Eaton, Peggy (c. 1799–1879)

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Eaton, Peggy (c. 1799–1879)

Well-known and controversial figure of her day—implicated in the fall of Andrew Jackson's first Cabinet, the ascension of Martin Van Buren to the presidency, and the political eclipse of John C. Calhoun—who has been uniformly denied significance in histories of the American early republic. Name variations: Margaret O'Neale or O'Neill Eaton; Peggy O'Neill, O'Neal, or O'Neale; Margaret O'Neale Timberlake Buchignani Eaton. (Like many aspects of Eaton's life, even her naming is contested. Though in a self-justifying autobiography written late in life she claims that no one called her by the familiar "Peggy," sources confirm that friends and enemies alike used this nickname. In her autobiography, she also anglicizes her maiden name to "O'Neil," though "O'Neale" is the name that appears on deeds signed by her father in the office of the Recorder of Deeds in the District of Columbia; other authors use "O'Neill" and "O'Neal." Though Eaton married Antonio Buchignani after John H. Eaton's death, after her divorce she won the right to resume using "Eaton.") Born Margaret O'Neale in Washington City (present-day Washington D.C.) sometime in December 1799; died in the same city on November 9, 1879, after a short illness; eldest daughter of William O'Neale (an innkeeper) and Rhoda Howell O'Neale (sister of Richard Howell, governor of New Jersey); had three brothers, William, Robert and John, and two sisters, Mary and Georgianna; tutored at home; attended Mrs. Hayward's school in Washington until her early teens; spent one winter at Madame Nau's (or Madame Day's) school in New York City; married John Bowie Timberlake, on July 18, 1816 (died at sea, 1828); married John Henry Eaton, on January 1, 1829 (died 1856); married Antonio Buchignani, in June 1859; children: (first marriage) William Timberlake (1817–1818); Virginia Timberlake; Margaret Timberlake Randolph (b. 1824).

Grew up in Washington in the Franklin House, an inn for politicians; married John Bowie Timberlake (1816) and continued working in parents' taproom; met Senator John Henry Eaton, a guest at the inn (1818) and formed a ten-year relationship with him while husband at sea; following death of husband, married John Henry Eaton (1829); husband appointed secretary of war by President Jackson (1829), beginning "The Petticoat War," which lasted until 1831, ending with John Eaton's resignation; served in Florida as the governor's lady (1834–35) and in Spain as ambassador's wife (1835–40); returned to America (1840); widowed (1856); married Antonio Buchignani (1859), later divorced; wrote her autobiography (1873).

[W]hen historians go to write about Gen. Jackson's administration in the future and in the libraries find his life by James Parton, I desire to put this little volume in that he may hear the other side before going to write the history of that great man and his Cabinet.

—Peggy Eaton

"Pity me, my friends, I was born and raised in Washington!" declares Peggy Eaton in her autobiography, written in Philadelphia near the end of her life and published 50 years after her death. The drama is typical of Eaton, who seemed to enjoy center stage and whatever spotlight life offered. Sources on her are sparse—mostly historical novels—and, aside from her book, Eaton left few personal papers. Lacking any scholarly studies, historians must depend, then, on Eaton for her account, which is undoubtedly the way she would have wanted it.

Not only was Margaret O'Neale Eaton born in Washington, she spent most of her life there, and indeed her personal history is intimately tied to the city's growth. Both she and Washington were infants in 1799, the year Eaton claims, and most historians accept, as her birth year. With typical flair, she places the occasion of her birth in political context. According to family legend, two weeks after delivering this first child, Mrs. O'Neale sat up in bed to queue her husband's hair so he could march in George Washington's funeral procession. Eaton's mother Rhoda Howell had lived in Trenton, New Jersey, until the previous year, when she and her husband relocated to Washington City. A beautiful, refined, deeply religious woman, Rhoda also came from a well-placed family, for she was the sister of Richard Howell, governor of New Jersey. Surely she married "down" when she accepted William O'Neale's proposal. A cooper and tanner, with Ulster antecedents, he appears in accounts of Eaton's life as the prototypical Irish descendant—genial, talkative, gregarious. He was probably a "climber," too. For years, he boasted of his friendship with General Washington, but though William had been a major in the army, any acquaintance with Washington probably stemmed from William's present vocation as innkeeper.

