Genealogy Trails

Obituaries of the First Ladies


Rachel Donelson Jackson
The Adams Sentinel (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) January 21 1829
[Transcribed by Nancy Piper]

Rachel Jackson
Nashville, Tenn. Dec. 26. --
The death of Mrs. Jackson, consort of General Andrew Jackson, which we hastilyannounced in our paper on Tuesday last, came upon our community like an electric shock. Arrangements had been madeby the citizens of Nashville for a public dinner and a ballon Tuesday, in honor of the General, and he was expectedin town that morning, to receive the congratulations of his friends, and to partake with them a parting glass,preparatory to his departure for the seat of the national government. On Thursday preceding, Mrs. Jackson was attackedwith severe pain in the arm, shoulder and side, and violent palpitation of the heart. Medical assistance howeversoon afforded her relief, and no serious result was apprehended. On Monday she again complained of pain, and slightfever returned, but in the evening about 9 o’clock, when the physician visited her, she appeared relieved, andwas free from pain. No alarming symptoms appeared, nor was it then supposed that her indisposition would be sogreat as to interfere with the arrangements of the next day. In about half an hour, however she sent for the physician,who was in an adjoining room, and before he could reach her, she fell from her chair, and expired in less thantwo minutes. The immediate cause of this awful event is supposed to have been a sudden spasmodic affection of theheart. The funeral took place on Wednesday, and was attended by an immense crowd from Nashville and the surroundingcountry.

Most sincerely do we sympathize with our distinguished fellow citizen in this severe and trying affliction. Atthe moment of his high elevation, he is suddenly depressed and cast down. His hope are disappointed, his plansderanged. Just as he is about to feel the weight of new cares, responsibilities and duties, he is deprived of thatdomestic solace, which he had been so long accustomed to enjoy, and is left, solitary as it were, in the midstof society, to enter upon the new theatre of action, where he had fondly anticipated the sharing of his honorsand pleasures and anxieties with the much loved partner of his bosom. This in indeed a great and sudden reverse,and affords a striking lesson of the uncertainty of human happiness, a forcible illustration of the mixture ofalloy with the richest and purest of human enjoyments. -- Banner

Rachel (Donelson) [Robards] Jackson
The Wife of Andrew Jackson

Rachel Donelson was the maiden name of General Jackson's wife. She was born in Virginia, in the year 1767, and lived in Virginia until she was eleven years of age. Her father, Colonel John Donelson, was a planter and land surveyor, who possessed considerable wealth in land, cattle, and slaves. He was one of those hardy pioneers who were never content unless they were living away out in the woods, beyond the verge of civilization. Accordingly, in 1779, we find him near the headwaters of the Tennessee River, with all his family, bound for the western parts of Tennessee, with a river voyage of two thousand miles before him.

Seldom has a little girl of eleven years shared in so perilous an adventure. The party started in the depth of a severe winter, and battled for two months with the ice before it had fairly begun the descent of the Tennessee. But, in the spring, accompanied by a considerable fleet of boats, the craft occupied by John Donelson and his family floated down the winding stream more rapidly. Many misfortunes befell them. Sometimes a boat would get aground and remain immovable till its whole cargo was landed. Sometimes a boat was dashed against a projecting point and sunk. One man died of his frozen feet; two children were born. On board one boat, containing twenty-eight persons, the small-pox raged. As this boat always sailed at a certain distance behind the rest, it was attacked by Indians, who captured it, killed all the men, and carried off the women and children. The Indians caught the small-pox, of which some hundreds died in the course of the season.

