Letitia Christian Tyler - History

Letitia Christian Tyler - History

Letitia Tyler became First Lady following the untimely death of President William Henry Harrison. The Tylers were called to Washington D.C. from their home in Williamsburg, Virginia. Letitia was, at the time, partially paralyzed secondary to a stroke suffered several years before. She was confined to a wheelchair which made the job of First Lady physically impossible. Her only public appearance at the White House was at the wedding of daughter, Elizabeth in 1842. Her death marked the first time a President's wife had died during their White House tenure. Priscilla Tyler, a devoted daughter-in-law, took over the White House social responsibilities following Letitia's death.



Letitia Christian Tyler

Letitia Tyler had been confined to an invalid’s chair for two years when her husband unexpectedly became President. Nobody had thought of that possibility when he took his oath of office as Vice President on March 4, 1841 indeed, he had planned to fill his undemanding duties from his home in Williamsburg where his wife was most comfortable, her Bible, prayer book, and knitting at her side.

Born on a Tidewater Virginia plantation in the 18th century, Letitia was spiritually akin to Martha Washington and Martha Jefferson. Formal education was no part of this pattern of life, but Letitia learned all the skills of managing a plantation, rearing a family, and presiding over a home that would be John Tyler’s refuge during an active political life. They were married on March 29, 1813–his twenty-third birthday. Thereafter, whether he served in Congress or as Governor of Virginia, she attended to domestic duties. Only once did she join him for the winter social season in Washington. Of the eight children she bore, seven survived but after 1839 she was a cripple, though “still beautiful now in her declining years.”

So her admiring new daughter-in-law, Priscilla Cooper Tyler, described her–“the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine…Notwithstanding her very delicate health, mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can’t tell when she does it.”

In a second-floor room at the White House, Letitia Tyler kept her quiet but pivotal role in family activities. She did not attempt to take part in the social affairs of the administration. Her married daughters had their own homes the others were too young for the full responsibility of official entertaining Priscilla at age 24 assumed the position of White House hostess, met its demands with spirit and success, and enjoyed it.

Daughter of a well-known tragedian, Priscilla Cooper had gone on the stage herself at 17. Playing Desdemona to her father’s Othello in Richmond, she won the instant interest of Robert Tyler, whom she married in 1839. Intelligent and beautiful, with dark brown hair, she charmed the President’s guests–from visiting celebrities like Charles Dickens to enthusiastic countrymen. Once she noted ruefully: “such hearty shakes as they gave my poor little hand too!” She enjoyed the expert advice of Dolley Madison, and the companionship of her young sister-in-law Elizabeth until she married William N. Waller in 1842.

For this wedding Letitia made her only appearance at a White House social function. “Lizzie looked surpassingly lovely,” said Priscilla, and “our dear mother” was “far more attractive to me…than any other lady in the room,” greeting her guests “in her sweet, gentle, self-possessed manner.”

The first President’s wife to die in the White House, Letitia Tyler ended her days peacefully on September 10, 1842, holding a damask rose in her hand. She was taken to Virginia for burial at the plantation of her birth, deeply mourned by her family. “She had everything about her,” said Priscilla, “to awaken love…”


Contents

Born at the Cedar Grove plantation in New Kent County, Virginia, Letitia Christian was the daughter of Mary (née Brown) and Colonel Robert Christian. Christian was a prosperous planter. [2] Letitia was shy, quiet, pious, and by all accounts, selfless and devoted to her family. [3]

She met John Tyler, then a law student, in 1808. Their five-year courtship was restrained and it was three weeks before the wedding that Tyler first kissed her — on the hand. In his only surviving love letter to her, written a few months before their wedding, Tyler promised, "Whether I float or sink in the stream of fortune, you may be assured of this, that I shall never cease to love you." [4] [5]

