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Martha Johnson was the eldest child of Andrew and Eliza Johnson, born in Tennessee on October 25, 1828. While her father served in Congress, she attended school in Georgetown and occasionally visited the Polk White House.1 On December 13, 1855, she married David Trotter Patterson; together, they had two children, Andrew Johnson and Mary Belle in the years that followed.2 During the Civil War, Martha, David, and their family lived in Nashville.3

When her father unexpectedly became president following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Martha filled in for her chronically ill mother as first lady. In addition to hosting receptions and social gatherings, Martha Patterson took on a major refurbishment of the White House, which was in disarray after the Civil War, cleaning, reupholstering, and repairing pieces in the historic rooms.4

At the end of her father’s term, she returned to Tennessee with her family. Martha worked to preserve her father’s legacy in her later years. She died on July 10, 1901, and is buried in Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.5

Footnotes & Resources

  1. Evan Phifer, “Martha Johnson Patterson: Hostess of the Andrew Johnson White House,” White House Historical Association,
  2. James Sawyer Jones, Life of Andrew Johnson (Greeneville, TN: East Tennessee Publishing Co., 1901), 396.
  3. “Andrew Johnson’s Family,” Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, National Park Service,
  4. Jones, Life of Andrew Johnson. Ibid.
  5. “David Trotter Patterson,” Find A Grave,