But during this voyage, which lasted several months, no misfortune befell the boat of Colonel Donelson; and he and his family, including his daughter Rachel, arrived safely at the site of the present city of Nashville, near which he selected his land, built his log house, and established himself. Never has a settlement been so infested with hostile Indians as this. When Rachel Donelson, with her sisters and young friends, went blackberrying, a guard of young men, with their rifles loaded and cocked, stood guard over the surrounding thickets while the girls picked the fruit. It was not safe for a man to stoop over a spring to drink unless some one else was on the watch with his rifle in his arms; and when half a dozen men stood together, in conversation, they turned their backs to each other, all facing different ways, to watch for a lurking savage.
So the Donelsons lived for eight years, and gathered about them more negroes, more cattle, and more horses than any other household in the settlement. During one of the long winters, when a great tide of emigration had reduced the stock of corn, and threatened the neighborhood with famine, Colonel Donelson moved to Kentucky with all his family and dependents, and there lived until the corn crop at Nashville was gathered. Rachel, by this time, had grown to be a beautiful and vigorous young lady, well skilled in all the arts of the back-woods, and a remarkably bold and graceful rider. She was a plump little damsel, with the blackest hair and eyes, and of a very cheerful and friendly disposition. During the temporary residence of her father in Kentucky she gave her hand and heart to one Lewis Robards, and her father returned to Nashville without her.

Colonel Donelson soon after, while in the woods surveying far from his home, fell by the hand of an assassin. He was found pierced by bullets; but whether they were fired by red savages or by white was never known. To comfort her mother in her loneliness, Rachel and her husband came to Nashville and lived with her, intending, as soon as the Indians were subdued, to occupy a farm of their own.

In the year 1788, Andrew Jackson, a young lawyer from, North Carolina, arrived at Nashville to enter upon the practice of his profession, and went to board with Mrs. Donelson. He soon discovered that Mrs. Rachel Robards lived most unhappily with her husband, who was a man of violent temper and most jealous disposition. Young Jackson had not long resided in the family before Mr. Robards began to be jealous of him, and many violent scenes took place between them. The jealous Robards at length abandoned his wife, and went off to his old home in Kentucky, leaving Jackson master of the field.
A rumor soon after reached the place that Robards had procured a divorce from his wife in the legislature of Virginia; soon after which Andrew Jackson and Rachel Donelson were married. The rumor proved to be false, and they lived together for two years before a divorce was really granted, at the end of which time they were married again. This marriage, though so inauspiciously begun, was an eminently happy one, although, out of doors, it caused the irascible Jackson a great deal of trouble. The peculiar circumstances attending the marriage caused many calumnies to be uttered and printed respecting Mrs. Jackson, and some of the bitterest quarrels which the general ever had, had their origin in them.

At home, however, he was one of the happiest of men. His wife was an excellent manager of a household and a kind mistress of slaves. She had a remarkable memory, and delighted to relate anecdotes and tales of the early settlement of the country. Daniel Boone had been one of her father's friends, and she used to recount his adventures and escapes. Her abode was a seat of hospitality, and she well knew how to make her guests feel at home. It used to be said in Tennessee that she could not write; but, as I have had the pleasure of reading nine letters in her own handwriting, one of which was eight pages long, I presume I have a right to deny the imputation. It must be confessed, however, that the spelling was exceedingly bad, and that the writing was so much worse as to be nearly illegible. If she was ignorant of books, she was most learned in the lore of the forest, the dairy, the kitchen, and the farm. I remember walking about a remarkably fine spring that gushed from the earth near where her dairy stood, and hearing one of her colored servants say that there was nothing upon the estate which she valued so much as that spring. She grew to be a stout woman, which made her appear shorter than she really was. Her husband, on the contrary, was remarkably tall and slender; so that when they danced a reel together, which they often did, with all the vigor of the olden time, the spectacle was extremely curious.

It was a great grief to both husband and wife that they had no children, and it was to supply this want in their household that they adopted one of Mrs. Donelson's nephews, and named him Andrew Jackson. This boy was the delight of them both as long as they lived.

Colonel Benton, who knew Mrs. Jackson well and long, has recorded his opinion of her in the following forcible language:
"A more exemplary woman in all the relations of life - wife, friend, neighbor, relation, mistress of slaves-never lived, and never presented a more quiet, cheerful, and admirable management of her household. She had the general's own warm heart, frank manners, and admirable temper; and no two persons could have been better suited to each other, lived more happily together, or made a house more attractive to visitors. No bashful youth or plain old man, whose modesty sat them down at the lower end of the table, could escape her cordial attention, any more than the titled gentlemen at her right and left. Young persons were her delight, and she always had her house filled with them, all calling her affectionately 'Aunt Rachel.'"

