First Ladies: Letitia Christian Tyler

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Letitia Christian was born on November 12, 1790 in Cedar Grove, Virginia. She was the daughter of Colonel Robert and Mary Brown Christian. The family lived on Cedar Grove Plantation.

Letitia Christian Tyler

She met a young law student, John Tyler, in 1808. They courted for the next five years. Wikipedia says, ” 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. 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.””

The couple married on John Tyler’s 23rd birthday.

The couple would have three sons and four daughters that lived to adulthood.

By all accounts their marriage was a happy one.

John Tyler felt that family was important and from time to time would leave public office for a private law career, in which he could be closer to his family. Other times he was happy with corresponding with his children and wife.

One daughter recalled that, “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.”

In 1839, Letitia suffered a stroke that left her an invalid.

Letitia Tyler was unable to fulfill her hostess duties as First Lady due to her stroke. She remained upstairs in the living quarters of the White House.

Letitia Christian Tyler

However, she doesn’t seem completely without outside interest. Firstladies.org says, “The incapacitate First Lady also directed that many charitable contributions be made from her own personal but limited wealth to the poor of Washington, although it is not known if there was any specific charity or group to which her donations were made.

She 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.””

Her daughter-in-law Priscilla Cooper Tyler remembered her as being “the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine…Not withstanding 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.”

Priscilla Tyler served in the duties of First Lady until President Tyler’s second marriage, shortly before the end of his Presidency.

The only time she came downstairs was n January 1842, when her daughter Elizabeth, married William N. Waller.

Letitia Tyler died on the evening of September 10, 1842 from a stroke. She was only 51 years old. She was the first First Lady to die in the White House.

Following her death, Letitia Tyler laid in state in the East Room. The city bells were tolled in her honor and the White House was hung with black mourning bunting. The newspapers carried all of the details of her death, funeral and burial plans.

She was buried in Virginia, at the plantation on which she was born.

Tomorrow: John Tyler’s second wife, Julia Gardiner Tyler