Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dolley Madison

 Dolley Payne was her parents' first daughter when she was born on May 20, 1768, in the Quaker settlement of New GardenGuillford CountyNorth Carolina, to John Payne and Mary Coles Payne.  The family eventually included four boys (Walter, William Temple, Isaac, and John) and four girls (Dolley, Lucy, Anna, and Mary).  

                    Dolley descended from Irish, Scottish, French, and English ancestors.  Her maternal grandfather William Coles was born in 1703 in EnniscarthyIreland; he immigrated to Virginia and died there in 1781.  Her paternal great-great grandfather John Fleming was born in Scotland in 1627; he immigrated to Virginia and died there in 1686.  Her paternal great-great-great grandfather John Payne was born in 1615 in England; he immigrated to Virginia and died there in 1690.  Her paternal great-great-great grandparents Cornelius Dabney (born 1640) and Susanna Swan (born 1644) were born in France; they immigrated to Virginia and died there.

                    John Payne was born in 1736 in Goochland CountyVirginia, and Mary Coles was born in 1745.  Mary was a Quaker, and John was an Episcopalian when they married in 1761 in Hanover CountyVirginia.  In 1764 John applied for membership in Mary's meeting house and was accepted.  They moved to North Carolina in 1766 with other Quaker families but returned to Virginia in 1769 where they lived close to and became attached to Mary's family.  Dolley grew up on her parents' plantation in rural eastern Virginia.

                    Dolley's father was a planter until he emancipated his slaves in 1783 after the American Revolutionary War ended.  Quakers apparently did not believe in owning slaves and had encouraged manumission.  Other people were freeing their slaves because they were inspired by the ideals of the revolution.  More than 30,000 blacks were freed between 1782 and 1810.  Payne moved his family to Philadelphia in 1783 where he was opened a small business making laundry starch; the business failed by 1789.  He died on October 24, 1792.

                    After the death of John Payne, Mary Coles Payne opened her home to boarders for a brief time.  One of her boarders was Congressman Aaron Burr of New York.  In 1793 the Widow Payne moved to the home of her daughter Lucy Washington [She married George Washington's nephew George Steptoe Washington.] of Berkeley Springs in western Virginia [or West Virginia] and took her two youngest children (Mary and John) with her.  She died at the home of Mary Jackson in October 1807.

                    Dolley Payne was described as being 5 feet 6 1/2 inches tall with black hair and blue eyes.   There are no records of any formal schooling for Dolley.  Her church in Philadelphia offered class instructions for both girls and boys, but Dolley Payne was fifteen years old when she moved to Philadelphia and past the usual age for school.

Dolley Payne was 21 years old when she married John Todd, a Quaker lawyer, in Philadelphia on January 7, 1790.  Two sons were born to this couple:  John Payne Todd (1792-1852) and William Isaac Todd (1793).  A yellow fever epidemic broke out in Philadelphia in the fall of 1793 due to poor water sanitation.  More than 4,000 people died during the epidemic because doctors did not know how to treat the disease.  John Todd (age 29) and William Todd (age three months) died on October 14, 1793; John's parents also died in the epidemic.  Dolley was left a young widow at age 25 with a small child to support.

Dolley Payne Todd and James Madison (a delegate to the Continental Congress) were probably in the same social circles in Philadelphia.  In May 1794, Madison, (43 years old and long-time bachelor) asked his friend, Aaron Burn, to introduce him to the young widow.  Even though Madison was 17 years older than Dolley, they soon began courting; they were engaged by August and married on September 15, 1794.  They lived in Philadelphia for the next three years, and Dolly was expelled from the Quaker faith after her marriage to a non-Quaker.  They had no children together, but apparently James adopted Dolley's surviving son from her first marriage.

James served for eight years in the House of Representatives before retiring in 1797 to return to the Madison family plantation in MontpelierOrange CountyVirginia.  They added to the house, settled in, and expected to live quietly in the country as planters.

When their friend, Thomas Jefferson, was elected as the third President of the United States in 1800, he asked James Madison to serve as his Secretary of State.  The Madison family, including Dolley's sister Anna Payne, moved to WashingtonD.C., where they arranged for a house large enough for entertaining.  Since Jefferson was a friend as well as a widower, Dolley occasionally acted as White House hostess to fulfill the ceremonial functions usually associated with the wife of the President.

Dolley was such a popular hostess in Washington that she contributed to her husband's political success, particularly with those members of Congress who were instrumental in choosing the next President.    Madison's opponents attacked Mrs. Madison's character by implying that she had an affair with President Jefferson; their attack did not work and her popularity helped Madison to win the election. 

The first presidential "inaugural ball" took place with a formal dinner and dance on March 4, 1809, at Long's Hotel on Capital Hill with 400 guests in attendance.  The ball opened with the playing of "Jefferson's March" and the entrance of the former President.  This was followed by "Madison's March" and the entrance of the new President and his wife.  Dolley made a dramatic impression in her buff-colored velvet gown, pearls, and a turban with large plumes.

Dolley had an enthusiasm for public life possessed by neither Martha Washington nor Abigail Adams, and she believed that she had a responsibility to the American citizens as the wife of the President.  She forged the role of First Lady and became the standard for all her successors were held until the mid-20th century.  Through her role as White House hostess, her social skills and friendly personality, she helped not only her husband's political fortunes but those of the United States.

Dolley Madison was the first First Lady to sponsor a specific public project.  She helped to found a home for young orphaned girls in WashingtonD.C., and worked as a fundraiser, supporter and board member for the home.  She also assisted and formed a lifelong association with the nuns from a local Catholic school.

Dolley became legendary for her patriotism in the hours just preceding the burning of Washington by British troops during the War of 1812.  Legend tells us that she refused to leave the White House before knowing that the large portrait of George Washington had been removed from the wall and taken to safety.  Legend also says that Dolley was instrumental in saving the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

Undocumented legend says that Dolley sponsored an egg-rolling contest for children, convinced President Madison to permit Francis Scott Key to board a truce ship to try to rescue a captured friend, and to keep Washington as the capital city rather than have it move back to Philadelphia.  We do know that Key was aboard an enemy ship and witnessed the firing on Fort McHenry; afterwards he wrote the Star Spangled Banner, which later became our national anthem.

After leaving the White House on April 6, 1817, James and Dolley Madison returned to the Montpelier plantation in Orange CountyVirginia.  James died there on June 28, 1836, and was buried at Montpelier.  Dolley stayed on the plantation for a year; during this time she organized and copied her husband's papers.  Congress authorized $30,000 in 1837 as the first installment of the Madison papers.  In the fall of 1837, Dolley decided to move back to Washington and leave the care of the plantation to Todd.

                    Due to alcoholism and related illnesses, Todd was unable to manage the plantation.  Dolley tried to raise money by selling the rest of Madison's papers.  She could not find a buyer for them and sold the whole plantation - land, slaves, and furnishings - to pay off outstanding debts.  There are reports that she at times lived in absolute poverty before dying at her Washington home on July 12, 1849, at age 81.  She was interred in the Congressional Cemetery in WashingtonD.C. but was later re-interred next to her husband at MontpelierOrange CountyVirginia.

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