Marriage Edit

They married on Tyler's 23rd birthday at Cedar Grove, her family's home. Their 29-year marriage appears to have been a happy one. Letitia Tyler avoided the limelight during her husband's political rise, preferring domestic responsibilities to those of a public wife. During his congressional service, she remained in Virginia except for one visit to Washington during the winter of 1828–1829. In 1839, she suffered a paralytic stroke that left her an invalid. As first lady, she remained in the upstairs living quarters of the White House she came down once, to attend the wedding of her daughter (Elizabeth) in January 1842. [6]

Children Edit

Together, John and Letitia Tyler had four daughters and three sons live to maturity: [7]

  • Mary Tyler-Jones (1815–1848), who married Henry Lightfoot Jones, a prosperous Tidewater planter, in 1835. (1816–1877), who was a lawyer, public official who served as his father's private secretary in the White House. He settled in Philadelphia, where he practiced law and served as sheriff's solicitor. He also was chief clerk of the state supreme court. He married Priscilla Cooper Tyler, an actress, who at the age of 24 assumed the position of White House hostess, and she served as official hostess at the White House during the first three years of the Tyler administration. As a leader of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania, Robert Tyler promoted the career of James Buchanan. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, he fled Philadelphia when an anti-southern mob attacked his home. He returned to Virginia, where he served as register of the Treasury of the Confederacy. Penniless after the war, he settled in Montgomery, Alabama, and there regained his fortunes as a lawyer, editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, and leader of the state Democratic Party.
  • John Tyler III (1819–1896), who was a lawyer, public official. Like his older brother, he also became a lawyer and served as private secretary to his father, campaigning for James Buchanan. During the Civil War, he served as assistant secretary of war of the Confederacy. After the war, he settled in Baltimore, where he practiced law. Under the Grant administration, he was appointed to a minor position in the IRS in Tallahassee, FL. (1821–1907), an educator married James Semple, whom her father appointed a purser in the U.S. Navy, in 1839. The marriage was an unhappy one. At the close of the American Civil War, she left her husband to open a school, the Eclectic Institute, in Baltimore. After her mother's death in 1842, and after her sister-in-law Priscilla moved away, Letitia served her father as the White House social hostess, the title later known as First Lady. Her father remarried in 1844.
  • Elizabeth Tyler-Waller (1823–1850), who married William N. Waller at a White House wedding in 1842. She died from the effects of childbirth at the age of 27.
  • Alice Tyler-Denison (1827–1854), who married the Reverend Henry M. Denison, an Episcopal rector in Williamsburg, in 1850. She died suddenly of colic, also at the age of 27.
  • Tazewell Tyler (1830–1874), who was a doctor who served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

The first first lady to die in the White House, Letitia Tyler died peacefully, aged 51, in the evening of September 10, 1842 from a stroke. [9] She was taken to Virginia for burial at the plantation of her birth. Tyler, Caroline Harrison (1892) and Ellen Wilson (1914) are the only first ladies to have died in the White House.

Her daughter-in-law Priscilla Cooper Tyler remembered her as "the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine. Notwithstanding her very delicate health, mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can't tell when she does it."

Tyler appears on a 28p (£0.28) commemorative postage stamp from the Isle of Man Post Office, issued May 23, 2006, as part of a series honoring Manx-Americans. [10] She also appears on a one-half ounce gold coin and a bronze medal issued by the United States Mint on July 2, 2009. [11]


Letitia Christian Tyler - History

Biography: Letitia Tyler had been confined to an invalid's chair for two years when her husband unexpectedly became President. Nobody had thought of that possibility when he took his oath of office as Vice President on March 4, 1841 indeed, he had planned to fill his undemanding duties from his home in Williamsburg where his wife was most comfortable, her Bible, prayer book, and knitting at her side.

Born on a Tidewater Virginia plantation in the 18th century, Letitia was spiritually akin to Martha Washington and Martha Jefferson. Formal education was no part of this pattern of life, but Letitia learned all the skills of managing a plantation, rearing a family, and presiding over a home that would be John Tyler's refuge during an active political life. They were married on March 29, 1813--his twenty-third birthday. Thereafter, whether he served in Congress or as Governor of Virginia, she attended to domestic duties. Only once did she join him for the winter social season in Washington. Of the eight children she bore, seven survived but after 1839 she was a cripple, though "still beautiful now in her declining years."

