Thursday, March 18, 2010
Historical notes: Hostess as heroine
Table set for dinner, first lady and extraordinary hostess Dolley Madison faced the imminent arrival of warring British forces in Washington during the War of 1812: she ran back into the White House with seige at her heels to recover George Washington's portrait.
Finally, she faced the British invasion of Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1814 with bravery and dignity. By the third week of August invasion was imminent. The city was full of fear and in a state of chaos as the British approached.
On August 22 President Madison left town to review the troops. But Mrs. Madison remained in the city. As the British approached on August 23 Mr. Madison was still out of town. Mrs. Madison began pressing cabinet papers into trunks. The next day, with Mr. Madison still off with the army, Dolley Madison found herself guarding the gates of the executive mansion. By that afternoon the British were approaching too fast to be ignored. She filled a wagon with silver and other valuables and sent them off to the Bank of Maryland for safekeeping. That done she determined there was one more task to accomplish: to save the portrait of George Washington. This she did, and then fled in the nick of time. Her husband was politically abused for cowardice in the face of British troops; Mrs. Madison compensated for her husband's moderation and became the heroine of the War of 1812.
- The Dolley Madison Project, The Virginia Center for Digital History