First Spouse Coins in 2009

Did you know there were four presidential coins released by the Mint in 2009, but there were five first spouse coins?

The four presidential coins for 2009 included the ninth president, William Henry Harrison who served in 1841, the tenth president, John Tyler from 1841-1845, the eleventh president, James K. Polk from 1845-1849, and the twelfth president, Zachary Taylor from 1849-1850.

The five first spouse coins included Anna Harrison, Letitia Tyler, Julia Tyler, Sarah Polk and Margaret Taylor.

While in office, John Tyler had three First Ladies but only two wives – thus only two first spouse coins.

John Tyler married his first wife, Letitia Christian, on his 23rd birthday, March 29, 1813. In one of the few love letters found in their belongings, he writes, “Whether I float or sink in the stream of fortune, you may be assured of this, that I shall never cease to love you.” They were together until her death on September 10, 1842. 

Letitia preferred to keep a low profile during all of his political years, instead she tended to their plantation home in Virginia. Her daughter-in-law described her as “the most entirely unselfish person you can imagine…Notwithstanding her very delicate health, Mother attends to and regulates all the household affairs and all so quietly that you can’t tell when she does it.”

Letitia Tyler Obverse

Letitia Tyler Reverse

Letitia Tyler was the first First Lady to die while her husband served as president. Her death in 1842 followed ill health after a paralytic stroke in 1839. Though she did receive prominent visitors such as Charles Dickens and Washington Irving while at the White House, the only time she came out in public was for their daughter’s wedding in January of 1842.

After her death, Priscilla Cooper Tyler became the First Lady. She was the wife of John and Letitia’s oldest son, Robert. Priscilla served as the twelfth First Lady from September 10, 1842 until June 26, 1844.

John Tyler met Julia Gardiner of New York in early 1842, but they did not begin seeing each other as the beginning of a relationship until early 1843 after his first wife’s death the previous September.

On a presidential excursion on the naval frigate Princeton, Julia’s father lost his life in a naval gun explosion. Tyler comforted Julia and shortly thereafter asked her to begin a secret engagement. Due to the circumstances of her father’s death, they kept their closer relationship quiet and had a secret ceremony in New York on June 26, 1844.

At that time, Julia Tyler became the thirteenth First Lady. Since Julia was a spouse, the Mint provided a coin for her:

Julia Tyler Obverse

Julia Tyler Reverse

Of course, there was considerable discussion at the time with Julia being only 24 to Tyler’s 54 years. Regardless of the issues with both family and constituents, Julia enjoyed helping Tyler with various political goals and functions. She is credited with being instrumental in obtaining the Congressional approval for the annexation of Texas. So much so that Tyler gifted her with the ceremonial signing pen which she proudly attached to her necklace and wore on formal occasions.

After the presidency, John and Julia Tyler remained together at Sherwood Forest Plantation in Virginia until his death on January 18, 1862 at age 71. Julia moved to Staten Island near her family after his death, but her fortunes suffered during the Depression following the 1873 financial debacles. She moved back to Virginia to live with the aid of their grown children until suffering a stroke in 1889. She died on June 10, 1889 at age 69.

By all accounts, John Tyler was prolific as a politician serving in several elected positions in Virginia and for the country. He was also prolific at procreation as he and Letitia had eight children, seven of which grew to adulthood. His marriage to Julia yielded seven more children who all grew to adulthood. Their birth years ranged from 1815 when he was 25 to 1860 when he was 70 years old.

At best, the Tyler family gatherings had to be interesting in the latter years of his life.

Isn’t it interesting what a few coins can entice one to learn?

Note: Coins images by the US Mint