Golden Nuggets from U. S. History
The Blue Quill Series
Julia Gardiner Tyler (1820-1889)
William Henry Harrison (9th President) was a soldier. Born in Berkely, Virginia, he knew early that he wanted a military life and he pursued it vigorously. Assigned to the Northwest Territories (now Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan) as a lieutenant, he engaged the hostile Indians on many occasions. In 1811 his forces were attacked near the Tippecanoe River (today, West Lafayette, Indiana) and although Harrison's command had casualties of 190 they repelled the attack. This incident and others earned him a national reputation as a great Indian fighter but the site of the first battle stuck and through the remainder of his life he was known as "Old Tippecanoe."
The local citizens sent him off to congress and he later served as Governor of the Ohio Territory. In 1840 the Whig Party nominated him for President. Needing balance to attract southern votes he looked to ex-US Senator and past Governor John Tyler of Virginia, a strong states rights advocate, as his running mate. The opposition party tried to mock the ticket by deriding the campaign slogan, "Old Tippecanoe and Tyler Too," but Harrison and Tyler won and took office on March 4, 1841.
One month later Harrison died. The politicians were stunned. Even Tyler's own party, The Whigs, didn't like him and soon expelled him from the party but Tyler was not dismayed. When his enemies called him an "outlaw" he responded by renaming his Virginia plantation "Sherwood Forest." But Tyler was distracted by the illness of his wife. Her condition grew grave and in September, 1841 she died in the White House.
Julia Gardiner was born on Long Island, New York; a debutante at fifteen, she was the "belle of the ball" and the society pages quickly dubbed her "The Rose of Long Island."
Late in 1841 she and her family visited Washington for the winter social season and there, through arrangements made by Dolley Madison for a tour of the White House, she met the new widower who took more than a casual interest. Later, he wrote letters to her and she answered them.
The following year Tyler invited her father and family back to Washington and while there he arranged a tour of the Navy's first power driven and newest ship which was in port at Annapolis. Onboard, observing a demonstration of the ship's guns, her father was killed by an explosion but Julia and the President were a safe distance away and were not harmed.
Tyler offered his condolences and comfort and soon gained Julia's consent to become engaged. On a late Sunday evening Tyler secretly slipped from the White House and made his way to a rendezvous in New York City. There, on June 26, 1844, he and Julia were wed, the first President to marry while in office. He was 54, she 24.
Washington was surprised but not stunned over the news. The elopement caused more gossip than did the age factor. She was First Lady for the last eight months of his term and in 1845, failing re-election, the Tylers retired to Virginia where, over the next fifteen years, they added significantly to the Tyler family with seven children joining the eight Tyler had with his first wife. When the last daughter, Pearl, was born in 1860, two Tyler sons, Robert (44) and John (41), were older than his wife.
As the south began secession Tyler accepted a position on the governing body of the new Confederate States of America but he died in 1862, before the group held it's first meeting. Julia supported the political views of her husband and defended states rights and the right to own slaves. Fearing retaliation from the north for her views, she collected the family papers and took them to a Richmond bank for safe-keeping. This turned out to be a mistake because during the war the Bank was destroyed and the papers lost.
Battles raged throughout Virginia and finally she fled to New York where she worked secretly and voluntarily for the Confederacy throughout the remainder of the war. By the end of the conflict her activities had drawn a lot of attention and suspicion in Washington, but she was never arrested. However, the defeat of the south left her without money or means of support and her plantation, Sherwood Forest, had been virtually destroyed.
In 1880 Congress voted her a $1,200 annual pension, ten years after providing for Mary Todd Lincoln. When Garfield was assassinated in September, 1881, Congress had second thoughts and voted $5,000 per year for Mrs. Garfield, Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Polk, and Mrs. Tyler. With this, she was able to live comfortably and spent her last years in Richmond where she died in 1889. She is buried there with her husband.
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