by Gerald Boerner
The Treaty of Paris of 1883 ended our Revolutionary War with the British. In that treaty, our boundaries were set to include all territory north of the Spanish holdings in Florida, south of the Great Lakes, and east of the Mississippi River.
But the British didn’t give up that easily. The conflict between the U.S. and Britain were especially critical during the time of the Napoleonic War. During this time, British naval ships would board American merchant ships and take any sailor that looked like he was English; of course most Americans looked English! These sailors were then “impressed” into service on the British ships. This was a major trigger of the War of 1812.
One of the great American novels was written about this scenario in Richard Henry Dana’s “Two Years in Front of the Mask” Dana was impressed upon a British man-of-war and served on it for two years. By the time that the War of 1812 ended, this ceased to be an issue because France and England were no longer at war, and the sailors were no longer needed.
Dolley Madison was first lady during this period of war. When the British were marching on Washington, D.C., she packed up the White House treasures (dishes, flatware, and paintings) to save them from capture. The focal point was the portrait of George Washington. She and her entourage left before the British arrived and set fire to the White House and Capitol buildings.
Thank you, Mrs. Madison — you served your President and country well. GLB
[ 2510 Words ]
“Disaffection stalks around us.”
— Dolley Madison
“It is done… the precious portrait placed in the hands of the gentlemen for safe keeping.”
— Dolley Madison
“It is one of my sources of happiness never to desire a knowledge of other people’s business.”
— Dolley Madison
“Two messengers covered with dust come to bid me fly, but I wait for him.”
— Dolley Madison
“When I shall again write to you, or where I shall be tomorrow, I cannot tell.”
— Dolley Madison
“And now, dear sister, I must leave this house or the retreating army will make me a prisoner in it by filling up the road I am directed to take.”
— Dolley Madison
“At this late hour a wagon has been procured, and I have had it filled with plate and the most valuable portable articles, belonging to the house.”
— Dolley Madison
“I am accordingly ready; I have pressed as many Cabinet papers into trunks as to fill one carriage; our private property must be sacrificed, as it is impossible to procure wagons for its transportation.”
— Dolley Madison
Dolley Madison: Saving the White House Treasures
Dolley Payne Todd Madison (1768 – 1849) was the spouse of the fourth President of the United States, James Madison, and was First Lady of the United States from 1809 to 1817. She also occasionally acted as First Lady during the administration of Thomas Jefferson, fulfilling the ceremonial functions more usually associated with the President’s wife, since Jefferson was a widower.
Dolley Payne was born on May 20, 1768, in the Quaker settlement of New Garden, North Carolina, in Guilford County. Her parents, both Virginians, had moved there in 1765. Her mother, Mary Cole, a Quaker, married John Payne, a non-Quaker, in 1761. Three years later, he applied and was admitted to the Quaker Monthly Meeting in Hanover County, Virginia, and Dolley Payne was raised in the Quaker faith.
Dolley was one of 8 children, four boys (Walter, William Temple, Isaac, and John) and four girls (Dolley, Lucy, Anna, and Mary). In 1769, the family returned to Virginia. As a young girl, she grew up in comfort in rural eastern Virginia, deeply attached to her mother’s family.
In 1783, John Payne emancipated his slaves and moved his family to Philadelphia, where he went into business as a starch merchant. By 1789, however, his business had failed. He died in 1792. Dolley’s mother initially made ends meet by opening a boarding house. A year later she moved to western Virginia to live with her daughter Lucy, who had married George Steptoe Washington, a nephew of George Washington. Mary Coles Payne took her two youngest children, Mary and John, with her. By then, Dolley Payne had married Quaker lawyer John Todd in January 1790. Their son, John Payne Todd, was born in 1792 and William Temple Todd in 1793. Her sister Anna lived with the Todds as well.
In the fall of 1793, yellow fever struck Philadelphia. Her husband and younger son, William Temple, both died in the epidemic, and Dolley Todd was left a widow at the age of twenty-five.
In May, 1794, James Madison asked his friend Aaron Burr to introduce him to Dolley Todd. Madison was seventeen years her senior and, at the age of forty-three, a long-standing bachelor.
