illinois war of 1812 bicentennial commission

ILLINOIS WAR OF 1812 IN THE NEWS

magnifying glassIllinois War of 1812 Bicentennial exhibits can now be seen at the libraries in Highland, Wood River and Maryville.  The exhibits are being rotated throughout the state.  Click here to see an example.  

Now available - War of 1812 Bicentennial polo shirts. Click here for more info.


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Click here to download a copy of article from July-August 2012 Illinois Heritage Journal (Reprinted from Illinois Heritage. Photo and text courtesy Illinois State Historical Society)

Click here to download a copy of Brian DeNeal's article in  Harrisburg IL Daily Register, August 25, 2010

Click here to download a copy of Terry Hillig's article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, August 6, 2010

Click here to download a copy of Ken West article in the Suburban Journals, August 4, 2010

Click here to download a copy of Ann Niccum article in the Edwardsville Intelligencer, August 5, 2010

Click here to download a copy of Wally Spier's article in the Belleville News Democrat, July 25, 2010: Help Needed for War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration

Click here to download a copy of the Journal of the War of 1812, Vol. 12, No. 4   Thanks to Harold Youmans, editor, for allowing us to link to the newsletter.

Our sincere thanks to Curt Libbra, Highland News Leader managing editor, and Kathy McCarty, circulation editor of Old News,  for giving permission to reprint these stories

Highland News Leader, Jan. 21, 2010
A Thought to Remember
Elijah Cox was killed by Indians', by Roland Harris

     “Jesse and Henry Cox and their families, plus the Gregg family (maybe some of my relation, as my great-grandfather was Alexander Johnson Gregg) and Elder Simon Lindley, also arrived in eastern Madison County in 1808. Jesse, his wife, son and daughter settled near Shoal Creek, on Cox’s Branch. Jesse Cox built his cabin, two miles northeast of Pocahontas, in the south part of what we now call Old Ripley Township, in Bond County, then called St. Clair County. His brother, Henry Cox, had built a cabin near Beaver Creek, a little south of the site of Dudleyville (in Mills Township, Bond County).”
     Needing more information about the Cox Family, I consulted William “Bill” Wilson and Kevin Kaegy, who had written the book, “The Tales of Hill’s Fort” in 2003. Their story about the Cox family, on Pages 79-87, has been condensed for today’s column.
     “This pioneer Jesse Cox family busied themselves in clearing, then cultivating a small field and building a mill to grind their corn into meal. On June 9, 1811, Jesse Cox and his wife were away from home. Some say they were picking wild strawberries, other accounts say, working at the mill. A marauding party of Indians, discovered the defenseless son and daughter, who were left at home. The Indians murdered the son, Elijah, a young man of 20 years, stole what they wished for of their goods and carried off his younger sister, Rebecca, called ‘Patsy,’ age 16... The Indians grabbed her by her long braids of hair and drug her outside, where a pony was tied. They threw her on the pony, with an Indian mounted in front of her. Her hand was tied to the Indian’s arm, so she could not escape. They then started off, with her as captive. Slowly they plodded along, for some of the Indians were on foot. Patsy tore little strips from her apron, then dress and dropped them on the bushes of the path, so if rescuers would follow her, they could find the trail.
     “No doubt it was a sad home-coming for the parents, and they notified the settlers at Hill’s Station, later called Hill’s Fort. A party of Rangers and rescuers were soon on the trail of the captors of the girl. The Indians traveled all night and were north of Litchfield and headed for Springfield by the next morning. The Indian and Patsy were near the rear of the group, when she saw her friends coming. She made her break! (She) grabbed the Indian’s knife from his belt, cut the thongs that bound her hand and sprang from the horse. The Indian cut a big gash in her head with his tomahawk, and then threw it at her, cutting into three ribs as he rode away from the oncoming Rangers. The Rangers followed the Indians, killing all of them as they went along.
     “Patsy’s father, Jesse Cox; her sweetheart, William Gregg; Ben Cox; her uncle, Henry Cox; and her cousin, Isaac Cox; Davy White and three other Rangers, plus their leader, Col. Martin Prewitt, had tracked them down. After returning home, Patsy’s mother nursed her back to health. Then Patsy and William Gregg were married. The young Greggs moved to Kentucky (or Arkansas), where he was killed by Indians.”
     Young Elijah Cox was buried. The Jesse Cox family moved to Hill’s Fort after the murder of their son. About late 1811, and before the start of the War of 1812, the families of Jesse and Henry Cox both relocated to Hill’s Fort.
     Cox Monument Road, just northeast of Pocahontas, was named for Elijah Cox. His grave was marked on Oct. 9, 1900, by the community. A stone was placed, suitably inscribed, at his head. On that day, a large crowd of people gathered there to honor the Cox pioneers. Many short talks were made by the older inhabitants, some of whom had seen the rotting logs of the original Cox cabin and heard the story, from men well acquainted with this sad event.
     (Quotes from Tales of Hill’s Fort. Henry Cox’s story will be my next column, this will be followed by the Hill’s Fort attacks and the arrival of Elder Simon Lindley, in 1808.)

