of President James Madison
Dolley Payne was born in
Guilford County, North Carolina, on May 20, 1768,
the third child of Quaker parents. She spent her
childhood in Scotchtown, Virginia. In 1783, her
family moved to Philadelphia.
In 1790, Dolley married John
Todd, Jr., a Quaker lawyer. She bore him two
sons, but the second one died, along with his
father, in a yellow-fever epidemic in 1793.
A few months after the death of
John Todd, Aaron Burr introduced her to James
Madison, who was at
that time representing Virginia in the U.S.
Senate. The two were married on September 15,
1794. Because Madison was not a Quaker, Dolley
was expelled from the Society of Friends upon her
marriage to him. The couple had no children, but
James Madison raised Dolley's son from her first
marriage as if he were his own child.
While James Madison served as Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State, Dolley served as
White House hostess for the widowed President.
Noted for her charm and tact, even people of
strongly differing views could meet in her
presence and feel completely at ease.
Dolley's social graces also
proved invaluable to her husband's presidential
campaigns in 1808 and 1812. As First Lady, she
charmed the political and intellectual leaders of
her day, including novelist Washington Irving,
who once called her "a fine, portly, buxom
dame." When the British set fire to
Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812, Dolley was personally responsible for
saving a number of important state papers and
artifacts -- including one of the best-known
portraits of George Washington -- before the
White House was burned.
After James Madison left the
presidency, the couple retired to Montpelier, his
Virginia estate. After his death in 1837, she
returned to Washington to live, where she died in
1849. She is buried next to her husband in a
family plot near Montpelier.
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