Born near Chatham, Virginia, Rachel Donelson was the daughter of Colonel John Donelson, cofounder of Nashville, Tennessee. At the age of seventeen she married Captain Lewis Robards, a Kentucky landowner, but the marriage ended in 1790. Donelson then married Andrew Jackson, who had migrated to Nashville in 1788. Although Donelson believed her previous husband had obtained a divorce, he had not done so, thus rendering her second marriage bigamous and, hence, invalid in 1793. Changing governmental authorities complicated matters, but after Robards was granted a divorce in 1794, the Jacksons remarried.
After residing at Poplar Grove from 1792 to 1796, the Jacksons acquired the Hermitage in 1804. The 640-acre plantation in Davidson County, Tennessee, grew cotton cultivated by enslaved persons. The 1819 Federal-style house was surrounded by a one-acre formal garden with four quadrants and circular center beds designed by a Philadelphia gardener William Frost. Jackson, being an avid gardener, continued to expand and improve Frost’s design of the landscape, redesigning it several times and populating it with germaniums, daisies, wallflowers, and polyanthus acquired from Cincinnati in 1825. Her husband’s presidential campaigns made him the target of libel, with John Quincy Adams alleging that she was an adulteress. Such public slander caused Jackson to sink into a deep depression, which was further worsened by the death of her adopted son, Lyncoya Jackson, in 1828. Already suffering from ill health for several years, Jackson finally succumbed to a heart condition. She was buried on the grounds of the Hermitage, where her tomb is distinguished by a Grecian monument.