So her admiring new daughter-in-law, Priscilla Cooper Tyler, described her--"the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine. Notwithstanding her very delicate health, mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can't tell when she does it."

In a second-floor room at the White House, Letitia Tyler kept her quiet but pivotal role in family activities. She did not attempt to take part in the social affairs of the administration. Her married daughters had their own homes the others were too young for the full responsibility of official entertaining Priscilla at age 24 assumed the position of White House hostess, met its demands with spirit and success, and enjoyed it.

Daughter of a well-known tragedian, Priscilla Cooper had gone on the stage herself at 17. Playing Desdemona to her father's Othello in Richmond, she won the instant interest of Robert Tyler, whom she married in 1839. Intelligent and beautiful, with dark brown hair, she charmed the President's guests--from visiting celebrities like Charles Dickens to enthusiastic countrymen. Once she noted ruefully: "such hearty shakes as they gave my poor little hand too!" She enjoyed the expert advice of Dolley Madison, and the companionship of her young sister-in-law Elizabeth until she married William N. Waller in 1842.

For this wedding Letitia made her only appearance at a White House social function. "Lizzie looked surpassingly lovely," said Priscilla, and "our dear mother" was "far more attractive to me. than any other lady in the room," greeting her guests "in her sweet, gentle, self-possessed manner."

The first President's wife to die in the White House, Letitia Tyler ended her days peacefully on September 10, 1842, holding a damask rose in her hand. She was taken to Virginia for burial at the plantation of her birth, deeply mourned by her family. "She had everything about her," said Priscilla, "to awaken love. "


Letitia Christian Tyler

Letitia Christian Tyler, wife of President John Tyler, is buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery a mile northeast. Born on 12 November 1790, a daughter of Robert and Mary Browne Christian, she married John Tyler at her home, Cedar Grove, on 29 March 1813. Her husband served as a congressman (1817-1821), governor of Virginia (1825-1827), senator (1827-1836), vice president (1841), and tenth president of the United States (1841-1845). Letitia Christian Tyler was the first First Lady to die in the White House when she succumbed on 10 September 1842 after a series of paralyzing strokes. Her body lay in state in the East Room of the White House, then was transported to her family home at Cedar Grove for interment.

Erected 1994 by Department of Historic Resources. (Marker Number W-39.)

Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Cemeteries & Burial Sites &bull Women. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #10 John Tyler series list. A significant historical date for this entry is March 29, 1813.

Location. 37° 28.865′ N, 77° 7.827′ W. Marker is near Providence Forge, Virginia, in New Kent County. Marker is at the intersection of Pocahontas Trail (U.S. 60) and Roxbury Road, on the right when traveling east on Pocahontas

Trail. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 5009 S Garden Rd, Providence Forge VA 23140, United States of America. Touch for directions.

Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 5 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Long Bridge (here, next to this marker) a different marker also named Long Bridge (approx. 0.4 miles away) Arnold Stansley (approx. 3.1 miles away) Action of Nance's Shop (approx. 3.6 miles away) George W. Watkins School (approx. 3.8 miles away) Green v. County School Board of New Kent County (approx. 3.8 miles away) Roxbury (approx. 4 miles away) Stuart's Ride Around McClellan (approx. 4.2 miles away).

Also see . . . The National First Ladies' Library. First Lady Biography: Letitia Tyler. (Submitted on March 7, 2009, by Bernard Fisher of Richmond, Virginia.)


Letitia Tyler

Letitia Tyler (1790–1842), first wife of President John Tyler, was First Lady from April 4, 1841 until her death on September 10, 1842. After giving birth to eight children in fifteen years, Letitia Tyler suffered a stroke, which left her unable to walk. Yet her poor physical health did not prevent her from overseeing her family’s successful Virginia plantation and raising their children. In fact, it was Letitia’s success in these roles throughout their married life that allowed John Tyler to pursue his political ambitions full time.

