Three Myths About the Burning of Washington, D.C. Debunked

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Three Myths About the Burning of Washington, D.C. Debunked

August will mark the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington, D.C. as part of the War of 1812.  So much of what really happened has been replaced by tall tales and local lore. Ralph Eshelman, a War of 1812 historian, has visited every known War of 1812 location in the region.  He has named three of the biggest myths surrounding the burning of Washington.
 
Myth 1: The British Burned Washington
The Truth:  The British did not burn Washington, they burned important public buildings, some military targets and structures where shots were fired from. The American Navy burned as many, if not more structures than the British. The American defenders wanted to keep military assets out of British hands and make access points to the city difficult for the British forces.  As a result, the Navy burned the Washington Navy Yard and bridges into the city. 
 
Myth 2: A Storm Helped Save Washington from Destruction
The Truth: The storm actually caused more damaged to the city. 
 
Myth 3: The White House was painted white to hide scorch marks. 
The Truth: The White House was painted white before the British burned it.  The mansion is made of sandstone. It was standard practice to whitewash and paint the walls to protect them from weathering. The mansion was informally known as the White House around Washington well before the British burning.
 
Eshelman will discuss what really happened when the British invaded Washington, and his book “Chesapeake Legends and Lore from the War of 1812,” on July 17th at the Cleveland Park Library.  The author talk will begin at 7 pm. The Cleveland Park Library is located at 3310 Connecticut Ave. NW.