Today was a beautiful day. Bright sunshine, a few clouds, low humidity, and temps around 80. I’m not sure I could have ordered a better day. Meanwhile, the East Coast is battening down the hatches as Hurricane Irene has come ashore and is working its misery. As I type, New York City is in the crosshairs. I hope my good friend Michael (who lives in Rhode Island and founded Today’s History Lesson) and a couple other good friends in the area will be alright.
At this time in 1814, it was the nation’s capitol that was the center of attention. It wasn’t a hurricane that was approaching, but one that had just departed. Actually, it was a two-headed hurricane. The first was the literal storm that blew in, chasing the attacking British back to their ships. The second head belonged to the British themselves, who landed just in front of the storm and stuck around long enough to burn down the White House, the Capitol building (including the Library of Congress), both houses of Congress, and numerous other buildings.
The U.S. government had scattered before the British onslaught. The night the city was sacked, President Madison and his wife planned to meet, along with others, at Wiley’s Tavern near the Great Falls. But the President ended up at the home of Reverend John Maffitt. Dolley, just a mile away, bedded down at the home of her friend Matilda Love.
As we know, the British stay in the capitol was short-lived, and Madison soon received word of their departure. It was time to reclaim the capital. Shortly after 5:00pm on August 27, 1814, the President re-entered D.C. with James Monroe and Richard Rush. Much had changed in 3 days, and the rebuilding would take years. There was a tremendous explosion later in the evening as Fort Washington, for some reason, was blown up by its commander.
The good news was that the President was back in Washington. But though he would be elected to a second term, he and Dolley would not again sleep in the White House.
Recommended Reading: James Madison