Highland News Leader, Jan. 14, 2010
A Thought to Remember
'Isaac Hill was early surveyor of area,' by Roland Harris

     “Hill’s Fort was built about 1811 and was located along a branch of Shoal Creek, Section 6, in Mills Township, in the southeast corner, of the northwest corner of Mills Township, now called Bond County.
     Any complete story about Hill’s Fort, which covered about one acre, should start with its original builder, Isaac Hill, one of the earliest settlers, as he was here before 1808. Shortly after this, Isaac Hill was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to conduct a survey of the land between Shoal Creek and the Okaw (Kaskaskia) River in the Illinois Territory. The survey record indicates the survey party was Isaac Hill, accompanied his son or nephew, Elijah, by his two brothers, John and Henry Hill, Elias Whitten, John Beck, Zeb Harris, Joshua Renfro (and maybe his two slaves, Caid and Cary.) They were accompanied by four Rangers, temporarily detached from Fort Russell — not a lot of manpower for the building of a fortress.
     His charge was to “look for salt, iron, plumbago (later called graphite), gold, silver, saltpeter, brimstone (now called sulfur), cannel (now called coal) and furs. Also, they were to record rain, days of no frost and trace the Third Meridian from the Cahokia line to the Okaw (Kaskaskia), Sangew (Sangamon) and Illinois Rivers.” This survey was undertaken in 1809 and completed in 1811. Not only did Isaac Hill chart the creeks and Kaskaskia River, he also noted the swampy areas, hills, roads, mill sites and mineral deposits.
     “Isaac Hill’s job as a surveyor, or landlooker, was not without danger. Several times Indian tribes, including the Pottowattomies and Sac, hunted here, keeping summer camps in the area. Hill recorded the locations of their camps, as well as confrontations he had with them. Isaac also mentioned feeling the New Madrid Earthquake of 1811 while he was in the area...
     “Isaac’s brother, Henry Hill, was later at Fort Massac, and he sent a letter to him by a ‘half-breed,’ Ledoo, who was leaving Hill’s Fort after dark. In his communication to his brother Henry, if anything should happened to Isaac, Henry should let his nephew, Elijah, take charge of his possessions in Kentucky, and Henry was to take charge of his possessions in Illinois. Henry was to send Isaac’s report to President Jefferson, by Isaac’s two slaves, Caid and Cary. Hill’s Fort was later attacked by the Indians in 1814. (This will be a part of my next column.)
      “Isaac Hill sold the Hill’s Fort site and the improvements he had made to David White. (Hill’s Fort was later known as White’s Fort.) After Isaac sold his claim and fort, he moved to Jones’ Fort, preparing to return to Kentucky. While Isaac Hill was at Jones’ Fort, the map and a survey journal were completed in December of 1811... There are many unrecorded footnotes to the history of America, and one of these footnotes is the map and journal made by Isaac Hill, during this survey... His original 1811 map, was found in his old powder horn. This map showed Hill’s Fort, belonging to David White... In a letter written by Illinois Gov. Ninian Edwards to the Honorable William Eustice, U.S. Secretary of War, on April 24, 1812, the governor states that: ‘Isaac Hill was chosen by the men of Capt. Whitesides Company of Mounted Riflemen (Rangers) to be their second lieutenant.” No other record of his War of 1812, military service, has been located.
      “Most surveyors finished their jobs and then moved on, as did Isaac Hill, who returned to Kentucky, date unknown. He died in June of 1846, at a site called Hill’s Run in Kentucky. Isaac’s will indicated that he owned no property in Illinois but that many of his family were now in Illinois. His family had migrated to Illinois to take ownership of the claims Isaac had laid out for them.”
     Hill’s Fort Society of Greenville was formed to restore Hill’s Fort. They tried to get it restored at it’s original location in the northwest corner of Mills Township, but couldn’t secure the acreage. Now, Hill’s Fort reconstruction has been started, just southeast of Greenville at the American Farm Heritage Museum, on Museum Avenue, on the South Frontage Road, just north of Interstate 70 and Route 127. They hope to have this Hill’s Fort reconstruction finished for 2012, for the start of the 2012 centennial of the start of the “War of 1812.” I have joined this committee, that is starting the plans for the 2012 celebration. Will you join us also? For more information, you may call Bill Wilson at 248-5885 or Kevin Kaegy at 664-1606.