William and Rhoda ran the Franklin House, a brick building (rare in turn-of-the-century Washington) in the First Ward, on I Street, between the president's house and Georgetown. "A wilderness city," Washington City at the time consisted of little more than a large and drafty, white-gray limestone president's house (in which Abigail Adams was hanging her laundry) at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue and the Senate Wing of the Capitol at the other. The present-day Mall was a pasture cut by a sewage ditch. However, rough as the physical surroundings appeared, in the early 1800s Washington already had a formidable social structure in place.

Because of the city's crudeness and lack of housing, members of Congress and other officials rarely brought their wives and families to Washington during their terms of service, preferring to "bach" together at a public hostelry. The O'Neales' Franklin House was the only hotel in town for some years, and, even as other establishments opened, it remained the preeminent one. In contrast to the boarding houses which bedded several gentlemen of the government in one room (a custom that the Southerners especially deplored), the O'Neales offered separate rooms, transportation to and from the Capitol, and sumptuous meals. In addition, to men far from home, the growing O'Neale family provided a warm, convivial atmosphere.

Peggy Eaton and her various biographers present a cautiously acceptable picture of her as an adored child, her father's favorite and spoiled by the attentions of her many "uncles." It seems natural to suppose that the hotel guests, separated from their own children, would make much of a pretty, outgoing, little girl. Though Eaton had three brothers and two sisters, history has not heard much from them, so probably they did not get the attention from the boarders that she did. Certainly, Eaton had an uncommonly familiar way about men as she grew older, which bespeaks a childhood spent learning to maneuver among males.

Eaton attended Mrs. Hayward's school until her early teen years. According to Peggy, her father wanted the best education for his child, and she was well educated for a daughter of her time. The curriculum at Mrs. Hayward's included: "Orthography, reading, writing, arithmetic, bookkeeping, English grammar, composition, belles lettres, history, chronology, geography, the use of Globes and Maps, topography, drawing and painting." However, life in her father's tap-room, which adjoined the hotel, provided her most useful learning. Not only did numbers of government workers and officials stay in the hotel, but in addition the barroom attracted many of the men who lived elsewhere. O'Neale's tavern was widely known as a political meeting place, and doubtless young Peggy observed many deals and discussions. By the time she reached puberty, her good looks and opportunities for contact with, and ease around, men ensured that Eaton was precocious when it came to knowledge of politics and sex.

Even when trying to project herself in her writing as a prim, well-bred innocent, Eaton proudly declared, "While I was still in pantalets and rolling hoops with other girls I had the attentions of men, young and old, enough to turn a girl's head." According to her own account, the nephew of the secretary of the navy poisoned himself with laudanum over her, the adjutant general of the U.S. Army proposed (though "all the wooings of December could not win May"), and Major Belton and Captain Root nearly fought a duel for her—all before her 16th birthday.

When her father, alerted by the crash of an unsteady flower pot, aborted her elopement with

Major Belton, he promptly packed her off to a New York school, variously called Madame Nau's and Madame Day's. Away from Washington for the first time, Eaton was miserable. However, she became good friends with Julia Dickinson , daughter of New Jersey's governor, and the circumstances of her matriculation made Eaton a romantic figure among her classmates. Her father asked New York Governor DeWitt Clinton to keep an eye on her, but despite such gubernatorial surveillance, Eaton saw one of her erstwhile suitors daily. The school's headmistress proved to be a sympathetic romantic and permitted parlor visits between Eaton and Captain Root. They planned another elopement, but Eaton abruptly fell out of love with her hapless swain—"I loved Root up to a certain moment, and then the hate I suddenly acquired for him was quite as delicious as the love I had borne." Homesick and repentant, she wrote her father: "Dear Father: For the Lord's sake come and take me home; and if you will do so I will promise to be the best girl you ever saw, and I assure you that under no circumstance shall either Root or Branch take me away from you." This feeble pun worked, and Peggy came home to Washington.

