Skip to main content

History News

Dolley's Moment...

May 2024
1min read

 Curators at Montpelier, Pres. James Madison's estate near Orange, Virginia, recently installed a mural in the new visitors center cafe, which depicts Dolley Madison's courageous removal of Gilbert Stuart's famous portrait of George Washington as the British bore down upon Washington during the War of 1812.

Here's the First Lady herself writing about the events to her sister on August 23, 1814, the day before the British burned Washinton:

Dear Sister,

Three o'clock - Will you believe it, my sister? We have had a battle or skirmish near Bladensburg, and here I am still, within sound of the cannon! Mr. Madison comes not; may God protect him! . . . Our kind friend, Mr. Carroll, has come to hasten my departure, and is in a very bad humor with me because I insist on waiting until the large picture of George Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall. This process was found too tedious for these perilous moments; I have ordered the frame to be broken and the canvas taken out; it is done, and the precious portrait placed in the hands of two gentlemen of New York, for safe keeping. And now, dear sister, I must leave this house, or the retreating army will make me a prisoner in it, by filling up the road I am directed to take. When I shall again write to you, or where I shall be to-morrow, I cannot tell!!


We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.