Her response in a letter to the New York Mail called the robbery “an outrage committed at my house,” according to the New York Times. She said the flag “was only an ornamental bunting, without political significance.”
Julia Gardiner Tyler, the second wife of President John Tyler and a Confederate sympathizer, fled to her mother’s home at 27 Tyler St. in West Brighton, by crossing Civil War battle lines after her husband’s death in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 18, 1862.
The Gardiner-Tyler House was noted for its architectural significance and its historical significance – though somewhat infamous -- when it was declared a NYC landmark on April 12, 1967.
A “handsome” two-story home, its design can be found “in the finest period of Greek Revival,” the city Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) noted in its designation report. It has Corinthian columns, “a fine stairway,” several original fireplaces, a parlor and a library.
The house was built around 1835 by Mrs. Elizabeth Racey on land that was originally used as a farm, according to the LPC. The residence originally stood in a grove of white birches. Juliana Gardiner, who was from a prominent family in East Hampton and the mother of Julia Gardiner Tyler, would later purchase the home.
John Tyler was elected Vice President in 1840 under President William Henry Harrison. He became the President when Harrison died only a month into his term. President Tyler was already friendly with the Gardiners when he began his courtship with the much younger Julia. She was with her parents and President Tyler on a pleasure cruise aboard the USS Princeton on the Potomac River on Feb. 28, 1844, when an accidental explosion of a naval gun killed her father, David Gardiner, who was a New York State Senator.
“Tyler comforted Julia in her grief and won her consent to a secret engagement,” according to her biography on the White House website. “The first President to marry in office took his vows in New York on June 26, 1844. The news was then broken to the American people, who greeted it with keen interest, much publicity, and some criticism about the couple’s difference in age: 30 years.”
Julia Gardiner Tyler’s portrait is the first of a President’s wife to hang in the White House.
“She enjoyed her position immensely and filled it with grace,” the White House website notes. “She welcomed guests with plumes in her hair, attended by maids of honor dressed in white. She once declared, with truth: “Nothing appears to delight the President more than…to hear people sing my praises.”
At their home in Sherwood Forest in Virginia, Julia gave birth to five of their seven children and “she acted as mistress of the plantation until the Civil War. As such, she defended both states’ rights and the institution of slavery. She championed the political views of her husband, who remained for her 'the President' until the end of his life.”
President Tyler died on Jan. 18, 1862, a member of the Confederate House of Representatives. His coffin was draped in a Confederate flag. His death “came as a severe blow to her.”
After President Tyler’s death, her Southern sympathies were not welcome and she frantically attempted to make her way to her mother’s home on Staten Island. She was denied entry into New York when she refused to swear her loyalty to the North. She spent some of the Civil War years in Bermuda with other Confederate exiles who also fled the United States. Eventually, she found passage onto Staten Island and moved into the Gardiner-Tyler House with her seven children.
“Even as a refugee in New York, she devoted herself to volunteer work for the Confederacy,” according to the White House website. “Its defeat found her impoverished.”
After her mother’s death in 1868, she was entangled in litigation over the Gardiner-Tyler House with her uncle, David Lyon Gardiner. She was ultimately granted ownership of the house. In 1871, she returned to Washington and then to Richmond, Va. She earned an annual pension of $5,000 given to first ladies who were predeceased by their husbands.
“Living out her last years comfortably in Richmond, Julia died there in 1889 and was buried there at her husband’s side,” the White House notes on its website.
The Gardiner-Tyler House was then purchased by William M. Evarts, who was her lawyer in the litigation with her uncle and later became the U.S. Attorney General under President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State under President Rutherford B. Hayes. Over the years, it had several owners and was purchased by a family in 1977 who restored much of the house.
It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
(Photo of the Gardiner-Tyler Mansion, circa 1900, courtesy of the Staten Island Historical Society)