Childhood and Early Years
Letitia Christian was born on November 12, 1790 on a Tidewater Virginia plantation named Cedar Grove in New Kent County, about twenty miles from Richmond. She was the daughter of Colonel Robert Christian, a prosperous planter, and Mary Brown Christian. Letitia was described as shy, quiet, pious, and by all accounts utterly selfless and devoted to her family.

Letitia had more in common with Martha Washington and Martha Jefferson than the younger First Ladies. Formal education was not part of the rural Virginia pattern of life, but Letitia learned all the skills of managing a plantation, rearing a family and presiding over a home, believing this was all a female needed.

John Tyler
John Tyler was born on March 29, 1790, in the early years of the newly established nation. Tyler was raised with his two brothers and five sisters on Greenway Plantation, a 1,200-acre estate with a six-room mansion in Charles City County. After graduation from the College of William and Mary, he studied law with his father, who was a state judge at the time.

At the time of their marriage Tyler was serving in the Virginia House of Delegates, and served there until 1816, when he was elected to the US House of Representatives, 1817-1821. In 1825 he was elected Governor of Virginia, 1825-1826 United States Senator, 1827-1836 Vice President of the United States in 1841 then he assumed the Presidency in April 1841 after William Henry Harrison died after one month in office.

Marriage and Children
In 1808 Letitia met John Tyler, then a law student, at a private party on a nearby plantation. Their five-year courtship was so restrained that not until three weeks before the wedding did Tyler kiss her – and even then it was on the hand. Judging from Tyler’s surviving letters, the union was genuine and loving, but somewhat restrained by Letitia’s conservative and undemonstrative nature.

In his only surviving love letter to her, written a few months before their wedding, Tyler promised:

Whether I float or sink in the stream of fortune, you may be assured of this, that I shall never cease to love you.

They were married on March 29, 1813 – his twenty-third birthday – at Cedar Grove Plantation. Their 29-year marriage appears to have been a happy one. Thereafter, whether he served in Congress or as Governor of Virginia, Letitia attended to domestic duties. Only once did she join him for the winter social season in Washington.

Shortly after their wedding, Letitia’s parents died and she received a substantial inheritance. The couple used Letitia’s money to purchase a nearby plantation, then rapidly moved to increasingly larger houses: Mons-Sacer, Woodburn, then Greenway, John Tyler’s childhood home. Letitia supervised the 1,200 acre Greenway estate for many years.

Letitia’s inheritance and her success in running their plantations and raising their children also permitted Tyler to pursue his political career full time. Letitia rarely left home and played little role in her husband’s career due to the demands of her ever-expanding family which untimately numbered eight.

John and Letitia Tyler had four daughters and three sons live to maturity:
• Mary Tyler Jones (1815–1848) – married Henry Lightfoot Jones, a prosperous Tidewater planter.
• Robert Tyler (1816–1877) – lawyer, public official. Having served as his father’s private secretary in the White House, he settled in Philadelphia, where he practiced law. As a leader of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania, Robert Tyler promoted the career of James Buchanan. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he returned to Virginia, where he served in the Treasury of the Confederacy. Penniless after the war, he settled in Montgomery, Alabama, where he regained his fortunes as a lawyer, editor of the Montgomery Advertiser and leader of the state Democratic Party.
• John Tyler, III (1819–1896) – lawyer, public official. Like his older brother, he also became a lawyer, served as private secretary to his father and campaigned for James Buchanan. During the Civil War, he served as assistant secretary of war of the Confederacy. After the war, he settled in Baltimore, where he practiced law. Under the Grant administration, he was appointed to a minor position in the IRS in Tallahassee, Florida.
• Letitia Tyler Semple (1821–1907) – educator. In 1839, she married James Semple, whom her father appointed a purser in the U.S. Navy. The marriage was an unhappy one. At the close of the Civil War, she left her husband to open a school, the Eclectic Institute, in Baltimore.
• Elizabeth Tyler Waller (1823–1850) – At a White House wedding in 1842, she married William N. Waller. She died from the effects of childbirth at age 27.
• Alice Tyler Denison (1827–1854) – In 1850 she married the Reverend Henry M. Denison, an Episcopal rector in Williamsburg. She died suddenly of colic at age 27.
• Tazewell Tyler (1830–1874) – doctor. During the Civil War, he served as a surgeon in the Confederate army. After the war, he moved to California.