At 16, Eaton had achieved the beauty that would garner so much attention, both laudatory and condemnatory. Though descriptions of her vary, she seems to have possessed a fine, full figure and dark eyes surrounded by heavy lashes and curls of a dark brown bordering on red. She had not been home from school long when, according to her own account, she looked out of a window and spotted a young navy purser, John Bowie Timberlake. Eaton remarked to her mother, "Come here, mother. Here is my husband riding on horseback." Whether or not this demonstration of Peggy's prescience happened, she claims to have become engaged to the handsome blond sailor that evening, and they married three weeks later on July 18, 1816. (Popular stereotypes aside, 16 was an uncommonly young age for a girl to wed, even in the "frontier" town of Washington.)

Unfortunately, Eaton's choice of husband proved disappointing. John Timberlake drank heavily, and his fecklessness as a purser precluded his continuing at sea. Their son William was born the next year but died of a fever six months later. Another child, Virginia, followed, giving her parents great satisfaction, but in other ways their life together continued to deteriorate. William O'Neale bought his son-in-law a store to run, which Timberlake promptly bankrupted, forcing the young couple to move back into the family hotel. The situation steadily worsened with his proximity to the innkeeper's alcohol.

In 1818, John Henry Eaton, a senator from Tennessee, arrived at the Franklin House. Despite his centrality to Peggy Eaton's life and story, John Eaton's character and personality re-main shadowy in most versions of what came to be known as the "Eaton Affair." At 28, he was one of the youngest senators in the country; contemporary observers describe a man possessed of light auburn hair, fine hazel eyes, and a countenance and bearing that signaled serene dignity.

John Eaton came to Washington from a thriving Tennessee law practice, with a family fortune increased by canny land speculation. In the war of 1812, he served a short and unremarkable stint as a private soldier. Washington City knew him when he arrived for his affiliation with, and as biographer of, General Andrew Jackson, with whom he had a long personal and political association. As a senator, John stood up for his friend Jackson during the invasion of Florida, defending him against those who tried to portray "Old Hickory" as a bloodthirsty madman. A young widower in 1818, John Eaton began a long tenure in Washington that would culminate ten years later with Jackson's presidential win in the election of 1828. John quickly ingratiated himself with the O'Neale-Timberlake menage. To help Timberlake recover some of the money he had lost as purser, John introduced a petition in Congress for his reimbursement. Despite three readings he initiated, the bill did not pass. When Timberlake, long idled by his bankruptcy, confessed that he wanted to go to sea again, John secured a post for him on the USS Shark. At the same time, he came to the aid of William O'Neale, who also faced bankruptcy. John found a buyer for the hotel, who renamed it Gadsby's. William and Rhoda started over, opening a small boarding house financed by—John Eaton.

In 1823, Andrew Jackson came to Washington, not to the former Franklin House but to the O'Neales' new, smaller Indian Queen, in preparation for his presidential run in 1824. There he came to know the O'Neales and wrote to his wife Rachel Jackson that though the whole family was "amiable," his particular favorite was "Mrs. Timberlake," who "plays on the Piano Delightfully, & every Sunday evening entertains her pious mother with Sacred music to which we are invited." Though Jackson received a plurality of the popular vote in the 1824 election, he lost the presidency to John Quincy Adams, who benefitted from votes given him by Henry Clay. When Clay was appointed secretary of state, cries went up about "a corrupt bargain," thus ensuring Adams a single term and Clay no chance at the highest office in the land.

During this time, except for some trips back to Tennessee, John Eaton stayed with the O'Neales in their hotel. When Andrew and Rachel Jackson came to town, they stayed with the O'Neales as well. Timberlake remained at sea, stopping with his wife long enough to father another daughter, Margaret, born in 1824. During these short leaves, Timberlake enjoyed a close friendship with the Tennessee senator and, as his fiscal irresponsibility continued, depended on John's influence for subsequent posts. He even gave John Eaton power of attorney over his finances to build his family a house. Perhaps most important for later events, during these years Peggy Timberlake and John Eaton began to appear in public together. Washington hostesses soon knew that, like it or not, when they invited the increasingly important senator to an event, they got Mrs. Timberlake as well. Many hostesses did not like it, but only a few had position enough to afford offending the man closest to Andrew Jackson. Elizabeth Monroe had, and she forbade the White House drawing rooms to John Eaton.

