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History and Genealogy of the RoBards Family (1910) Part 13
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    49

Jackson's Wife.

The true story of the great statesman's matrimonial venture.  A bit of history that has been generally suppressed or destroyed.  The wrong light in which Mrs. Jackson's first husband has been put by biographers of General Jackson.  What the court records of Virginia show with regard to the Robards divorce and Jackson's marriage and great love for his wife.

Jackson's whole public life, like his private life, was marked by a strong purpose to follow his own bent, regardless of the consequences, and he carried his points by the sheer force of his character.  It was in the same spirit that he invaded another man's home and carried away his wife, paying no heed then to how the world might look upon it.  He fell in love with her.  He wanted her for himself.  She reciprocated and he took her boldly away.

50 GENEALOGY OF THE ROBARDS FAMILY  

This, however, was a blunder and left upon him a moral stain which all of the sophistry and juggling with facts by his friends can never efface or conceal.  His marriage to Rachael Donaldson, like Napoleon's repudiation of Josepine, was the fatal error of his life and left a scar which can never be healed.  It is the sensitiveness of this sore, no doubt, which compels his admirers at every recurring interval to tear away the bandages and probe it and make fresh efforts to cure it by denials, and explanations, and extenuations of the circumstances which can never be denied or explained away so long as the records of the courts stand.

General Butler, in his speech before the Butler Club, of Boston, January 8, 1890, recalled this circumstance in Jackson's life, explaining it away in such terms as challenged the criticism of all students of history, and which were calculated to leave the impression, which Jackson's defenders have always sought to make, that "Mrs. Jackson was the injured wife of an unworthy spouse," from which a divorce was a matter of necessity.  In his address General Butler said:  "He went into the White House with an unsullied character, in every relation of life, with him family and society; his name and fame were untarnished," and again:  "Against his private life nothing was ever breathed.  The worst things the Whig party could ever say against him was that he married a woman who had been legally divorced by the Legislature of Virginia."  Since the Jackson presidential campaign the true history of this affiar has never been published; it was hushed up on the election of Jackson to fill the chief office of the nation, but now that more than a century has passed

   JACKSON'S WIFE 51


and the affair can be talked of dispassionately, there seems to be no reason why the true facts of the case can not be published, and justice done to the man who was wronged.

Sojourning, a good many years ago, for a time in Central Kentucky, I was located in the oldest town in the State, where I soon found much to interest me in the village gossip of noted people about generations dead and gone.  I was surprised to find that in the old clerk's office was recorded the papers concerning the Jackson-Donaldson scandal, and that the old Robards homestead had stood within easy distance of the town, though only a pile of stones and a huge square chimney then remained to mark the spot where dwelt the Widow Robards, from whose fireside Andrew Jackson stole her son's wife away.  Recognizing the fact that I had stumbled upon a bit of important history, I proceeded at once to the task of gathering up the threads of the tangled skein, not difficult then, for I found many people still alive who were perfectly familiar with the facts, which had been impressed upon their memories by the bitter crimination and recrimination of the Jackson campaign.  There are living at the present day five generations of the Robards family, the oldest of whom remember the events as detailed to them by their parents sixty or seventy years ago.  And there are the records of the courts which prove all the essential points of the case.  The story, as heard direct from these people, is given to the readers of this book with full details concerning the family of Capt. Lewis Robards, husband of Rachael Donaldson, whom history has been kind enough to hand down by that name, though, as will be seen, she was the legal wife of

52 GENEALOGY OF THE ROBARDS FAMILY  

Capt. Lewis Robards for two years after eloping with Jackson.

By the women of a family its social status may be determined.  A man may sink below or rise above the level set by the world.  That the Robards women were distinguished more than most other of that early day for their beauty and culture may be inferred from the brilliant marriages made by them and the marked traits of their decendants.

A detailed history of the Robards family is given here for two reasons, first to prove the credibility of the narrative, and, secondly, by way of refutation of the assertion often made in palliation of her fault that Rachael Donaldson after her marriage found herself so superior to her surrounding, and her lawful husband and his family so unappreciateive of her worth, that she was more readily captivated by attentions shown her from such a man as Jackson.

