My husband left me yesterday morng. to join Gen. Winder. He
enquired anxiously whether I had courage, or firmness to remain in the
President's house until his return, on the morrow, or succeeding day, and on
my assurance that I had no fear but for him and the success of our army, he
left me, beseeching me to take care of myself, and of the cabinet papers,
public and private. I have since recd. two despatches from him, written
with a pencil; the last is alarming, because he desires I should be ready at
a moment's warning to enter my carriage and leave the city; that the enemy
seemed stronger than had been reported, and that it might happen that they
would reach the city, with intention to destroy it. . . . . I am accordingly ready; I have pressed as many cabinet papers into trunks as to
fill one carriage; our private property must be sacrificed, as it is
impossible to procure wagons for its transportation. I am determined not to
go myself until I see Mr Madison safe, and he can accompany me, as I hear of
much hostility towards him, . . . . disaffection stalks around us. . . .
My friends and acquaintances are all gone; Even Col. C with his hundred men,
who were stationed as a guard in the enclosure . . . . French John (a faithful
domestic,) with his usual activity and resolution, offers to spike the
cannon at the gate, and to lay a train of powder which would blow up the
British, should they enter the house. To the last proposition I positively
object, without being able, however, to make him understand why all
advantages in war may not be taken.
Wednesday morng., twelve o'clock. Since sunrise I have been turning
my spyglass in every direction and watching with unwearied anxiety, hoping
to discern the approach of my dear husband and his friends, but, alas, I can
descry only groups of military wandering in all directions, as if there was
a lack of arms, or of spirit to fight for their own firesides!
Three O'clock. Will you believe it, my Sister? We have had a
battle or skirmish near Bladensburg, and I am still here within sound of the
cannon! Mr. Madison comes not; may God protect him! Two messengers covered
with dust, come to bid me fly; but I wait for him. . . . At this late hour a
wagon has been procured, I have had it filled with the plate and most
valuable portable articles belonging to the house; whether it will reach its
destination; the Bank of Maryland, or fall into the hands of British
soldiery, events must determine.
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 Gen. 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 canvass 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 you, or where I shall be tomorrow, I cannot tell!!
For more information, please see
David B. Mattern's article, "Dolley Madison Has the Last Word: The Famous
Letter," White House History (Fall 1998): 38-43.
This letter was unsigned, but is followed by Mrs. Madison's notation: "Extract from a letter written to my Sister published in the sketch of my life written for the National Portrait Gallery."