NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Andrew Jackson loved his home so much that he chose to be buried there with his beloved wife Rachel. Some say that the man known as “Old Hickory” still keeps watch over his Tennessee plantation.
The Hermitage is preserved today almost as it was during the days of the man who became an American icon. Built between 1819 and 1821, the home has almost all its original furnishings including the wallpaper, which dates to the early 1800s. Today, the site is a popular shore excursion for riverboat passengers.
Jackson was born March 15, 1767, on the South Carolina border. His father died in a logging accident before Jackson was born and the family had to move in with relatives in order to survive. Both of his brothers died in the Revolutionary War and his mother died when Jackson was 14. The penniless youth tried his hand at the saddlery trade and school teaching but was drawn toward the law and became a lawyer in 1787.
Then he came to Nashville and found his future.
Staying in a boarding house, Jackson fell in love with the owner’s daughter, 21-year-old Rachel Donelson Robards who was trying to deal with a rocky marriage. Believing that her husband Lewis Robards had obtained a divorce, three years later Rachel and Andrew were married.
Then they found out that Robards hadn’t gotten a divorce after all. They were legally remarried in 1794 but the scandal plagued them the rest of their lives.
Jackson’s political star rose quickly and the 37-year-old Jackson bought the Hermitage property outside Nashville during this time. The War of 1812 gave Jackson a chance to rack up a string of victories that gained him a reputation as the country’s foremost commander in the field.
Then came the Battle of New Orleans. In 1814, Jackson and his ragtag army marched into New Orleans against the British. The British suffered more than 2,000 casualties. The Americans reported fewer than 20.
The victory confirmed the Louisiana Purchase, led to the acquisition of Florida, lent respect to the Monroe Doctrine and created a healthy regard for America’s independence. The victory also made General Jackson an instant legend and propelled him toward the White House.
But his past came back to haunt him – and eventually claimed his wife. The 1828 presidential campaign set a record for mud slinging and name-calling. The worst attacks in the campaign were those on Rachel’s reputation, accusations of adultery and bigamy that hurt Jackson and his ailing wife.
Jackson won the election, of course, but Rachel never lived to be in the White House. Rachel died three weeks before the inauguration.
On Dec. 22, 1828, Rachel suffered a massive heart attack. Jackson blamed his wife’s death on the nasty campaign of 1828 and the stress of the imminent move to Washington. On Christmas Eve, Jackson laid Rachel to rest in her white inaugural gown in the garden at the Hermitage, surrounded by weeping willows.
Shrouded in grief, Jackson then made his way to Washington. For the next eight years, through two tempestuous terms in office, Jackson made his mark on the presidency and the nation.
In 1837, Jackson at last retired to the Hermitage at the age of 70. While in the White House, Jackson had a permanent temple made of limestone created for his wife’s grave and his own. The structure resembled a Greek-style gazebo.
Lines from the epitaph he chose for her tombstone describes “a being so gentle and so virtuous slander might wound but could not dishonor.”
Every day, he visited Rachel’s grave. He missed his wife so much that he had a painting of her put in his bedroom so that she would be the last thing he saw at night and the first thing he saw in the morning.
On June 8, 1845, the 78-year-old Jackson finally joined his wife in death. The former president died of kidney failure and was buried beside his beloved Rachel in the Hermitage garden.
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch