Let’s be honest – this is a great book to read for Andrew Jackson’s birthday, because there was nothing and no one Jackson obsessed over more than his wife, Rachel. Rachel Jackson was extremely influential as a First Lady even though she didn’t live long enough to wield that title properly, and this is the first legit biography I’ve seen of her. I already know the love story of Rachel and Andrew is NUTS, so this is gon’ be gud.
A Being So Gentle: The Frontier Love Story of Rachel and Andrew Jackson
Author: Patricia Brady
Last year for March, I read the definitive Robert Remini biographical trilogy on Andrew Jackson. This year, I’m branching out a bit more and looking at a couple people associated with his presidency. Rachel Jackson was incredibly important to Andrew, and she should have been more important to the people he killed in defense of her virtue and honor. She was a quick-witted lady and skilled with running her husband’s plantation (God knows Jackson wasn’t terribly good at keeping money in his pockets), and she’s very underestimated in terms of historical importance.
A biography of her is inevitably going to be hard to write, though, because most of her writings were destroyed in a tragic house fire that occurred years after her death. Moreso than other ladies of her era, she must be discovered through secondary sources and other people’s eyes. That’s part of why I’m excited to see what historian Patricia Brady was able to dredge up.
I was very pleased with how Brady teased Rachel out of the few surviving documents about Rachel. She did have to make a lot of suppositions based off what other people said about her in letters or based off some of the letters Andrew Jackson apparently wrote in response to her lost writings.
One thing I was interested in was how far the both of them went in order to please the other. It is apparent that Andrew Jackson’s absences from home in order to murder the British and the Indians distressed his wife, but she also wrote letters and sent out dispatches to preserve his character while he was out. Unlike a lot of men (especially wealthy ones at the time), it seems Jackson did not abandon his wife for mistresses due to old age, weight, or unstylishness (because she worked the farm, she was tanned, at the time a big no-no).
Brady did a pretty good job teasing the life of a very reclusive person from the shadows of her husband’s popularity. Even so, it was very apparent that little direct information about Rachel survives, and much of the story was told with her husband in mind.
5/5 Discoball Snowcones
I don’t think there’s much spoilers to be had in a historical book. I will say, however, that a few passages delighted me.
One was the passage in which Brady spoke of evidence the Jacksons were seeking fertility advice. That wasn’t something you really spoke of in those days, and the fact Jackson himself bought the books shows the level of distress they – and probably Rachel, especially – had over their childlessness.
Another interesting tidbit was about Andrew Jackson’s feud with John Sevier in the early 1800’s. This book had the added story about how Rachel didn’t want him to fulfill his duties as judge in eastern Tennessee, Sevier’s stronghold, but he went anyway and got very sick. A man came to warn him about a posse set to tar and feather Andrew. He advised Andrew to lock his door and hold up. Andrew got out of bed, went outside, and threatened the crowd which subsequently dispersed.
The book went into detail about how worried Rachel got over this issue, and it was intriguing how involved she was with Andrew’s exploits. He often wrote to her in pretty gruesome detail about all the murdering, and she’d reply with, “Oh, I love you, stay safe, I’ll pray for you,” and stuff like that.
I found their loyalty endearing.
I am excited to say my library FINALLY got a copy of American Lion, which is famous because it was written by John Meacham. I doubt it’s as thorough as Remini’s definitive work, but it’s an extremely popular and more modern analysis of Jackson! Stick around to see if I like that!