Grandpa President

Two hundred years ago, a young man named John Tyler would get his first taste of politics.  In 1811, Tyler became a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, part of the state’s Congress.

On April 4, 1841, upon the death of William Henry Harrison, Tyler became President of the United States.  Tyler was 51 years old when he became President, at the time a father to seven children aged 6 to 27 (and another which died in infancy).  He and his wife, Letitia Christian Tyler, had been married for 28 years, but soon after, death would strike the White House again.  In September of 1842, Letitia died, becoming the youngest First Lady to do so.

Seventeen months later, President Tyler remarried.  His new wife was Julia Gardiner.  He was, by then, 54, yet she was but 24.   The wedding was celebrated in secret — of Tyler’s children with Letitia, only one (John Tyler III) was present for the nuptials.  And while his other sons quickly accepted their new stepmother, legend has it that Tyler’s daughters were displeased, with one (also named Letitia) entirely unwilling to accept the new mother figure in her life.  Nevertheless, President Tyler and his new wife had a relatively long, pleasant life together.  They’d have seven children and, after he left office, retired to Sherwood Forest Plantation, pictured right, in Virginia.

Of the seven children born to Julia Tyler, a son, Lyon Gardiner Tyler (born 1853) survived the longest, and ended up inheriting the plantation.  (At the time of Lyon’s birth, John Tyler was 62 years old, but Julia was a mere 32.)  Lyon, with his second wife Sue had three children, Lyon Gardiner Jr. (born 1924), Harrison Ruffin Tyler (born 1928), and Henry Tyler (born 1931, died in infancy).  Lyon bequeathed the plantation to his wife and children upon his death in 1935, so Sherwood Forest is still owned by the Tyler family.

The current owner?  Harrison Tyler.  Both Lyon Jr. and Harrison are still alive, grandsons of the President who first entered politics two centuries ago.  Harrison is the sole owner of the plantation.

Bonus fact: Think Tyler’s second marriage is creepy?  How about Grover Cleveland’s first (and only) one?  On June 2, 1886, Cleveland (age 49), while in office, married Frances Clara Folsom, then age 21.  The odd part, per Wikipedia: “A longtime close friend of [Frances’ father] Oscar Folsom, Grover Cleveland, at age 27, met his future wife shortly after she was born. He took an avuncular interest in the child, buying her a baby carriage and otherwise doting on her as she grew up. When her father, Oscar Folsom, died in a carriage accident on July 23, 1875, without having written a will, the court appointed Cleveland administrator of his estate. This brought Cleveland into still more contact with Frances, then age 11.”  They’d keep in touch and marry roughly a decade later.

From the Archives: Vice President, Who?: A less notable VP.

Related reading: “John Tyler,” by Gary May, part of the The American Presidents Series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger.  4.5 stars on 8 reviews.

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