White House Weddings: Bride changes mind – and grooms – at last second

Published 1:48 pm Tuesday, August 15, 2023

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By Betty Etchison West

For the Enterprise

The next White House wedding after that of John Adams II and Mary Catherine Hellen took place four years later.

The bride was Mary Eastin, granddaughter of Rachel Jackson’s brother, Col. John Donelson.  Mary was a favorite of President Andrew Jackson, and, when he moved to the White House, Mary Eastin went along and lived there.  Mary, who was described as sprightly and personable, quickly became a belle of Washington.

One of Mary’s boyfriends was Major Abram van Buren, the son of Martin van Buren who would become the 8th President, but that did not last.

Mary set her cap for an English-born naval officer, Captain Bolton Finch, who was nearly twice her age. A date for the Eastin/ Finch wedding was set for Feb. 14, 1832. Mary went to New York to buy her trousseau. She spent so much money that President Jackson got upset and told Rachel’s brother-in-law to look into the situation. In addition to her other expenditures, Mary paid $1 for a hat box and that seemed to be the thing that caused the President to become disturbed—that $1.

Lucius J. Polk, the second cousin of James K. Polk, lived in Tennessee and had been an admirer of Mary Eastin. When he heard about the upcoming wedding, he left for Washington because he wanted to stop that wedding.   When he left Tennessee, he left plans for building a house on land which he had inherited and to which he could bring his bride.  Confident, wasn’t he?   

The book, “White House Brides” by Marie Smith and Louise Durbin, says: “When the confident suitor arrive in Washington, the President was delighted to see him. Polk is said to have asked the President to plead his case with Mary, and it is further reported that “Uncle Jackson” as Mary called him, warned her, ‘Take care, my dear. With love, marriage is heaven, without it, hell.’

Whether that weather-beaten bit of philosophy did the trick or not, Mary changed her mind. She called off the wedding to Finch and set the date for the Eastin/Polk wedding for April 10, 1832, just two months after she had planned to marry Capt. Finch.”

The wedding took place in the White House East Room which had been newly decorated by President Jackson, the man who was upset about Mary spending $1 for a hat box.  President Jackson had spent $10,000 on that refurnishing, and he added the North Portico at the White House which faces Pennsylvania Avenue and became the main entrance. President Jackson planted a magnolia tree in memory of his wife, Rachel. That magnolia tree survived until 2017. It was sad that that magnolia, which had lived for almost 200 years, had to be removed.

If President Jackson had any doubts about the Eastin/Polk wedding, they were unnecessary. The newlyweds went to Tennessee and lived in the house for which he had left plans for when he went to Washington.

Polk’s Tennessee estate was called Hamilton Place, and the house was completed in the summer of 1832.  The Polks became the parents of 12 children, which included two sets of twins. Mary died in childbirth with the second set of twins that were born in 1847. During the 15 years that Mary and Lucius Polk were married, they had 12 children, and two of those children died at birth.  Lucius Polk lived on at his hom until his death in 1870.  That house is still owned by the Polk descendants.

The same year that Mary Eastin and Lucius Polk were married in the White House another wedding was also held in the East Room – the wedding of friends of President Jackson and was the first wedding in the White House of an individual who was not related to the first family.

Mary Anne Lewis was the daughter of Jackson’s quartermaster officer at New Orleans, Major William Berkeley Lewis, who was a close friend of President Jackson. Mary Ann Lewis was a motherless child who was taken in at the Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson, by Rachel Jackson. When Andrew Jackson was elected president and moved to the White House, he took Mary Ann and her father with him. There was criticism from both the Jackson family and the officials about that living arrangement so Major Lewis and Mary moved out.

Mary Anne was invited to a Christmas party at the White House when she was 18. There she met Alphonse Pageot, a secretary of the French Legation and a brother of French Minister Serrurier’s wife. That must have been love-at-first-sight because a short time later Marry Anne and Pageot were engaged. President Jackson wanted them to get married in the White house which is exactly what happened.  They were married in the beautifully decorated East Room by the Rev. William Matthews of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church before a large group of family members, friends, and the Diplomatic Corp. That was the first Catholic wedding to be held in the White House.

Mary Anne and Pageot left for a trip to Philadelphia, and, when they returned to Washington, her father, Major Lewis, gave them an elegantly furnished mansion. Part of the deal concerning the new mansion was that Major Lewis went with the house, meaning that he would live with the newlyweds.  That arrangement evidently that worked out satisfactorily.  About a year later, Little Andrew Jackson Pageot was born, and the President wanted him christened at the White House.  Father Matthews, the Catholic Priest christened Little Andrew Jackson Pageot with the President acting as godfather.

The Pageots lived in France at Passy (Seine).  Mary Anne died there when she was 52 years old.  When she died in Avignon, she did not know that her father, Major William Berkeley Lewis, had died three days earlier in Nashville, her birthplace.