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Martha Patterson (Johnson)

Also Known As: "Patterson"
Birthdate: (72)
Birthplace: Greenville, Tennessee, USA
Death: July 10, 1901 (72)
Greeneville, Greene, Tennessee, USA
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the USA and Eliza Johnson, First Lady
Wife of David T. Patterson, U.S. Senator
Mother of Mary Belle Landstreet and Andrew Johnson Patterson
Sister of Charles Johnson, MD, USA; Mary Stover; Brig. Gen. Robert Johnson (USA) and Andrew "Frank" Johnson, Jr.

Managed by: Joseph William Thomas
Last Updated:

About Martha Patterson Co., PA

Daughter of President Andrew Johnson and Eliza McCardle Johnson; wife of United States Senator David Trotter Patterson; she served as White House hostess during her father's term, 1865-1869

Martha Johnson Patterson

Daughter and Hostess for her father, Andrew Johnson


25 October 1828

Greeneville, Tennessee

Early Life:

Andrew Johnson once declared Martha to be “my favorite child,” and from her earliest years, his oldest child was as strongly influenced by him as her mother. Organized, decisive, comfortable with business matters, strong in her views and facile with language, and with a natural ability to judge distance and make mathematical conclusions in her head, Martha Johnson was remembered as a serious, with a “masculine” mind.

During the frequent absence of her father and resulting necessity of aiding her mother’s numerous responsibilities, as a young woman Martha Johnson helped in the care of her four younger siblings, cultivated and harvested the family’s vegetable gardens, and maintained the care and cleanliness of their home. Martha Johnson also joined her mother in visiting the county homes and institutions supported by their Methodist Church of those who were either disabled, ill or in other ways dependant on help. Her generosity in helping those in need remained an element throughout her life, even to the point of sacrificing what she had to share with those in need. It created in her a strong commitment to benevolent organizations. With a political sensibility clearly affected by her father’s view of the working class, Martha Johnson was described as a “firm advocate of those less fortunate than herself.”

Attending local public school, Martha Johnson was never known to play outside or join her fellow students and friends in any amusements. Influenced by her mother’s own habits, Martha Johnson also showed no interest in fancy clothing or any material ostentation. While there is the suggestion that Eliza Johnson encouraged Martha to divert herself in some amusement outside of her work at home, her daughter resisted the offer. One neighbor termed her “a strange, silent being.” Whether or not it was due to her parents intending to socialize her, or to serve as a family companion to her father, she was sent by them along with him to Washington, D.C. when he first went to serve in Congress.


Miss L. English’s Female Seminary, Washington, D.C. (January 1843- December 1847)

Martha Johnson received a rigorous education in the classics, mathematics, sciences, history, geography, grammar, composition, as well as subjects taught young women in preparation for social life, including French, music and needlepoint. She was enrolled at the Miss English Seminary for three semesters.

Rather than return home to Tennessee during the breaks between semesters or taken out of school when her father was on congressional break, she lived as a long-term guest during those times in the White House, as the guest of the President and Mrs. Polk, Tennessee natives and political allies of her father. In later life, with humorous self-deprecation, she often recalled her timid and distant nature during her youthful period in the White House and how not even the patient guidance of Sarah Polk could reverse her “shrinking reserve.” However, she used the time to acutely observe the behavior of political figures. She determined as a young woman to marry a man who was not only interested in politics but had the potential to rise to the high regard she held for her father.


27 years old, on 13 December 1855 to David Trotter Patterson (born 28 February, 1818, Cedar Creek, Tennessee, died 3 November 1891, Afton, Tennessee) Washington, D.C.

Martha Johnson continued to live in Washington, D.C. with her father, both of them returning to Tennessee during his congressional breaks. She returned to live there in 1851. Shortly after, at age twenty-three, she met law clerk David Patterson. Despite his being ten years her senior, they were a strong match in their love of politics and Martha half-joked that she would not marry him until he could prove his ability to rise in elective office. In fact, not until one year after Patterson had begun his work as a Tennessee Circuit Court Judge (1854-1863) did they marry. Holding a quiet ceremony at home with no wedding festivities after, the couple did take a honeymoon tour of several southern cities, including Nashville and New Orleans.

Martha Patterson had married relatively late, at the age of 27 years old and did not have her first child until the age of 29 years old, after which she assumed the traditional role of housekeeper and mother, but also continued her role as aide and confidante to her father.


Two children, one daughter, one son: Mary Belle Patterson (Landstreet) (11 November 1857 – 9 July 1891); Andrew Johnson Patterson (25 February 1859 – 25 June 1932)

The outbreak of the Civil War found Martha Patterson living near her parents’ home in Greeneville until late 1862 when she relocated to Nashville. During her absence, the interior of the vacated Patterson home was ransacked by both Union and Confederate troops, its furnishings either stolen or broken. She made one trip there to survey the damage, but returned to live with her family in Nashville, while her father was serving as Military Governor of Tennessee.

