| On August 24-25, 1814, during the War of 1812, the British occupied Washington and set fire to the White House, Capitol, and other public buildings. President James Madison first fled to Leesburg Virginia and then went to Brookeville, Maryland. Madison on horseback carried with him a strongbox, which contained the entire U.S. treasury. On the night of August 26, he stayed in the home of Caleb Bentley, whose wife Henrietta Thomas was close friends with Dolley Madison.
The President and First Lady returned to Washington DC. They found the Octagon House which was most likely spared from British torches only because the Tayloes who owned the house had leased it temporarily to French Minister Louis Serrurier (Serurier), who flew the Tricolor from it. Offered the use of several local homes when they returned to the city, the President and his wife, Dolley moved into Octagon House on September 8, 1814.
Presidential life quickly resumed a normal pace, though wartime anxieties cast a pall over social gatherings. The Madisons maintained their living quarters on the second floor, in the southeast suite, which consisted of a small vestibule, a large bedroom with a fireplace, and a smaller dressing room. The President used the adjoining circular tower room as a study and at least some of the time as a meetingplace for his Cabinet. There, on February 17, 1815, he signed the Treaty of Ghent concluding the war.
Historians note the burning of Washington was a response to American forces attacking York, Canada and burning the capital of Upper Canada in April, 1813.