In the homely fashion of the time, she used to join her husband and guests in smoking a pipe after dinner and in the evening. There are now living many persons who well remember seeing her smoking by her fireside a long reed pipe.

When General Jackson went forth to fight in the war of 1812, he was still living in a log house of four rooms; and this house is now standing on his beautiful farm ten miles from Nashville. I used to wonder, when walking about it, how it was possible for Mrs. Jackson to accommodate so many guests as we know she did. But a hospitable house, like a Third-Avenue car, is never full, and in that mild climate the young men could sleep on the piazza or in the corn-crib, content if their mothers and sisters had the shelter of the house. It was not until long after the general's return from the wars that he built, or could afford to build, the large brick mansion which he named the "Hermitage." The visitor may still see in that commodious house the bed on which this happy pair slept and died, the furniture they used, and the pictures upon which they were accustomed to look. In the hall of the second story there is still preserved the huge chest in which Mrs. Jackson used to stow away the woolen clothes of the family in the summer, to keep them from the moths. Around the house are the remains of the fine garden of which she used to be so proud, and, a little beyond, are the cabins of the hundred and fifty slaves to whom she was more a mother than a mistress.

A few weeks after the battle of New Orleans, when her husband was in the first flush of his triumph, this plain planter's wife floated down the Mississippi to New Orleans to visit her husband and to accompany him home. She had never seen a city before, for Nashville, at that day, was little more than a village. The elegant ladies of New Orleans were exceedingly pleased to observe that General Jackson, though he was himself one of the most graceful and polite of gentlemen, seemed totally unconscious of the homely bearing, the country manners, and awkward dress of his wife. In all companies and on all occasions he showed her every possible mark of respect. The ladies gathered about her and presented her with all sorts of showy knick-knacks and jewelry, and one of them undertook the task of selecting suitable clothes for her. She frankly confessed that she knew nothing about such things, and was willing to wear anything that the ladies thought proper. Much as she enjoyed her visit, I am sure she was glad enough to return to her old home on the banks of the Cumberland and resume her oversight of the daily and the plantation.

Soon after the peace, a remarkable change came over the spirit of this excellent woman. Parson Blackburn, as the general always called him, was a favorite preacher in that part of Tennessee, and his sermons made so powerful an impression upon Mrs. Jackson that she joined the Presbyterian Church, and was ever after devotedly religious. The general himself was almost persuaded to follow her example. He did not, however; but he testified his sympathy with his wife's feelings by building a church for her - a curious little brick edifice-on his own farm; the smallest church, I suppose, in the United States. Of all the churches I ever saw, this is the plainest and simplest in its construction. It looks like a very small schoolhouse; it has no steeple, no portico, and but one door; and the interior, which contains forty little pews, is unpainted, and the floor is of brick. On Sundays, the congregation consisted chiefly of the general, his family, and half a dozen neighbors, with as many negroes as the house would hold, and could see through the windows. It was just after the completion of this church that General Jackson made his famous reply to a young man who objected to the doctrine of future punishment.

"I thank God," said this youth, "I have too much good sense to believe there is such a place as hell."
"Well, sir," said General Jackson, "I thank God there is such a place."
"Why, general," asked the young man, " what do you want with such a place of torment as hell?"
To which the general replied, as quick as lightning: "To put such rascals as you are in, that oppose and vilify the Christian religion."
The young man said no more, and soon after found it convenient to take his leave.

Mrs. Jackson did not live to see her husband President of the United States, though she lived long enough to know that he was elected to that office. When the news was brought to her of her husband's election, in December, 1828, she quietly said:
"Well, for Mr. Jackson's sake" (she always called him Mr. Jackson), "I am glad; for my own part, I never wished it."

