Dolley Madison.

Memoirs and letters of Dolly Madison, wife of James Madison, President of the United States. online

. (page 1 of 10)
Online LibraryDolley MadisonMemoirs and letters of Dolly Madison, wife of James Madison, President of the United States. → online text (page 1 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook









Copyright, 1886,

All r -ti >s rest. rvcd.

The Riverside Press, Cambridge :
Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Co.


CHAPTER L ,A\f,J ;"!,;

IN undertaking a little sketch of this na
ture, I am quite conscious that a relative
has peculiar temptations to be partial, a
temper of mind which Mrs. Madison, in
the great simplicity of her character, would
most cordially have disliked ; and there
fore, though the skill may be wanting, the
endeavor will be to give facts, anecdotes,
and letters, as they were handed down by
near relatives, privileged to live in her
household and enjoy her confidence,
suppressing nothing that could interest
the many who admire and respect her
memory. As those who have seen Mrs.
Madison s features and heard her voice
are becoming yearly fewer, the number
who take an interest in bygone days, and
the prominent men and women who fig-



ured in history and society, when our
country was yet in its infancy, is rapidly
increasing ; indeed, our great-grandmoth
ers and grandfathers shape themselves be
fore our eyes, and assume new interest, as
pictures of the life and influences of those
efcrJ y: days brought before us.

I propose to lay before the public a se-
ries:of private letters, written, without the
most remote idea of publication, by a wo
man to her nearest and dearest relations ;
and their value consists in the fact, capa
ble of no misconception, that they furnish
an exact transcript of the feelings of the
writer, in times of no ordinary trial.

If it were possible to get at the expres
sion of feelings by women in the heart of
a community more frequently, recorded
in a shape designed to be confidential, it
would serve to present the surest and
most unfailing idea of its general char

Whether deliberating in the Senate, or
fighting in the field, our strength against
Great Britain was never that of numbers,
nor of wealth, nor of genius ; it drew its
nourishment from a more potent source :
from the sentiment that pervaded the


dwellings of the entire population. How
much this sentiment did then, and does
now, depend upon the character of our
women will be too readily understood to
require explanation.

) The domestic hearth is the scene of the
almost exclusive sway of women, and great
as the influence thus exercised undoubt
edly is, it escapes observation in such
manner that history rarely takes much
account of it. The maxims of religion,
faith, hope, and charity, are instilled by
them into the teachings of infancy, thus
supplying the only high and pure motives
of which mature manhood can, in its sub
sequent action, ever boast./

John Payne, the grandfather of Mrs.
Madison, was an English gentleman of
wealth and education, who emigrated to
this country and settled on the James
River, in the county of Goochland, Vir
ginia. He married Anna Fleming, grand
daughter of Sir Thomas Fleming, second
son of the Earl of Wigton, of Scotland,
and also an emigrant to the Colony, who
landed at Jamestown and established him
self in Kent County, where he lived until
his death.


John Payne the second, the father of
Mrs. Madison, left home at an early age to
take charge of a plantation in North Caro
lina given him by his father. He there
married Mary Coles, daughter of William
Coles, a native of Enniscorthy, Ireland.
Her mother, whose maiden name was
Philpot, was an aunt of Virginia s orator,
Patrick Henry.

The devout believer in the transmission
of family qualities will be content with
the inheritance of Dolly Madison from
this mother and grandmother, both noted
for their beauty and popularity. Mary
Coles was a great belle, having many ad
mirers, among them the young Thomas
Jefferson, whose promising talents were
even then appreciated. In spite, however,
of the persistency of friends, John Payne
was the favored suitor, and shortly after
his marriage purchased an estate in Han
over County, Virginia, within driving dis
tance of Coles Hill, the residence of his

Towards the close of her life, Mrs. Mad
ison frequently recalled the home of her
childhood, dwelling upon the great black
marble mantelpieces, supported by white


figures. The house was called Scotch-
town because of the emigrants, and was
surrounded by a number of small brick
houses, attached to the main building,
which was very large, having as many as
twenty rooms on a floor.