Highland News Leader, Jan. 7, 2010
A Thought to Remember
'Hill's Fort -- 1805 or 1806?', by Roland Harris

“In 1803, Indian tribes ceded over 9 million acres in Southern Illinois to the United States government. This is about 14,062 square miles, 25 percent of the present state of Illinois, and this was the impetus for veterans of the Revolutionary War to receive their land grants awarded them in 1791. Squatters in great numbers came to this area, but Illinois Territory was not established until 1809, by an Act of Congress.”
     I consulted Perrin’s History of Illinois, published in 1905. (This book was a gift of Mrs. Arthur (Bertha) Gruenenfelder, who was a lover of Illinois History and also an accomplished artist. I have two of her paintings — one was of Monsignor William Whalen, pastor of St. Paul’s Church in Highland from 1943-1970.) Perrin’s book, has a map of Illinois Territory in 1809, showing Illinois and Wisconsin as being the Illinois Territory and only two counties, St. Clair and Randolph. St. Clair County was along the Mississippi River and went up the Little Michilmikinack River, now called the Illinois River, to west of Springfield. Then, an imaginary line was drawn diagonally down the state to where the Ohio River first touches Illinois. Randolph County was the lower quarter of Illinois. A decade would go by before the surveys were completed and the claims to land grants awarded. One of the early surveyors for this area, later known as Eastern Madison County and still later known as Bond County, was Isaac Hill. His story and the story of Hill’s Fort will be my next column.
     The Rev. William “Billy” Jones was another of the original expedition that came in the Spring of 1805. Or was it 1806? Who is correct? According to the “The Tales of Hill’s Fort” by Bill Wilson and Kevin Kaegy, it’s 1805. John Nowlan, in his story for the 150th Anniversary of Greene Cemetery, wrote: “During the year of 1806 a party of gold seekers from Tennessee came and settled in the area east of Greene Cemetery. One of the party, James Potts, took sick... and died in 1806.”      Nowlan’s story does not identify Mr. Jones, by first name, but the 2003 book calls him, Rev. William Jones. Also, James Potts is in Nowlan’s story but is listed in the 2003 book, as Andrew Potts. Also, Elder Simon Lindley, who came in 1808, was not mentioned. Who is correct? I will be using the 2003 book, signed by Kevin Kaegy “The Tales of Hill’s Fort” and their latest book, “Hill’s Fort, The Tales Continue,” which just became available. My 2009 book is signed by Bill Wilson. The 2009 book is $20, and the 2003 book is $17; or you can get both for $35. Thanks Bill and Kevin, as I will be using these two books for the detailed information that they have presented.
     The 2003 book has the following: “James Greene Sr. and seven other men, in the spring of 1805, embarked to Illinois Territory, on an expedition of hunting furs and land... In December of 1806, Andrew Potts died and became the first white man buried here. In the spring of 1807, the expedition returned to Tennessee, leaving the Rev. William ‘Billy’ Jones here. Rev. Jones made improvements and probably built the first cabins and then later a stockade, called Jones’ Fort. The exact date of the attack at Jones’ Fort is not known but was likely the fall of 1812. Hostiles became so prevalent that many of the early settlers abandoned their homes in what we call Eastern Madison County (now Bond County) and moved into St. Clair County. By the fall of 1813, there were very few settlers remaining on the frontier, if not living in forts. Jones’ Fort later became Greene’s Fort and Greene Cemetery. I will be covering the Greene’s again when they return to Madison County.
     (My “Tip of the Hat” awards column of last week, had an error in the Wicks Organ Co. listing, the correction should be: “Martin Wick was the son of John Wick.”)