The people of Nashville, proud of the success of their favorite, resolved to celebrate the event by a great banquet on the 22d of December, the anniversary of the day on which the general had first defeated the British below New Orleans; and some of the ladies of Nashville were secretly preparing a magnificent wardrobe for the future mistress of the White House. Six days before the day appointed for the celebration, Mrs. Jackson, while busied about her household affairs in the kitchen of the Hermitage, suddenly shrieked, placed her hands upon her heart, sank upon a chair, and fell forward into the arms of one of her servants. She was carried to her bed, where, for the space of sixty hours, she suffered extreme agony, during the whole of which her husband never left her side for ten minutes. Then she appeared much better, and recovered the use of her tongue. This was only two days before the day of the festival, and the first use she made of her recovered speech was, to implore her exhausted husband to go to another room and sleep, so as to recruit his strength for the banquet. He would not leave her, however, but lay down upon a sofa and slept a little. The evening of the 22d she appeared to be so much better that the general consented, after much persuasion, to sleep in the next room, and leave his wife in the care of the doctor and two of his most trusted servants.

At nine o'clock he bade her good-night, went into the next room, and took off his coat, preparatory to lying down. "When he had been gone five minutes from her room, Mrs. Jackson, who was sitting up, suddenly gave a long, loud, inarticulate cry, which was immediately followed by the death-rattle in her throat. By the time her husband had reached her side she had breathed her last.

"Bleed her," cried the general. But no blood flowed from her arm.
"Try the temple, doctor."
A drop or two of blood stained her cap, but no more followed. Still, it was long before he would believe her dead, and when there could no longer be any doubt, and they were preparing a table upon which to lay her out, he cried, with a choking voice:

"Spread four blankets upon it; for if she does come to she will lie so hard upon the table."

All night long he sat in the room, occasionally looking into her face, and feeling if there was any pulsation in her heart. The next morning, when one of his friends arrived just before daylight, he was nearly speechless and utterly inconsolable, looking twenty years older.

There was no banquet that day in Nashville. On the morning of the funeral, the grounds were crowded with people, who saw, with emotion, the poor old general supported to the grave between two of his old friends, scarcely able to stand. The remains were interred in the garden of the Hermitage, in a tomb which the general had recently completed. The tablet which covers her dust contains the following inscription:
"Here lie the remains of Mrs. Rachel Jackson, wife of President Jackson, who died the 22d of December, 1828, aged 61. Her face was fair, her person pleasing, her temper amiable, her heart kind; she delighted in relieving the wants of her fellow creatures, and cultivated that divine pleasure by the most liberal and unpretending methods; to the poor she was a benefactor; to the rich an example; to the wretched a comforter; to the prosperous an ornament; her piety went hand in hand with her benevolence, and she thanked her Creator for being permitted to do good. A being so gentle and so virtuous, slander might wound but not dishonor. Even death, when he tore her from the arms of her husband, could but transport her to the bosom of her God."

Andrew Jackson was never the same man again. During his presidency, he never used the phrase: "By the Eternal," nor any other language which could be considered profane. He mourned his wife until he himself rejoined her in the tomb he had prepared for them both.
[Source: "People's Book of Biography", By James Parton, 1868 -- Submitted by Cathy Danielson]

Mary Todd Lincoln
Death of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln

Mrs. Lincoln, widow of the late president Lincoln, died in Springfield, Ill., at 8:15 o’clock Sunday night. She has been very ill for a long time. A few days ago she grew worse, and Saturday evening she suffered a stroke of paralysis, and from that time lay in a comatose state until she died. Robert Lincoln left Washington Sunday night and reached Springfield on Tuesday morning.
Mrs. Lincoln was a daughter of Hon. E. S. Todd, of Lexington, Ky., and was born December 31, 1818, in the neighborhood of Louisville, Ky. She was a woman of extreme good nature and was a loving wife and mother. She was known by her class of friends as an ambitious woman, and doubtless spurred on her husband to seize opportunities and advance himself that, had he been left alone, he would probably not have thought of. It is generally believed by her friends that her reason was seriously disturbed by the assassination of her husband. She was weighed down by woe, and the burden was greatly increased by the death of her youngest son, Tod. She became possessed of some very peculiar whims. Among others was the idea that she would suddenly come to want, and she could not be shaken in this belief, despite the fact that she had some $60,000, and was entirely free from debt. Another queer fancy she had was for accumulating window curtains, and while she was staying at a hotel in Chicago, without any idea of ever again living in a house of her own, she had piled up about her room over sixty pairs of window curtain. There were many other things which indicated insanity as far back as 1865.
[The Princeton Union (Princeton, MN), Thursday, July 20, 1882 - JD - Sub by FoFG]