John Payne was the father of six chil
dren, of whom the second is the subject of
this memoir. Much might be said of un
usual charms discovered by adoring par
ents during her infancy. Dorothy Payne
first opened her eyes on this world, which
she was destined so thoroughly to enjoy,
on the 20th May, 1772, in North Carolina,
where her parents were visiting ; and was
named Dorothy for her mother s aunt,
Mrs. Patrick Henry.

Both father and mother were strict mem
bers of the "Society of Friends," and
Dolly s childhood was passed quietly in
their country home until she reached the
age of twelve years. A favorite with all,
she was the particular pet and companion
of her grandmother, who often made her
happy by surreptitious presents of old-
fashioned jewelry, and not daring to wear
them before her father and mother, she
sewed them into a bag, which was tied


around her neck, and concealed beneath
her little frock. Almost the first grief of
her childhood was the loss of this precious
bag, discovered in school, after a long ram
ble through the woods, during which the
string must have become unfastened, scat
tering the treasure where days of search
ing proved of no avail.

\The cultivation of the female mind at that
time was regarded with utter indifference./
It may have been that the example of Mrs.
Hutchinson in the early Colony days had
not yet effaced from the mind of the pub
lic a conviction of the danger that may
attend the meddling of women with ab
struse points of doctrine. And also it was
the fashion to ridicule " learned women."
The little country school to which Dolly
Payne wended her way for the first twelve
years was of the simplest description.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic were all
that was considered necessary, and though
her educational advantages were greater
after their removal to Philadelphia, her
life until she married was rigidly simple
and quiet, giving no scope for that ^intui
tive tact and knowledge of character which
was so conspicuous in after years.


Equipped with a white linen mask to
keep every ray of sunshine from the com
plexion, a sun-bonnet sewed on her head
every morning by her careful mother, and
long gloves covering the hands and arms,
one can see the prim little figure starting
off for school, with books under her arm,
and the dear but wicked baubles safely
hidden beneath the severely plain Quaker



MR. PAYNE was one of the first of his
sect in Virginia to become doubtful and
later conscientiously scrupulous about
the right of slavery. He was called a fa
natic, but persisted in his views, selling his
plantation and giving freedom to all the
slaves. Several of the most devoted ser
vants refused to go, and these he took with
him to Philadelphia, whither he moved
with his family in 1786, with but one aim
in view the better maintenance of his
religious character. There he became an
Elder, spoke with great effect at the
" Meetings," and was called a Quaker

Though a strict and particular father, he
was also a devoted one, bringing up his
children in that religion which has utility
for its basis, sending them to schools
taught by his own sect, and himself giv
ing them every attention at home. Orna
ments and accomplishments were equally


forbidden by their religion ; even a clock
belonging to an unthinking member was
shorn of its beautiful carving by a delega
tion from the " Meeting," as savoring too
much "of the vanities," and in the same
systematic way were all the little accom
plishments cut off from the children.

Hospitable, generous, and believed to be
very rich, as Mr. Payne was, his house be
came the resort of all needy Southerners,
who often took advantage of his liberality.
The transition from life on a plantation
with many slaves, to town, together with a
total ignorance of money matters, brought
about an embarrassment in his affairs, and
he determined to go into business, taking
with him into partnership his eldest son,
John, who had been traveling in Europe.

Much of his capital, however, was in Rev
olutionary money, and as that gradually
depreciated in value, he failed, and his
family found themselves much reduced in
circumstances. This failure had a most
depressing effect upon him, physically and
mentally, and he never held up his head
again, taking to his room, which he left
only to be carried to his last resting-place.

All this while the pretty Dolly was


growing in grace and stature, winning
hearts from old and young by the peculiar
charm of manner for which she afterwards
became noted. A tall, slight girl of nine
teen, with a delicately oval face, and well-
formed, if not perfect, features ; a com
plexion dazzlingly fair, contrasted with
very black hair ; and blue eyes that gazed
at you with much sweetness, beneath the
modest little Quaker cap. Who knows
what ideal the girl may have had, and why
it was that when the good-looking John
Todd, a promising young lawyer of means,
and a member of the Society of Friends,
proposed to her, the answer was that she
"never meant to marry." Children at that
time, however, were taught to obey their
parents unquestioningly, and when Dolly
was sent for, to the bedside of her father,
and told that he wished her much to be
come the wife of John Todd, a young man
who had shown him great kindness in his
trouble, and of whom he had the highest
opinion, there was nothing for it but to
obey, which she did with the best possible
grace, and was amply rewarded by seeing
her father tranquil and happy during the
few remaining months of his life, and by


the devotion of a husband who made the
three short years of their married life all
that could be wished.

