Primary Resource

Letter from Dolley Madison to Robert G. L. De Peyster (February 11, 1848)

In this letter to Robert G. L. De Peyster, dated February 11, 1848, Dolley Madison defends her role in saving Gilbert Stuart's 1796 portrait of George Washington from British troops approaching the White House in 1814.

Transcription from Original

Washington, February 11th, 1848.

Dear Sir:

I did not receive your favor containing the newspapers, and therefore is my impatience to assure you of my gratitude for the interest you take in my defence in the later narrative of the picture rescue.

You will see by the enclosed what was said at the time. The impression that Mr. Carroll saved Stuart's portrait of Washington is erroneous. The paper which was to accompany your letter has not reached me, but I have heard that his family believed he rescued it. On the contrary, Mr. Carroll had left me to join Mr. Madison, when I directed my servants in what manner to remove it from the wall, remaining with them until it was done. I saw Mr. Barker and yourself (the two gentlemen alluded to) passing, and accepted your offer to assist me, in any way, by inviting you to help me to preserve this portrait, which you kindly carried, between you, to the humble but safe roof which sheltered it awhile. I acted thus because of my respect for General Washington—not that I felt a desire to gain laurels; but, should there be a merit in remaining an hour in danger of life and liberty to save the likeness of anything, the merit in this case belongs to me. Accept my respect and best wishes.

D. P. Madison