Highland News Leader, Dec. 17, 2009
A Thought to Remember
'Greene Cemetery site as once a fort,' by Roland Harris

“Stories of Bond County, Illinois” by W.W. Williford was published in 1928. I will be quoting information from this book and trying to put the information into a time line, rather than just separate stories.
     “Probably the first white men to come to Eastern Madison County, with the intention of making a home here, made their encampment near Mills Township, Township #4, north of Range #3, now called Bond County, as their encampment was near Greene Cemetery.”
     Greene Cemetery is located east and then north of Baden Baden, later called Mills, then Millersburg and now incorporated into Pierron and is southeast of Pocahontas. Greene Cemetery is the oldest cemetery, in this area, now 202 years old. The original cemetery consisted of approximately one acre, with one and three-fourths acres being added in 1896. My information for this column comes from “Greene Cemetery History,” written for the 150th anniversary of Greene Cemetery, by John H. Nolan, with additional information by R. Ella Greene and Elijah Miles. (Thanks to Mrs. Murray (Eunice) Hediger, as Elijah Miles was Eunice Hediger’s grandfather.) John H. Nolan’s information was read by Dean J. Delay, superintendent of Bond County Schools, at their 150th anniversary celebration of Greene Cemetery on May 26, 1957, and Greene/Drake information from Mae Drake Jacober Kinnard, will follow.)
      “During the year of 1806, a party of gold seekers from Tennessee came and settled along Shoal Creek, just east of what we now call ‘Greene Cemetery.’ One of the members of this early party was James Greene, another member of the party was James Potts, who took sick. They built a dugout in which to keep him out of the cold and snow. During the night, he passed away. James Potts died in 1806. They took him to the hillside to bury him. Today (1957) there is a stone marking his grave at Greene Cemetery.”
     (We could not find Potts grave, when we visited the cemetery on Nov. 30, 2009.) “Among the first settlers of eastern Madison County, now called Bond County, and prior to the occupation of Hill’s Fort, later called Hill’s Station, was a family named Cox. Mr. Cox, his wife, son and daughter, built a cabin about two miles north of the town we now call Pocahontas. It was near a spring and not to far from the small stream, which bears his name. Here the family busied themselves in the spring of 1811 clearing and cultivating a small field.”
     (I continue this Cox family and another story about Henry Cox, then Greene, Jones, Plant and Johnson families will start my columns in 2010.)
      “James Greene, a member of the original party, returned to Tennessee, then came back to eastern Madison County (now Bond County) with his wife, Sarah Hicks Greene, and his two children and his two brothers, Andrew and George Greene.”
     Andrew and George Greene are also the names of James Greene’s two oldest children. So maybe the “Two brothers Andrew and George Greene” listed, were not his brothers but his two children. Roy Worstell, who does my genealogy, had Andrew born in 1802, Polly in 1804 or 5, George in 1806 and James Jr. in 1809, all four born in Tennessee. The daughter, Falby Greene, was born on April 14, 1811, in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee, in the back of wagon, on their trip to Illinois. Falby, in 1826, married William Mains. He died  in 1830 or 1831. Falby married William John Drake in Mills Township. James Greene Sr. and Sarah Hicks Greene’s youngest son, William Greene, was born Aug. 14, 1814, in Madison County. When the Greenes left Tennessee in 1811, they had an older son that had died and they had three married daughters, who remained in Tennessee. Mr. Jones, a squatter, settled and sometime before 1812 built a small fort or block-house and named it Jones’ Fort. “
     James Greene Sr. (1758-1821) a Revolutionary War soldier, was buried next to his relative, James Potts, and from that time on, the burial ground has been called Greene Cemetery. In the autumn of 1927, James Greene Sr. had a suitable marker placed by the Benjamin Mills Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Relatives, neighbors and friends gathered to honor this patriot, James Greene Sr., with a ritual and the firing squad from the Greenville American Legion. It awoke the long silent echoes, which surrounded the Jones’ Fort and Greene Cemetery. If anyone thinks life in Jones’ Fort was monotonous, just imagine a herd of deer or wild turkeys, the howl of timber wolves, the panther’s nightly screams and the grunt of prowling bears, were as common as today’s toot of an automobile’s horn. Then there was the poor Indian, who in his poverty, studied devilment and the safest way to annihilate the hated pale-faces, who were trespassing on the hunting grounds of his tribe... The Indian was not acquainted with the ‘Golden Rule” and proceeded to dispatch his enemies with regularity and precision.
     (My 2010 columns will return to Jones’ Fort, later called Greene’s Fort and the Greene Family. Mae Drake Jacober Kinnard has brought me her Greene and Drake information, as William John Drake is her great-great-great uncle, and I will be using her information, for my Greene columns, as I continue history of the Millersburg, Jamestown and Pocahontas area. If you have information or photos about this area, please get in touch. Thanks.)

