Magazine article American Forests

The Tree That Remembers a President's Lost Love

Magazine article American Forests

The Tree That Remembers a President's Lost Love

Article excerpt

If you have an "old" $20 bill in your pocket, take a good look at the engraving of the White House on the back. To the left of the rear portico stands a magnificent magnolia. President Andrew Jackson planted it in 1828, and it has a very romantic-- and tragic-history to tell.

Despite living the rough and tumble life of a military man during his younger years, Andrew Jackson (nicknamed "Old Hickory" for his tough reputation during the War of 1812's Battle of New Orleans) was known as a person of scrupulous morals and honor where women were concerned. When he fell in love, he fell hard.

Rachel Donelson was one of 11 children born to Colonel John Donelson (the founder of Nashville, Tennessee) and his wife. A beautiful and lively young woman, Rachel married Lewis Robards, the son of a wealthy Kentucky family and a man with an abusive temper. When Robards caught Rachel in "lively conversation" with a young lawyer who was boarding at the Robards' mansion, he banished her from the house, despite protests from Rachel, the lawyer, and Robards' own mother.

Back with her family in Tennessee, the distraught Rachel caught the eye of young Andrew Jackson, who was boarding with her family. When Robards came to take Rachel back, he accused Jackson of stealing her affections. His verbal attacks were so abusive they left both Rachel and her mother in tears. Jackson argued with Robards, who returned in fury to Kentucky.

When Rachel, fearing for her life, decided to flee to Mississippi, Jackson offered to accompany her to safety. Robards accused her of running off with Jackson; he petitioned (and was granted) a right to divorce by the Virginia/Kentucky Congress.

Rachel's mother was certain General Jackson would be furious to bear his name dragged through the mud. Instead, upon hearing Robards' slanders (by all accounts there had never even been an appearance of impropriety between Andrew and Rachel), he offered to marry her. Her mother was profoundly grateful, reportedly asking. "You would sacrifice your life to save my child's good name?" to which he replied, "Ten thousand lives, Madam, if I had them."

By now, Andrew and Rachel were truly in love and were married in Nachez, Mississippi. (They later discovered Robards had never actually gone through with divorce proceedings. …

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