Julia Gardiner Tyler

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Julia Tyler
Julia Tyler.jpg
Tyler's White House Portrait (September 1844)
First Lady of the United States
In role
June 26, 1844 – March 4, 1845
President John Tyler
Preceded by Priscilla Tyler (Acting)
Succeeded by Sarah Polk
Personal details
Born (1820-05-04)May 4, 1820
East Hampton, New York, United States
Died July 10, 1889(1889-07-10) (aged 69)
Richmond, Virginia, United States
Spouse(s) John Tyler (1844 – d.1862)
Children David
Religion Presbyterianism (Before 1872)
Roman Catholicism (1872–1889)

Julia Gardiner Tyler (May 4, 1820 – July 10, 1889) was the second wife of John Tyler, who was the tenth President of the United States, and served as First Lady of the United States from June 26, 1844, to March 4, 1845.

Early life[edit]

Julia Gardiner Tyler was born in 1820 on New York's Gardiner's Island, one of the largest privately owned islands in the United States.[1] She was the daughter of David Gardiner, a landowner and New York State Senator (1824 to 1828), and Juliana MacLachlan Gardiner. Her ancestry was part Dutch, part Scottish and part English.[2] She was raised in the town of East Hampton and the small hamlet of Bay Shore. In 1839, she shocked polite society by appearing, posed with an unidentified man and identified as "The Rose of Long Island", in a newspaper advertisement for a middle-class department store. Her family took her to Europe to avoid further publicity and allow her notoriety to subside.[1] They first left for London, arriving on October 29, 1840. They visited England, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Ireland and Scotland before returning to New York in September 1841.[2]

Courtship and marriage[edit]

On January 20, 1842, the 21-year-old Julia was introduced to President John Tyler at a White House reception. After the death of his first wife, Letitia Christian Tyler, on September 10, 1842, Tyler made it clear that he wished to get involved with Julia. Initially the high-spirited and independent-minded northern beauty felt little attraction to the grave, reserved Virginia gentleman, who was thirty years her senior. He first proposed to her on February 22, 1843, when she was 22, at a White House Masquerade Ball. She refused that and later proposals he made. The increased time spent together prompted public speculation about their relationship.[2]

Julia, her sister Margaret, and her father joined a Presidential excursion on the new steam frigate Princeton. David Gardiner, along with a number of others, lost his life in the explosion of a huge naval gun called the Peacemaker. Julia was devastated by the death of her adored father. She spoke often in later years of how the President's quiet strength sustained her during this difficult time. Tyler comforted Julia in her grief and won her consent to a secret engagement, proposing in 1844 at the George Washington Ball. Because of the circumstances surrounding her father's death, the couple agreed to marry with a minimum of celebration. On June 26, 1844, the President slipped into New York City, where the nuptials were performed by the Right Reverend Benjamin Treadwell Onderdonk, fourth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, at the Church of the Ascension, not too far from the Gardiner's residence on LaGrange Terrace.[1] President Tyler was 54 years old, while Julia was just 24. Tyler's oldest daughter, Mary, was 5 years older than her father's new wife.[1] The marriage made Julia the first First Lady to marry a President who was already in office at the time of the wedding.[3]

The bride's sister Margaret and brother Alexander were bridesmaid and best man. Only the President's son, John Tyler III, represented the groom's family. Tyler was so concerned about maintaining secrecy that he did not confide his plans to the rest of his children. Although his sons readily accepted the sudden union, the Tyler daughters were shocked and hurt. The news was then broken to the American people, who greeted it with keen interest, much publicity, and some criticism about the couple's 30-year difference in age. It was awkward for the eldest Tyler daughter, Mary, to adjust to a new stepmother five years younger than herself. One daughter, Letitia, never made peace with her stepmother.

First Lady of the United States[edit]

After a wedding trip to Philadelphia, a White House reception, and a stay at Sherwood Forest, an estate the president had recently acquired for his retirement, the newlyweds returned to Washington. Although her husband was often visibly fatigued, his youthful wife thoroughly enjoyed the duties of First Lady.

The anthem "Hail to the Chief" had been played at a number of events associated with the arrival or presence of the President of the U.S. before Julia Tyler became First Lady, but she ordered its regular use to announce the arrival of the President. It became established practice when her successor, Sarah Childress Polk did likewise.[4]

In the last month of the Tyler administration, she hosted a grand White House ball for 3,000 guests.


  • David Gardiner Tyler (1846–1927) - lawyer, public official.
  • John "Alex" Alexander Tyler (1848–1883) - engineer. Like his older brother, Alex Tyler dropped out of Washington College to join the Confederate army and, after the war, resumed his studies in Germany. There he joined the Saxon Army during the Franco-Prussian War and took part in the occupation of France in 1871. For his service he was decorated by the Prussian government. He became a mining engineer and, returning to the United States, was appointed U.S. surveyor of the Interior Department in 1879. While working in that capacity in New Mexico, he drank contaminated water and died at 35.
  • Julia Gardiner Tyler-Spencer (1849–1871). In 1869 she married William H. Spencer, a debt-ridden farmer of Piffard, New York. She died from the effects of childbirth at 22 at the Spencer home, Westerly.[5]
  • Lachlan Gardiner Tyler (1851–1902) - doctor. He practiced medicine in Jersey City, New Jersey, and in 1879 became a surgeon in the U.S. Navy. From 1887 he practiced in Elkhorn, West Virginia.
  • Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853–1935) - educator.
  • Robert "Fitz" Fitzwalter Tyler (1856–1927) - farmer of Hanover County, Virginia.
  • Pearl Tyler-Ellis (1860–1947) - At the age of 12, she converted to Roman Catholicism along with her mother. She married William M. Ellis, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and lived near Roanoke.

Later life and death[edit]

The Tylers retired to Sherwood Forest, where they lived tranquilly until the Civil War. Although a northerner by birth, Mrs. Tyler soon grew accustomed to the leisurely routines of daily life as the wife of a wealthy plantation owner.

Julia wrote a defense of slavery titled "The Women of England vs. the Women of America", in response to the "Stafford House Address" petition against slavery which the Duchess of Sutherland had helped to organize.[6][7] In response to Julia Tyler's essay, Harriet Jacobs, a former slave and later abolitionist orator and writer, authored her first published work, a letter to the New York Tribune in 1853.[8][9]

After her husband's death in 1862, she lost her 60 slaves and 1100 acres of land due to military events.[10] Julia moved north to Staten Island with several of her children, although family relations were so strained that her brother David Gardiner refused to travel to Virginia to escort her to New York and eventually moved out of his mother's house, where Julia had settled.[10] Her home there was almost burned down by enraged Union veterans when it was discovered that she was flying a Confederate flag on the property. She resided at the Gardiner-Tyler House from 1868 to 1874.[11][a] In 1865, her brother David sued to prevent her from inheriting the bulk of their mother's estate valued at $180,000, charging that Julia Tyler had exerted "undue influences" on their mother to execute a will despite her "mental incapacity". The court supported his claim on August 25 and refused to accept the will.[13] After two appeals, David Gardiner won the case in 1867. David then asked the courts to partition the estate as if no will existed. Julia asked for a jury trial on the issue, and the jury declined to consider the contested will as an argument in her favor. The New York Times thought Julia was treated unfairly and that the dispute could be traced to "the political antagonisms of the rebellion, which have divide many a household besides that of Mrs. Gardiner".[10]

External video
America's First Ladies, Anna Harrison, Letitia Tyler & Julia Tyler, 2013, C-SPAN[14]

She converted to Roman Catholicism and was re-baptized in May 1872.[15] The depression that followed the Panic of 1873 depleted her finances. She returned to Virginia to live with the aid of her grown children.[when?] She lobbied Congress for a pension and was granted a monthly allowance in 1880. Following the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881, Congress granted an annual pension of $5000 to widows of former presidents.[16] She suffered a stroke in Richmond and died there on July 10, 1889, aged 69. She was buried next to the president at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.[17]


In Bay Shore, Gardiner's Park, a wide expanse of virgin land with trails leading to the South Shore, Gardiner Drive and Gardiner Manor Elementary School are all named after her family. In 2009, the United States Mint honored the former First Lady with the issuance of a 24 karat gold coin.[18] The papers of the Tyler family, including Julia Gardiner Tyler, are held by the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William and Mary.[19]


  1. ^ The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.[12]


  1. ^ a b c d Nevius, Michelle & Nevius, James (2009), Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City, New York: Free Press, ISBN 141658997X , pp.84-85
  2. ^ a b c First Ladies
  3. ^ Julia Gardiner Tyler-National First Ladies Library
  4. ^ Hauser, Christine (January 20, 2017). "'Hail to the Chief': The Musical Strains of Presidential Power". New York Times. Retrieved March 22, 2017. 
  5. ^ Cornelia E. Brooke (July 1974). "Register of Historic Places Registration: Westerly". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved September 1, 2009. 
  6. ^ Jean Fagan Yellin (January 26, 2005). Harriet Jacobs: A Life. Basic Civitas Books. pp. 122–. ISBN 978-0-465-09289-5. 
  7. ^ Julia Sun-Joo Lee (April 9, 2010). The American Slave Narrative and the Victorian Novel. Oxford University Press. pp. 79–. ISBN 978-0-19-974528-9. 
  8. ^ Raja Sharma. Ready Reference Treatise: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Lulu.com. pp. 12–. ISBN 978-1-300-30601-6. 
  9. ^ Kathryn Kish Sklar; James Brewer Stewart (2007). Women's Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery in the Era of Emancipation. Yale University Press. pp. 165–. ISBN 0-300-13786-9. 
  10. ^ a b c "The Gardiner Will Case; A Decision in Equity". New York Times. May 1, 1867. Retrieved February 20, 2017. 
  11. ^ Merrill Hesch (September 1984). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Gardiner-Tyler House". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  12. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  13. ^ "The Gardiner-Tyler Will Case, Important Opinion by the Surrogate of Richmond County, The Widow of ExPresident Tyler Not Entitled to Any Portion of the Gardiner Estate, Undue Influences Brought to Bear on the Testatrix, &c.". New York Times. September 8, 1865. Retrieved February 20, 2017. 
  14. ^ "America's First Ladies, Anna Harrison, Letitia Tyler & Julia Tyler". C-SPAN. 2013. Retrieved April 24, 2013. 
  15. ^ Delaney, Theodore C. (2005). "Surviving Defeat: The Trials of 'Mrs. Ex-President Tyler'". In Wallenstein, Peter; Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. Virginia's Civil War. University of Virginia Press. pp. 237–8. 
  16. ^ Watson, Robert F. (2000). The Presidents' Wives: Reassessing the Office of First Lady. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers. p. 14. 
  17. ^ "Funeral of Mrs. Tyler". New York Times. July 13, 1889. Retrieved March 21, 2017. 
  18. ^ "First Spouse Coin Guide". 
  19. ^ "Finding aid for the Tyler Family Papers, Group A". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Retrieved January 22, 2011. 

Other sources

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Priscilla Tyler
De facto
First Lady of the United States
Succeeded by
Sarah Polk