Martha Patterson took brief comfort in Nashville’s celebration by Union loyalists over the news that her father was nominated, elected and sworn-in as President Lincoln’s Vice President. After learning of his ascension to the presidency, following the assassination of President Lincoln, Martha Patterson participated in a 19 April 1865 Nashville mourning procession for the late president, riding with former First Lady Sarah Polk in her closed carriage, which followed behind those of several Union generals.

White House Years:

Under the direction of her mother, First Lady Eliza Johnson, Martha Patterson assumed great responsibility for the Johnson Administration White House, playing several different roles. Foremost was that of the primary hostess who welcomed the general public and invited guests, aided by her sister Mary Stover. The family had inherited a post-war mansion, the appearance of which denigrated the presidency. There were flea, termite and other vermin in the soiled furniture, carpets were worn and curtains were tattered from handling and also souvenir hunters. Martha Patterson immediately worked on cleaning the state floor and making it presentable, assuming the job of housekeeper and assigning tasks to the servants. At the family’s first public appearance, at the 1866 New Year’s Day Reception, the Marine Band music, presence of the small presidential grandchildren and their friends, and a profusion of flowers helped distract the crowds from the removed East Room furniture and the soiled rugs being covered in linen. She also efficiently streamlined the cloakroom procedures for arriving and departing guests, resulting in no delay of their greeting the President.

As First Lady, she used considerable skill in assuming the personal management of an April 1866 $30,000 congressional redecorating appropriation. Rather than expend it on the private quarters and executive offices alone, she apportioned it with tremendous care and consciousness so that the overall appearance of the public rooms was uplifted. Rather than purchase new and expensive items, she had furniture repaired and recovered. Unable to afford new papering of all the state rooms, she had panels and gilt decorations affixed to them. The wood floors, doors and trim were refinished and repainted. Rather than expend any of the appropriation to pay interior design contractors, Martha Patterson made all the purchases and directed the carpenters, painters and reupholsters herself. She worked on the project alongside them through the intense heat of Washington’s summer to ensure the project’s completion by the fall social season of 1866.

Under Martha Patterson’s stewardship, there was a conscientious effort to begin a collection of portraits of former residents, including those of Martin Van Buren, John Quincy Adams, John Tyler, James Polk, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, Angelica Van Buren, Sarah Polk and Julia Tyler. Hung on the wall of the cross hall of the state floor, President Johnson was especially proud of the small gallery created by his daughter and enjoying telling stories about his predecessors as he and guests strolled by each one. Mrs. Tyler personally presented her own portrait for the fledgling collection.

Martha Patterson expended no considerable public funds on the living area of the presidential family. Despite Lincoln’s assassination, security there was lax; Martha Patterson often found herself having to politely ask tourists, office-seekers and others who had managed to find their way into their living rooms to return to the public rooms.

Martha Patterson took on one a task of manual labor as well. For the production of dairy foods served to both the family and guests, she dressed in a calico smock and apron each morning, then milked the several cows in the White House dairy and skimmed the milk, keeping her milk pails in a hall which connected the greenhouse to the White House. Although her mother Eliza Johnson seemed to be as directly involved in the food quality, Martha Patterson prided herself on having her own recipe for teacakes served to guests. She also focused on initiating elegant details at state dinners over which she presided with her father, despite her mother’s frequent but brief appearances at these public entertainments. Described as “generous and princely,” she had bouquets placed at each setting alongside what a contemporary description termed “green-gold” china. Limiting the number of dinner guests to forty, she had the main table decorated with large and long gold centerpieces from France, purchased under Monroe’s Administration. Hosting these in the State Dining Room, which had been closed for use by Mary Lincoln in the previous Administration, she also had the room photographed for the first time, when it was fully prepared for a formal dinner.

While emphasis has been placed on Martha Patterson’s importance in her welcoming the general public at receptions and distinguished guests at state dinners, from her perspective the importance of her role was derived from the comfort it provided her father as President, whether seated directly across the table from him or standing alongside him. The value of her presence, said one observer was the “relieving him of much of the necessity of entertaining” by extensive personal interactions. Such wariness was based on the acrimony felt towards him and his policies by the “Radical Republicans” who held dominant power in Congress and his inherited Cabinet, and who led the move to impeach and remove him from the presidency.

Martha Patterson’s husband also lived in the White House with the extended Johnson family. His election to the U.S. Senate to represent post-Civil War Tennessee (1866-1869) had him serving in the government body which proceeded with the impeachment of his father-in-law President Andrew Johnson. His political position also made Martha Patterson both a presidential daughter and Senate wife; not since Maria Jefferson Eppes and Martha Jefferson Randolph, whose husbands served in the U.S. Congress while their father lived in the White House as President (where they visited but did not live) had there been any similar situation.

Publicly, Martha Patterson maintained the impression that as a Senate wife she played no political role as a Presidential daughter. When asked about the impeachment trial, she responded with bland caution, “I have so much to do, that I have no time to discuss the subject, and I suppose my private opinion is not worth much; I do not know how it will end, but all we can do is to wait." On at least one occasion, however, Martha Patterson slipped into the first row of the visitor’s gallery to listen to the Senate impeachment trial proceedings of her father, cloaked in her cape but not escaping the notice of a pen-sketch illustrator.