Apparently Peggy and John supplied Washington with gossip for several seasons, until 1828, a momentous year—Andrew Jackson was elected president, and John Timberlake died at sea. Though he died of natural causes, rumor whipped around Washington that Timberlake had cut his own throat in despair over his wife's infidelity. Soon after the election, John Eaton wrote to his friend, the president-elect, detailing the current slanders and expressing a wish to marry Peggy and "snatch her from that injustice of City gossipers who attend to everybody's reputation to the neglect of their own." However, he was aware that such a move would generate more talk—"The impossibility of escaping detraction and slander was too well credenced to me in the abuse of those more meritorious and deserving than I ever could hope to be"—and gently hinted that, despite his honorable intentions, the timing might not be right for such a move.

Jackson reacted promptly and succinctly, "Marry her and you will be in a position to defend her." John Eaton did—on January 1, 1829—while Washington murmured and whispered. Margaret Bayard Smith , Washington observer and no friend to Peggy, wrote in her crisp style, "Tonight Gen'l Eaton, the bosom friend and almost adopted son of Gen'l Jackson is to be married to a lady whose reputation, her previous connection with him both before and after her husband's death, has totally destroyed."

Days later, a delegation of Washington insiders paid a call on the president-elect and advised him that, though no doubt John Eaton should receive a post of some importance in the new administration, Jackson should not give him a Cabinet position which would force Peggy Eaton into direct social contact with the prominent ladies of Washington. When Jackson pressed for details, the men admitted that "ladies" would not receive a woman of Mrs. Eaton's reputation. Jackson reacted ferociously. "Do you suppose that I have been sent here by the people to consult the ladies of Washington," he said, "as to the proper persons to compose my Cabinet?" A few days after his inaugural, Jackson appointed John Eaton secretary of war. The other members of the Cabinet included John C. Calhoun as vice-president; Calhoun supporters Samuel D. Ingham as secretary of treasury, John Branch as secretary of navy, and John Berrien as attorney general; and Jackson supporters Martin Van Buren as secretary of state, and William Barry as postmaster general.

Jackson's ire and stubbornness make emotional sense in light of his recent campaign for president. His opponents had made much political hay over Jackson's marriage to Rachel Robards, which took place before she formally divorced her first husband. Though the couple regularized their union a few years later, the campaign rhetoric depicted Rachel as an "adulteress" and whore. Apparently, Jackson kept the sordid details of the campaign from his wife. A few days before the Jacksons' departure for Washington, Rachel Jackson died, and popular legend has it that she died of a broken heart, either after seeing an opposition flyer or overhearing a conversation that portrayed her as a scarlet woman. Jackson arrived in Washington with a ready-made grudge against those whose nattering tongues had slandered his dead wife's name.

Smith, Margaret Bayard (1778–1844)

American reporter of Washington social and political scene. Born Margaret Bayard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 20, 1778; died in Washington, D.C., in 1844; daughter of Colonel John Bayard of the Revolutionary Army; married Samuel Harrison Smith, in 1800.

Margaret Bayard Smith was the author of A Winter in Washington; or, the Seymour Family (2 vols. 1827) and What is Gentility? (1830); she was also a frequent contributor to Sarah Josepha Hale's Lady's Book magazine.

In some ways it is hard to discern whether society's reaction stemmed from Peggy Eaton's sexual past or her "publican" origins. Certainly the latter reason has merit. Though the accusations of Peggy's immorality centered on John Eaton, he seems not to have suffered any censure. The Washington upper-crust certainly showed skittishness over the coming of "the common man" into their midst in the person of Andrew Jackson. To a group of people who feared a world turned upside down by democracy, what could have appeared more emblematic (and threatening) than the meteoric social rise of a coarse and vulgar barmaid on the coattails of a military bumpkin? Her ally, Postmaster General William Barry, described her as "a daughter of a tavern-keeper belonging to the democracy," who "moved into the fashionable world … touch[ing] the pride of the self-constituted great."

