|Providence Forge, VA
|March 19, 2022
Letitia Tyler became first lady unexpectedly in April 1841 when her spouse, Vice President John Tyler, ascended to the presidency upon the death of William Henry Harrison a mere 31 days after he took office. Ill health precluded Letitia Tyler from making almost any public appearances during her White House stay, and she died there in September 1842. Mrs. Tyler’s body was transported to Virginia for burial and laid to rest at Cedar Grove Cemetery in the unincorporated community of Providence Forge in New Kent County, 20 miles east of downtown Richmond.
The first lady was born as Letitia Christian at Cedar Grove, likely in an area of the house that was removed circa 1916. Letitia was raised at Cedar Grove and also wed there in March 1813. In the first lady’s lifetime, Cedar Grove was a plantation where the Christian family reaped the benefits of the labor of the Black people it enslaved. In modern day, the Talley family runs Oak Grove Farm and Meats LLC from there and sells eggs, pork, and cuts of beef. Most of the land is closed to the public, but visitors are permitted inside the cemetery.
It was not a difficult task to locate Cedar Grove Cemetery on the property. Upon passing through the brick entryway on Emmaus Church Road, I was greeted by a small sign that instructed me to turn left. After just a few moments of driving down the dirt road I came upon the small cemetery and stopped my vehicle in the designated parking area beside it. Letitia Tyler’s marble slab was near the far right corner, marked by an American flag that was animated by the afternoon wind.
The inscription on Mrs. Tyler’s gravestone notes that her death occurred at the President’s House in the city of Washington. She was the first spouse of a U.S. president to die while her husband was in office. Tyler was followed in those solemn circumstances by Caroline Scott Harrison in 1892 and Ellen Wilson in 1914.
Letitia Tyler bore eight children, two of whom are buried at her side: Mary Tyler Jones and Alice Tyler Denison. Her husband, however, is interred at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. John Tyler is joined there in Presidents Circle by his second spouse, First Lady Julia Tyler. The pair married in 1844, two years following Letitia’s death.
Born: November 12, 1790 in New Kent County, Virginia
Spouse: John Tyler (m. 1813-1842)
Second Lady Tenure: 1841
First Lady Tenure: 1841-1842
Died: September 10, 1842 in Washington, D.C.
Cause of Death: Stroke
Interment: Cedar Grove Cemetery, Providence Forge, Virginia
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Virginia Historical Landmarks Commission Staff. “National Register of Historic Places Inventory — Nomination Form: Cedar Grove.” December 28, 1979. Accessed April 3, 2022. https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/063-0036_Cedar_Grove_1979_Final_Nomination.pdf.