military exploits.  

Their plantation in Tennessee was called The Hermitage, and although it started out as a log cabin, it became a beautiful home.  Rachel was known as an excellent housekeeper, gracious hostess, and efficient manager, and Jackson had an almost fanatical devotion to her. (1) The Jacksons hosted many important and notable people, including James and Sarah Polk, Aaron Burr, James and Elizabeth Monroe, Sam Houston, Jefferson Davis, and Thomas H. Benton. (2) The future first lady Sarah Polk, herself a socially-inclined political wife, had nothing but the highest praise for the Jacksons, especially Rachel.  Sarah Polk said Rachel was the “childless mother of the whole neighborhood.” (3) Sarah Polk also said that Rachel was “the soul of merry-making and the embodiment of benevolence and charity.” (4)

The Jacksons had no biological children, but they adopted a couple of Rachel’s nephews, and, according to several accounts, there were always children living at The Hermitage.  Rachel’s health was always a concern, therefore as her husband began to rise in politics, she did not always attend events with him in person, however she remained his ardent supporter.  

Andrew Jackson was involved in multiple duels during his lifetime, most of which were fought over Rachel’s honor.  In fact, only one of Jackson’s documented duels didn’t grow directly or indirectly from scandal of their marriage and slanders to Rachel, according to Augustus C. Buell’s book.  Jackson’s arguably most prolific duel took place in May 1806--the exact date varies--with Charles Dickinson. Dickinson, who was 25 years old at the time, was a renowned duelist and was known as a “dead shot.” (5) There are disagreements about the exact remark or instance that caused the duel, however it was undoubtedly over Rachel Jackson.  Dickinson had made several remarks about Rachel that angered Jackson, and eventually a duel was inevitable. Jackson, who was nearly 40 years old at the time of the duel, left his home a few days before the duel, and, according to Buell, Rachel Jackson knew where he was going. 

Dickinson fired first, however he apparently stepped back from the line after, which caused Jackson to delay his shot by a few seconds.  Jackson then took his shot and Dickinson fell to the ground. Jackson then revealed he had been severely wounded by Dickinson’s shot, though he did not miss the opportunity to get his shot in. (6) Dickinson died later that night of his wounds, and it is speculated that the injury Jackson sustained in this duel came back to claim his life nearly 40 years later. (7)

An 1806 newspaper account of the duel, recounted in Josephus Guild’s book, stated “The love of Andrew Jackson for Rachel Robards cost Charles Dickinson his life.”  (8) It is clear Jackson was deeply protective of his wife, and would not allow offensive comments about her to go unchallenged. 

Footnotes

(1): Caldwell, Project Gutenberg’s Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage.

(2): Caldwell, Project Gutenberg’s Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage.

(3): Buell, History of Andrew Jackson, 223.

(4): Buell, History of Andrew Jackson, 224.

(5): Buell, History of Andrew Jackson, 160.

(6): Buell, History of Andrew Jackson, 175.

(7): Buell, History of Andrew Jackson, 222.

(8): Guild, Old Times in Tennessee, 211.

Marriage to Andrew Jackson and Life at The Hermitage