It was well for a widow in that wild country if she could procure men "boarders," even though she might not need to " take boarders " for a living; for every household needed men to protect it from the Indians. Immigration was increasing constantly, but the white population was still far too small to be safe. Within seven miles of Nashville, during the years 1780-1794, the Indians killed, on an average, one white person every ten days.
Life in such a country was even rougher and barer than in the Waxhaws. The houses were chiefly cabins made of unhewn logs, and the things which in older communities make the inside of houses attractive were almost wholly wanting. Such merchandise as was offered to the settlers had to be fetched hundreds of miles, - usually from Philadelphia, - and grew very dear by the time it reached them. For food, clothing, and shelter each family relied mainly on the handiwork of its own members. As in all frontier regions, the population was chiefly male. The brave women who took their share of the common work and hardship were treated with much respect, and did their part well, no doubt, but they had little leisure for those arts which brighten the lives and refine the characters of husbands and children.
Manners suited conditions. These builders of the West had more strength than gentleness, more shrewdness than wisdom, more courage than culture. They were the rough front which American civilization presented to the wilderness and the savage, - brave, hard-handed, themselves somewhat affected with the barbarism they came to displace, yet in all essentials of character true representatives of their masterful race. They were mainly of English or Scotch-Irish stock; and no other breeds of white men have ever shown such capacity as these two for dealing with inferior races and new countries. Their virtues were courage, energy, alertness, inventiveness, generosity, honesty, truth-speaking ; their commonest faults were violence, combativeness, lax ways in business, intemperance, narrowness of mind. They hated foreigners and Indians, and were ready to fight any one who behaved like an enemy or a critic ; they held in honor women, their country, and brave men. Shut off from the greater world to the eastward, and having few pleasures such as most Americans may now enjoy, they filled their leisure hours with such sports as hunting, horse-racing, drinking bouts, fights, and lawsuits. The law, indeed, they held in great reverence; that race mark they had in common with all other societies made up of Englishmen and Americans of English descent. But they were even fonder of fighting than of the law, and the particular laws which were at once hardest to enforce and most in need of enforcement were those very simple laws which set forth the principle that private wrongs must be righted in the courts, which stand for the peace of the State, and not by the " wild justice " of revenge.
The difficult and dangerous work of keeping order and of enforcing business obligations fell largely to the " solicitor;" and one need not wonder that there was no great scramble for the office, so that a very young man, with no experience at the bar and little knowledge of law, got the appointment. His duties were simple enough, but he had no reason to complain of being left in idleness. The court records of the period show a picturesque assortment of assaults, street-fights, pistollings, gougings, and the like. Men who took such methods to adjust their differences were not apt to show any great respect to a prosecutor aged twenty-one. The majesty of the law had need of a vigorous rather than a learned representative; and the representative had need of other weapons than those supplied by the law books if he meant to make his authority respected and yet keep a whole skin on his body. If he proved weak and timid, he was sure to be despised; if determined and relentless, he was sure to make enemies; if incautious and unwary, he would probably get himself shot. It is doubtful, however, if any better man than young Jackson could have been found for the place, and that is almost the same thing as saying that no better place could have been found for him. To the office and his new surroundings he brought the qualities they supremely demanded, - a will that no man ever subdued, a desperate courage which not even the Ten-nesseans could match, and a swift, intuitive perception of the way to act in emergencies.
According to all accounts, he was successful from the first in his trying work, and his success in that brought him other work as a lawyer and a rapid rise to prominence in the community. He became well acquainted, for his work required much travelling about. He learned the country itself. On his long journeys he was frequently in danger from the Indians, and learned their ways and how to cope with them. Sometimes he slept alone in the woods, or even lay all night awake, his hand on his rifle. Once his readiness and nerve alone saved himself and a party of travellers from surprise and massacre. Whether he dealt with Indians who beset his pathway through the wilderness, or white men who would not let the law take its course, it is not on record that he ever turned aside from his purpose. In ten years he was the possessor of a considerable estate, chiefly in land. And he had not accumulated property by neglecting his duties as solicitor. When certain intruders on Indian lands were giving trouble, Governor Blount said: " Let the district attorney, Mr. Jackson, be informed. He will be certain to do his duty, and the offenders will be punished."
But the district attorney did not escape the consequences of his firmness and courage. He had so many " difficulties " that even in that country he soon got a reputation for readiness to fight. Amass of anecdote and tradition about his early quarrels, has come down to us. Some of these affairs seem to have been undignified and rather ludicrous scuffles: in one of them Jackson overcame a huge antagonist by poking him with the point - or, as Jackson himself pronounced it, the " pint " - of a fence rail. Other quarrels followed the dignified procedure of the duello. They were all subject to the condemnation which our gentler civilization pronounces on violence as a means of ending disputes, but no doubt they helped the young lawyer into the prominence he had won by the time Tennessee was ready to become a State.
The most important event of this early period of Jackson's life was his marriage. It was first solemnized early in 1791, and a second time in January, 1794. The second ceremony was due to the painful discovery that at the time of the first his wife was not fully released from a former marriage. She was Rachel, daughter of John Donelson, the pioneer, and when Jackson first came to Tennessee she was already married to one Lewis Robards. Robards was a jealous husband. He made charges against his wife concerning several men, and finally concerning Jackson, although the facts that have come down to us and the opinions of those who knew most about the affair all go to show that Jackson acted as a chivalrous protector of a distressed woman, and never knowingly committed any offence against his accuser's home. Robards and Rachel Donelson had been married in Kentucky, then a part of Virginia, and Virginia had no law of divorce. In 1790 the Virginia legislature, acting on a petition of Robards, authorized the supreme court of Kentucky to try the case and grant him a divorce if it should find his charges against his wife and Jackson to be true. Somehow, Jackson and Mrs. Robards were persuaded that this act of the Virginia legislature was itself a divorce, and so they were married. In 1793, however, Robards brought suit before the Kentucky court, and the court, finding on the facts as they then existed, when the accused couple were living together as man and wife, granted the decree. In order, therefore, to make sure of a legal marriage, Jackson had he ceremony repeated.
It was a most unfortunate situation for an honest man and an honest woman, and saddened a union which was otherwise pure and beautiful; for to the day of her death Jack-son and his wife loved each other most tenderly. It brought into his life a new element of bitterness and passion. Whoever, by the slightest hint, referred to the irregularity of his marriage, became his mortal enemy. For such he kept his pistols always ready, and more than one incautious man found to his cost what it meant to breathe the waxhaws: the wilderness 23 a word on that forbidden subject. One such man was no less a person than John Sevier, "the Commonwealth Builder," who struck such a good blow for American independence at the battle of King's Mountain in the revolutionary war, and who was Governor of Tennessee when the trouble with Jackson occurred.
The painful facts of his marriage, and the criticism of his wife, had another effect on Jackson which in time became important to the whole country. Through that experience his chivalrous feeling for women was developed into a quixotic readiness to be the champion of any woman whom he found distressed or slandered.