The upstart needed a lesson. Most of the "ladies" of Washington—Cabinet wives and other hostesses—decided to freeze Eaton out. They would not attend events that she attended, not accept any of her invitations, and certainly not extend any. The first shot in what came to be known as the "Petticoat War" was fired at the Inaugural Ball, where the wives of the administration, led by Floride Calhoun , wife of John C. who was widely considered the probable successor to Jackson, cut Peggy Eaton dead. Floride enlisted Emily Donelson , the young bride of Andrew Jackson Donelson, the president's adopted son and secretary and herself the official White House hostess, Mrs. Ingham, Mrs. Branch, and Berrien's daughters. The only Cabinet wife who sided with Eaton was Mrs. William Barry .

Soon after the unpleasantness began, Jackson received a letter from Dr. Ely, a cleric in Philadelphia, charging Eaton with a variety of offenses, some of them quite extreme. Ely began by stating that Peggy Eaton had a notorious reputation from girlhood and that the respectable folk of Washington had long barred their houses to her. He related that a gentleman, the morning after the British minister's ball, had said at the breakfast table that "Mrs. Eaton brushed by him last night pretending not to know him; she had forgotten the time when she slept with him." As regards John Eaton, Ely claimed that John and Peggy had traveled and lodged together before their marriage and that Peggy had instructed the servants to call her children by the surname "Eaton" instead of "Timberlake." In addition, Ely asserted that while her husband was at sea, Mrs. Timberlake had suffered a miscarriage as a result of a driving accident. According to Ely's supposedly impeccable but unnamed sources, the physician arrived to find Mrs. Timberlake, attended by her mother, and together they joked that he was too late to see "a little Eaton."

Andrew Jackson's letter of refutation was longer than his inaugural address. In it, he dismissed most of the charges as baseless gossip, citing his own and Rachel's good opinion of Peggy and his personal knowledge of Timberlake's devotion to his wife and to his friend John Eaton. The miscarriage story he dismissed out of hand as contrary to all good sense. Jackson took the accusations seriously enough to employ his own investigators to scour the hotel registers looking for incriminating entries (they found none) and to collect depositions attesting to Peggy Eaton's good character. In all, 93 pages of Jackson's papers are devoted to refuting these charges.

In the meantime, through a visit to Ely, John Eaton had discovered that a Washington minister, a Dr. Campbell, was the source of the miscarriage story. When Jackson confronted the cleric, Campbell attributed the tale to a doctor long dead. According to Jackson, Campbell asserted positively that the miscarriage had occurred in 1821. However, faced with proof that Timberlake had been in Washington during that year, the parson changed his mind and the date, to Jackson's disgust. In September 1829, Jackson called a Cabinet meeting to review all the evidence, written and verbal, in his possession. He also delivered the verdict—"She is as chaste as a virgin!"—effectively, in his mind, closing the case.

However, the "Eaton malaria" continued. Washington's social life underwent a massive transformation. The intricate calling rounds Washington women executed in their husbands' interests ground down. Many were afraid to move for fear of offending someone important. Martin Van Buren, a widower, led the Peggy supporters. Not only did he call on the Eatons, the only man in the Cabinet besides Barry to do so, and they on him, but he gave several parties and balls in their honor, embarrassing the other members of the president's Cabinet by tendering them invitations he knew they must refuse. He also enlisted some of the European diplomats, in America without their wives, to host social events and invite the Eatons. At one of these soirees, the wife of the Dutch minister, Madame Huygens , made a scene when she discovered she had been placed next to Peggy Eaton at table. Jackson decided her remarks constituted an insult to the United States, and only Van Buren's diplomacy averted an international incident.

The opposition suffered the initial casualties in the "Petticoat War." Jackson gave a dinner with mandatory attendance and placed Eaton at his right side, demonstrating that all the furor had only endeared her to him. Emily Donelson, after a prolonged tussle with her Uncle Andrew, during which she steadfastly refused to receive Peggy Eaton, either left for, or was sent back to, Tennessee, replaced as White House host byMary Ann Lewis , daughter of Eaton supporter William B. Lewis.

