Eaton, Margaret

Eaton, (Margaret O'Neal or O'Neill) “Peggy”

(1779–1879) hostess; born in Washington, D.C. Daughter of a tavern-keeper, she married John Timberlake (1816–28), a sailor; while he was at sea she often worked at her father's tavern where she met John H. Eaton, a Tennessee senator and friend of Andrew Jackson. When her husband died at sea, she married Eaton (1829–56), who soon thereafter was appointed secretary of war by newly elected President Jackson. Her low social origins led to her being snubbed by Vice-President John Calhoun's and other cabinet members' wives; President Jackson sided with the Eatons and this led to a split within his party's leadership. Eaton finally resigned his post (1831) and was sent to govern Florida (1834–36) before being named ambassador to Spain (1836–40), where Peggy Eaton enjoyed great social success. Following Eaton's death (1856) she married Antonio Buchignani, a 19-year-old dance instructor (1859). He defrauded her of her fortune, divorced her in 1866, and eloped with her granddaughter (1868). Peggy died as humbly as she began.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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