Letitia Christian Tyler

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Letitia Christian Tyler
Letitia Tyler2.jpg
Tyler's White House Portrait (1842)
First Lady of the United States
In role
April 4, 1841 – September 10, 1842
PresidentJohn Tyler
Preceded byAnna Harrison
Jane Harrison (acting)
Succeeded byPriscilla Tyler (acting)
Second Lady of the United States
In role
March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841
Vice PresidentJohn Tyler
Preceded byFloride Calhoun (1832)
Succeeded bySophia Dallas (1845)
Personal details
Letitia Christian

(1790-11-12)November 12, 1790
Cedar Grove, Virginia, US
DiedSeptember 10, 1842(1842-09-10) (aged 51)
Washington, D.C., US
Cause of deathStroke
Resting placeCedar Grove Plantation Cemetery, New Kent County, Virginia, USA
(m. 1813)
Children8, including Robert, Letitia, and Tazewell

Letitia Tyler (née Christian; November 12, 1790 – September 10, 1842) was the first wife of President John Tyler and first lady of the United States from 1841 to 1842.[1]

She married Tyler, then a law student, in 1808 at Cedar Grove, her family home. Their twenty-nine year marriage appears to have been a happy one, althrough Letitia avoided the limelight during her husband's political rise, remaining in Virginia during most of his time in Congress. Her later life was dogged by ill-health; a paralytic stroke suffered in 1839 left her an invalid. As first lady, she remained in the White House living quarters, leaving them only to attend her daughter Elizabeth's wedding in January 1842. She suffered another stroke in September 1842 and died, becoming the first First Lady to die while serving in her role.

Early life[edit]

Born at the Cedar Grove plantation in New Kent County, Virginia, Letitia Christian was the daughter of Mary (née Brown) and Colonel Robert Christian. Christian was a prosperous planter.[2] Letitia was shy, quiet, pious, and by all accounts, selfless and devoted to her family.[3]

Personal life[edit]

She met John Tyler, then a law student, in 1808. Their five-year courtship was restrained and it was three weeks before the wedding that Tyler first kissed her — on the hand. In his only surviving love letter to her, written a few months before their wedding, Tyler promised, "Whether I float or sink in the stream of fortune, you may be assured of this, that I shall never cease to love you."[4][5]


They married on Tyler's 23rd birthday at Cedar Grove, her family's home. Their 29-year marriage appears to have been a happy one. Letitia Tyler avoided the limelight during her husband's political rise, preferring domestic responsibilities to those of a public wife. During his congressional service, she remained in Virginia except for one visit to Washington during the winter of 1828–1829. In 1839, she suffered a paralytic stroke that left her an invalid. As first lady, she remained in the upstairs living quarters of the White House; she came down once, to attend the wedding of her daughter (Elizabeth) in January 1842.[6]


Together, John and Letitia Tyler had four daughters and three sons live to maturity:[7]

  • Mary Tyler-Jones (1815–1848), who married Henry Lightfoot Jones, a prosperous Tidewater planter, in 1835.
  • Robert Tyler (1816–1877), who was a lawyer, public official who served as his father's private secretary in the White House. He settled in Philadelphia, where he practiced law and served as sheriff's solicitor. He also was chief clerk of the state supreme court. He married Priscilla Cooper Tyler, an actress, who at the age of 24 assumed the position of White House hostess, and she served as official hostess at the White House during the first three years of the Tyler administration. As a leader of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania, Robert Tyler promoted the career of James Buchanan. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, he fled Philadelphia when an anti-southern mob attacked his home. He returned to Virginia, where he served as register of the Treasury of the Confederacy. Penniless after the war, he settled in Montgomery, Alabama, and there regained his fortunes as a lawyer, editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, and leader of the state Democratic Party.
  • John Tyler III (1819–1896), who was a lawyer, public official. Like his older brother, he also became a lawyer and served as private secretary to his father, campaigning for James Buchanan. During the Civil War, he served as assistant secretary of war of the Confederacy. After the war, he settled in Baltimore, where he practiced law. Under the Grant administration, he was appointed to a minor position in the IRS in Tallahassee, FL.
  • Letitia Tyler-Semple (1821–1907), an educator married James Semple, whom her father appointed a purser in the U.S. Navy, in 1839. The marriage was an unhappy one. At the close of the American Civil War, she left her husband to open a school, the Eclectic Institute, in Baltimore. After her mother's death in 1842, and after her sister-in-law Priscilla moved away, Letitia served her father as the White House social hostess, the title later known as First Lady. Her father remarried in 1844.
  • Elizabeth Tyler-Waller (1823–1850), who married William N. Waller at a White House wedding in 1842. She died from the effects of childbirth at the age of 27.
  • Alice Tyler-Denison (1827–1854), who married the Reverend Henry M. Denison, an Episcopal rector in Williamsburg, in 1850. She died suddenly of colic, also at the age of 27.
  • Tazewell Tyler (1830–1874), who was a doctor who served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

Death and legacy[edit]

External video
video icon America's First Ladies, Anna Harrison, Letitia Tyler & Julia Tyler, 2013, C-SPAN[8]

The first first lady to die in the White House, Letitia Tyler died peacefully, aged 51, in the evening of September 10, 1842 from a stroke.[9] She was taken to Virginia for burial at the plantation of her birth. Tyler, Caroline Harrison (1892) and Ellen Wilson (1914) are the only first ladies to have died in the White House.

Her daughter-in-law Priscilla Cooper Tyler remembered her as "the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine. Notwithstanding her very delicate health, mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can't tell when she does it."

Tyler appears on a 28p (£0.28) commemorative postage stamp from the Isle of Man Post Office, issued May 23, 2006, as part of a series honoring Manx-Americans.[10] She also appears on a one-half ounce gold coin and a bronze medal issued by the United States Mint on July 2, 2009.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Letitia Tyler | American first lady". britannica.com. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Letitia Tyler Biography :: National First Ladies' Library". www.firstladies.org. Archived from the original on 9 November 2017. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  3. ^ Barden, Cindy (1996). Meet the First Ladies. Carthage, IL: Teaching & Learning Company. p. 29. ISBN 9781429111218. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  4. ^ Waldrup, Carole Chandler (2006). Wives of the American Presidents, 2d ed. McFarland. p. 63. ISBN 9780786424153. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  5. ^ May, Gary (2008). John Tyler: The American Presidents Series: The 10th President, 1841-1845. Macmillan. p. 16. ISBN 9781429939218. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  6. ^ Lindsay, Rae (2001). The Presidents' First Ladies. R & R Writers / Agents, Inc. ISBN 9780965375337. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  7. ^ Crapol, Edward P. (2012). John Tyler, the Accidental President: Paperback Edition. Univ of North Carolina Press. ISBN 9780807872239. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  8. ^ "America's First Ladies, Anna Harrison, Letitia Tyler & Julia Tyler". C-SPAN. 2013. Retrieved April 24, 2013.
  9. ^ Jeffrey M. Jones, Joni L. Jones. "Presidential Stroke: United States Presidents and Cerebrovascular Disease". CNS Spectrums. Retrieved August 31, 2014. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  10. ^ "- Isle of Man Post Office Website". www.gov.im. Archived from the original on 2009-05-20.
  11. ^ http://firstspousecoinguide.com/2009-letitia-tyler-first-spouse-coin/[dead link]

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Title last held by
Floride Calhoun
Second Lady of the United States
Title next held by
Sophia Dallas
Preceded by First Lady of the United States
Succeeded by