Rachel Donelson was born in Virginia in 1767; her father was a surveyor and the family moved to Tennessee and later Kentucky. By several accounts, Rachel was lively and spirited in her youth. Rachel married Lewis Robards when she was 17 in 1784, an increasingly jealous and horribly bad-tempered man. Robards became crazily suspicious of his wife’s interactions with other men, and Rachel eventually was sent home to live with her mother for a time. Her mother was running a boardinghouse, where young lawyer Andrew Jackson was staying.
When Robards came to claim his wife, he and Jackson nearly dueled. (1) However, Robards left and began to attempt to secure a divorce from Rachel. In 1791, believing Rachel to be legally divorced, Andrew and Rachel married in Natchez, Tennessee. In 1794, the Jacksons learned that Robards had never officially divorced Rachel, but after learning Jackson and Rachel were now married, Robards obtained a legal divorce from Rachel on the grounds of adultery.
The Jacksons hastily had a second marriage ceremony. Despite “fixing their mistake,” the Jacksons had not heard the last of Rachel’s bigamy, even though it was unintentional. After her marriage to Jackson, Rachel became more reserved and desired to live out of the spotlight. Jackson, of course, would start on his path to military and political glory, and Rachel became his ardent supporter.
(1): Augustus C. Buell, History of Andrew Jackson, 100.