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Dolley Payne Todd Madison (May 20, 1768 – July 12, 1849) was the spouse of the fourth President of the United States, James Madison, and was First Lady of the United States from 1809 to 1817. She also occasionally acted as First Lady during the administration of Thomas Jefferson, fulfilling the ceremonial functions more usually associated with the President's wife, since Jefferson was a widower.

Spelling of name

In the past, biographers and others stated that her real name was Dorothea or Dorothy and Dolley was a nickname. However, the registry of her birth with the New Garden Friends Meeting lists her name as Dolley and her will of 1841 states "I, Dolley P. Madison". Based on manuscript evidence and the scholarship of her recent biographers, Dolley, spelled with an E, appears to have been her given name.

Early life and first marriage

Miniature of Dolley, painted by James Peale, 1794.
Dolley Payne was born on May 20, 1768, the daughter of two Virginians. Her mother, Mary Coles, was a Quaker, but when they married in 1761 her father, John Payne, was not. Three years later he applied and was admitted to the Quaker Monthly Meeting in Hanover County, Virginia, and Dolley Payne was raised in the Quaker faith.

In 1765 the Paynes moved to North Carolina near where Guilford Collegemarker stands today. Dolley was one of eight children, four boys (Walter, William Temple, Isaac, and John) and four girls (Dolley, Lucy, Anna, and Mary). The family returned to Virginia three years later. As a young girl she grew up in comfort in rural eastern Virginia, deeply attached to her mother's family.

In 1783, John Payne emancipated his slaves and moved his family to Philadelphiamarker, where he went into business as a starch merchant. By 1789, however, his business had failed. He died in 1792. Madison's mother initially survived by opening a boarding house until, in 1793, she moved to western Virginia to live with her daughter Lucy, who had married George Steptoe Washington, nephew of George Washington. Mary Coles Payne took her two youngest children, Mary and John, with her. By then Dolley Payne had married Quaker lawyer John Todd in January, 1790. Their son John Payne Todd was born in 1790 and William Temple Todd in 1792. Her sister Anna lived with the Todds as well.

Second marriage

In the fall of 1793 yellow fever struck Philadelphia. Dolley Payne Todd took her two children to the outskirts of the city, but her husband remained behind. He died in October, 1793, along with their younger son, William Temple.

A widow at the age of twenty-five, Dolley Todd returned to Philadelphia. In May, 1794, James Madison asked his friend Aaron Burr to introduce him to Dolley Todd. Madison was seventeen years her senior and, at the age of forty-three, a long-standing bachelor.

Dolley was a Quaker and James was an Episcopalian. They were married on September 15, 1794 and lived in Philadelphia for the next three years. Dolley became an Episcopalian.

In 1797, after eight years in the House of Representatives, James Madison retired from politics. He took his family to Montpelier, the Madison family estate in Orange County, Virginia. There they expanded the house and settled in. They expected to remain as planters living quietly in the country. When Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States, however, he asked James Madison to serve as his Secretary of State. James Madison accepted, and the Madison family—consisting now of James, Dolley, her son Payne, and her sister Anna—shifted to Washington, D.Cmarker

In Washington 1801-1817

Sketch of Dolley, c.
The Madisons moved to Washington, D.C. in May, 1801, with Dolley Madison's nine year old son, Payne Todd, and her youngest sister, Anna Payne Cutts.

As the wife of the Secretary of State, Dolley had no formal, official duties. Thomas Jefferson was a widower whose own daughters lived with their families in central Virginia, so Dolley acted as Jefferson's hostess.

A woodcut

Madison worked with the architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe to furnish the White House.

As the invading British army approached Washington during the War of 1812, Dolley filled a wagon with silver and other valuables and sent them off to the Bank of Maryland for safekeeping. She also took the portrait of George Washington and fled from the city.

When James Madison's second term of office ended the Madisons retired to their Virginia plantation.

In Montpelier 1817-1837

Dolley at the end of her tenure as First Lady in 1817
On April 6 1817, Dolley and James Madison returned to their estate in Orange County, Virginia.

Dolley Madison by Rembrandt Peale, c.

In 1830, Dolley Madison's son by her first marriage, Payne Todd, who had never found a career, went to debtors prison in Philadelphia. The Madisons sold land in Kentucky and to mortgage half of the Montpelier estate to pay Todd's debts.

James Madison died at Montpelier on June 28, 1836. Dolley remained at Montpelier for a year. One of her nieces, Anna Payne, came to live with her. Payne Todd also came for a stay, and Mrs. Madison organized and copied her husband's papers. In 1837 Congress authorized $30,000 as payment for the first installment of the Madison papers.

In the fall of 1837, Dolley Payne Madison decided to leave Montpelier for Washington, D.C., charging Payne Todd with the care of the plantation. She moved with Anna Payne into a house her sister Anna and her husband Richard Cutts had bought, located on Lafayette Square.

In Washington 1837-1849

While Madison was living in Washington, Payne Todd was unable to manage the plantation successfully due to alcoholism and resulting illness. Madison tried to raise money by selling the rest of James' papers. Unable to find a buyer for the papers, she sold the whole estate to pay off outstanding debts.

In 1848, Congress agreed to buy the rest of James Madison's papers for the sum of $25,000.

Madison fell ill in July 1849 and after five days in bed, she died on July 12. Her funeral, on July 17, was a state occasion.

Portrayals on currency

The First Spouse Program under the Presidential $1 Coin Act authorizes the United States Mint to issue 1/2 ounce $10 gold coins and bronze medal duplicates to honor the spouses of Presidents of the United States. Dolley Madison's coin (below, right) was released on November 18, 2007. Earlier, the Mint had issued a commemorative coin (below, left) in 1999 bearing her likeness.

Image:Dolley_madison_obverse.gif|ObverseImage:D06_rev_med.gif|ReverseImage:Dolley Madison First Spouse Coin obverse.jpg|ObverseImage:Dolley Madison First Spouse Coin reverse.jpg|ReverseImage:Madison d-o.jpg|Obverse (bronze medal)Image:Madison d-r.jpg|Reverse (bronze medal)


  1. Catherine Allgor, A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation (New York: Henry Holy & Co., 2006), 43
  2. Will of Dolley Payne Todd Madison, February 1, 1841, Papers of Notable Virginia Families, MS 2988, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Virginia, United States.
  3. Allgor, 415-416; Richard N. Cote, Strength and Honor: the Life of Dolley Madison (Mount Pleasant, S.C.: Corinthian Books, 2005), 36-37
  4. U.S. Mint: First Spouse Program. Accessed 2008-06-27. "The United States Mint also produces and make available to the public bronze medal duplicates of the First Spouse Gold Coins."

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