Sad, Somber Days Of Jane

By Mike Bisceglia

Hampton Union, Friday, February 24, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Jane Means {Appleton} Pierce
[Photo not in original article]

The 200th birthday of the only "first lady" from New Hampshire is just around the corner.

Jane Means Appleton was born in the old parsonage almost directly across the street from what is now the Hampton Historical Society on Landing Road on March 6, 1806.

Appleton was married to Franklin Pierce, who served as commander in chief from 1853–57.

Appleton may have been welcomed into the world with some very elaborate, yet very somber infant clothing.

After all, her father was the minister of the Congregational Church of Hampton. Within a year of her birth, her father became the president of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

As a young girl, she may have played with a Sarah doll, which was very popular at the time. She may have sung some of Anderson Cumberland's ballads or even tried her hand at playing a few on the piano. More than likely, she was more versed in gospel hymns and Beethoven.

Her father, being a methodical man with a near morbid sense of responsibility, might have been very stringent about Jane's upbringing. At that time, homemaking for girls was considered a main priority. No doubt that she mastered all of those skills well. Embroidery and cruel work were two of her maindelights. More often than not, she could be found sitting in front of a fire and reading. Two of her favorite dishes were New Hampshire seed cookies and boiled lobster.

Jane was a sickly child and was ill frequently throughout her life. She did, however, enjoy horseback riding and attending dances. Popular at the time were the quadrille and the waltz. Being very slim, Jane must have embodied perfect elegance in her long gowns trimmed with ribbons. With her long auburn hair and luminous sherry eyes, she must have appeared quite stunning.

It was at one of these functions that she met a dashing young lawyer and Bowdoin graduate. He became devoted to her, but she wouldn't allow herself to marry until she was 28, when she wore a gingersnap brown wedding dress.

Jane could have easily been the heroine of a Victorian novel. Tragedy seemed to follow her throughout her life. Her first son died within three days of his birth. Her second son died the following year of typhus. With delight, she watched her third son, Benjamin, grow. Sadly, Benjamin died before her eyes in a freak train accident two months before the inauguration of President Pierce.

Appleton was so distraught following Benjamin's death that she did not attend the inauguration and any other social functions at the White House for a year. And Benjamin's death was a loss from which she never could completely recover.

She became extremely withdrawn, so much so, she became known as the "Shadow in the White House." On numerous occasions, she would have "stand-ins" including Miss Varina Howell, future wife of Jefferson Davis.

Jane died Dec. 2, 1863, at her sister's home in Andover, Mass. She is buried with her son Benjamin in Hillsborough, N.H.

The Pierce "Summer White House" stood along the Atlantic shore at Little Boar's Head in Rye. A portion of that property was later moved a few hundred yards west of the Old Grist Mill on High Street where it still stands today.