Andrew Jackson moved to Nashville in October 1788 as a 21-year old man to practice law, having received his license in North Carolina. In 1788, Nashville was in western North Carolina (with Tennessee not achieving statehood until 1796). He boarded with the widow of one of the founders of Nashville, Mrs. John Donelson. Mrs. Donelson’s daughter Rachel was visiting her mother, and Andrew and Rachel hit it off almost immediately. They both liked good stories and jokes, and Rachel was apparently pretty fun to be around. Problem was, her name was more specifically Rachel Donelson Robards – she was married to a man named Lewis Robards. Now this was not a happy marriage, Robards was the jealous type and did not like the way Rachel and Andrew talked and looked at each other.
Robards accused them of having an affair, and said he was going to get a divorce, which was much more difficult to obtain in the 1790's (this was 1791). The state legislature where you got married were the ones to grant divorces and Kentucky, where the Robards lived, was part of Virginia at that time. That meant that Lewis Robards had to petition the Virginia Legislature in Richmond to obtain a divorce. Rachel traveled to stay with friends near Natchez, Mississippi and at some point Andrew Jackson also went to Natchez. After returning to Nashville they began living as Andrew and Rachel Jackson. They found out Robards’ divorce petition had been granted…in 1794. Rachel had been married to two men at the same time for three years.
Now, this wasn't as scandalous at the time as it was made out to be by the 1828 presidential election. The legalities of marriages and divorces were much more difficult to carry out on the frontier. John Eaton, who would become Jackson’s Secretary of War, made the point that, if the public thought the marriage was as sinister as they were led to believe, there is no way Jackson would ever have been appointed as Tennessee’s first congressman, much less the Major-General of the state militia.
They were utterly devoted to each other, continually writing letters. When Rachel passed away, Jackson was heartbroken. He wore a miniature portrait of Rachel around his neck and visited her grave every afternoon while at The Hermitage.