Tradition says:
About the middle of the eighteenth century, William Robards, a Welshman, came to the United States and settled in Goochland county, Virginia, where he married and from this union there sprung a goodly number of sons and daughters, of whom Capt. Lewis Robards, husband of Racheal Donaldson, was the first son by his second wife.  When the Colonial War was declared between the United States and Great Britain, George Robards and his brother, Lewis, enlisted in the Colonial Army as privates, and when the war was over returned to their home in Virginia with rank as captains, which titles they bore ever afterwards.  Not many years later they started out westward through the wilderness, taking with them their land script, which was the only pay they re-

   JACKSON'S WIFE 53

ceived from the government, and with their guns upon their shoulders they made their way to Kentucky, where they concluded to settle, and located a large area of land in the richest part of the now famous bluegrass region, at a point known as Cane Run, in Mercer county, about the center of the state.  After spending two or three years in the wilderness, clearing their land for cultivation and helping to rid the land of the Indians, they returned to Virginia, when their father had died, and, after settling up his estate, they went back to Kentucky, taking with them their mother and her large family of younger sons and daughters, and carried with them also a large number of slaves which belonged to the estate.

Meanwhile George Robards, the second son and executor of his father's estate, had in 1785 married in the mother state, Virginia, and brought home with him a lovely young bride, Miss Elizabeth B Sampson, a granddaughter of the Dutors, French Huguenots, who emigrated from France with a number of others, who settled the "Manniken Town" on the James River.

One of his sisters (Sallie) married Col. John Jouett, whose career covers several pages of the condensed history of Kentucky, and who for gallantry upon the field of battle received a sword from the Old Dominion, which is still in possession of the family.

And here again the women of the family shine pre-eminent.  Judging from all this, it must be inferred that "Widow Robards," as she was called, must have been herself a remarkable woman for that day and generation.

54 GENEALOGY OF THE ROBARDS FAMILY  

It was into this house that Rachael Donaldson was introduced by her marriage to the son of Widow Robards, Capt. Lewis Robards.  It happened in this wise.  Several years after Mrs. Robards emigrated with her family from Virginia she found that the log house which had been built for them, and served their necessities when they first reached Kentucky, had grown too small for their future occupancy.  So she had built, near a famous spring of clear water, the first stone house ever erected in Central Kentucky.  And around her hearth stone were gathered her sons and daughters, and the wife of the second son.  Soon after the removal of the family into the new stone house winter came on, and a Mrs. Donaldson, also a widow, moving from North Carolina by wagons to the west, was caught by storms in the Cane Run neighborhood, and being unable to proceed farther, petitioned Mrs. Robards to allow her to occupy the deserted log cabin, which petition was readily granted, and thus the Widow Donaldson and family were installed within a stone's throw of the Robards homestead.  Of her family was the fair Rachael, whom history credits with great beauty and winsome ways, though lacking in refinement.  Sumner says of her:  "She was not at all fitted to share the destiney which befell Jackson."  However that may be, she soon ensnared the heart of Capt. Lewis Robards, whom traditon credits with having been a handsome cavalier, fond of his horses and his hounds, and history makes no specific charges against him other than the possession of a high temper and a jealous disposition, which, if true, after events fully justified.  A short courtship was soon followed by marriage, and thus Rachael Donaldson was trans-

   JACKSON'S WIFE 55

ferred to his mother's household, without objection on the part of any member of his family.

At that time Kentucky was a perfect mine of litigation, owing to the insecure tenure of the land titles, some of the claims being held from the Indians, some from Virginia, or from the government, either by purchase, or pre-emption, or script, causing an ever-lasting conflict, from which lawyers, coming from many directions, reaped a rich harvest.  It is presumed that in the prosecution of some such law business, Andrew Jackson, a prominent young lawyer, came from Tennessee, and was introduced into the house of Col. Overton, who was a distant relative of Hon. Thomas Davis.  As there were no inns in those days, and every man's "latchstring" hung outside; Jackson became a member of the Robards household and came and went at his pleasure so long as his business detained him in that part of the country, no one observing that he showed any particular partiality for the society of Lewis Robard's wife.