Nashville, Tenn., Aug 14 – Surrounded by a few loving relatives and friends, Mrs. James K. Polk, relic of the tenth President of the United States, departed this life at 7:30 o'clock this morning, peacefully and quietly, in full possession of her mental faculties.
Mrs. Polk had been in perfect health until last Wednesday evening, when, returning from a short drive she was taken suddenly ill, from which she never rallied. Had she lived until the 4th day of September next she would have been 18 years beyond the three score years and ten allotted the human race. Her death was caused simply from exhaustion resulting from old age.
The bells through the city are mournfully tolling, and sympathy and regret are heard from the masses of the people as they gaze upon the bulletins announcing the demise of an honored and loved lady, who spent her years among the people she loved so well, and who respected her as one of the noblest of her sex.
Her death was truly that of a Christian. She sank gently to rest without a struggle. She was surrounded by the members of her family, and just before her death she called them up and placing her hand upon their heads, offered prayer and blessings.
Her remains will be laid in the vault beside those of her distinguished husband. The funeral takes place tomorrow. Mrs. Polk was 88 years old.
[Vernon Courier (Lamar County, AL), August 20, 1891 - Sub. by Veneta McKinney]

Lou Henry Hoover

Wife of Former President Expires in Few Moments After Heart Attack
New York, Jan. 8 (AP) – Mrs. Herbert Hoover, 68, wife of former President Hoover, died unexpectedly in their apartment in the Waldorf Towers tonight about 7 o’clock. Hoover was bidding her goodbye, preparatory to leaving for a dinner, when she was stricken with an acute heart attack and died a few minutes later. Apparently in her usual health, Mrs. Hoover had returned to the apartment only a short time before from a concert. The Hoovers' two sons, Allan Hoover of California, a rancher, and Herbert Hoover, Jr., a radio engineer, were notified of their mother’s death immediately. Dr. Ralph H. Boots, who had attended Mrs. Hoover for years, was called as soon as she was stricken. Her maiden name was Lou Henry, and she was the daughter of Charles D. Henry, a banker of Waterloo, IA. A spokesman for the family in announcing the death said there would be no further information forthcoming for the time being. Mrs. Hoover returned to New York from California shortly before the holidays. The Hoovers have maintained an apartment in Waldorf Towers for several years. Mrs. Hoover recently visited California and had returned to New York shortly before the holidays. Funeral arrangements will be announced tomorrow, a source close to the family said. The former first lady – Hoover was president from 1929 to 1933 – was noted during her days in the White House for her active interest in the Girl Scouts, of which she was an honorary leader. Although of a retiring nature, she was an accomplished hostess, known for her stately presence and subtlety of wit. An example of simplicity, she wore no jewels and used no cosmetics. Her tastes in clothing ran to simply tailored morning clothes and frocks of plain colors. Often she wore low-heeled shoes. Mrs. Hoover had many intellectual attainments and once aided her husband in translating a Latin book on agriculture. She first met him during their Stanford University days in California. They became engaged when he embarked on a mining career after graduation and were married four years later. In the early years of their married life, Hoover’s work took them to many foreign lands. They lived, at various times, in Tientsin, Mandalay, Tokyo, St. Petersburg, now Leningrad, and London.
(Spartanburg Herald Journal, January 8, 1944, Pages 1 and 2, transcribed by Andrew Staton)

