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Andrew Jackson: Stealing Rachel
February 7, 2011
by William P. Meyers

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Andrew Jackson would grow up to be a President of the United States of America and the founder of the Democratic Party.

Continued from Andrew Jackson: Gaming in North Carolina

In 1788 Andrew Jackson turned 21 on March 15, thus becoming old enough to vote. His connections amongst the rich slaver owners of North Carolina had served him well. Although only recently admitted to the practice of law, he was headed to the tiny village of Nashville, Tennessee with his friend Judge John McNairy to take up the lucrative office of attorney general. Yet the violence-prone child warrior had funny ideas about the conduct of lawyers. Stopping over in Jonesborough he took a client. The opposing lawyer, Waightstill Avery, mocked Jackson's argumentation. Jackson then, in open court, accused Avery of taking illegal fees. When Avery shouted the accusation was false, Jackson in turn challenged Avery to a duel.

We do not know of anyone Andrew killed in childhood. He certainly fired arms in the general direction of Tory militia and British soldiers, but doubtless would have boasted if he had thought one of his bullets had hit its mark. That he thought nothing of trying to kill an elderly lawyer shows he was a sociopath.

In the end, after negotiating, the duel took place, but both parties fired into the air [other versions of the story circulate still]. Andrew Jackson would have to wait longer for his first (known) kill.

Having bought himself a black slave girl for $200, Andrew Jackson crossed the Cumberland range and made Nashville in September of 1788. The town had, in addition to its 18-foot square courthouse, two taverns, two stores and a distillery.

"Debtors ... had banded together to run the town. Andrew Jackson espoused the cause of the creditors." Soon the poor were miserable and the rich triumphant. Andrew took residence with the Donelsons, and also took up with Rachel Donelson Robards, the wife of Captain Robards, who, admittedly, had ordered his wife out of his own household. But Robards returned to live with Rachel and the Donelsons, and became suspicious of Jackson. Jackson challenged him to a duel, which, if it happened, wounded no one. In the end Jackson eloped with Rachel.

Western North Carolina had opposed the new U.S. Constitution, and Jackson, like many leaders of what was still the western frontier, considered throwing in with Spain. Already in 1789 he was prospering from legal fees enough to buy a large tract of land above Natchez (then occupied by Spain) where he built a log cabin and a horse-racing track. He did some slave trading, too, before returning to Nashville for the 1790 court term. "The revenue from his law business regularly went into deals in land and sometimes in slaves."

When North Carolina did sign on to the new Constitution it wrecked westerners' plans for joining Spain. Jackson took an oath of allegiance to the United States on December 15, 1790, thus insuring he kept his job as attorney-general. He continued his threats against Captain Robards, with conflicting stories that nevertheless agree that at one point Jackson was arrested. He may have had to post a bond, pledging to keep the peace. He then accompanied Rachel to Natchez, a dangerous trip at the time. Robards, meanwhile, petitioned for a divorce.

Andrew Jackson married Rachel Donelson some time in August, 1791, near Natchez. Because they were in Spanish territory, a Catholic priest conducted the ceremony.

In October 1791, the married couple returned to Nashville, where Andrew Jackson continued his career of law, crime, land speculation, slave trading, cockfighting, and horse racing. He was 24 years old.

Next: Andrew Jackson Gets Rich

Main source: The Life of Andrew Jackson by Marquis James, Bobbs-Merrill company, 1938.

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