Date of Award

12-2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Committee Member

Dr. Paul Anderson, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Alan Grubb

Committee Member

Dr. Lee Wilson

Abstract

On August 24, 1814, during the War of 1812, British troops were quickly advancing upon the American capital, Washington City. Inside of the Executive Mansion, First Lady, Dolley Madison, was gathering items to be rescued in the event that the British troops should advance into the capital. Following the American defeat at the Battle of Bladensburg, American General John Armstrong ordered a retreat of his troops, resulting in the final exodus of Washington City. As she was leaving the Executive Mansion, Dolley Madison decided the Gilbert Stuart portrait of General George Washington also needed to be saved, and according to letters she wrote, ordered it removed and passed to two New Yorkers who had stopped to offer their assistance. This removal of the portrait resulted in an anecdote, a short story portraying idealistic behavior, that has been published in numerous forms throughout the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. It was a narrative spread by Dolley in the months following the burning of Washington, a narrative corrected by Paul Jennings, one of the slaves present in the Executive Mansion at the time the portrait was removed, and a narrative published in textbooks. Each of these narratives will be analyzed comparing and contrasting their similarities and differences, as well as the motives of each publication.

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