Death in the White House - Letitia Tyler

Letitia Tyler
First Lady 1841 - 1842

In 1839, Letitia Tyler suffered a stroke which left her partially paralyzed. A year later, her husband, John Tyler, was chosen to be the Vice-Presidential candidate with William Henry Harrison. Tyler intended to conduct his work from his home in Williamsburg, so he could be near Letitia. Upon receiving word of William Henry Harrison's death, Tyler proceeded to Washington. Letitia stayed in Virginia until late May and was then taken to Washington by her children. Her daughter-in-law, in the years just prior to her moving into the White House, wrote that Letitia Tyler was still able to direct the management of her home and the entertaining that took place there with verbal instruction from her bedroom suite, despite the limitations on her health and movement as a result of her stroke. She was able to speak and remained as beautiful as ever.

On 7 February 1842, Letitia Christian Tyler made her only public appearance in the state rooms of the White House as First Lady at the marriage of her daughter, Elizabeth, to William N. Waller. Some time later, the First Lady suffered a second stroke. Her doctor was almost a daily visitor to the White House. Gradually her system was giving away, until in September her decline grew more rapid. She apparently was still able to speak as the President wrote pleas from her to two of their children asking them to move to or visit Washington soon. They arrived back at the White House too late; the First Lady had died at eight o'clock Saturday evening, September 10, 1842, holding a rose in her hand.

Funeral Procession
As the first incumbent presidential wife to die, Letitia Tyler's funeral was of considerable public acknowledgement. The mansion was hung with black mourning bunting, and newspapers carried details of her death, funeral and burial plans. Funeral services were held at the White House at four o'clock on Monday. Flowers were strewn over the bier. Her coffin lay in state in the East Room, and an "official committee of the citizens of Washington" accompanied her casket from the White House to her final resting place in Virginia.

The Richmond Enquirer reported on September 16, 1842

"The remains of Mrs. Tyler arrived in the Northern cars on Tuesday. They were accompanied by President Tyler, his sons, Judge Christian, Mr. Upshur, (the Secretary of the Navy,) and other gentlemen from Washington. A respectable number of citizens... received the craped coffin at the depot, when the cars arrived, and followed the hearse to the Powhatan House. As a tribute of respect to the lady of the Chief Magistrate of the U. S., the Capitol bell and the bell of the 1st Presbyterian Church tolled during the afternoon. On Wednesday morning at 4 o'clock, amid the tolls of the Capitol bell, the procession set out for the family burial ground in the county of New Kent.

Thus, two events have happened in two years, which were unknown to our annals. In 1841, the President of the U. S. dies, and in 1842, the wife of the Chief Magistrate dies. Mrs. Jackson breathed her last before Gen. Jackson was installed into office. Mrs. Tyler is the only wife of a Chief Magistrate who has died, whilst he was in office."

Mrs. Tyler was buried at her childhood home and family burial grounds at Cedar Grove Plantation in New Kent County, Virginia.

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