Letitia Tyler avoided the limelight during her husband’s political rise, raising her children and overseeing the running of their homes. It would seem that she accepted slavery as part of plantation life, she insisted that no women slaves be permitted to do outdoor work of any kind. More often than not, the Tylers experienced financial difficulties and it was the primary source of stress, and it was she who assumed responsibility for the family’s investments.

For a period of about five years, however, she enjoyed some measure of her husband’s success. While he served as Governor of Virginia, she presided as the First Lady of Virginia in Richmond, from 1825 to 1827. As a US Senate wife, she spent the social season of 1828-1829 in Washington, DC, living in the capital at an exciting time of change from the last bitter months of the John Quincy Adams Administration to the raucous Inauguration of the first western President, Andrew Jackson.

After resigning from the U.S. Senate in 1836, Tyler returned home to Virginia. A few short years later, in 1839, at age 49 Letitia Tyler suffered a stroke which left her partially paralyzed and unable to get around easily.

How, or if Letitia Tyler’s influence applied to any of her husband’s political decisions is unknown but one daughter recalled:

I have frequently heard our father say that he rarely failed to consult her judgment in the midst of difficulties and troubles, and that she invariably led him to the best conclusion.

As chronicled in a letter written by her daughter-in-law in the years just prior to her moving into the White House, Letitia Tyler was still able to direct the management of her home and the entertaining that took place there with verbal instruction from her bedroom, despite the limitations on her health and movement as a result of her stroke.

In 1840, when Tyler was chosen as the vice presidential candidate to balance the ticket with Whig presidential candidate William Henry Harrison, the Tylers’ intent was to continue living in Virginia, with him occasionally commuting to Washington DC. Fate would not comply with their plans as Harrison died a mere month after taking office.

First Lady of the United States
The Tylers were at their home in Virginia when Fletcher Webster, the son of Secretary of State Daniel Webster and chief clerk of the State Department arrived, via the boat Osceola, with the news of Harrison’s death. Tyler immediately left for the capital city. When Tyler arrived in Washington, DC at 4:00 a.m. on April 6, 1841, he took the oath of office in his room at the Indian Queen Hotel.

Robert Tyler, serving as his father’s secretary, followed a week later with his wife Priscilla. The other Tyler children – married daughter Letitia Semple, single daughter Elizabeth, son John, Jr., younger daughter Alice, younger son Tazewell – came to Washington in late May and brought their mother Letitia Tyler with them. Married daughter Mary Jones remained in Virginia.

Letitia’s health had stabilized and she orchestrated the household affairs of the White House to a limited degree from the upstairs residence. While she largely remained seated in her second-floor room, her Bible, prayer book and knitting at her side, she took a lively interest in the activities of her young children, their spouses and her growing circle of grandchildren.

She was able to speak, often encouraging that the family must enjoy the social opportunities that came to them as the presidential family despite her inability to join them and she also directed that many charitable contributions be made from her own personal but limited wealth to the poor of Washington.

Letitia also apparently permitted special guests outside of the family in to see her, and had some interest in the world outside of her room, because she was remembered as being able to “converse with visitors on current topics, intelligently.” A remark that she “evaded the public eye as much as possible” suggests that she may have had more movement beyond her private quarters than has been previously supposed.

The First Lady did not attempt to take part in the social affairs of the administration. Her married daughters had their own homes the others were too young for the full responsibility of official entertaining. Letitia was remembered as being “the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine… Notwithstanding her very delicate health, mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can’t tell when she does it.”