More seriously, as Van Buren's star rose, Calhoun's fell. Initially, Calhoun took the stand that, though he harbored no personal animus against John Eaton, this purely social matter fell strictly under his wife's control. Jackson grew increasingly impatient with this excuse and soon suspected that Calhoun had concocted the whole affair to destroy his administration. Jackson had always ascribed the attacks against Peggy to the machinations of unscrupulous politicians; at first, he accused Henry Clay of engineering them, but because of Floride's insistence on her position, John Calhoun fell under presidential suspicion. Soon it came out that John Calhoun had condemned General Jack-son's actions in Florida and that he was the anonymous author of South Carolina's position on nullification—an early "states' rights" position that protected slavery and, even the 1820s, was perceived as a threat to the sanctity of the Union, an ideal especially close to Jackson's heart. Though these differences between John Calhoun and Andrew Jackson had long roots, the Eaton affair brought them to the surface and further polarized the president and members of his Cabinet.

By the spring of 1831, the Washington situation looked desperate. Jackson could accomplish nothing with his frozen Cabinet. Contemporary Washington observers fully realized the implications of the Eaton affair. John Quincy Adams cynically remarked, "The Administration party is split up into a blue and a green faction upon this point of morals but the explosion has been hitherto deferred. Calhoun leads the moral party, Van Buren the frail sisterhood; and he is notoriously engaged in canvassing for the Presidency by paying court to Mrs. Eaton." Daniel Webster, sage of American politics, displayed his famed prescience: "It is odd, but the consequence of this desperate turmoil in the social and fashionable world may determine who shall succeed the present chief magistrate."

Martin Van Buren suggested a way out—he would resign, perhaps forcing the troublemakers to resign as well. John Eaton protested that since he and his family had caused the trouble, he should be the one to resign. In the end, they both did. Newspapers outside Washington did not know what to make of this development, un-aware of the role Secretary Eaton's wife had played. Berrien, Branch, and Ingham were slow to take the hint, and in the end Jackson had to force them to step down. The three politicians went back to their hometowns and embarked on a bitter writing campaign, tearing into Jackson and John Eaton and bringing Peggy Eaton's name into print and national prominence for the first time.

The newspapers had a field day. Queena Pollack 's extensively researched 1931 historical novel, Peggy Eaton: Democracy's Mistress, presents a comprehensive and colorful account of the volcanic reaction of the national press and the electorate's reaction. Pro- and anti-Peggy groups erupted in every major city. Editors portrayed Peggy Eaton as "Bellona—Goddess of War" when the story of her brush with the Dutch minister's wife came out. Writers speculated that a woman controlled the White House, poisoning the president's mind. Political observers even attributed John Eaton's late Cabinet post to his wife's wiles, and the administration suffered from comparisons to corrupt European courts of old. Soon elements of the American press regularly referred to Eaton as "The American Pompadour" (Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, duchesse de Pompadour ).

In her autobiography, Eaton is oddly reticent about this time. Her purpose in writing her story 60 years after these events was to refute portrayals of her as a strumpet or a schemer in books and articles about the Jackson era. Eaton treats this episode only as the saga of a wronged woman, ignoring all the political ramifications. She spends most of the book painting a picture of herself, from childhood on, as a pure and pious Christian, well regarded by all who really knew her and the subsequent stories about her all lies constructed from base political motives. In her zeal to justify her life, she commits some easily confirmed historical errors, which, coupled with the saintly portrait she presents and her disavowal of her own political actions and motivations, seriously call into question the validity of her hindsight view of history. Because of these flaws, historians have either dismissed Eaton's story as politically insignificant or perpetuated the early "objective" depictions of her as a loose woman and political dupe.

