by Jennifer Uhlarik
In the history of the United States, quite a few children have been born at the White House. However, only one of those was the child of a sitting president. Do you know who it was? If the rest weren’t a sitting president’s children, who were they? Let’s dig in and find out!
I think it is fair to say that Thomas Jefferson’s time in the White House saw the most children born. The very first baby born in the White House was Asnet Hughes, the son of 14-year-old Ursula Granger, a slave girl Jefferson brought from Monticello with the intention that she study under the White House’s French chef, so that he could enjoy delicious food once his presidency was over. However, young Ursula gave birth to her child in the early part of 1802, and by mid-August, the sickly child died. She returned to Monticello soon after her baby’s death, married Asnet’s father, and had a dozen more children with him.
Another slave girl, Edy Fossett, was brought from Monticello in 1802 with the same intention—to have her study under the French chef for the White House. But Edy was also pregnant upon her arrival, and in January 1803, she delivered a son who lived until 1806 and passed away from illness. Around this time, Edy’s enslaved sister-in-law, Fanny Hern, also came to the White House to help Edy with kitchen duties. Despite the fact Edy’s husband Joe and Fanny’s husband Davy, also slaves of Jefferson’s, remained at Monticello, they all saw each other often enough that the women went on to have more children. Edy bore two other children during her time in the White House—and several more after her return to Monticello, and Fanny had two children with Davy while in Washington.
one of Edy Fossett's children
Also in 1806, James Madison Randolph, Thomas Jefferson’s own grandchild, was born. With his wife Martha, Jefferson had six children, but only two—the eldest (Martha) and the fourth child (Mary)—survived into adulthood. Since Jefferson was a widower, the duties of First Lady often fell to his two daughters. After Mary’s death in 1804, those duties fell largely to Martha who, with her husband and children, moved into the White House. On January 17, 1806, James Madison Randolph was born. The boy grew up, never married, and died of illness days after his twenty-eighth birthday.
|Mary Louisa Adams,
grandchild of Pres. John Quincy Adams
After this, there was a span of roughly twenty years where no children were born in the White House. It wasn’t until John Quincy Adams won the presidency that another child made an appearance—and this child was Adams’ granddaughter, Mary Louisa. She was born on December 2, 1828, to newlyweds John Adams II and Mary Catherine Hellen. Mary took little interest in her marriage and only slightly more interest in her child, so little Mary Louisa was greatly influenced by her doting grandparents, John Quincy and Louisa Adams. The First Lady is said to have paced the floor with her teething granddaughter in the middle of the night, and the President tutored her regularly in math and languages.
President Andrew Jackson had been recently widowed before his time in the White House, so he brought his nephew, Andrew Jackson Donelson with him to act as his private secretary. Donelson and his wife Emily already had one child together, but soon after they moved into the White House, Emily realized she was again in the family way. Mary Emily Donelson was the first of three children they would have while residing in the White House. She was born August 31, 1829. Her next younger brother, John Samuel Donelson, came along on May 18, 1832, followed by the youngest child, Rachel Jackson Donelson, on April 11, 1835. Mary lived a good long life, staying connected to Washington politics for most of it. At the outbreak of the Civil War, John joined the Confederacy and died at Chickamauga in his early thirties. And Rachel eventually moved to Texas and lived a quiet life, though she was ill for much of it and eventually died of illness in her early 50s.
|Emily Donelson, daughter-in-law
of Andrew Jackson, who served
as First Lady and gave birth to three of
Jackson's grandchildren in the White House.
Martin Van Buren was another widower who assumed the role of U.S. President. His son, Abraham, married Angelica, and after their European honeymoon, moved into the White House to act as private secretary and first lady respectively. In 1839, Rebecca Van Buren was born—but tragically died soon after from an unknown illness. Some sources say it was as few as five days, some say six months, and still others fall somewhere in between—but regardless, little Rebecca survived only a short time.
President John Tyler saw two grandchildren born in the White House—granddaughter Letitia Tyler on April 13, 1842, and grandson Robert Tyler Jones on January 24, 1843. Both would go on to support or fight for the Confederacy during the Civil War. In fact, Robert was in the midst of Picket’s Charge, and when the man carrying the regiment’s flag was killed, Robert picked it up and advanced to the stone wall where he was severely wounded but survived.
|Daguerreotype of James K. Polk
As several former presidents did, James K. Polk asked his nephew Joseph Knox Walker to act as his private secretary. Walker’s wife, Augusta Adams Tabb, gave birth to her fourth child, daughter Sally Walker, on March 15, 1846. In December 1847, Joseph Knox Walker, Jr. was born to the pair. Both children were doted on, although precocious Sally was known to barge into cabinet meetings and other important moments of her grandfather’s presidency. Unfortunately, Joseph Jr.—better known as Knox—died at age 10 after falling off a horse.
Almost another twenty years passed after Knox’s birth before another child made an appearance in the White House. This child was granddaughter of Ulysses S. Grant, Julia, born on June 7, 1876. Despite being just an infant or toddler, she was allowed to be in Presidential receiving lines at official White House events during her time there. She later lived in Europe, married a Russian prince, divorced him after thirty-six years of marriage and three children. Julia returned to America where she stayed involved in politics nearly until her death at age 99.
The only baby to be born in the White House to a sitting president is Esther Cleveland, second daughter of President Grover Cleveland. She was born September 9, 1893. President and Mrs. Cleveland did have another child while he was still president, but that daughter (Marian) was born elsewhere. Esther married a British Army officer, had two children, and lived to be eighty-six.
The last baby to be born in the White House—and the only one born in the 20th Century—was Woodrow Wilson’s grandson, Francis Bowes Sayre, Jr. He made his appearance on January 17, 1915, and went on to become an Episcopal reverend, dean of Washington D.C.’s National Cathedral, and fought for Civil Rights in the 1960s. Sayre lived to be 93, after a long and influential life.
|Francis Bowes Sayre, Jr. with his parents.
It's Your Turn: Were you aware that so many children were born on the White House premises? Would you have wanted to give birth in the White House if such an option were available to you? Why or why not?
Award-winning, best-selling novelist Jennifer Uhlarik has loved the western genre since she read her first Louis L’Amour novel. She penned her first western while earning a writing degree from University of Tampa. Jennifer lives near Tampa with her husband, son, and furbabies. www.jenniferuhlarik.com
Love’s Fortress by Jennifer Uhlarik
A Friendship From the Past Brings Closure to Dani’s Fractured Family
When Dani Sango’s art forger father passes away, Dani inherits his home. There, she finds a book of Native American drawings, which leads her to seek museum curator Brad Osgood’s help to decipher the ledger art. Why would her father have this book? Is it another forgery?
Brad Osgood longs to provide his four-year-old niece, Brynn, the safe home she desperately deserves. The last thing he needs is more drama, especially from a forger’s daughter. But when the two meet “accidentally” at St. Augustine’s 350-year-old Spanish fort, he can’t refuse the intriguing woman.
Broken Bow is among seventy-three Plains Indians transported to Florida in 1875 for incarceration at ancient Fort Marion. Sally Jo Harris and Luke Worthing dream of serving on a foreign mission field, but when the Indians reach St. Augustine, God changes their plans. However, when Sally Jo’s friendship with Broken Bow leads to false accusations, it could cost them their lives.
Can Dani discover how Broken Bow and Sally Jo’s story ends and how it impacted her father’s life?