In 1792 Lucy Payne, a younger sister of
Mrs. Madison, married at fifteen George
Steptoe Washington, nephew of General
Washington, and then a resident of Jeffer
son County, Virginia, where he owned a
large and valuable property, inherited from
his father, Samuel Washington, a gay, fox
hunting squire, who thought much of his
wives (of whom he had had five), and his
horses and dogs. On the walls of Hare-
wood, I believe, his portrait still hangs, in
powdered wig, long coat, and lace ruffles,
and by it the likeness of one of his wives,
Anne Steptoe, also represented in the elab
orate dress of the day, with cushioned hair
and blue brocade. Here it was that Mr.
Madison came to wed the pretty " Widow

On the nth of September, 1793, Mr.
Jefferson, then in Philadelphia, wrote to
Mr. Morris : " An infectious and deadly
fever has broken out in this place. The
deaths under it, during the week before
last, were about forty, the last week fifty,
and this week I fear they will be two hun-


dred, so rapidly is it increasing. Every one
is leaving the city who can. Colonel Ham
ilton has been ill, but on the road to re
covery. The President, according to an
arrangement made some time ago, left for
Mt. Vernon yesterday. The Secretary of
War is starting out on a visit to Boston.
I shall go in a few days to Virginia. When
we shall meet again may depend on the
course of the malady, and on that may de
pend the date of my next letter."

Mrs. Todd, with her two children, one a
baby of three weeks, was removed in a lit
ter to Gray s Ferry, to avoid the epidemic.
Her husband, however, could not be kept
away from the infected city, and hurried
back, arriving only in time to be present
at the death-bed of his father and mother,
both victims to the dreadful scourge of
yellow fever.

Deaf to the tearful entreaties of his wife,
Mr. Todd lingered on in Philadelphia to
close his office and give assistance to the
many friends needing help. When these
duties were over, "he would never leave
her again," he said. Alas ! a vain boast.
He returned to Gray s Ferry, and meeting
his mother-in-law, Mrs. Payne, at the door,


said, " I feel the fever in my veins, but I
must see her once more."

Dolly, on hearing his voice, rushed down
stairs and threw herself into his arms,
heedless of infection, begging to be al
lowed to go back to town with him.

A few hours afterwards that good, un
selfish spirit breathed its last, and the
young wife was brought almost to death s
door by the fatal scourge.



AFTER a slow recovery, during which
time she lost her younger child, Mrs. Todd
returned to Philadelphia with her mother
and little boy, named after her father, John
Payne. All danger of infection was over,
but there were many sorrowing hearts, and
none more so than this young widow s, be
reft of husband and child within a few
short days of each other. Still young,
only twenty-two, very rich and very attrac
tive, it is only natural that in course of
time she should have many admirers ; and
one of her friends, a bridesmaid at her
wedding, said that " gentlemen would sta
tion themselves where they could see her
pass," and sometimes she had remonstrated
with her, laughingly, " really Dolly, thou
must hide thy face, there are so many star
ing at thee."

It was during one of these walks that
Mr. Madison saw Mrs. Todd for the first
time, and was so struck with her appear-


ance that he did not rest until an introduc
tion was procured.

Mrs. Lee also tells us of this first meet
ing, a few days afterwards, when she re
ceives a hurried little note from Dolly,
saying, " Dear friend, thou must come to
me. Aaron Burr says that the great lit
tle Madison has asked to be brought to
see me this evening." She was dressed in
a mulberry-colored satin, with a silk tulle
kerchief over her neck, and on her head an
exquisitely dainty little cap, from which an
occasional uncropped curl would escape.
In this first interview, at her own house,
she captured the heart of the recluse book
worm, Madison, twenty years her senior,
and always thought to be an irreclaimable
old bachelor.

A report soon got about of their en
gagement ; such unwonted attentions from
Mr. Madison excited comment, and rumor
was as active in those days as now.

