The White House Burned 202 Years Ago Today


Dolley Madison, alone in the White House, used a spyglass to peep out of the window to see if the British were coming.

It was 202 years ago today. The War of 1812 was roaring. Dolley's husband, President James Madison had left her there while he met with his generals working to protect Wasington.

Madison was concerned about leaving his wife alone in the White House during such a perilous time, but needed her to stay to pack up his papers in preparation for a possible evacuation.

As Dolley packed her husband's presidential papers and checked her spyglass, Washingtonians were scattering. Chaos grew on Pennsylvania Avenue and the streets of the capitol city as Americans, sensing the British were near, feverishly worked to evacuate. Even the number of men standing guard outside of the White House dwindled as many fled to safety.

Determined to stay optimistic, Dolley had her servants prepare a meal. She knew her husband and his men would be hungry when they returned.

However, instead of returning, Madison sent word to his wife that she should evacuate, the British were coming.

By this point wagons were scarce in Washington. Dolley sacrificed her personal belongings, choosing to save her husband's papers and the famous portrait of President George Washington that still hangs in the White House today.

When the British soldiers arrived they enjoyed the meal White House cooks had prepared, then torched the place.

Today, 202 years ago the White House was on fire. It's hard to imagine. However, it's an important part of history that Americans can learn from. Author Jane Hampton Cook tells the story in her new book, The Burning of the White House: James and Dolley Madison and The War of 1812.

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