Friday, October 12, 2012
British Forces helped themselves to a sumptuous feast left behind by First Lady Dolley Madison before setting fire to the residence...
White House Curator William 'Bill' Allman stars in a new White House video, discussing the British burning of the White House during the War of 1812. The British destruction took place on August 24, 1814, and Allman shows still-visible scorch marks on the residence as he explains that President James Madison was away from the residence, fighting the war. But First Lady Dolley Madison was home, and she famously saved the portrait of President George Washington that now hangs in the East Room. Mrs. Madison as she departed also left her husband's dinner ready to be served. British troops helped themselves to what has been described as a lavish feast.
"President Madison came back from the battlefield and found dinner set, and First Lady Dolley Madison gone," Allman says onscreen. "He and his Cabinet quickly left as well. And then later that night the British arrived and ate the dinner, then set fire to the building."
The video, posted to mark Fire Prevention Week, includes a clip of President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron joking about the White House burning, when Mr. Cameron visited the White House last march for his State Visit and State Dinner.
Allman doesn't say onscreen what Mrs. Madison was serving for dinner, but George Gleig, a member of the British force that attacked the White House, left this account:
When the detachment sent out to destroy Mr. Madison's house entered his dining parlor, they found a dinner table spread and covers laid for forty guests. Several kinds of wine, in handsome cut glass decanters, were cooling on the sideboard; plate holders stood by the fireplace, filled with dishes and plates; knives, forks, and spoons were arranged for immediate use; in short, everything was ready for the entertainment of a ceremonious party. Such were the arrangements in the dining room, whilst in the kitchen were others answerable to them in every respect. Spits, loaded with joints of various sorts, turned before the fire; pots, utensils stood upon the grate; and all the other requisites for an elegant and substantial repast were exactly in a state which indicated that they had been lately and precipitately abandoned.
You will readily imagine that these preparations were beheld by a party of hungry soldiers with no indifferent eye. An elegant dinner, even though considerably overdressed, was a luxury to which few of them, at least for some time back, had been accustomed, and which, after the dangers and fatigues of the day, appeared peculiarly inviting. They sat down to it, therefore, not indeed in the most orderly manner, but with countenances which would not have disgraced a party of aldermen at a civic feast, and, having satisfied their appetites with fewer complaints than would have probably escaped their rival gourmands, and partaken pretty freely of the wines, they finished by setting fire to the house which had so liberally entertained them.