It was true as stated by various historians, that her disposition to find pleasure in the society of other men than her husband had been noted, and that her levity of conduct with a Mr. Peyton Short had occasioned considerable gossip and did afterward create so great a disturbance as to occasion her husband to appeal to her mother, who had then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to send for her, which she did, Mrs. Robard's uncle, Mr. Donaldson, coming for her.  That she was considered simply willful and impudent is proven by the fact that her uncle came for her and took her away peaceably, which could scarcely have happened if any serious or false charges had been made against her.  As Jackson had

56 GENEALOGY OF THE ROBARDS FAMILY  

returned to Tennessee before this without having betrayed any weakness for her, it is possible that his love affair with her did not commence until she went to her mother's home in Tennessee, where she either found him domiciled already, or he became a member of her mother's family soon afterward.  Meanwhile Lewis Robard loved his wife devotedly, and after some friendly intervention agreed to a reconciliation and went to Tennessee to join her at her mother's home.  It has been stated that he purchased a farm there, intending to reside near her mother.  It was not long, however, after he went to Tennessee, before he found Jackson paying her such attention as she should not have received.  Colonel Overton, who was also residing in the house, in his memoirs of Jackson, states that he remonstrated with Jackson, and urged him to leave the house, as he was causing fresh trouble between the husband and the wife.  He also stated that Robards had a stormy interview with Jackson concerning the matter, and that Jackson retreated into the house, saying that he was not so strong a man as Robards and therefore could not fight him.  That is not all probable, considering the nature of the two men and the cause of the quarrel, they would not have had a bloodless interview in those days.  Neither is it probable, as stated by Colonel Overton, that Robards left the house in anger and returned to Kentucky, leaving his wife behind him.  It is far more probable that he took her back with him and installed her once more in his mother's home without even mentioning to them the reason for bringing her back.  There is no tradition in the family of this episode at Nashville.  The elopement with Jackson from her hus-

   GEORGE LEWIS ROBARDS FAMILY (sic)* 57

band's home seemed to have fallen like a thunderbolt upon them, for, as stated before, they had not, up to that time, credited her with anything more serious than imprudence of behavior.  Colonel Overton was Jackson's life-long friend, and his account of the affair was written to vindicate him.  Up to the elopement it is fair enough, but there he was obliged to diverge, hence made so lame a statement that one can easily read between the lines and draw their own inference.  According to Overton, Robards, in anger, left this wife in Nashville with her mother sometime in 1790 or early in 1791.  Having heard that her husband was going to return for her, she decided to go with some friends, Mr. Stark and wife, to Natchez, Jackson going along with them to protect them from the Indians.  He remained there until time for May court, when he returned to Nashville.  On his arrival in Nashville he heard that Robards had applied to the Legislature of Virginia for a divorce from his wife, and supposing that it had been granted, Jackson went back to Natchez in July where he married her privately.

That the affair was not quite so genteelly and quiety conducted will be shown hereafter by the records of the court, which also prove that she was not at her mother's, abandoned by her husband in jealous anger as stated, but that she "eloped" from her husband's home, which tallies with the family history.

There is no certain knowledge as to the exact facts of the elopement.  It is only known that in Captain Robards' absence from home Jackson carried his wife away.  One historian says, "he rode off one fine day, carrying her upon his horse behind him."  This



*Heading should be "Jackson's Wife."
58 GENEALOGY OF THE ROBARDS FAMILY  

can hardly be true.  The tradition runs, however, that when Robards returned home and found that his wife was gone with Jackson, he followed in hot pursuit with his body servant until they reached a stream near the Tennessee line called Bear Wallow.  Here he found that they crossed the river by ferry, which was detained on the other side, cutting off his further progress.  His servant, to the day of his death, gave graphic accounts of the chase, and stated that Robards and Jackson exchanged shots from the opposite sides of the river, and Jackson, fearing for the safety of the woman, hastened on his journey, while Robards returned home to consider his future course.  The people living in the vicinity of Bear Wallow used to point out to strangers a tree upon the bank of the river scarred, they said, by the shots.

When Robards reached home, before deciding what his next step should be, he examined the effects left behind by his fugitive wife and found letters so damaging to her character that he decided, by the advice of his friends, that a decree of divorce and not his wife was what he wanted.  Accordingly, therefore, with this determination, he took immediate steps, according to the methods prescribed by law, which were necessarily tedious, since Kentucky was still a part of Virginia.  From Parton's History of Jackson I make the following extracts and append the copies of the records procured from the clerk's office.  By the early laws of Virginia, if a man, convinced of his wife's indidelity, desired to be divorced from her, he was obliged to procure an act of the Legislature, authorizing an investigation of the charge before a jury found her guilty.  In the winter of 1790-91 Lewis Robards of Kentucky (orig-