OLD NEWS, free sample copy

Our sincere thanks to Old News Kathy McCarty, circulation manager, for giving permission to reprint this story

First Lady Takes Action As Invaders Attack Washington, D.C.
by Rick Bromer

     When Dolley Madison moved into the White House in 1809- following the inauguration of her husband, President James Madison--she was dissatisfied with the unfinished appearance of her new home.
     Although the nine-year-old White House was the largest private residence in the United States, some rooms were bare of furniture, while others held drab offices, while Dolley Madison wanted to redecorate some of the barren spaces in the White House to create rooms in which she could host gala social events.
     Previous first ladies had avoided publicity and public events, but Dolley Madison loved a party.  She believed that she could increase her husband’s popularity and help him push his political programs through Congress if she became the leading hostess in Washington, D.C.  She therefore drew up plans to create an elegant dining room, a drawing room, and a parlor in the White House.
     She discussed her plans with her husband, who was taken aback when he learned that the first lady’s proposed redecoration would cost more than his entire $25,000 annual salary as chief executive of the United States.  He told her that she would have to figure out some way to raise the necessary money.
     The fifty-seven-year-old president, who was sixteen years older than his wife, did not share her enthusiasm for entertaining.  He was the principal author of the United States Constitution, but he was too bashful to make small talk at parties.  Happiest at his desk among books and papers, James Madison seemed nervous in social situations.  He was aware that his physical presence was not impressive.  Pale and thin, with a weak, boyish voice, Madison was a short man, five feet, four inches tall.  He had a solemn manner and he dressed in plain black suits that were said to make him “always look like a man on his way to a funeral.”
     Dolley Madison, who sometimes called her husband “the great little Madison,” thought that he ought to attend more parties in order to cultivate a public image as a cheerful, friendly man.  As if trying to counterbalance her husband’s subdued style, the first lady cultivated a flamboyant image.  For parties, she liked to dress up in imported French dresses with daringly low necklines.  She also wore turbans adorned with feathers.  Although her clothes looked very expensive, her manner was so warm and unpretentious that almost everyone who met the first lady immediately liked her.  The writer Washington Irving described her as “a buxom dame who has a smile and pleasant word for everyone.”
     To finance her redecoration of the White House, Dolley Madison decided to seek help from the United States Congress.  She invited Congressmen of both political parties to tea at the White House, and when they arrived she took them on tours of the building.  She showed them the bare rooms, which she described as a national embarrassment.
     Eager to improve America’s image and to please the charming first lady, the majority of congressmen voted an appropriation of $12,000 for repairs and $14,000 for new furnishings at the White House.
     Dolley Madison then hired Benjamin Latrobe, the noted architect, to help her choose furnishings.  Latrobe spent $2,150 for three mirrors, $556.15 for new china, and $220.90 for silverware.  At the request of the first lady, he also spent $28 for a guitar and $458 for a piano.
     Latrobe’s taste was more sedate than Dolley Madison’s.  He was dismayed when she insisted on buying some velvet curtains that he found too gaudy for the drawing room.  “The curtains!” Latrobe wrote, “Oh the terrible velvet curtains!  Their effect will ruin me entirely, so brilliant will they be.
     With her new décor in place, Dolley Madison began holding “receptions” every Wednesday at the White House.  At these weekly gatherings, Congressmen mingled with foreign diplomats, celebrities, important businessmen, and distinguished visitors to Washington, D.C.  Slaves and servants served the guests French cuisine, fine wines, and plentiful liquor.  Dolley Madison carefully introduced every new guest to her husband, but James Madison usually stayed in a corner with a few close friends, intensely discussing political issues.
     The first lady herself was the star attraction at her parties.  She became so popular that the press began calling her “Queen Dolley.”  Celebrated writers and artists who attended the receptions usually seemed more eager to meet the first lady than to meet the president.
     Dolley Madison’s real goal was to increase her husband’s popularity, rather than her own, and for several years she seemed to be succeeding.  Then, in the summer of 181, President Madison caused a controversy in America when he asked Congress to vote for a declaration of war against Great Britain.
     The British government, which was at war with France, had provoked the United States by seizing American merchant ships bound for French ports, by forcibly conscripting Americans into the British navy, and by allowing traders in Canada to arm the Indians who killed settlers in the American west.  Madison, a Democrat, and members of his party in Congress were ready to declare war, but members of the conservative Federalist Party wanted peace.  The Federalists preferred the British monarchy to the radical dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte, and they hated the idea of helping a French dictator to fight against liberty-loving Englishmen.
     Every Federalist in Congress voted against President Madison’s request for a declaration of war but, after exceptionally angry debates, the declaration passed by 79-49 votes in the House of Representatives and by 19-13 votes in the Senate.
