On August 24, 1814, a British force led by Major General Robert Ross occupied Washington, D.C., and set fire to many public buildings– including the White House, the Capitol, and other U.S. government facilities.
The Burning of Washington was an attack during the War of 1812, between British forces and the USA. The attack was partially a “tit for tat” response to America’s destruction of Port Dover in Upper Canada. (This is when American troops went to destroy grain and mills that were used to provide flour for British soldiers on the Niagara Peninsula.)
This is the only time in history that Washington, D.C. has been occupied by a foreign force.
Less than a day after the attack, a heavy rainstorm put out the remaining fires. After this heavy storm (which also provided a tornado that went through D.C.), British troops retreated to their ships– which were also damaged. This allowed Americans to regain control, making the occupation of Washington last somewhere around 26 hours.
This is where the story of First Lady Dolley Madison comes into play. It circulated (and still does) that she saved the portrait of President Washington from the flames, cutting it from the frame that held it to the wall.
Paul Jennings, President James Madison’s personal slave, published his memoir in 1865 (after purchasing his freedom from none other than Mrs. Madison), and said it was not Mrs. Madison who saved the painting! She would have, apparently, needed a ladder and other tools to accomplish this– and he said there was not time for her to do it. Who were the saviors of this famous art?
According to Jennings, it was John Suse (the French doorkeeper) and Magraw (the president’s gardner).
In 2009, President Obama held a ceremony to recognize Jennings for his bravery and assistance in saving the painting and other valuables from the fire. Several of his descendants attended, and even took a family portrait in front of the very painting.
Have you ever visited The White House? I have actually never been to Washington (D.C.). I say “actually” because I’ve been a crazy amount of places, (stateside) but D.C. is still on my bucket list!