She Passed Away at an Early Hour Monday Morning [Oct. 25, 1892]
Mrs. Harrison is dead.
Calmly and peacefully, like a tired child, falling asleep in its mother's arms, she sank into the embrace of death. Her long and patient struggle ended at 1:40 Monday morning. The president, it is said, bore himself manfully through the trying hours which preceded dissolution. Of those present he was the first after a long and intense look at the wasted features of the dead to master his feelings and addressed himself to the duty of soothing the weeping and agitated members of his household. For a fortnight the shadow of death has hovered closely about the executive mansion, shutting out the sunshine of the golden October days.
The pictures and dramatic accessories which the world associates with the dying hours of distinguished people were wholly lacking in Mrs. Harrison's case. Those who were present tell that no death could be more peaceful. There was no death struggle; no outward appearance of pain. It was such a death – God Help us – as we all might wish to die.
It was a death quite in keeping with her general unobtrusive nature and it stole upon her so quietly that some doubted as to the exact moment when her spirit took flight.
About the bedside when she died were gathered all those nearest and dearest to her. Full warning of the end was given to everyone.
Of all the members of the family, the president, as far as outward signals went, bore it the bravest. When death came he was still at the bedside and holding the hand of her, who had followed by his side through life.
At 1:40 o'clock Dr. Gardener, who has left the sick room for a moment was hastily summoned, the family believed the end had come. The doctor hurriedly bent over the patient and placed his ear to her chest. He heart had ceased to beat. "It is over." Said he and he placed his hand sympathetically upon the president's shoulder. The latter bowed his head in his hands and said not a word while the others knelt around the bed in silence.
Mrs. Benjamin Harrison is of the same age as her husband, was born in 1833. Her father, Rev. William H. Scott, was formerly a professor at Miami University where he had as students under him Benjamin Harrison and other men who have since risen to distinction. She was married to Mr. Harrison when still in her teens. Her eldest son, Russell B. has achieved some prominence through his newspaper enterprise in Montana and his connection with Frank Leslie's and judge. He married a daughter of Alvin Saunders of Omaha. A daughter, Mrs. McKee, with her little son, "Baby McKee" lives with the president's family in the White House.
Mrs. Harrison had regular features , bright dark eyes and abundant dark hair. Her figure was short and somewhat stout. She dressed well, which means becomingly, and of course, without being a slave to the caprices of fashion.
[Vernon Courier, Lamar County AL, November 3, 1892]

Ida Saxton McKinley
(June 8, 1847 – May 26, 1907)
wife of William McKinley, was First Lady of the United States from 1897 to 1901.

Mrs. McKinley Is Dead
Passed Away Peacefully and Painlessly at 1:05 P.M. Sunday
Canton, May 27 – Mrs. Wm. McKinley, widow of the late President, died at her home here at 1:05 o’clock yesterday afternoon.
For many years Mrs. McKinley had been an invalid. She recovered from the shock of her husband’s tragic death, but it left its mark, and when it was known that she had suffered a stroke of paralysis, little hope was felt that she could survive. The end came peacefully, almost imperceptibly. Mrs. McKinley never knew of the efforts made to prolong her life, of the solicitous hope of her sister and other relatives and friends for her recovery.
At the McKinley home when death came there were present Secretary Cortelyou, Mr. and Mrs. M. C. Barbour, Mrs. Sarah Duncan, Mrs. Luther Day, Justice and Mrs. William R. Day, Doctors Porteman and Rixey and the nurses.
“Mrs. McKinley lived longer than was expected,: sad the Secretary.
It was announced last night that President Roosevelt and Secretary Loeb will arrive in Canton Wednesday morning to attend the funeral services. Vice President Fairbanks, who had often been a house guest of the McKinleys, is expected to reach here in time to attend the funeral services.
The body of Mrs. McKinley will be placed in the vault in Westlawn cemetery, which holds also the remains of her martyred husband, until the completion of the Nation Mausoleum on Monument Hill, when both caskets will be transferred to receptacles in that tomb. From numerous friends of Mrs. McKinley, Mrs. Barbour received telegrams of condolence on the death of her sister. Among them were telegrams from President Roosevelt and Vice President Fairbanks.
[Bohemia Nugget (Cottage Grove, OR) – Wednesday, June 5, 1907 - Submitted by Jim Dezotell]



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