In 1812 Canada wasn’t a country yet, but it was still part of the British Colonies. We, in fact, did not become a nation until 1867. So where Donald Trump got his facts about us Canucks “burning down the house” in Washington during 1814 I will never know.
The wife of then President James Madison, Dorothea “Dolley” Dandridge Payne Todd Madison, set high Washington entertaining standards during her reign. Dolley was initially a hostess for President Thomas Jefferson, who was a widower, and then as first lady during the presidency of her husband from 1809 to 1817. As the leader of the Washington social scene she presided over the country’s first inaugural ball and never forgot a name or a person’s face, nor any of the British that night in 1814.
She was a spunky woman who was known for her charm and grace, and Dolley not only served a wondrous meal that fateful evening, but also saved the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington from the White House fire. What’s more, in the expectation that the US army would beat the British, the American President and his wife had ordered a tremendous celebratory meal prepared for 40 guests.
Madison might have been president, but he was no great war leader. He chose two hopeless misfits to manage the country’s defence. His War Secretary, John Armstrong, arrogantly refused to take any serious measures to meet the British invasion. Now that was a “Dolly Madison Zingers” box of wrong!
When the British invaders in their blood-stained uniforms burst into the White House, they found the table elegantly laid for dinner, meat roasting on spits and the President’s best wine on the sideboard.
The menu for Dolley’s guests that night included: hors d’oeuvres of Fish Croquettes, and Stuffed Mushrooms. Then there was fresh roasted meat of “ox or heifer” with a Crab Sauce Demi-glaze, White fish and Black Bass, Potato Ragout and a Vegetable Medley served with bread made from Canadian flour. Yes, Canadian flour. The evening’s dessert was to be a surprise. I bet they had no idea that a “flambe of sorts” was to be on the menu.
The British were said to be delighted and tucked into the meal as soon as they charged into the White House. One young officer said of the President’s Madeira wine: ‘Never was nectar more grateful to the palates of the gods’. Afterwards he scampered up to the President’s bedroom and swapped his sweaty tunic for a freshly-ironed presidential shirt.
Meanwhile back in the dining room, one of his comrades bundled up the White House silver cutlery in a tablecloth. The British commander then calmly told his men to pile the chairs on to the tables and torch the place!
Before the night was done the British had also burned both houses of Congress, the War Office, the State Department and the Treasury. It is the only time in U.S. history that outsiders have raided the capital and the war with America went on for only four more months with no real gains for either side– but the meal consumed by the British that night at the White House was talked about for months.
The fire caused by the British in 1814 was not the only fire that damaged the White House. In 1929 in the attic of the Executive Office wing had extensive fire damage, requiring President Hoover to vacate the office while repairs were made.
Thank you– that is all. As they say in South Park– go ahead– Blame Canada!
Anyways I heard it was Russia! LOL
AJ CalhounHistorical note re: the 1812 invasion: The tiny town of Brookeville, MD, has the distinction of having served as the nation’s capital for at least a night when everybody got the hell out of dodge and the fire department failed to respond in DC. (there wasn’t one yet). Brookeville is also notable for being located at a dangerous dogleg in Rte. 97 heading toward Sunshine, MD, so if one is sightseeing and fails to negotiate the turn and survives, there is a little bit to see (and of course antiques, antiques!). The British had no idea where Brookeville was, and if they had they would have run into Mr. Brooke’s house anyway. The Brookes and the Lees intermarried later, before the next uproar. They built a country club, too. So there’s that.