     After that, Dolley Madison’s parties began to be disrupted by rude outbursts of anger during conversations between antiwar Federalists and pro-war Democrats.  To keep everyone as calm as possible, the first lady restricted her own conversation to small talk and laughter.  “Politics is the business of men,” she liked to say.  “LI don’t care what office they hold or who supports them.  I only care about people.”
     In an effort to encourage national unity, the first lady three more parties than ever, but her husband’s political problems grew worse.  Congress refused to raise taxes for what the antiwar Congressmen called “Mr. Madison’s war,” and when the president called for 50,000 volunteers to invade Canada, only 5,000 signed up.  James Madison’s popularity fell further when his underfunded attempts to invade Canada failed disastrously.
     Dolley Madison became alarmed in 1813 when she heard rumors that British sympathizers and spies in Washington, D.C., intended to set fire to the White House to avenge the burning of the Canadian Parliament buildings at York (now Toronto) by American invaders.  To defend her redecorated Executive Mansion, Dolley Madison began sleeping with a saber under her bed, so that she would be equipped to fight off any arsonists who might try to climb through her bedroom window.  (The president, who was an insomniac, slept in a separate bedroom to avoid disturbing the first lady when he jumped out of bed, several times each night, and rushed to his desk to write down ideas that had occurred to him as he slept.)
     In the summer of 1814, a fleet of twenty-one large British warships sailed up the Chesapeake Bay towards Washington, D.C.  The United States Navy was too small to oppose the enemy ships, which on August 19 landed an army of four thousand British regulars on the shore of the Patuxtent River in Maryland.
     As the British began marching toward Washington, D.C., Dolley Madison was alarmed not only by the enemy advance, but also by the depth of hatred that antiwar Americans began expressing towards her husband.  One young Federalist lady in Washington, who had exceptionally long and beautiful hair, expressed her feelings by halting her carriage in front of the White House, loosening her hair, and shouting, “I pray that I may have the privilege of parting with this hair, in order to make a noose to hang Mr. Madison!”
     Nobody in Washington seemed to feel much confidence in the American army of one thousand regulars, backed by several thousand ill-trained militiamen, who marched from Washington to confront the British invaders.  President Madison felt that the troops needed some encouragement to cheer them up.  On August 23 he told his wife that he felt it was necessary for him to address the troops in the field, and he asked her if she would be afraid to stay alone at the White House that night.
     Dolley Madison replied, “I have no fear except for you, and for the success of our army.”
     Her husband expressed confidence in the American army, but he also showed her cases of secret documents that he did not want the British to see.  He told her that, if she was forced to flee from the White House, she should be sure to take the documents with her.
     The president then kissed his wife goodbye and rode off towards Bladensburg, Maryland, six miles northeast of Washington where the American forces were concentrated.
     On the morning of August 24, Dolley Madison received an alarming dispatch from her husband.  It warned her that “the enemy seem stronger than was at first reported, and they may reach the city with the intention of destroying it.”
     The first lady immediately loaded the secret papers into trunks and had them carried to her carriage.  She found that the trunks completely filled the carriage, leaving hardly any room for her personal possessions.  She tried to hire a wagon, but none was available because many of the city’s residents were fleeing with all their goods.
     Dolley Madison was secretly worried that her husband might be lynched by antiwar Federalists.  She felt that her own popularity might protect him, so she was eager to join him.  In a letter to her sister, written while she waited at the White House for the president’s return, the first lady wrote, “Our private property must be sacrificed, as it is impossible to procure wagons for its transportation.  I am determined not to go myself until I see Mr. Madison safe, so that he can accompany me, as I hear of much hostility towards him.  Disaffection stalks around us.”
     At noon Dolley Madison went to the roof of the White House with a spyglass, hoping to see her husband returning from the battlefield.  Instead she saw small groups of American soldiers running back towards Washington without their guns.
     She went downstairs and told the house steward, Jean-Pierre “French John” Sioussat, to prepare a meal in case the president and his party returned soon.
     Then, resuming her letter to her sister, the first lady wrote, “French John (a faithful servant), with his usual activity and resolution, offers to spike the cannon at the gate, and lay a train of powder, which would blow up the British, should they enter the house.  To the last proposition I positively object, without being able to make him understand why all advantages in war may not be taken.”
     At three p.m., a messenger from the front galloped up to the White House waving his hat.  “Clear out!  Clear out!” he shouted.  “General Armstrong {the American field commander} has ordered a retreat!”
     Before departing, the first lady wrote in a letter to her sister: 
Will you believe it, my sister?  We have had a battle, or skirmish, near Bladensburg, and here I am still, within sound of the cannon!  Mr. Madison comes not.  May God protect us!  Two messengers, covered with dust, come to bid me fly; but here I mean to wait for him . . . . Our kind friend, Mr. Carroll, has come to hasten my departure, and is 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.   This 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 of New York, for safe keeping.  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.  When I shall again write to you, or where I shall be to-morrow, I cannot tell!