During the impeachment trials, she was also a figure of calm and strength within the Johnson clan. Martha Patterson managed to calmly integrate the reality that the family might potentially be forced to return home to Tennessee if her father’s impeachment resulted in his removal from office. Her sense of balance during the anxious months of the impeachment was a continuum of the emotional strength she showed while serving as her mother’s assistant while a child, and the trials endured during the Civil War. When President Johnson was acquitted, however, Martha Patterson gave way to a necessary relief from the stress she had been feeling yet withholding from being detected. She was suddenly unavailable to any callers or to greet the public, her sister Mary Stover temporarily substituting for her.

It hadn’t been the impeachment trials alone which led the Johnson family to feel resentment and suspicion towards many outsiders. Martha Patterson was repeatedly beset by women seeking to have their Confederate relatives either released from Union prisons or pardoned, as well as those persisting pursuing her to intercede and spare the life of accused Lincoln assassination conspirator Mary Surratt. To all such callers, Martha Patterson stonewalled; despite being the president’s daughter, her opinion had no more power to influence him, she claimed, than that of any other person and that was the legally correct attitude to hold.

In September of 1867, Martha Patterson had also accompanied her father on his presidential tour of northern and western states, the first time a woman of a presidential family had done so since Priscilla Tyler joined her father-in-law on his 1840s tour. From the rear platform of his train, from which President Johnson spoke, Martha Patterson silently watched and listened in horror as mobs yelled bitter, demeaning and derisive insults at her father.

No evidence suggesting her verbal interactions with the President were anything but personal in nature, she was termed his “counsellor and friend,” for the emotional support she provided him through one of the most trying Administrations to that time, rather than offering any political strategy or philosophy.

Where she lacked familiarity with literature or world cultures, her admirers pointed out, Martha Patterson excelled by “will-power,” “common-sense,” and “ceaseless industry.” As she famously explained of the family’s intentional image, “We are a plain people, sir, from the mountains of Tennessee, and we do not propose to put on airs because we have the fortune to occupy this place for a little while."

Like her mother and sister, Martha Patterson arranged her visual appearance to convey a democratic simplicity with dignified elegance, wearing none of the ostentatious frills popular in that era, but rather simply cut clothing which evoked a classical Greek toga style, though made of expensive velvets, with little to no jewelry, and often a cape or shawl. She invariably dressed her hair in a long and simple ponytail, marked only with a fresh flower. Many of the leading political wives and daughters considered Martha Patterson to be “unfashionable,” but that may have been more of a sentiment in reaction to her “distant and reserved” treatment of them, rather than her appearance alone.

In contrast to her attitude towards the privileged wealthy class, Martha Patterson sought to have the public rooms kept clean and clear of clutter for the benefit of the working-class that might appear to tour the historic mansion. She was hailed by the common man for her refusal to accept any gifts or presents simply because fate had made her a presidential daughter.

Despite the belated goodwill towards the family expressed by the estimated five thousand callers at the last Johnson Administration reception, and another five thousand who were unable to make it in through the crowd, Martha Patterson reflected, “I am glad this is the last of entertainments—it suits me better to be quiet and in my own home. Mother is not able to enjoy these things. Belle [her daughter] is too young, and I am indifferent to them—so it is well it is almost over.”

After the White House

As the Johnson family prepared to leave Washington for their Tennessee homes, Martha Patterson made certain that they took with them nothing but items purchased by their own funds or a few state gifts presented to them personally from visiting dignitaries or heads of state. The former President and First Lady were honored at the home of a TK Coyle, while Martha Patterson was separately honored at the home of her father’s Secretary of TK TK Wells. At the request of the household servants, Martha Patterson sat for her photograph and gave a copy to each of them and further arranged for her parents, siblings, children, niece and nephew to do so, and gave copies of their images to the staff as well. Some chroniclers felt the need to praise her at the expense of Mary Lincoln, one writing that she “redeemed the position she held from the slur and slander attached to it. Across the lapse of years she clasps hands with Miss Lane, and restores to its former pristine glory the title of hostess of the President's House.”

Upon her return to Tennessee, Martha Patterson oversaw extensive renovations to her home, building the addition of a sewing room for herself and the planting and cultivating of a vegetable and flower garden. As her mother’s health worsened, she became more of a direct caretaker for her. Following the death of her parents less than seven years after they’d left the White House, she continued to defend his public record and maintain their home with its historic objects, all of which was eventually preserved by her granddaughter who lived to see it become a national historic site. Widowed for the last decade of her life, she and her son were the last survivors of those who’d lived in the White House and she became reclusive to visitors, granting only one interview in the ensuing years.

Death and Burial:

10 July 1901

Greeneville, Tennessee

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Martha Patterson's Timeline

October 25, 1828
Greenville, Tennessee, USA
February 25, 1857
Age 28
Greeneville, Greene County, Tennessee, United States
November 11, 1859
Age 31
Greeneville, Greene County, Tennessee, United States
July 10, 1901
Age 72
Greeneville, Greene, Tennessee, USA