It reached the Presidential mansion,
where General and Mrs. Washington were
much interested ; and impatient to hear
the truth, sent for Mrs. Todd, who all un
conscious obeyed the summons at once.

" Dolly," said Mrs. Washington, "is it


true that you are engaged to James Mad
ison ? " The fair widow, taken aback, an
swered stammeringly, "No," she "thought
not." " If it is so," Mrs. Washington con
tinued, " do not be ashamed to confess it :
rather be proud ; he will make thee a good
husband, and all the better for being so
much older. We both approve of it ; the
esteem and friendship existing between
Mr. Madison and my husband is very
great, and we would wish thee to be
happy." And thus the rumor grew to
be an established fact, and in September,
1794, Mrs. Todd left Philadelphia to drive
to Harewood, her sister s place in Vir
ginia, where the wedding was to take
place. Fortunately the weather was bright
and beautiful, as the gay cavalcade were
a week on their way : Mrs. Todd in an
open barouche, accompanied by her sister,
Anna, a child of twelve years, the little
boy and a maid; Mr. Madison and sev
eral of their mutual friends driving or
riding beside them.

A most delightful picture is given of
this country wedding ; friends and neigh
bors from far and near driving over.
Frances Madison, Harriet Washington,


and many of the connection staying for
days, keeping up a prolonged merry-mak

The girls, vying with each other in ob
taining mementos of the evening, cut in
bits the Mechlin lace from Mr. Madison s
shirt ruffles ; and amid a shower of rice,
the laughing bride and groom drove off
to Montpelier, his father s estate in Orange
County, Virginia.

The close of the year, however, found
them back in Philadelphia, where Mrs.
Madison, laying aside the sober Quaker
dress at her husband s desire, began for
the first time to enjoy a little gay society,
even going to Mrs. Washington s drawing-
room, where she was warmly welcomed
and congratulated.

Anna Payne, the little sister who had
lived with Mrs. Madison from the time of
her first marriage, grew up like a daughter
of the house, and shared the responsibili
ties and pleasures until she married in

Some bright letters have come into my
hands, written by one of their intimate
friends, Sally McKean, the daughter of
Governor McKean, and afterwards wife of


the Marquis d Yrujo, the Minister from
Spain in 1796. She was handsome, gay,
and independent, and the following letters
give a graphic description of Philadelphia
society and fashions about that time.


PHILADELPHIA, June 10, 1796.

MY DEAR ANNA, Yours, dated the
1 9th of May, was handed to me the day be
fore yesterday by one Mr. Grove, who . . .

And now, my dear Anna, we will have
done with judges and juries, courts, both
martial and partial, and we will speak a
little about Philadelphia and the fashions,
the beaux, Congress, and the weather. Do
I not make a fine jumble of them ? What
would Harper or beau Dawson say were
they to know it, ha, ha, mind you laugh
here with me. Philadelphia never was
known to be so lively at this season as at
present ; for an accurate account of the
amusements, I refer you to my letter to
your sister Mary. I went yesterday to see
a doll, which has come from England,
dressed to show us the fashions, and I saw
besides a great quantity of millinery. Very


long trains are worn, and they are festooned
up with loops of bobbin, and small covered
buttons, the same as the dress : you are
not confined to any number of festoons,
but put them according to your fancy, and
you cannot conceive what a beautiful ef
fect it has. There is also a robe which
is plaited very far back, open and ruffled
down the sides, without a train, being even
with the petticoat. The hats are quite a
different shape from what they used to be :
they have no slope in the crown, scarce
any rim, and are turned up at each side,
and worn very much on the side of the
head. Several of them are made of
chipped wood, commonly known as cane
hats ; they are all lined : one that has come
for Mrs. Bingham is lined with white, and
trimmed with broad purple ribbon, put
round in large puffs, with a bow on the
left side. The bonnets are all open on
the top, through which the hair is passed,
either up or down as you fancy, but lat
terly they wear it more up than down ; it
is quite out of fashion to frizz or curl the
hair, as it is worn perfectly straight. Ear
rings, too, are very fashionable. The
waists are worn two inches longer than


they used to be, and there is no such thing
as long sleeves. They are worn half way
above the elbow, either drawn or plaited in
various ways, according to fancy ; they do
not wear ruffles at all, and as for elbows,
Anna, ours would be alabaster, compared
to some of the ladies who follow the fash
ion ; black or a colored ribbon is pinned
round the bare arm, between the elbow
and the sleeve. There have come some
new-fashioned slippers for ladies, made of
various colored kid or morocco, with small
silver clasps sewed on ; they are very hand
some, and make the feet look remarka
bly small and neat. Everybody thinks the
millinery last received the most tasty seen
for a long time.