In the face of her physical limitations and deteriorating health, Letitia Tyler still managed to assume many of the duties traditionally borne by the President’s ‘Lady’ – directing the White House social calendar, greeting callers, making visitors feel at home, and advising her husband on political affairs. Yet she did not perform the important and visible jobs associated with hostessing, nor did she direct a much-needed refurbishment of the White House.

Daughter-in-law Priscilla Cooper Tyler (wife of son Robert Tyler) served as the official hostess of the White House during the first three years of the Tyler Administration, from approximately April 1841 until March 1844. Intelligent and beautiful, with dark brown hair, Priscilla charmed the President’s guests – from visiting celebrities like Charles Dickens to enthusiastic countrymen – and enjoyed the expert advice of former First Lady Dolley Madison, who lived across the street.

Priscilla embraced her hostessing duties, holding two formal dinners a week when Congress was in session, providing biweekly evening receptions which were open to the public, and inviting as many as a thousand guests to her monthly parties. She opened up the White House on both New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July, and initiated summer Marine Band concerts on the south lawn of the White House.

The political turmoil of the Tyler Administration included two consecutive nights in August 1841 when a mob surrounding the White House with torches, banging drums, blowing horns, shouting epitaphs at the President and burning him in effigy to protest his veto of a bank bill this protest only aggravated the delicate First Lady’s condition, and she worried constantly about the continuous drain on the family finances, since a stubborn Congress insisted that the President pay all expenses out of his own pocket.

As First Lady, Letitia Tyler came down from the upstairs living quarters and made her only intently public appearance in the state rooms of the White House as First Lady at the marriage of her daughter Elizabeth to William Waller on February 7, 1842, greeting her guests “in her sweet, gentle, self-possessed manner,” said Priscilla.

Sometime after the Waller wedding, the First Lady suffered a second stroke. She apparently was still able to speak, a letter that the President wrote to their daughter Mary Jones stated that the First Lady implored her to move to the White House or at least visit as soon as possible. This corresponds with another plea, in August of 1842, to see her son Robert and his wife Priscilla who were visiting her sister in New York.

The First Lady’s sister Elizabeth Douglas and her daughter Lizzie Waller arrived in Washington from their homes near Williamsburg, Virginia in time to see Letitia Tyler before she died. Robert and Priscilla, however, arrived too late the First Lady had died, holding a rose in her hand, having continually turned to look for her son.

In her seventeen month as First Lady, Letitia Tyler died peacefully in the evening of September 10, 1842 at age 51, making her the youngest First Lady to die. As the first incumbent presidential wife to die, Letitia Tyler’s funeral was of considerable public acknowledgement. The White House was hung with black mourning bunting, and newspapers carried details of her death, funeral and burial plans.

Her coffin lay in state in the East Room, and the city’s bells were tolled in her honor. After a funeral in the East Room, the body of Letitia Tyler – accompanied by an “official committee of the citizens of Washington” – was sent to Richmond by train and brought back by carriage to her birthplace at Cedar Grove where she was buried.

Priscilla Cooper Tyler continued to serve as White House hostess, and most notably, accompanied her father-in-law on an official presidential tour during the summer of 1843. It was the first time that any President traveled the United States with a female member of his family as part of his official party, thus giving a previously unrecognized level of public visibility and status to the role of First Lady.

Priscilla Tyler was also the first official hostess to give birth during her tenure her second child, Letitia, was born in the spring of 1843. In March of 1844, Robert and Priscilla Tyler moved to Philadelphia where Robert practiced law, and daughter Letitia “Letty” Tyler Semple served as her widowed father’s White House hostess and devoted companion.

In June 1844, Letty was shocked and hurt when her father married Julia Gardiner, a woman thirty years his junior. Letty was replaced as hostess by a woman younger than she. While the other Tyler children soon took to their new stepmother, Letty Semple never did. She divorced her husband, and spent an uncertain life thereafter.

In the 1870’s Letty Semple was given free room and board for the rest of her life by her friend, Washington entrepreneur W. W. Corcoran, at the Louise Home, which he created for elderly women of distinguished background who found themselves in genteel poverty. He was Letty’s escort to the numerous White House events she was invited to by First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes, and Hayes befriended and often visited Letty Semple at the Louise Home.