The encounter apparently went smoothly for a brisk courtship followed, and by August she had accepted his proposal of marriage. For marrying Madison, a non-Quaker, she was expelled from the Society of Friends. They were married on September 15, 1794 and lived in Philadelphia for the next three years.
In 1797, after eight years in the House of Representatives, James Madison retired from politics. He took his family to Montpelier, the Madison family estate in Orange County, Virginia. There they expanded the house and settled in. They expected to remain as planters living quietly in the country but when Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States, in 1801, he asked James Madison to serve as his Secretary of State. James Madison accepted, and the Madison family, consisting now of James, Dolley, her son Payne, and her sister Anna, moved to Washington, D.C.. They moved to an extremely large house for the amount of their savings.
In Washington 1801-1817
Madison worked with the architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe to furnish the White House.
In the approach to the 1808 presidential election, with Thomas Jefferson ready to retire, the Democratic-Republican caucus nominated James Madison to succeed him. James Madison was elected President, serving two terms from 1809 to 1817, with Dolley becoming official First Lady.
As the invading British army approached Washington during the War of 1812, Madison’s slaves collected valuables like silver, Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of George Washington, an original draft of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
However, in her own letter to her sister the day before Washington was burned (after hearing about the Battle of Bladensburg) ,Dolly says she ordered that the painting be removed: "Our kind friend Mr. Carroll has come to hasten my departure, and in a very bad humor with me, because I insist on waiting until the large picture of General Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall. The process was found too tedious for these perilous moments; I have ordered the frame to be broken and the canvas taken out"….. "It is done, and the precious portrait placed in the hands of two gentlemen from New York for safe keeping. On handing the canvas to the gentlemen in question, Messrs. Barker and Depeyster, Mr. Sioussat cautioned them against rolling it up, saying that it would destroy the portrait. He was moved to this because Mr. Barker started to roll it up for greater convenience for carrying."
The late White House historians JH McCormick (1904) and Gilson Willets (1908)identify the man in charge of removing the painting, as Jean Pierre Sioussat, the first Master of Ceremonies of the White House, quoted as follows: " a negro servant, named Paul Jennings, issued in 1865, A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison, in which he, as a White House employe, insists; ‘She (Mrs. Madison) had no time for doing it It would have required a ladder to get it down. All she carried off was the silver in her reticule, as the British were thought to be but a few squares off, and were expected every moment. John Suse (meaning Jean Sioussat), a Frenchman, then doorkeeper, and still living, and McGraw, the President’s gardener, took it down and sent it off on a wagon with some larger silver urns and other such valuables as could be hastily got together. When the British did arrive they ate up the very dinner that I had prepared for the President’s party.’"
The late White House historians give the accounts of further authorities regarding the First Lady’s escape from fire of 1814:
"The friends with Mrs. Madison hurried her away (her carriage being previously ready), and she, with many other families, retreated with the flying army. In Georgetown they perceived some men before them carrying off the picture of General Washington (the large one by Stewart), which with the plate was all that was saved out of the President’s house. Mrs. Madison lost all her own property. Mrs. Madison slept that night in the encampment, a guard being placed round her tent; the next day she crossed into Virginia, where she remained until Sunday, when she returned to meet her husband."
An eye-witness, writing for the Federal Republican, published at the time of the fire, says: "About ten o’clock on the night of the 24th ult., while the Capitol, the Navy Yard, the Magazine, and the buildings attached thereto, on Greenleaf’s Point, were entirely in flames, I was sitting in the window of my lodging on the Pennsylvania Avenue, contemplating the solemn and awful scene, when about a hundred men passed the house, troops of the enemy, on their way toward the President’s house. They walked two abreast preceded by an officer on foot, each armed with a hanger, and wearing a chapeau de bras. In the middle of the ranks were two men, each with a dark lanthorn. They marched quickly but silently. Some of them, however, were talking in the ranks, which being overheard by the officer, he called out to them ‘Silence! If any man speaks in the ranks, I’ll put him to death’ 1 Shortly after they pushed on, I observed four officers on horseback, with chapeau de bras and side arms.
