The Bri­tish at the pres­i­dent’s house

The Dundalk Eagle - - OBITUARIES -

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.

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