About Jane Means Pierce (Appleton), First Lady
Jane Means Appleton Pierce (March 12, 1806 – December 2, 1863), wife of U.S. President Franklin Pierce, was First Lady of the United States from 1853 to 1857.
Early life and marriage
Born in Hampton, New Hampshire, the daughter of Reverend Jesse Appleton, a Congregationalist minister and second President of Bowdoin College, and Elizabeth Means-Appleton, Jane was a petite, frail, shy, melancholy figure. After the death of her father, who had served as president of Bowdoin College not long before Franklin enrolled there, she at age 13 moved into the mansion of her wealthy maternal grandparents in Amherst, New Hampshire.
How she met Pierce, a young lawyer with political ambitions, is unknown, but her brother-in-law Alpheus S. Packard (who had married Jane's sister Frances) was one of Pierce's professors at Bowdoin. Franklin, aged almost 30, married Jane, aged 28, on November 19, 1834, at the home of the bride's maternal grandparents in Amherst. Theirs was a small wedding, conducted by a brother-in-law of Jane, the Reverend Silas Aiken. The couple honeymooned six days at the boardinghouse of Sophie near Washington, D.C.
The Pierces had three children, all of whom died at young ages:
Franklin Pierce, Jr. (b/d 1836) - died three days after birth.
Frank Robert Pierce (1839-1843) - died at the age of four from epidemic typhus.
Benjamin Pierce (April 13, 1841-January 6, 1853) - Two months before Pierce's inauguration as president, a tragedy occurred as the family traveled by train from Andover, Massachusetts, to Concord, New Hampshire, where they had planned to attend the funeral of a family friend. Minutes after departure, their passenger car broke loose from the train and rolled down an embankment. The only fatality was Bennie Pierce, who was decapitated.
Husband's public life
Pierce was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives by the time they married, and became a U.S. Senator in 1837. Mrs. Pierce hated life in Washington, D.C., and encouraged Pierce to resign his Senate seat and return to New Hampshire, which he did in 1842.
Service in the Mexican-American War brought Pierce the rank of Brigadier General and local fame as a hero. He returned home safely, and for four more years the Pierces lived quietly at Concord, New Hampshire, in the happiest period of their lives, where Jane watched her son Benjamin "Benny" grow up.
First Lady of the United States
In 1852, the Democratic Party made Pierce their candidate for President. His wife fainted at the news. When Pierce took her to Newport for a respite, eleven-year-old Benny wrote to her: "I hope he won't be elected for I should not like to be at Washington and I know you would not either." But the President-elect convinced Jane that his office would be an asset for Benny's success in life.
The Pierces apparently had genuine affection for one another, but quarreled often and gradually drifted apart. She opposed Pierce's decision to run for president, for she much preferred private life. When her son Bennie was killed in a train accident before Pierce was sworn in as President, she believed God was displeased with her husband's political ambitions. After the deaths of her children, Mrs. Pierce was overcome with melancholia and distanced herself during her husband's presidency. She never recovered from the tragedy. For nearly two years, she remained in the upstairs living quarters of the White House, spending her days writing maudlin letters to her dead son. She left the social chores to her aunt Abby Kent-Means and her close friend Varina Davis, wife of War Secretary Jefferson Davis. Mrs. Pierce made her first official appearance as First Lady at a New Year's Day reception in 1855 and thereafter served as White House hostess intermittently. When the first Christmas Tree appeared in the White House in 1856, Mrs. Pierce has since been given credit for starting this presidential tradition.
Pierce died of tuberculosis (as her father had) in Andover, Massachusetts, on December 2, 1863. She was buried at Old North Cemetery in Concord, New Hampshire; her husband was interred beside her in 1869.
In looks and in pathetic destiny young Jane Means Appleton resembled the heroine of a Victorian novel. The gentle dignity of her face reflected her sensitive, retiring personality and physical weakness. Her father had died--he was a Congregational minister, the Reverend Jesse Appleton, president of Bowdoin College--and her mother had taken the family to Amherst, New Hampshire. And Jane met a Bowdoin graduate, a young lawyer with political ambitions, Franklin Pierce.
Although he was immediately devoted to Jane, they did not marry until she was 28 -- surprising in that day of early marriages. Her family opposed the match; moreover, she always did her best to discourage his interest in politics. The death of a three-day-old son, the arrival of a new baby, and Jane's dislike of Washington counted heavily in his decision to retire at the apparent height of his career, as United States Senator, in 1842. Little Frank Robert, the second son, died the next year of typhus.
Service in the Mexican War brought Pierce the rank of brigadier and local fame as a hero. He returned home safely, and for four years the Pierces lived quietly at Concord, New Hampshire, in the happiest period of their lives. With attentive pleasure Jane watched her son Benjamin growing up.
Then, in 1852, the Democratic Party made Pierce their candidate for President. His wife fainted at the news. When he took her to Newport for a respite, Benny wrote to her: "I hope he won't be elected for I should not like to be at Washington and I know you would not either." But the President-elect convinced Jane that his office would be an asset for Benny's success in life.
On a journey by train, January 6, 1853, their car was derailed and Benny killed before their eyes. The whole nation shared the parents' grief. The inauguration on March 4 took place without an inaugural ball and without the presence of Mrs. Pierce. She joined her husband later that month, but any pleasure the White House might have brought her was gone. From this loss she never recovered fully. Other events deepened the somber mood of the new administration: Mrs. Fillmore's death in March, that of Vice President Rufus King in April.
Always devout, Jane Pierce turned for solace to prayer. She had to force herself to meet the social obligations inherent in the role of First Lady. Fortunately she had the companionship and help of a girlhood friend, now her aunt by marriage, Abigail Kent Means.
Mrs. Robert E. Lee wrote in a private letter: "I have known many of the ladies of the White House, none more truly excellent than the afflicted wife of President Pierce. Her health was a bar to any great effort on her part to meet the expectations of the public in her high position but she was a refined, extremely religious and well educated lady."
With retirement, the Pierces made a prolonged trip abroad in search of health for the invalid--she carried Benny's Bible throughout the journey. The quest was unsuccessful, so the couple came home to New Hampshire to be near family and friends until Jane's death in 1863. She was buried near Benny's grave.
Jane Means Appleton Pierce was William Philo Hibard's 5th Cousin
Jane Pierce, First Lady's Timeline
March 12, 1806
Hampton, New Hampshire, United States
November 19, 1834
February 2, 1836
Concord, Merrimack, NH
August 7, 1839
Concord, New Hampshire
April 13, 1841
Concord, New Hampshire
Concord Ward 5, Merrimack, New Hampshire
December 2, 1863
Andover, Massachusetts, United States
Old North Cemetery