The British at the president’s house
On the evening of Aug. 24, 1814, the British occupation force in the District of Columbia reached a fine stone building that some were already calling The White House because of its color, although later it would be said that it was painted over to cover the black soot left from the Redcoat torches of August 1814.
At The President’s House, the British intruders likewise found the building deserted, with nary even a sentry in sight, and in the dining room, they were astonished to find places set for a banquet of 40.
This was to have been a victory dinner for the winners of the Battle of Bladensburg, and now it was, but not as originally intended, the Britishers mused.
The weary soldiers, sailors, and Royal Marines sat down to eat at the President’s own table, dining off fine china, drinking US President James Madison’s Madiera, and other wines packed in ice in coolers nearby.
Raffishly toasting both the English Prince Regent and “Jemmy” for the fine meal left for them so invitingly, they next went upstairs to the Madisons’ private apartments. There, they even took President Madison’s clothes, Lt. Scott helping himself to a shirt belonging to no less a personage than the President of the United States.
Other than this, Cockburn permitted no looting, and took only a cushion belonging to Mrs. Madison, the First Lady of this upstart Republic that thought it could make war on mighty Great Britain with impunity!
He brazenly took the cushion---he later said, impishly---to remind him of Dolley’s seat. apprehension from atop Federal Hill in neighboring Baltimore.
An excellent rendering of the burning of The White House at night in Washington, DC on Aug. 24, 1814, with Maj. Gen. Robert Ross the figure on the brown horse at center. The British Army bandsmen at right and left wear bearskin caps, while the rest of the men of the red-coated 21st Foot wear the 1812 shako hats, with the exception of the officer at the far left, who still wears the pre-1812 stovepipe hat. The man in the green uniform seen talking to Gen. Ross is a light infantryman or jager, a skirmisher, but there are no Royal Marines or Navy sailors to be seen — including Rear Adm. Sir George Cockburn.
A superb and accurate rendering of Gen. Ross (left) and his troops setting fire to The President’s Mansion on Aug. 24, 1814. Afterwards, the rebuilt structure — painted white — became known as The White House.
There was a trio of different gateway signs at The Washington Navy Yard when I toured it in 1989, and this was one of them as it appeared on the Eastern Branch of the Potomac River.