All our beaux are well ; the amiable
Chevalier is perfectly recovered, and hand
somer than ever. I mentioned to him last
evening that I had received a letter from
you, and that you desired to be remem
bered to him ; he seemed much pleased at
your attention, and desired that I should
give his best love to you when I wrote ;
so did Fatio and good Mr. Viar: so you
see, my dear Anna, I do keep my promise,
tho you scold me so much. Mind that


you write me a long answer to this, and
that very soon.

Your sincere and affectionate friend,

PHILADELPHIA, September 3, 1796.

MY DEAR ANNA, I received yours by
Mr. Taylor and duly delivered its inclos-
ure. You can have no idea, my dear girl,
what pleasant times I have ; there is the
charming Chevalier, the divine Santana,
the jolly Viar, the witty and agreeable
Fatio, the black-eyed Lord Henry, the soft,
love-making Count, the giggling, foolish

, and sometimes the modest, good Me-

clare, who are at our house every day. We
have fine riding-parties and musical frolics.
However, I will refer you to my letter to
your sister Madison, as I am tired of writ
ing, this being my third letter to-day.

Mr. and Mrs. Jandenes set sail about
the middle of July, with the two dear little
children in good health and remarkably
fine spirits. I am to have a large packet
of papers from them as soon as they ar
rive in Spain, telling me all the news, and
also a very elegant Spanish guitar, on


which I intend to learn to play. Signor
Don Carlos has given me a few lessons on
that instrument. I have one at present,
lent me by Santana, and we have a famous
Italian singer, who came with the Minis
ter, who can play on any instrument, and
is moreover the drollest creature you ever
saw. He sings divinely, and is the leader
of our fine concerts. I am serenaded
every night with divine music. I must
say divine, for it is so much above the
common music.

I long with the greatest impatience for
the month of October, that I may have the
pleasure of embracing my dear Anna ; for
Heaven s sake make as much haste to town
as you can, for we are to have one of the
most charming winters imaginable. San-
tana and Fatio send their compliments to
you, and Meclare told me to be sure to
give his best and most sincere love to you ;
he looks quite handsome, and is smarter
than ever. God bless you, my dearest,
and believe me to be your sincere friend
and admirer, SALLY McKEAN.

About this time Mr. Madison writes to
an old friend and schoolmate, Mr. Murray,


of Virginia, who was then Consul at Liv
erpool, which post he held for more than
thirty years.

PHILADELPHIA, January, 18, 1797.-
DEAR SIR, Mr. Mason and myself
lately received your packets of London pa
pers by the " Alexander Hamilton," which
were very acceptable, as they brought us
the earliest accounts of some of the im
portant articles contained in them. I send
in return several packets by Captain Jo
seph Prince, who is to sail from New York,
and to whom I cannot conveniently trans
mit anything of a more bulky nature.
Captain Prince is a brother-in-law of Mr.
Beckley, clerk of the House of Represen
tatives, and formerly known to you in Vir
ginia. He will be very sensible to any
kindness it may be in your power to show
his friend ; and they will have a proper
claim on his acknowledgments also.

This country is extremely agitated by
pecuniary distresses, and the mercantile
troubles which begin to thicken. The un
fortunate Treaty intended to appease the
nation is bringing us into trouble with


several. You will see that the House of
Representatives is engaged on the ques
tion of a direct tax. The result is a prob
lem not yet to be solved. It is expected
that the Executive will communicate in a
few days a full statement of the contro
versy with France.

After a warm contest for the succession
to General Washington, the vacancy will
be filled by Mr. Adams. He has seventy-
one votes, and Mr. Jefferson only sixty-
eight. The division would be more, but
for the failure of one of the returns from
a county in this State in time to be count

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryDolley MadisonMemoirs and letters of Dolly Madison, wife of James Madison, President of the United States. → online text (page 1 of 10)