President John Tyler died on January 18, 1862 and was interred in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery with a grandiose funeral and the erection of an enormous marker. He died a Confederate and at his request his body was wrapped in a Flag of the South. When Julia Gardiner Tyler passed, she was interred beside him. Letitia was forgotten her grave remains today in the brick walled cemetery at Cedar Grove Plantation.


Letitia Tyler

Leticia Christian was born on a Tidewater Virginia plantation on November 12, 1790, to Mary and Colonel Robert Christian. Although she was not formally educated, Letitia learned all the skills of managing a plantation, overseeing enslaved people, rearing a family, and presiding over a home that would be John Tyler’s refuge during an active political life. They were married on March 29, 1813—his 23rd birthday. Thereafter, whether he served in Congress or as governor of Virginia, she attended to domestic duties and preferred to stay out of the spotlight. Only once did she join him for the winter social season in Washington. Leticia gave birth to eight children seven survived to adulthood.

By 1841, Leticia suffered a paralytic stroke that confined her to a chair. Despite this, Leticia was able to still carry out many of her duties when her husband ascended to the presidency following the untimely death of President William Henry Harrison.

In a Second Floor room at the White House, Letitia Tyler kept her quiet but pivotal role in family activities. She did not attempt to take part in the social affairs of the administration. Her daughter-in-law Priscilla Cooper Tyler, assumed the position of White House hostess, met its demands with spirit and success, and enjoyed it.

Daughter of a well-known tragedian, Priscilla had gone on the stage herself at 17. Playing Desdemona to her father’s Othello in Richmond, Virginia, she won the instant interest of Robert Tyler, whom she married in 1839. Intelligent and beautiful, she charmed the president’s guests—from visiting celebrities like Charles Dickens to enthusiastic countrymen. Once she noted ruefully: “such hearty shakes as they gave my poor little hand too!” She enjoyed the expert advice of Dolley Madison, and the companionship of her young sister-in-law Elizabeth until she married William N. Waller in 1842. For this wedding, Letitia made her only public appearance at a White House social function.

The first president’s wife to die in the White House, Letitia Tyler ended her days peacefully on September 10, 1842, holding a damask rose in her hand after suffering a stroke. She was taken to Virginia for burial at the plantation of her birth, deeply mourned by her family.


Letitia Christian Tyler - History

Letitia Christian Tyler

Letitia Tyler had been confined to an invalid's chair for two years when her husband unexpectedly became President. Nobody had thought of that possibility when he took his oath of office as Vice President on March 4, 1841 indeed, he had planned to fill his undemanding duties from his home in Williamsburg where his wife was most comfortable, her Bible, prayer book, and knitting at her side.

Born on a Tidewater Virginia plantation in the 18th century, Letitia was spiritually akin to Martha Washington and Martha Jefferson. Formal education was no part of this pattern of life, but Letitia learned all the skills of managing a plantation, rearing a family, and presiding over a home that would be John Tyler's refuge during an active political life. They were married on March 29, 1813--his twenty-third birthday. Thereafter, whether he served in Congress or as Governor of Virginia, she attended to domestic duties. Only once did she join him for the winter social season in Washington. Of the eight children she bore, seven survived but after 1839 she was a cripple, though "still beautiful now in her declining years."

So her admiring new daughter-in-law, Priscilla Cooper Tyler, described her--"the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine. Notwithstanding her very delicate health, mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can't tell when she does it."

In a second-floor room at the White House, Letitia Tyler kept her quiet but pivotal role in family activities. She did not attempt to take part in the social affairs of the administration. Her married daughters had their own homes the others were too young for the full responsibility of official entertaining Priscilla at age 24 assumed the position of White House hostess, met its demands with spirit and success, and enjoyed it.

