Uncovering the Past at White Haven: The "Dearest Julia" Letter

scrap of paper with the words "Dearest Julia" written on top.
Remnants of a letter Ulysses S. Grant wrote to his wife Julia around 1850 or 1851. This letter was discovered inside a window frame on the second floor of White Haven in 1998.

National Park Service/Bill Meyer

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site was established as a unit of the National Park Service in 1989 with the goal of preserving the White Haven estate in St. Louis, Missouri. A few years later in 1998, an amazing discovery was made during the restoration of Ulysses S. Grant's home.

Throughout the 1990s, NPS staff undertook several major projects to restore White Haven. Among other things, the park replaced the home's roof, rebuilt several rooms and outbuildings, and added steel beams to stabilize the foundation. During this restoration, a staff member pulled out a window frame from the second-floor hallway window. While cleaning out the frame, the staff member discovered a letter that Ulysses S. Grant had written to his wife Julia. The discovery made the news, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch featured an article about the letter on the front page of its March 2, 1998 edition.

Newspaper article with headline that reads "'Dearest Julia' Restorer Finds Letter from U.S. Grant."
The discovery of the "Dearest Julia" letter made the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on March 2, 1998.

St. Louis County Library

While only part of the letter still existed at the time of its discovery, historians were able to determine that Grant wrote the letter in 1850 or 1851 while stationed with the U.S. Army in Detroit, Michigan. Julia Dent Grant had recently given birth to their oldest son, Frederick Dent Grant, on May 30, 1850. She was living at White Haven with her parents while Grant was with the Army. Nobody knows why the letter was inside a window frame, but it is believed that the letter either fell through a crack in the attic or was taken there by a rodent.

Man in National Park Service uniform holding a window frame.
NPS employee Mike Ward holds the window frame where he discovered the "Dearest Julia" letter.

St. Louis County Library.

It was very important for Ulysses to stay in touch with Julia. Many letters he wrote to her during the 1840s and 1850s have been preserved. They are included in The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, a 32-volume collection of Grant’s letters. These letters to Julia speak to how much he cared for his family. They frequently include questions about the children and life at White Haven. The “Dearest Julia” letter is an important representation of these relationships, and it remains in the park’s museum collections today.

Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site

Last updated: March 13, 2022