The Burning of Washington took place in 1814, during the Anglo-American War of 1812. British forces occupied Washington, D.C. and set fire to many public buildings. The facilities of the U.S. government, including the White House, were largely destroyed, though strict discipline and the British commander's orders to burn only public buildings are credited with preserving most residences. Legend says the attack was in retaliation for the American looting of York, Upper Canada (now Toronto, Ontario) after the Battle of York in 1813, and the burning down of the Parliament Buildings of Upper Canada. However the British commanders said the goal was to attack Washington instead of Baltimore "on account of the greater political effect likely to result," and did not mention York.
The White House was burned. Only the exterior walls remained, and they had to be torn down and mostly reconstructed due to weakening from the fire and subsequent exposure to the elements, except for portions of the south wall. A legend emerged that during the rebuilding of the structure white paint was applied to mask the burn damage it had suffered, giving the building its namesake hue. This is unfounded as the building had been painted white since its construction in 1798. Of the many spoils taken from the White House when it was ransacked by British troops, only two have been recovered — a painting of George Washington, rescued by then-first lady Dolley Madison, and a jewelry box returned to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 by an old man who said his grandfather had taken it from Washington. An urban legend in Montreal states that the original doors to the White House are located in the Blackwatch Building on Bleury Street. Some Canadian shipwreck treasure hunters have claimed that some of the spoils from Washington were lost when a convoy of British ships led by HMS Fantôme sank en route to Halifax off Prospect during a storm on the night of November 24, 1814. However Fantome did not take part in the Washington raid and most historians feel the convoy was only carrying goods and customs revenue from British-occupied Castine, Massachusetts