White House Timber
1814, American History Museum
A chunk of charred wood recalls the burning of Washington, D.C., in the War of 1812
Dolley Madison was born a Quaker, but, she once wrote to a cousin, “I have always been an advocate for fighting when assailed.” When British troops sacked Washington in 1814, she organized White House staff and slaves to save documents, silver, china and a Gilbert Stuart copy of his monumental Lansdowne portrait of George Washington. But she couldn’t save the mansion itself. This charred timber, a remnant of the only time a foreign power occupied the nation’s capital, was discovered during a renovation more than 100 years later.