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Editorial Notes

Some documents in the DMDE have sidebar links to long explanatory notes concerning topics of relevance to more than a single document. For convenience, all of these notes are reproduced below.

  1. James Madison’s Nieces and Nephews
  2. Dolley Madison’s Health
  3. Dolley Madison and the Founding of the Washington Orphan Asylum
  4. Purchase and Publication of the Papers of James Madison
  5. Madison v. Madison
  6. Who Said Dolley Was a Heroine?
  7. The Madison Family
  8. Dolley Madison’s Land Sales, 1836–1840
  9. St. Thomas Church
  10. The Franking Privilege
  11. Political Patronage, Dolley Madison, and the Presidency of William Henry Harrison
  12. The Madison Family’s Mills
  13. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty, the North East Boundary Line, and Richard Dominicus Cutts
  14. Mourning and Hair
  15. Dolley Madison and the Montpelier Enslaved Community, 1836–1843
  16. Dolley Madison and the Dispersal of the Montpelier Enslaved Community, 1844
  17. Dolley Madison’s Land Sales, 1841-1848
  18. The Montpelier Surveys and Plats
  19. Autographomania!
  20. Dolley Madison's Winston Kin
  21. The Grymes Tract (Madison County, Virginia)
  22. Naval Ball of 8 December 1812

James Madison’s Nieces and Nephews

When James Madison died on June 28, 1836, he left behind no children of his own. In his will he left a bequest of $9,000 to be divided equally among his nieces and nephews, or, if they were dead, among their children according to family branch. In legal terminology, the inheritance was to be divided per stirpes.

By the summer of 1836 the extended Madison family had dispersed across the country. Some of his nieces and nephews had died, and James’s legatees now included children of the third generation. It fell to Dolley to locate all the living members of her husband’s family. She also had to raise the cash to finance the bequests, money that James had assumed would be earned by the sale of his papers. Dolley thus found herself burdened with the related tasks of selling James’s papers and paying off his bequests, and her correspondence during her first months of widowhood is filled with references to James’s nieces and nephews. It was a stressful time, and by the end of the summer her health had collapsed.

To follow this genealogical maze, we must start with James and his siblings. James Madison was the eldest child of James Madison, Sr., and Nelly Conway Madison. In addition to James, his parents had six other children who lived to adulthood: Francis, Ambrose, Nelly, William, Sarah, and Frances. They all had children—and grandchildren—of their own. In following Dolley’s attempt to fulfill the terms of her husband’s will, we must trace James’s family to the third generation.