     Unable to bear the thought of leaving behind her velvet curtains, she took them down and tossed them into the carriage, along with a small clock, some books, and some silver; then she departed for Virginia, where she spent an anxious night with friends.

     The first lady’s fears for her husband’s safety were relieved when he joined her the next day in Virginia, but she was upset to learn that the victorious British troops had marched into Washington, D.C., where they had burned both the Capitol Building and the White House.  They had then marched back to their ships.

     Dolley Madison was told that British troops had done no damage to private property in the city, and that they had been “perfectly polite” to the citizens.  She nevertheless expressed the opinion that only insensate barbarians could have committed such a hideous act of vandalism as the burning of the White House.
     Returning to Washington, D.C., the Madison’s moved into the Octagon House, which had recently been vacated by the French ambassador.  There the first lady resumed holding her weekly receptions, but with fewer guests, because there was not enough room for large crowds in the smaller house.  Congress voted to rebuild the white House, but Dolley Madison was disappointed to learn that the work would not be completed before the end of her husband’s final term in office.
     The burning of the White House angered most Americans and therefore helped to unite the country behind President Madison.  The Americans won the next major battles of the war, when they successfully defended Baltimore and New Orleans from British attacks.
     These victories, quickly followed by a peace settlement, restored President Madison’s popularity, and boosted his first lady’s reputation to new heights.
     In 1817, when James Madison completed his second term in office, he and Dolley Madison retired to their farm in Virginia.  That same year the White House rebuilding was completed, and the official portrait of George Washington, which Dolley Madison had saved from destruction, was returned to the Executive Mansion.
     After her husband died in 1836, Dolley Madison returned to Washington, D.C., where she resumed her social activities, attending parties in her signature turbans and French gowns.  Until her death in the summer of 1848, she was the most sought-after guest in Washington, attending many parties in the rebuilt White House, where various presidents, eager to be seen in her presence, escorted her from one brilliantly-lit parlor to another.
     Although her White House redecoration did not endure, Dolley Madison’s public persona was so successful that it became the model for subsequent First Ladies, most of whom have tried to boost the popularity of their presidential husbands by being fashionable, sociable, and cheerfully apolitical.

Sources:
Madison, Dolley.  Memoirs and Letters of  Dolley Madison.  Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1886.
Seale, William.  The  President’s House.  Washington, D.C.: White House Historical Association, 1986.
Whitcomb, John and Claire, Real Life at the White House.  London: Routledge, 2000

 


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