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  Christian Tyler, Letitia
NameLetitia Christian Tyler
, Virginia , United States
Born November 12, 1790
DiedSeptember 10, 1842 (51 years)
ContributorThomas Walker
Last ModifedChronicler
Mar 29, 2008 09:12pm
InfoBorn: November 12, 1790 - Cedar Grove Plantation, about 20 miles east of Richmond, Virginia

Died: September 10, 1842 � White House

Father: Robert Christian, well-to-do planter and politician

Mother: Mary Browne Christian

Ancestry: English

Siblings: Letitia was the third of eight daughters and the seventh of twelve children

Physical Description: Small, with olive complexion, dark eyes, and brown hair worn parted in the middle and in waves. Only one portrait survives and an engraving was made from it. She was to make only one appearance as First Lady � at her daughter�s wedding in 1842. All recollections spoke of her gentleness, her beautiful skin and eyes.

Religion: Episcopalian

Education: Almost no records survive of Letitia Tyler�s early life before her marriage to John Tyler � she probably received a minimal education similar to that of other young ladies from a well-to-do family of that time.

Husband: John Tyler (1790 � 1862)

Courtship and Marriage: Letitia Christian met the young John Tyler in 1808, when both were eighteen. He had graduated from William and Mary and was studying for the law. After Tyler�s father was elected governor of Virginia in 1809, John took the opportunity to visit Miss Christian on his way from Williamsburg to Richmond. Their courtship was unemotional and restrained. He never even dared to kiss her hand until three weeks before the wedding. He did express his gladness that he was not a wealthy man, for that meant that her acceptance of his suit was due to love and �not practical considerations.� They were married on March 29, 1813 on John Tyler�s twenty-third birthday at Robert Christian�s plantation.

Age at marriage: 22 years old (she would be 23 in November)

Personality: A shy, introverted woman, Letitia Christian Tyler loved family, gardening and proved later to be a capable mistress of the plantation called Sherwood Forest that she and Tyler bought. Because both of her parents died shortly after her marriage, Letitia was able to help her husband financially, both to acquire property and to advance his career. Details about her personality are limited, since no letters or documents have survived.


1. Mary (1815-1848)

2. Robert (1816-1877)

3. John, Jr. (1819-1896)

4. Letitia (1821-1907)

5. Elizabeth (1823-1850)

6. Anne Contesse (1825)

7. Alice (1827-1854)

8. Tazewell (1830 � 1874)

9. A ninth child was either stillborn or died early.

Years Before the White House: Letitia rarely left her home and played little role in her husband�s career, due largely to the demands of her ever-expanding family. When Tyler was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1827, Letitia went to Washington for the winter 1828-29 social season. Like so many from the Tidewater area, the Tyler�s were land rich but money poor, forcing Letitia Tyler to economize wherever she could. One way she did so was by staying home while her husband pursued his career. Her only real excursion into the public eye was in 1825-27, when Tyler served as Governor. Letitia lived in Richmond, where she presided over the governor�s house with elegance and grace. In his letters to their eldest daughter Mary, John Tyler extolled his wife�s judicious nature, her prudence, and her calm. He told his daughter that she could have no better role model than her mother.

The 1837 marriage of Mary to Henry Lightfoot Jones depleted the Tyler�s already stressed fortune, which gave Letitia many financial worries. The marriages of her children often proved to be unhappy, with several of them ending in separations or divorce. Letitia loved her son Robert�s wife, Priscilla Cooper, an actress whose father Thomas Cooper had made a name for himself as a Shakespearean actor. Priscilla would later take on many of the duties of the first lady in Letitia�s place.

In 1839, shortly before Robert�s marriage to Priscilla Cooper, Letitia Tyler suffered a major stroke that left her an invalid for the rest of her life. Though ill, Letitia still managed the household and staff, usually sitting in a large arm chair. The only book she read after her stroke was her Episcopal Prayer Book.

First Lady: (April 4, 1841 � September 10, 1842) Upon the death of William Henry Harrison on April 4, 1841, Fletcher Webster, son of Secretary of State Daniel Webster, rode directly to Sherwood Forest, John Tyler�s estate. Vice President John Tyler, notified of the President�s death, was sworn in and departed immediately for Washington. Robert, serving as his father�s secretary, followed a week later with his wife. It was decided that Letitia Tyler would join her husband later in the spring. When she arrived in Washington, she found, much to her relief, that her daughter-in-law had everything under control. Priscilla Cooper Tyler would serve as official hostess for First Lady Letitia Tyler with style, elegance and flair. While Congress was in session, Priscilla, aided by the aging Dolley Madison, would host over two receptions a week at the White House.

The Tyler White House played host to many social occasions. However, because Tyler proved to be a very controversial President, the Tyler White House also experience a great deal of political turmoil. This turmoil did not help Letitia�s weakening health. She worried constantly about the continuous drain on the family finances, since a stubborn Congress insisted that the President pay all expenses out of his own pocket. On January 3, 1842, Letitia Christian Tyler made her only White House appearance as First Lady at the marriage of her daughter Elizabeth to William N. Walker.

In the terrible heat of the summer of 1842, Letitia Tyler suffered a second stroke. Her health continued to decline, and she longed to see her son Robert and his wife Priscilla, who were visiting her sister in New York. They, unfortunately, arrived at the White House too late.

Death: September 10, 1842, still holding a damask rose she had taken from a vase by her bed.

Funeral: East Room, White House, September 12, 1842. Services officiated by the rector of St. John�s Episcopal Church.

Burial: Cedar Grove Plantation, Virginia

Legacy: Her frail health prevented Letitia Tyler from being either a visible or forceful First Lady. Her shy, introverted nature might have also prevented her from having a more forceful role as well. From the few sketchy accounts we have of her, it seems unfair to make any judgment of so shadowy a figure as Letitia Christian Tyler, except to wish that more had survived of her life, her personality, and her influence on John Tyler�s life.


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Husband John Tyler Mar 29, 1813-Sep 10, 1842
Daughter Mary Tyler Jones 1815-1848
Son Robert Tyler 1816-1877
Son John Tyler, Jr. 1819-1896
Daughter Letitia "Letty" Tyler Semple 1821-1907
Daughter Elizabeth "lizzie" Tyler Waller 1823-1850
Daughter Anne Contesse Tyler 1825-1825
Daughter Alice Tyler Denison 1827-1854
Son Tazewell Tyler 1830-1874
Father In-Law John Tyler, Sr. 1747-1813
Stepson David Gardiner "Gardie" Tyler 1846-1927
Stepson John Alexander "Alex" Tyler 1848-1883
Stepdaughter Julia Tyler Spencer 1849-1871
Stepson Lachlan Tyler 1851-1902
Stepson Lyon Gardiner Tyler 1853-1935
Stepson Robert Fitzwalter Tyler 1856-1927
Stepdaughter Pearl Tyler Ellis 1860-1947

  04/06/1841 US First Lady - Appointment Won 100.00% (+100.00%)
  11/03/1840 Second Spouse Won 79.59% (+63.27%)
  11/08/1836 Second Spouse Lost 15.99% (-34.01%)