   JACKSON'S WIFE 59

inally part of Virginia), the husband of the beautiful and vivacious Rachael Donaldson, appeared before the Legislature of Virginia with a declaration to the effect that his wife, Rachael, had deserted him, and had lived in adultery with another man, to-wit, Andrew Jackson, attorney-at-law, whereupon the Legislature of Virginia passed an act entitled, "An act concerning the marriage of Lewis Robards," of which the following is a copy:
 

Section 1.  Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that it shall and may be lawful for Lewis Robards to sue out of the office of the Supreme Court of the District of Kentucky, a writ against Rachael Robards, which writ shall be framed by the clerk, and express the nature of the case, and shall be placed for eight weeks successively in the Kentucky Gazette; whereupon the plaintiff may file his declaration in the same cause, and the defendant may appear and plead to issue, in which case, or if she does not appear within two months after such publication, it may be set for trial by the clerk on some day in the succeeding court, but may, for good cause shown in the court, be continued until the term succeeding.

Section 2.  Commissions to take depositions and subpoenaes to summon witnesses shall issue as in other cases.

Section 3.  Notice of taking of depositions, published in the Kentucky Gazette, shall be sufficient.

Section 4.  A jury shall be summoned who shall be sworn, well and truly to inquire into the allegations contained in the declaration, or to try the issues joined, as the case may be, and shall find a verdict according to the usual mode; and if the jury, in case of issue joined, shall find for the plaintiff or

 

60 GENEALOGY OF THE ROBARDS FAMILY  


 
in case of inquiry into the truth of the allegations contained in the declaration, shall find substance, that the defendant hath deserted the plaintiff, and that she hath lived in adultery with another man since that desertion, the said verdict shall be recorded, and, therupon, the marriage between the said Lewis Robards and Rachel Robards shall be totally dissolved.

This application to the Legislature of Virginia was not made, it seems, without Jackson's knowledge, and as a lawyer, practicing in the courts of Kentucky and Virginia, he knew the natural process of the law.  If the charges were not true, ready as he afterward proved himself to be, to resent any insult to her, he certainly would have come forward and done her the justice to disprove the charge.  His partisans do not claim that he did not know of it, but, on the contrary, Jackson, supposing that the divorce had been granted, "married Rachael Donaldson in July, 1791."  (See miscellaneous.)

Meanwhile the Virginia Legislature passed the act as before mentioned (copied from their records).  It required then some time, the country being a wilderness with no mails established to convey the official notice to Kentucky and await the convening of the Supreme Court, to take depositions and serve notice, etc., all of which Jackson knew and had abundant time to defend the woman, for it was not until 1793, the April term of the Mercer Circuit Court, that the case was called and set for hearing in the June court.  This is a copy, the first which appears on the Mercer clerk's records.  Lewis Robards complains of Rachael Robards in custody, etc., of a plea of adultery, for this, to-wit:  "That, whereas,

   JACKSON'S WIFE 61

The said Rachael Robards on the ___ day of ___ in the year ___* was, in due form, according to law, united in the holy bonds of matrimony with the said Lewis Robards, nevertheless, the said Rachael, in violation of her most solemn promise did, on the ___ day of July, in the year 1790, elope from her husband, said Lewis, and live in adultery with another man, and still continues with the adulterer.  Therefore, the said Lewis prays that the said marriage between said Rachael and Lewis may be dissolved according to an act of the Assembly in that case made and provided.

"J. BROWN."
(This John Brown, Lewis Robards' attorney, was at that time a distinguished lawyer and was afterward the first representative of Kentucky in the United States Senate.)

Right here is a descrepancy in Overton's story and court records which show that she eloped from her husband in in July, 1790, while Overton represents her as living with her husband at her mother's in Nashville, in the fall of 1790 and early in 1791, and as going to Natchez with Jackson and the Starks, while in point of fact she had eloped in July, 1790.  This record also settles the manner of her leaving.

On account of the absent witnesses the suit was not over until the September court, third day, as the following paper copied from the records shows:
 

The Commonwealth of Kentucky, to the sheriff of Mercer county, greeting:  You are hereby commanded to summon Hugh McGarey and John Cowan, to appear before the justice of our court of quarter sessions at the court house, to testify and the truth to say in behalf of Lewis Robards in a certain matter of controversy in our said court, depending



*Rachael DONALDSON/DONELSON was married to Capt. Lewis ROBARDS  on 1 Mar 1785 in Lincoln Co., VA [now KY].
62 GENEALOGY OF THE ROBARDS FAMILY  


 
 
and undetermined between the said Lewis Robards, plaintiff, and Rachael Robards, defendant, and this they shall in nowise omit, under penalty of $100 each, and have then and there these witnesses.
THOMAS ALLEN,
Clerk of said court, at the court house, August 6, 1793.

