William Henry Harrison died in office, four of his children died around the same time, and Tyler’s wife died while First Lady. To paraphrase their 1840 campaign slogan: Troubles for Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!
Here’s the rundown:
1840: Benjamin Harrison, son of William Henry and Anna Harrison, dies at the age of 33. His father is elected president later that year.
1841: Just one month after taking office, President Harrison dies on April 4th. John Tyler becomes America’s 10th president. His already-ailing wife gives over White House hostess duties to her daughter and daughter-in-law.
1842: Mary Harrison Thornton, daughter of William Henry and Anna Harrison, dies at the age of 33. Letitia Tyler makes her only public appearance as First Lady of the United States, at the wedding of her daughter Elizabeth on January 31st. She then has another stroke and dies on September 10th, at the age of 51.
Before the end of the year President Tyler meets his future wife, New York socialite Julia Gardiner.
1844: Julia has been reluctant to accept President Tyler’s marriage proposal, but on February 28th, an explosion aboard the U.S.S. Princeton kills six people, including two members of the president’s cabinet and Julia’s father, David Gardiner, a U.S. senator from New York. Julia agrees to marry President Tyler and they are secretly wed in June at her family’s island in New York.
1845: The Tylers leave the White House in March. In July, Anna Harrison Taylor, daughter of William Henry and Anna Harrison, dies at the age of 31.
That’s quite a tally.
John Tyler did his level best to make up for the death rate: he had eight children with his first wife, Letitia, then another seven with Julia Gardiner. His 15 children are the most ever fathered by any U.S. president. And improbably, almost impossibly, one of his grandchildren is still alive.