Tuesday 12 November 2013

Letitia Christian Tyler, First Lady of America

Letitia Christian Tyler (Virginia, America, 12th November 1790 – Washington DC, America, 10th September 1842)

Letitia Christian Tyler

It is a pleasure to welcome a lady to the salon today for a story that is a little less bloodthirsty than those I have been telling of late. There are no nooses, no revolutions and no duplicitous children in the story of First Lady Letitia Tyler, as I am sure she would be glad to know!

Letitia was born to wealthy planter and politician Colonel Robert Christian and his wife, Mary Brown-Christian at her father's Cedar Grove plantation in New Kent County, Virginia. As a girl Letitia was shy and timid but she enjoyed a happy upbringing, growing into a thoughtful and intelligent young lady with a devout religious faith. Although she received no formal education, Letitia was charged with supervision of the slaves in the kitchens at Cedar Grove, making a request that no female slaves should work outdoors. 

John Tyler, 1826
John Tyler, 1826

At the age of 18 Letitia met a law student of the same age named John Tyler and the two began a chaste attachment, courting for five years as John's political career began to blossom. The couple were devoted to one another and when they finally married on Letitia's 23rd birthday, their vows were exchanged at Cedar Grove. The Tylers were married for 29 years and loved one another deeply, raising seven children together. Both of Letitiia's parents died not long after the marriage and it was their bequest that funded her husband's political ambitions, with the new Mrs Tyler in full support. However, the couple experienced repeated financial hardships and eventually Letitia took responsibility for both domestic and financial affairs; indeed, she remained her husband's most respected and trusted advisor until her death.

Letitia had no interest in the life of a political spouse and instead devoted herself to providing a loving and supportive household for her children, remaining in Virginia when John's career took him to Washington. At the age of 49, Letitia suffered a devastating stroke that severely restricted her mobility and when her husband became President of the United States just two years later she did move with him to the White House, where she retained her privacy, absenting herself from social duties on the grounds of her health. Official engagements were undertaken by her daughter-in-law, Priscilla Cooper Tyler, though Letitia managed the domestic matters of the household. In fact, the First Lady did venture into the public areas of the White House just once, when she attended the wedding of her daughter in 1842.

Letitia's health never recovered from her first stroke and she deteriorated rapidly following a second in 1842. That same year she became the first First Lady to die in the White House, passing away peacefully in her sleep. After her coffin had lain in state for a number of days as the city mourned, she was taken from Washington to the plantation where she had been both born and wed and laid to rest there.


The Greenockian said...

What a great love story. She is very pretty.

Catherine Curzon said...

An unusually happy marriage for one of my subjects too!

Gem Twitcher said...

A lovely story,Madame. Thank you

Catherine Curzon said...

*Bobs a curtsey of thanks*

Mary Seymour said...

We must all deplore slavery, of course, but I notice with approval that in a small way Letitia was a revolutionary if she attempted to prevent the female slaves from being deployed as field-hands. You do not say what her father grew - tobacco ?, cotton ? sugar ? The work was gruelling in any case, but particularly so for females who were known to give birth by the side of the fields. Letitia's gentle rebellion should no go unmarked.

Catherine Curzon said...

The plantation produced corn and cotton; I love your assertion that her's was a "gentle rebellion"; such a fitting phrase.

Anonymous said...

Lovely piece. Coincidentally, my post this week also features a shy First Lady with health issues; though I don't think Jane and Franklin Pierce were as happy as the Tylers seemed to be: http://paulareednancarrow.com/2014/11/09/the-two-presidents-from-new-hampshire/

Catherine Curzon said...

I shall gad across and have a read, thank you!