Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dolley Madison’s Letter

We’ve all heard the story of how Dolley was fleeing the White House in the War of 1812.  We all know about her famous letter as well. But where did we get it?  Well, David Mattern wrote an article for us about this in White House History. 

We don’t actually have the letter – we have a copy of what probably was a copy. As Mattern tells us, the letter isn’t written like her others ones and talks about things her sister (and we aren’t sure which sister!) would already know.  So what this means is this letter was probably rewritten (or even written) to tell the story.  Mattern tells us:
There is a formal quality to this letter that, despite its dramatic narrative of events, makes it seem composed.  There are also details that she would not have needed to clarify for either of her sisters. In short, internal evidence suggestions that Dolley Madison rewrote at least part of this letter – soon after the events or at a later date, perhaps in 1834, when Margaret Smith request the material for her sketch.

As Mattern goes on to say, this doesn’t mean the story isn’t true, just that the letter isn’t written as we might think. 

Here are some articles to follow up on:


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