As the law required the due notification of Rachael Robards, and she made no answer, the jury bringing the verdict, of which the following is a copy:
 

We, the jury, do find that the defendant, Rachael Robards, both deserted her husband, the plaintiff, Lewis Robards, and hath and doth still live in adultery with another man.
JOHN LIGHTFOOT.

The following transcript from the records of Mercer county, Kentucky, shows the final results of this proceeding.
 

At the court of Quarter Sessions held for Mercer county at the court house in Harrodsburg on the 27th day of September, 1793, this day came the plaintiff, by his attorney, and thereupon came a jury, to-wit: James Bradbury, Thomas Smith, Gabriel Slaughter, John Lightfoot, Samuel Work, Harrison Davis, John Ray, Obediah Wright, John Mills, John Means, Joseph Thomas, and Benjamin Sanders, who, being elected, tried and sworn, well and truly to inquire into the allegation in plaintiff's declaration, specified, upon oath, so say that the defendant, Rachael Robards, hath and doth still live in adultery with another man, it is therefore considered by the court that the marriage between the plaintiff and defendant is dissolved.

Thus ended this celebrated case.  Jackson had been living with her as his wife over two years when

   JACKSON'S WIFE 63

it was closed.  They never were heard from in regard to it while it was pending, and never would have been heard from again if he had never become a great man with the eyes of the nation upon him.  That Jackson, a lawyer, did not know of or keep track of the proceedings, is preposterous.  Yet, Overton states that at the end of two years Jackson was surprised to learn that it had just been decided, and upon his suggestion was again married publicly.

Near Natchez, Mississippi, there used to stand a ruined log hut, which was pointed out to strangers as the spot where they had spent their honeymoon.  This was no doubt the spot to which he carried her when they first ran away, for she was kept in a "place of safety," says one historian, until after "Robards" applied for a divorce.
 

Over thirty years they lived together quietly and without question, perfectly unconcerned about the irregularity of their union, so far as any one knew, until he was put forward as the candidate of the Democratic party for president, when this episode of his private life was brought forward by the Whigs, and it became necessary for his friends to put as good a face upon the matter as could be made, then disregarding the well known facts of the case and records of the courts, they proceeded to justify the conduct of Jackson and his wife by villifying her wronged husband, whose home Jackson had destroyed by the alienation of the affections of his wife and robbing him of her.  His own sensitiveness concerning the good name of his wife is the strongest proof which can be brought to the weakness of his cause.  He was well aware of the inconsistencies of the explanation concerning their marriage, and by way of
64 GENEALOGY OF THE ROBARDS FAMILY  


 
 
strengthening it kept his pistol ready for any person who questioned it, his readiness to defend her was chivalrous heroic, but painful in its results.  Dickenson, a prominent young lawyer, was killed by him, his friends freely admit, because he committed the unpardonable sin of speaking disrespectfully of Mrs. Jackson's past life.  His beautiful young wife, to whom he bade a fond goodbye in the early dawn, promising to return soon, was widowed a few hours later by a pistorl shot from Andrew Jackson for this cause.  It is said that he regretted this more than any act of his life, and well he might, for in his heart of hearts he knew that Dickerson was justified in criticising this indiscretion of their youth.  Mrs. Jackson died before inauguration only a few days, of a broken heart, it was said certianly of heart disease.  It was fortunate for her and the nation, for she could not have presided at the White House without serious social complications.  Luckily, also, there were no descendants of this ill-starred union.  Capt. Lewis Robards, several years after obtaining the divorce, was married to a very handsome and estimable lady of Jefferson county, Kentucky, with whom he lived happily to a good old age, and their descendants may be found occupying positions of honor and trust in various parts of the country, in Kentucky and Missouri chiefly.
(The writer of this article is unknown.)
Transcriber's note:  In point of fact, Capt. Lewis ROBARDS married his second wife, Hannah Withers WINN, in Jefferson Co., KY, on 29 Dec 1792, nearly a year before his divorce from Rachael DONALDSON was final.
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