Ninth First Lady of the United States
Anna Harrison, wife of the President William Henry Harrison, was First Lady of the United States during her husband’s one-month term in 1841, though she never entered the White House. She also holds the distinction of being the only First Lady to be wife of one president and grandmother of another: twenty-third president, Benjamin Harrison.
She was born Anna Tuthill Symmes on July 25, 1775 at the family estate Solitude near Morristown, New Jersey to John Cleves Symmes and Anna Tuthill Symmes, who died the following year. Anna’s father was a Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court and later became a prominent landowner in southwestern Ohio.
Because the Revolutionary War was beginning and the British were a threat to their New Jersey home, Judge Symmes disguised himself as a British soldier to carry Anna on horseback through the British lines to her maternal grandparents Henry and Phoebe Tuthill in Southhold, Long Island, where Anna grew up. She received an unusually broad education for a woman of the times, attending Clinton Academy at Easthampton, Long Island, and the Isabella Graham boarding school in New York City.
John Symmes bought 311,682 acres from the Congress in 1788. President George Washington signed the patent on October 30, 1794 conveying to Symmes 248,250 acres plus a surveying township of 23,040 acres for an academy. This land was known as the Symmes Purchase, and was the cause of considerable controversy. The purchase price was $225,000, which he paid in notes issued by the Congress to raise money during the war. Symmes had lent most of his own money to the Revolution.
In late 1794 Symmes remarried and decided to make a new home on land he had purchased after the Revolution in the Northwest Territory, which is now the state of Ohio. Anna and her new stepmother accompanied him, and they settled on his extensive land holdings at North Bend, Ohio, on the Ohio River west of Cincinnati.
While the Symmes home was being built at North Bend, Anna and her stepmother lived with Anna’s married sister in Lexington, Kentucky. In the spring of 1795, Anna met William Henry Harrison, then a young soldier stationed at nearby Fort Washington.
Though the young man came from a prestigious Virginia family, Judge Symmes disapproved because he wanted to spare his daughter the hardships of army life at frontier outposts. However, the courtship continued without his knowledge.
Home and Family
On November 25, 1795, a clandestine marriage united Anna Symmes and Lt. William Henry Harrison at the home of Dr. Stephen Wood at North Bend, while her father was away on business. The couple honeymooned at Fort Washington, where Harrison was still on duty.