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the home of James Madison

In 1723, Ambrose Madison received a patent for 4,675 acres of land in the Piedmont of Virginia. He, his wife Frances, and their three children moved into a modest frame dwelling on the plantation, then called Mount Pleasant, in 1732. Ambrose died later that year, and management of the plantation fell to his wife and their oldest son, James Madison. Thanks in large part to James Madison, Mount Pleasant became a very successful farm. The plantation also included a distillery, ironworks, blacksmithing shop, contracting services business, and other very successful enterprises. In 1749 he married Nelly Conway, with whom he had twelve children (four sons and three daughters lived to maturity), including future President James Madison.

About 1760, Madison built a new plantation complex, Montpelier, including a new house, about half a mile southeast of Mount Pleasant. When the main house was finished, it was the most elaborate structure in Orange County.

James Madison, Jr., left Montpelier to attend the College of New Jersey about 1769. Although he always called Montpelier home, he spent most of the next 38 years serving his country and living elsewhere, with much of that time spent in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He and his wife Dolley (along with her son from a previous marriage) moved back into Montpelier in 1797, and over the next four years Madison added a new matching wing to the north side of the house. That wing, which included a dining room, allowed James and Dolley to maintain a separate household within the house, while his parents continued to live in the original structure. James Jr. inherited the plantation upon his father's death in 1801, but spent the next 16 years in Washington, D.C., first as Secretary of State and then President of the United States. His mother remained in the house, however.

By the time Madison retired to Montpelier in 1817, the house had been expanded to allow his mother to have her own kitchen, garden, and full complement of household staff. Nelly Madison died at Montpelier in 1829, at the age of 98. James Madison also died at Montpelier, in 1836. Both of them are buried in a family cemetery on the grounds, as are Dolley, Ambrose, Frances, and five of James' siblings.

The tall obelisk at right marks the grave of James Madison; Dolley's grave is marked by the smaller obelisk
Madison Family Cemetery

Dolley Madison sold Montpelier in 1844, and subsequent owners made many changes to the house and grounds. In 1901, it was bought by William Du Pont, whose heirs bequeathed the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1984. The National Trust subsequently established an independent, nonprofit foundation, The Montpelier Foundation, which maintains and operates the property as a historic house museum. Its official website is

Montepelier as it looks today

See Also

Dolley Madison

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The Robinson Library >> James Madison

This page was last updated on August 30, 2018.