Dolly Madison


Dolly Payne Madison was born in Guilford County, North Carolina on May 20, 1768. Dolly was born the first girl in a family of several children to Quaker parents, John Payne and Mary Coles. She spent her childhood in Scotchtown, Virginia. "The Paynes were well connected and sufficiently prosperous, small planters in Hanover County."1 The Quaker house forbade festivity, shunned amusement and frowned upon the world's vanities. After a preliminary visit to Philadelphia, John Payne returned to Hanover County to dispose of his property and free his slaves and in July 1783 he settled with his family in the pleasant city of Philadelphia. In Philadelphia Dolly brought loveliness and charm to the Quaker Evening Meetings. In her mind, however, there were other things in Philadelphia more engrossing than the routine of meetings. Under her Quaker gown Dolly's heart yearned, frankly and without any shame, for these things. Yet, when her family told her to marry John Todd, she stood up dutifully at first and second meeting and proclaimed her willingness to do so. His father was an eminent Quaker schoolteacher; John was a prominent young lawyer, twenty-seven years old. She did not contend against John Todd. "Dolly had the ability to accept whatever fate might have to offer and make the very best of it."2 They were married on January 7, 1790, at the Friends' Meeting House on Pine Street. In the summer of 1793 there came the yellow plague. Dolly was struggling with her children along the crowded road to Gray's Ferry, one of the panic driven throngs escaping from the stricken city. John Todd stayed behind to give his able bodied and courageous help, and before the winter was over Dolly had lost her husband and her baby. Dolly herself was desperately ill for she had caught the fever from John when he came staggering out at last to Gray's Ferry. She recovered to find herself a widow at twenty-five, and executrix of her husband's will. In the fall Dolly returned to her mother's house, which was now a boarding house. At all events, the Senator from New York, Colonel Aaron Burr, lodged at the Madison Lodging House. He told everyone about the pretty widow Todd. He finally told his friend Congressman Madison of Virginia. The Congressman, however, disliked women after Catherine Floyd had ended their long engagement. One day James Madison saw the widow driving by and began pestering Colonel Burr for an introduction. In the spring of 1794 Dolly and James were introduced for the first time. It was not long before their engagement was rumored all over Philadelphia. John Todd had not been dead a year when, on September 15, 1794, James and Dolly were married at Harewood. Now there was a new Philadelphia for Quaker Dolly, the Philadelphia she had always longed for. "The town had never been more gay, a continually changing pageant of foreign guests and ministers."3 A brilliant scene graced by the presence of many of the emigrated nobility of France. In her new role, as Mrs. Madison of Montpellier, Dolly plunged into these festivities with all the stored-up zest of her restrained girlhood. For three years Dolly brought a fresh, bright personality to enliven Lady Washington's somewhat stuffy levees in the old brick house on Market Street. Dolly Madison adored the Washington's. Dolly made friends in all camps for James Madison, which probably helped him win presidency. He did not care for all the routs and levees so he retired to his beloved town of Montpellier, to his solitude and his books. On the morning of March 4, 1801 the Federalists were defeated, and Thomas Jefferson was to take his place as President of the United States. Soon secretary of state Madison and his wife were dragged away from Montpellier again and came to reside in Washington. "Present me respectfully to Mrs. Madison," Mr. Jefferson wrote, "and pray her to keep you where you are, for her own satisfaction and for the public good."4 Since Mr. Jefferson was fond of them both, and because he was a widower, Mrs. Secretary of State Madison found herself presiding at the head of the Executive board. For eight years, "Queen Dolly," as they called her, ruled over the social destinies of the Executive Mansion in spite of the demands upon her strength and the humidity of the