Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dolley Payne Todd Madison

This is my hero report I wrote for my commonwealth school:

Dolley Payne Todd Madison

Dolley Madison is my hero, being the First Lady she was always looked up to. She was a mother to the people and was always there for them. She went through hardships, illnesses, pain and life-changing experiences.

Dorthea (or Dolley) Payne was born on May 20, 1768 in New Garden, North Carolina. Dolley was born to Mary Coles (a Virginian) and John Payne (also a Virginian). Mary Coles was both a Virginian and a Quaker. When Mary married John she would normally have been expelled from the Quaker society, but after they were married John converted to the Quaker faith. Then in 1769 John moved his family back to Virginia Dolley was very close to her mother’s family. Soon Dolley was joined by 7 younger siblings, four boys, Walter, William Temple, Isaac and John, and three girls (four including Dolley), Lucy, Anna and Mary. When Dolley was young she always dreamed of wearing fine clothes and jewelry. Because as a Quaker she never was allowed to. She wore plain grey dresses and no jewelry. She had one gold pin that her grandmother (her father’s mother who was not a Quaker) had given to her, she wore it every day hidden inside her dress and after walking anywhere she would check to make sure it was still there! One day she was walking. And when she was feeling for it she found it was not on her dress! She had lost it, this was a very sad day for little Dolley!

In 1783 John Payne emancipated his slaves and moved his family to Philadelphia to start a business as a starch merchant. His business never did well and finally collapsed. He died in 1792. Dolley’s mother, Mary, struggled to make ends meet and finally decided to start a boarding house. A year later she moved back to Virginia to live with her daughter Lucy. Lucy had married George Steptoe Washington a nephew to the famous General Washington. George Steptoe was not a Quaker and did not desire to be, so when she married out of the faith she was expelled. When Mary left for Virginia she took her 2 youngest children, Mary and John Payne Jr, with her.

Dolley’s father’s dying wish was for Dolley to marry a Quaker Lawyer, John Todd. I believe in her affections she wished for no more then a dear friendship and did not desire anything more. Dolley knew that her father had great trust in this man and believed that he would give Dolley a comfortable home, he also believed that John’s business would be a great success in the near future, so she obliged to marry him. This event happened in January 1790, they had two sons: John Payne Todd born 1792 (he was usually called Payne) and William Temple Todd (born 1793). Dolley’s sister Anna (she was not married) lived with the Todd’s.

Dolley was happy and grew to love John very much. In the fall of 1793 the known-to-well epidemic of Yellow Fever broke out. Unfortunately William had been bore in the middle of this epidemic. The birth had left Mother and child weak. John was very worried about his wife and child. So he took them out of the plague infested city to Gray’s Ferry which was a good distance outside of the city limits. John’s loyal law clerk stayed behind to manage the business which was busy with settling wills he also stayed at the house. After a while the business was needing another person to help settle wills. The threat of death forgotten, John returned to the city. Sadly John caught the fever, knowing he was close to death he stumbled to Gray’s ferry and died in his wife’s arms. Just hours after John died, Dolley’s newborn William was said to have cought the fever, he died hours after that. The child was described as being “very weakly from birth.” It is unknown if he died from the fever or of natural causes. We do not have the details of his death. In just 1 month Dolley lost her husband, son, father-in-law and her mother-in law. And to sharpen the blow: just months later her two older brothers both died from other things. Dolley never recovered from this emotional blow.

As a widow Dolley returned to Philadelphia with her son Payne. Later on, in May of 1794, James Madison asked his friend Aaron Burr to take him to Dolley’s house to meet her officially. He had first laid eyes on her at a party. Although Madison was the age of forty-three, a, long-time bachelor and seventeen years Dolley’s senior Dolley agreed to court him. They had a quick courtship and before long Madison had proposed to Dolley. She accepted. They were married on September 15, 1794. For marrying James, a non-Quaker she was expelled from the Quaker society. Even if she hadn’t married out of the faith she would have been disgraced for marrying just 9 months after John had died. James and Dolley along with Payne lived in Philadelphia for the next three years. After three years he took his family to his house, Montpelier, in Orange County Virginia. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were very close friends so it was no surprise to the Madison’s, when Jefferson was elected in 1801 that he asked James to be his Secretary of State. Of course Madison accepted. He moved his family to Washington D.C. Being the Secretary of State’s wife didn’t have any official duties come with it but, President Jefferson was a widower and his daughters were still in Virginia so Dolley was pleased to host Jefferson parties.

With the approaching Presidential election Jefferson did not want to serve a third term, the Democratic - Republican Party asked James to run. James did obligingly. James ran and won, making Dolley the official first lady from 1809 to 1817. During this time Dolley acted as a mother to the people. When the British were marching to Washington James had to leave Dolley alone with one servant in what is now called the Whitehouse, Dolley hurriedly took all of the valuable silver, jewelry, gems and other precious things, and sent them off, waiting until the British were just a few miles away. When the British were finally just a little over a mile away Dolley decided to save Stuart’s painting of George Washington, it was nailed to the frame so she hurriedly took all the nails out rolled it up, and left as fast as she could!!! A few days later James was reunited with Dolley.

After James’ two terms as President, James and Dolley moved back to their estate, Montpelier. During all of this, Payne, Dolley’s son was in Paris, gambling and using up all of his step-father’s money. He went missing for a while. Later in a letter to Payne, Dolley says “I am impatient to hear from you, my dearest Payne, and had I known where to direct I should have written you before this: not that there is anything particular to communicate, but for the pleasure of repeating how much I love you, and to hear of your happiness.” When Dolley wrote this letter Payne was actually in Philadelphia, it was hard to predict where he was! Dolley had given Payne too much reign growing up, consequently he was a lazy no-good drunkard. However, Dolley always loved Payne with all of her heart. In 1830 He went to prison in Philadelphia the Madison’s had to sell land in Kentucky and mortgage ½ of Montpelier to pay his debts!

James died on June 28, 1836. Dolley stayed at Montpelier for another year, her niece Anna came to live with her and Payne came to stay. Dolley took a part of James’ papers (he was the only person to write down a word for word account of the Constitutional Congress) copied them and then Congress agreed to buy the first installment of them for $30,000. Then, in 1837, Dolley decided to leave Montpelier to Payne and left with Anna to go to live with Dolley’s sister Anna, and her husband Richard Cutts.

While Dolley was away Payne could not manage Montpelier because of alcohol which caused illness. Dolley tried to find a buyer for the rest of James’ paper, but it seemed impossible, so she sold Montpelier to pay debts. Later, in 1848, congress agreed to buy the rest of James’ papers for $25,000.

Dolley fell in 1849 and after about five days of this sickness she died peacefully on July 12. Her funeral was on July 17 and she was buried in Washington but, after several years the people felt it appropriate for her to be buried next to James in the family cemetery. She was and with honor!

Information from:




Strength and Honor the life of Dolley Madison

By Richard N. Cote’


Kayti said...

Wonderful Hero Report! I loved it!

What inspired you to right about Dolley Madison? What is it that she did, that made her be your Hero?

Olivia said...

IDK! I had read a little book about her and wanted to learn more about her, she is one of those people you don't really here about any more.