Born in present-day Halifax County, Virginia, Rachael was the daughter of Colonel John Donelson, a surveyor and member of the House of Burgesses, and Rachel Stockley-Donelson. She moved with her family to Tennessee and later to Kentucky. Although a dowdy, forlorn figure in middle age, famous for smoking a corncob pipe, she was in her youth a comely, vivacious creature very popular with men.
At 18, she married Colonel Lewis Robards of a prominent Mercer County, Kentucky family. His jealousy of a young boarder named Peyton Short, though, made him impossible for her to live with and they separated in 1790. Despite her pleas of innocence, he ordered her to return to her family (now in Tennessee) until he called for her. Soon after she had rejoined her mother, now a widow, near Nashville, Andrew Jackson arrived as a boarder at the Donelson's. Eventually they fell in love. Nevertheless, when Robards came to Nashville to reclaim his wife, Rachael dutifully returned with him to Kentucky. She soon learned, however, that he had not curbed his rages of jealousy. Told of her unhappiness, Jackson raced to Kentucky and rescued her.
In December 1790, Robards told her that he had filed for divorce with the state legislature and the divorce was final (Robards had actually asked the legislature to pass an enabling act permitting him to sue for a divorce). Andrew Jackson married Rachael Donelson-Robards in August 1791 at Natchez, Mississippi. They were both aged 24.
This marriage was later deemed invalid, because Rachael's divorce had not yet become final. They remarried, this time legally, on January 17, 1794. Unfortunately their remarriage did not end the matter. The charge of adultery was to haunt the couple thereafter.
Andrew Jackson was devoted to his wife Rachael. He fought 13 duels to protect her honor, and even killed one opponent, Charles Dickinson. On October 1, 1803 he challenged John "Nolichucky Jack" Sevier (the first governor of Tennessee) to a duel after Sevier had dishonored Rachel by saying "I know of no services you have rendered to this country other than taking a trip to Natchez with another man's wife!".
In 1809 Andrew and Rachael Jackson legally adopted one of her nephews (one of the twin boys recently born to Mr. and Mrs. Severn Donelson). They named him Andrew Jackson, Jr.
During the 1828 presidential campaign, the press found out about the premature marriage, and accused Rachel of adultery, attacking her mercilessly. Although Jackson tried to keep such reports from his wife, who had a history of heart trouble, she heard enough to realize that her past was being raked up in the national press. At least in part as a result of her anguish, she grew ill and died suddenly of a heart attack on December 22, 1828, two weeks after her husband's victory in the election, but prior to his inauguration. Over 10,000 people attended her funeral. Rachel Jackson was buried on Christmas Eve in her white inauguration gown.
 See also
- White House biography
- Brands, H.W. (2005). Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-50738-0.