Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Jackson's Marriage at Springfield Plantation

One of the best known presidental love stories is that of Andrew and Rachel Jackson. The website Rachel and Andrew Jackson: A Love Story shares information about their devotion to one another. During the day Andrew Jackson carried a minature portrait of Rachel and at night he placed a portrait of her on his bedside table. The website also shares an exchange of letters between the couple when Andrew Jackson was off serving his country during the War of 1812. Rachel Jackson wrote, “Do not my beloved husband let the love of country, fame, and honor make you forget you have me.”

One of the reasons the Jackson love story is so poignant is the circumstances of their marriage and subsequent remarriage in Nashville in 1794. During the 1828 election the confusion surrounding Rachel’s first marrage and divorce was played out in the press. Rachel Jackson was called many things and branded a scarlet woman. Once Jackson was elected she was afraid of what she might have to endure from the Washington social set. Unfortunately she never had to face further criticism because she passed away before Jackson was sworn in making the story even more tragic.

The homeplace for Andrew Jackson, The Hermitage, advises Rachel Jackson’s mother sent her to Natchez, Mississippi to visit friends following her supposed divorce from Lewis Robards. However, we now know it might not have been that simple since the divorce was not final when Rachel Donelson and Andrew Jackson were married in Natchez, Mississippi in 1791.

No matter which source you examine one thing is for sure….most don’t agree on who knew what and when did they know it. Some say Rachel did go to Natchez at her mother’s request while others state Jackson actually took Rachel to get her away from an abusive situation with the first husband. Jennie posted about the Jackson’s marriage/divorce status earlier this year here at American Presidents Blog referring to an excellent article by Ann Toplovich.

What many sources never mention including The Hermitage site are the names of the people Rachel and Andrew Jackson knew in Natchez, Mississippi, and the location of the original wedding.

During a recent trip to Natchez, Mississippi I uncovered the following….

In the summer of 1789 Jackson travelled to Natchez, Mississippi, and some sources report he took an allegiance to the King of Spain. At the time Natchez was still under the Spanish control.. By giving his allegiance Jackson was afforded the right to trade, citizenship, and most importantly he could receive land grants. In fact, Jackson owned some type of merchant business in Bruinsburgh, Mississippi near the mouth of Bayou Pierre in Claibourne County. There was also a race track nearby where Jackson spent considerable time. Some sources state he received shipments of slaves from his partner in Nashville and sold them to nearby planters. Sometimes he carried the slaves to nearby Louisiana when he could get a better price. It would have been during this time he met many of the planters in and around Natchez.

Two researchers, Robert Remini and Andrew Burstein both agree that Jackson carried Rachel Donelson to Natchez in 1790 to provoke the divorce from Lewis Robards. They ended up at the plantation of Thomas Marston Green, Jr. called Springfield Plantation. The story goes that Rachel and Andrew were married at Springfield Plantation in 1791 though no record of the marriage exists. The Green family had arrived in Natchez from Virginia along with several other Virginia families who set out to make new plantation claims in the Mississippi Delta region.

Many defenders of Andrew and Rachel Jackson use the Green family as their evidence that every action of the Jacksons was above board and everything was an honest mistake because the family had a stellar reputation regarding the company they kept. Rachel’s family, however, was connected to the Green family since two of her neices were married to Green family members. It has been documented that Rachel might have spent at least fifteen months at Springfield Plantation as well as Second Creek, a nearby plantation owned by Thomas Green’s bother, Abner.

Besides the infamous site of Andrew and Rachel Jackson’s first marriage Springfield also boasts Georgian-Adam-Federal woodwork and hand carved mantels. It is one of the earliest plantation homes built in the Delta region and can boast as one of the first houses in America with a full colonnade across the front. The entry room is large for homes of the time period and there is no formal staircase. An enclosed stairway leads directly into the only guest room in the house. This would be the room Rachel and Andrew Jackson stayed in as their honeymoon suite. Can you imagine the rest of family and the servants having to trapse through your honeymoon room on their way to the rest of the upstairs level? It doesn’t sound very romantic even if the marriage was properly performed or not.

Today, this very historic home is privately owned by the Williams family of St. Louis, but tours are given daily. Two hundred acres still remain intact with the property and it is still a working plantation with a restored slavequarter structure that can be reached by a short walk down the “quarter road”. Two very different tour experiences can be seen here and here complete with pictures.

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