They made up to the house, and pulling off their hats in a polite and social manner, wished us a good evening. The family and myself returned the salute, and I observed to them, ‘Gentlemen! I presume you are officers of the British Army’. They replied they were. ‘I hope, sir’, said I, addressing one that rode up under the window, which I found to be Admiral Cockburn, ‘that individuals and private property will be respected’. Admiral Cockburn and General Ross immediately replied: ‘Yes, sir, we pledge our sacred honor that the citizens and private property shall be respected. Be under no apprehension. Our advice to you is to remain at home. Do not quit your houses’. Admiral Cockburn then inquired: ‘Where is your President, Mr. Madison ?’ I replied, "I could not tell, but supposed by this time at a considerable distance."
"They then observed that they were on their way to pay a visit to the President’s house, which they were told was but a little distance ahead. They again requested that we would stay in our houses, where we would be perfectly safe, and bowing, politely, wished us good night, and proceeded on. I perceived the smoke coming from the windows of the President’s house, and in a short time, that splendid and elegant edifice, reared at the expense of so much cost and labor, inferior to none that I have observed in the different parts of Europe, was wrapt in one entire flame. The large and elegant Capitol of the Nation on one side, and the splendid National Palace and Treasury Department on the other, all wrapt in flame, presented a grand and sublime, but, at the same time, an awful and melancholy sight."
In Montpelier 1817-1837
On April 6 1817, Dolley and James Madison returned to their estate in Orange County, Virginia.
In 1830, Dolley Madison’s son by her first marriage, Payne Todd, who had never found a career, went to debtors prison in Philadelphia. The Madisons sold land in Kentucky and mortgaged half of the Montpelier estate to pay Todd’s debts.
James Madison died at Montpelier on June 28, 1836. Dolley remained at Montpelier for a year. One of her nieces, Anna Payne, came to live with her. Payne Todd also came for a stay, and Mrs. Madison organized and copied her husband’s papers. In 1837, Congress authorized $30,000 as payment for the first installment of the Madison papers.
In the fall of 1837, Dolley Payne Madison decided to leave Montpelier for Washington, D.C., charging Payne Todd with the care of the plantation. She moved with Anna Payne into a house her sister Anna and her husband Richard Cutts had bought, located on Lafayette Square.
In Washington 1837-1849
While Madison was living in Washington, Payne Todd was unable to manage the plantation successfully due to alcoholism and resulting illness. Madison tried to raise money by selling the rest of James’ papers. Unable to find a buyer for the papers, she sold the whole estate to pay off outstanding debts. Paul Jennings later recalled, "In the last days of her life, before Congress purchased her husband’s papers, she was in a state of absolute poverty, and I think sometimes suffered for the necessaries of life. While I was a servant to Mr. Webster, he often sent me to her with a market-basket full of provisions, and told me whenever I saw anything in the house that I thought she was in need of, to take it to her. I often did this, and occasionally gave her small sums from my own pocket, though I had years before bought my freedom of her." In 1848, Congress agreed to buy the rest of James Madison’s papers for the sum of $25,000.
Dolley Madison died at her home in Washington, DC at the age of 81. She was first interred in the Congressional Cemetery, Washington, DC., but later re-interred at Montpelier estate, Orange, Virginia.
Other Events on this Day:
British troops invade Washington, D.C., setting fire to the U.S. Capitol and White House.
Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly nonstop across the United States, traveling from Los Angeles to Newark,, New Jersey, in 19 hours.
Three days after Hawaii becomes the fiftieth state, Hiram L. Fong is sworn in as the first Chinese-American U.S. Senator, and Daniel K. Inouye is sworn in as the first Japanese-American U.S. House member.
Hurricane Andrew smashes into southern Florida, causing record damage.
Dates and events based on:
William J. Bennett and John Cribb, (2008) The American Patriot’s Almanac Daily Readings on America. (Kindle Edition)
Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:
Wikipedia: Dolley Madison…
Brainy Quote: Dolley Madison Quotes…