Daughter of a well-known tragedian, Priscilla Cooper had gone on the stage herself at 17. Playing Desdemona to her father's Othello in Richmond, she won the instant interest of Robert Tyler, whom she married in 1839. Intelligent and beautiful, with dark brown hair, she charmed the President's guests--from visiting celebrities like Charles Dickens to enthusiastic countrymen. Once she noted ruefully: "such hearty shakes as they gave my poor little hand too!" She enjoyed the expert advice of Dolley Madison, and the companionship of her young sister-in-law Elizabeth until she married William N. Waller in 1842.

For this wedding Letitia made her only appearance at a White House social function. "Lizzie looked surpassingly lovely," said Priscilla, and "our dear mother" was "far more attractive to me. than any other lady in the room," greeting her guests "in her sweet, gentle, self-possessed manner."

The first President's wife to die in the White House, Letitia Tyler ended her days peacefully on September 10, 1842, holding a damask rose in her hand. She was taken to Virginia for burial at the plantation of her birth, deeply mourned by her family. "She had everything about her," said Priscilla, "to awaken love. "


Letitia Christian Tyler

Letitia and John Tyler moved into the White House after President Harrison died one month into his term in 1841 and Tyler unexpectedly succeeded as president. The 50-year-old Letitia had suffered a stroke just a few years earlier, which left her partially paralyzed. She was not healthy enough to adhere to the demanding schedule of a full-time first lady, so she designated the social responsibilities to her daughter-in-law, Priscilla Cooper Tyler. Letitia’s poor health also prevented her from attending White House social functions. During her time at the White House, she remained in the family quarters, but nevertheless managed to orchestrate household affairs. Though Letitia was an invalid, she did attend the wedding of her daughter Elizabeth, which was held in January 1842. Letitia died later that same year after succumbing to a second stroke, making her the first first lady to die while her husband was still in office. Following Letitia’s death, Priscilla continued to handle the social responsibilities. However, in 1844 Priscilla and her husband moved from Washington, so the Tyler’s daughter, Letitia Tyler Semple, acted as White House hostess until Tyler remarried.

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Letitia’s daughter-in-law Priscilla remarked about the absent-yet-active role undertaken by her mother-in-law as first lady, “Mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can’t tell when she does it.”


Person:Letitia Christian (1)

Letitia suffered a paralytic stroke in 1839 that left her an invalid. She appeared in public as First Lady only at the wedding of her daughter Elizabeth in 1842.

For more information, see the EN Wikipedia article Letitia Christian Tyler.

Excerpt: Though they are not, of course, a Manx family, it will be of interest to record what is known of the Manx Christian’s who emigrated to Virginia about 1655. According to the family traditions, the emigrants consisted of two brothers, William and Jonathan, who were said to have been connected with the Milntown family.

They left the Island at the same time a family of the name of Cottier,1 probably from Lezayre, two of the daughters of which family married the two brothers, but whether before or after their arrival in Virginia is not known.

The first of the family who became prominent was Robert, of Cedar Grove, New Kent County, Virginia, who lived during the end of the last century and the beginning of the present. He was for many years the chief magistrate in his county. He married Mary Brown, and had issue among others Letitia who married General Tyler, Vice President of the Republic. General Tyler is connected with President Monroe, and General Robert E. Lee and President Harrison are collateral descendants of his, and his father had been President.

Judge Joseph Christian of Virginia, the present representative of the family, has recently (1888) written me as follows: ‘For 7 years before this, I was circuit judge. Five of my cousins also hold judicial stations. George L. Christian is Judge of the Husting Court of the City of Richmond. J.H. Christian is Judge of the County Court of Charles City County and Thomas Christian is the Judge of the County Court of Middlesex and Matthews Counties. The learned professions both of law and medicine are numerously represented by our name and family, and a few of the name are in the ministry. The family is now a very numerous one in Virginia and has numerous representatives in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Alabama. P.S., As there are four Judge Christian’s, you will address me Judge Joseph Christian of Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia.’

1 The present representative of this family is Judge Cottier of Virginia, son of the late Honorable Robert Cottier. [1]


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