In the meantime, while the newspapers were trumpeting the newly revealed events of the last two years, Jackson chose another Cabinet and got on with the business of government. John C. Calhoun's hopes of succeeding Jackson as president were dashed. His later political career is no-table chiefly for his central role in the Southern secessionist movement. On the other hand, Martin Van Buren's loyalty and his "sacrifice" of his position endeared him to "Old Hickory," and he became Andrew Jackson's vice-president and successor. Never again did Peggy and John Eaton occupy so prominent a place in American politics. They remained in Washington for a short time, until John was appointed governor of Florida. The Eatons occupied the governor's mansion until John accepted the post of ambassador to Spain. The Eatons served there with Peggy's daughters for five years, and Peggy was, by all accounts, a tremendous hit, enjoying a close relationship with Maria Christina I (1806–1878). The family returned to Washington where Eaton became a prominent Washington host and John practiced law. When her daughter Margaret and son-in-law John Randolph died, Eaton adopted their four children.

In 1856, John Henry Eaton died, leaving Peggy Eaton a well-off and respectable personage in the Capital. In 1859, she again shocked her world by marrying her grandchildren's dancing master, a young Italian immigrant named Antonio Buchignani who, at 20, was 40 years younger than his wife. For five years, they defied the social predictions and lived happily, moving from Washington to New York City, but then Antonio ran off with Eaton's fortune and her granddaughter Emily. Peggy divorced him and resumed the last name "Eaton."

Now in financially straitened circumstances, she and her grandson John moved to Philadelphia, where he was able to get a government job. While they were there, James Parton published his Life of Andrew Jackson, which portrayed Peggy as a saucy barmaid. The pastor of her church, Reverend Charles Deems, to whom she turned for advice in dealing with these attacks, advised her to write her memoirs in refutation. She did so in 1873 and then entrusted them to him, to be published at her death. Unfortunately, because of Deems' death, they would not appear until 1932. Later that year, she and John moved back to Washington, where she lived in seclusion until the press, and then the Washington public, rediscovered her. She spent her final years giving occasional press interviews and being treated as a grande dame of American politics.

Margaret O'Neale Timberlake Buchignani Eaton died in the city she loved, on November 9, 1879. During her last morning of life, she repeated in a "clear, firm voice" the hymn "I Will Not Live Alway." At high noon, she died. Her purported last words were, "I am not afraid to die, but this is such a beautiful world to leave."


Bassett, John Spencer. The Life of Andrew Jackson. NY: Doubleday, Page, 1916.

Bowers, Claude G. The Party Battles of the Jackson Period. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1922.

Eaton, Margaret. The Autobiography of Peggy Eaton. NY: Scribner, 1932.

Nevin, David. "To the President, Peggy Eaton was Chaste Indeed," in Smithsonian. Vol. 23. May 1992, pp. 84–97.

Parton, James. Life of Andrew Jackson. Vol. III. NY: Mason Brothers, 1860.

Pollack, Queena. Peggy Eaton: Democracy's Mistress. NY: Minton, Balch, 1931.

Poore, Perley Benjamin. Perley's Reminiscences of Sixty Years on the National Metropolis. 2 vols. Philadelphia, PA: Hubbard Brothers, 1886.

Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson and the Course of American Freedom, 1822–1832. Vol. II. NY: Harper & Row, 1981.

Smith, Margaret Bayard. The First Forty Years of Washington Society. NY: Scribner, 1906.

suggested reading:

Adams, Samuel Hopkins. The Gorgeous Hussy. NY: Grossett and Dunlap, 1934.

Dillon, Mary. The Patience of John Morland. NY: Doubleday, Page, 1909.

James, Marquis. Andrew Jackson: Portrait of a President. NY: Bobbs-Merrill, 1937.

Keats, Charles B. Petticoat War in the White House: A Novelized Biography of Peggy O'Neill. NY: Heritage Hall, 1973.

Lewis, Alfred Henry. Peggy O'Neal. Philadelphia, PA: The American News Company, 1903.

Phillips, Leon. That Eaton Woman: In Defense of Peggy O'Neale Eaton. Barre, MA: Barre Publications, 1974.


Adams, John Quincy. The Adams Papers. Published by the Adams Manuscript Trust through the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA, Reel 15.

Bayard Papers and Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.

related media:

The Gorgeous Hussy (VHS, 105 minutes), highly fictionalized account, starring Joan Crawford , Lionel Barrymore, Melvyn Douglas, James Stewart, Robert Taylor and Franchot Tone, directed by Clarence Brown, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1936.

Catherine A. Allgor , Assistant Professor of History, Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts