Saturday, January 19, 2013

Harrison and Tyler: A Short Life and a Young Wife

In keeping with our pre-inaugural series on Virginia presidents
and their favorite dishes, today brings us to William Henry Harrison,
who was the 9th U.S. president, 
and John Tyler, who was Harrison's vice president and successor
to the presidency after Harrison's untimely death.

Photo of William Henry Harrison
Harrison image from

According to*, 
Harrison was born on Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County, 
the son of wealthy Virginia planters. 
He became famous for his leadership during campaigns against 
the Shawnee leader Tecumseh in "the Northwest Territory,"
which in those days was Ohio.
But he lived only a month after being elected president,
succumbing to pneumonia on April 4, 1841.

citing Margaret Brown Klapthor's book The First Ladies Cookbook:
Favorite Recipes of all the Presidents of the United States,
describes Harrison's determination to do his own marketing
for White House meals. That would be difficult for a modern president to do.
Klapthor tells us that Harrison loved vegetables,
especially cruciferous vegetables like  cabbage and cauliflower,
and root vegetables like beets and carrots.
Unfortunately, all that healthy eating didn't help Harrison survive,
and he was very soon succeeded by John Tyler.

Photo of John Tyler
John Tyler image

after Tyler became president, he purchased 1200 acres 
35 miles east of Richmond, Virginia.
He called his home by the fanciful name of Sherwood Forest.
His political foes called him "His Accidency."
Tyler was not at all popular with congress since he vetoed many bills
passed by the majority. Relations devolved to the point that 
most of his cabinet resigned, 
and he was essentially expelled from his own political party.
He was the first US president to be censured and threatened with impeachment.
The acrimony was so great that Congress retaliated against Tyler's intransigence
by cutting off funds for the maintenance of the White House,
an action that echoed British history 
and the tangles between Charles I and Parliament two hundred years before.

His political problems aside, after Tyler's first wife died
he still found time to court and marry a young woman thirty years his junior.
The Food Timeline, citing The Presidents' Cookbook 
by Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks,
describes the gaiety brought by Julia Gardiner, Tyler's beautiful wife.
Julia Gardiner was the Jackie Kennedy of her time. 
She had taste and style and some sources say, 
she was determined to make the most of Tyler's last several months in the White House
with socials, parties, and lots of food and drink.

Puddings were a popular offering; punch, Madeira and champagne all flowed freely.
The new Mrs. Tyler favored large and elaborate breakfasts, 
which included more food than most people eat in a year:
"omelets, spring chicken, pigeons, and woodcocks,
ham and eggs, roast ham, saddle of venison, ... roast wild ducks
and other poultry" were all laid out for diners.

* source material on the presidents is excerpted from
The Presidents of the United Sates of America, by Michael Beschloss and Hugh Sidney.

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