The Burning of Washington

In August, 1814, the United States and England were at war. President James Madison and his wife, Dolley, resided in the White House in Washington D.C., and on August 22nd, President Madison left the White House to meet with his generals on the battlefield. At just this time, British troops were about to enter the capitol, threatening to burn it in retaliation for the American attack on York (now Toronto), Ontario, Canada in June 1812.

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The President's House after the fire - 1814

As President Madison was preparing to leave, he asked Dolley if she had the “courage or firmness” to wait for his return, and asked her to collect important state papers and prepare to flee at a moment’s notice. The next day, Dolley and some remaining servants scanned the horizon looking for either Madison’s return, or the appearance of the British. As British troops gathered, Dolley abandoned the Madison’s personal belongings, and chose instead to save a portrait of George Washington by removing it from the frame which was screwed to the wall. Dolley escaped, and met up with her husband at a predetermined meeting place.

When the British arrived at the White House, the Madisons had already fled to safety and the house was empty. According to reports, the soldiers sat down to a meal from the White House scullery and used White House dishes and silver before ransacking the mansion and setting it on fire, destroying all but the outer walls. British troops burned many public buildings, including the U.S. Capitol, although private buildings were preserved. This has been the only time since the Revolutionary War that a foreign power has occupied the United States capital.

The Madisons never again lived in the White House. It was not until 1817, when James Monroe was elected, that a president once again resided at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

On a different note ~  if you haven’t gotten your 2012 Firefighter Calendar yet, it’s not too late! You can purchase them at The Big Chili. 100% of the proceeds from every calendar sold through the end of the year goes to our local fire departments.

2 Responses to “The Burning of Washington”

  1. bellegroveatportconway Says:

    Great Post! I have been doing research on James Madison over the last six month. My husband and I are opening a bed and breakfast on the property where he was born in Port Conway, VA. This is one of my favorite stories of the Madisons

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