Francis Madison
In Francis’s line, Dolley had to track down five nieces and nephews, and four great-nieces and great-nephews. Francis Madison married Susan Bell, and both died before James, but not before they had nine children: James F., William, Elizabeth, Nelly, Mary, Catlett, Reuben Conway (known as Conway), Catherine, and Frances. Of these, William, Elizabeth, Catlett, Catherine, and Frances were all still alive after their uncle’s death. James F. died before his uncle, but he was unmarried and had no children. Dolley had thus to locate the children of Nelly, Conway, and Mary. First, Nelly had married William Bell Wood, and the couple had six children, two of whom were still alive in 1836. There was a daughter, Margaret Wood, who married a man named Tappan. They lived in Tennessee. And there was a son, Joseph Wood, who also moved to Tennessee. Second, Conway was living in Illinois at the time of his death. He married a woman named Winna, with whom he had six children: Elizabeth, Eugenia, Francis, James, Mary, and William. Four of these were underage in 1836, and Winna Madison had power of attorney for them. She contacted Dolley in regard to her children’s inheritance soon after James’s death. Third, Mary married William H. Smith in 1804. She left behind her two surviving children: a son named Walton Smith who lived in Mississippi, and a daughter named Nancy, who married John Buck and lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Ambrose Madison
Ambrose married Mary Willis Lee Madison in 1779 and died in 1793. They produced only one surviving child, Nelly Conway Madison, whom Dolley knew and loved. Nelly married Dr. John Willis in 1804 and was widowed in 1811. In 1836 Nelly was at Montpelier when her uncle died. She passed away in 1862.
Nelly Conway Madison Hite
In Nelly’s line, Dolley had to trace the three children of Nelly Conway Madison or, if deceased, their children. Nelly Conway Madison married Isaac Hite in 1783. She died in 1802. She had three children who lived to adulthood: Nelly Conway Hite Baldwin, James Madison Hite, and Frances Madison Hite Ransom. The first of Nelly’s children, also named Nelly, had married Dr. Cornelius Baldwin in 1809. She died before her uncle. Dolley therefore had to find the Baldwin children: Eleanor Conway Baldwin Davison, Mary Briscoe Baldwin, Isaac Hite Baldwin, Ann Maury Baldwin Hay, James Madison Baldwin, and Robert Stuart Baldwin. The second of Nelly’s children, James Madison Hite, was still living, residing in Clarke County, Virginia, and had married Caroline Matilda Irvine in 1815. The third in the Nelly line was Frances Madison Hite. She married James Lackland around 1820.
William Madison
In William’s line, Dolley had to find two living nieces and nephews, and six of William’s grandchildren. William Madison was James’s youngest brother. He did not die until 1843. In 1783 he married Frances Throckmorton, and the couple had eleven children, but by the time James died only two were still living, Rebecca Conway Madison Chapman and Major Ambrose Madison. In addition, there were the living children of three of the deceased nieces and nephews. First, there was Robert Lewis Madison. He married Eliza Strachan in 1816, and died in 1828. They had three children: Thomas Cooper Madison, William Alexander Madison, and Robert Lewis Madison. Second, there was Elizabeth Madison, who in 1819 married Lewis Willis. She died in 1824. She had one surviving child, Frances Willis Lee. Third, there was Lititia Madison, who in 1825 married Daniel French Slaughter. She died in 1828. She had two surviving children, James Edwin Slaughter and Philip Madison Slaughter.
Sarah Catlett Madison Macon
In Sarah’s line, Dolley’s job was simple. Sarah (Sally) Catlett Madison married Thomas Macon in 1790, and the couple had seven surviving children: James Hartwell Madison Macon, Conway Catlett Macon, Lucy Hartwell Macon Conway, William Ambrose Macon, Edgar Macon, Henry Macon, and Reuben Macon. Edgar Macon died in 1829, having moved to Florida. The rest of the family remained in Virginia, mainly in Orange County.
Frances Taylor Madison Rose
Frances’s line proved particularly difficult to trace. Frances Taylor Madison married Robert Henry Rose in 1801. Having moved to Alabama, she died in 1823. Of the Rose children, seven were alive in 1836: Hugh Francis Rose, Ambrose James Rose, Henry Rose, Samuel Jordan Rose, Robert Henry Rose, Erasmus Taylor Rose, and Frances M. Rose. Another child, Nelly Conway Rose, married John Francis Newman in 1824. They had four children: Edward Woodyear Newman, Hollis Fryer Newman, Ellen Rose Newman Wheelock, and Mary Frances Newman Rose. But the family had moved to Alabama in 1822, and after Frances Madison Rose died in 1823, her husband, Robert Henry Rose, shifted to Tennessee. Their children spread over Alabama, Tennessee, and Illinois, and proved difficult, if not impossible, to find.

Thus, as Dolley struggled to carry out the terms of James’s will, she found herself not only paying her husband’s bequest to those members of his family who had remained in Virginia, but searching for great-nieces and nephews who had moved on without a forwarding address. Locating distant members of the Madison clan proved difficult and stressful. In the end, despite her best efforts she was unable to locate them all.


The main source for Madison family genealogy is Charles Thomas Chapman, “Who Was Buried in James Madison’s Grave?: A Study in Contextual Analysis” (MA Thesis, College of William and Mary, 2005) and Charles Thomas Chapman, “Descendents of Ambrose Madison, the Grandfather of President James Madison, Jr.” (The Montpelier Foundation, 2006). See also Ruth and Sam Sparacio, “Chancery Suits, Orange County, Virginia, 1831–1845,” (McLean, VA, 1988); J. Randolph Grymes, The Fanny Hume Diary of 1862: A Year in Wartime Orange, Virginia (Orange, VA, 1994).

Dolley Madison’s Health

Soon after her husband’s death, Dolley Madison’s health collapsed. She had spent the last years of James’s life as his constant companion and caretaker, rarely leaving his bedside, and then it was over. “Mrs. Madison was broken hearted,” one of Thomas Jefferson’s granddaughters recalled. “The House seemed utterly deserted.” Condolence calls were made, visitors came and went, but in the end she was left with her brother, John Coles Payne, and his daughter, Annie Payne, and the crew they assembled to finish editing the great man’s papers. And Dolley was burdened with the tasks JM had conferred on her: to finish editing his papers, to locate a publisher and sell the papers for as much money as possible, and to pay all the bequests he had made in his will.

It was a daunting prospect for a grieving widow who had never been responsible for paying the bills or dealing with legal matters. James had always seen to these things, up to the day of his death. Under the stress of these responsibilities, Dolley’s general health disintegrated and her eyes became severely inflamed and irritated, making it impossible for her to write her own correspondence. On October 23, 1836, writing to cousin Edward Coles about Dolley’s health, Annie described her suffering as “constant and of six or seven weeks duration, commencing with a painful inflammation of the eyes, which brought on chills and fevers, and her general health became so bad and so enfeebled that she could not walk alone.” And, Annie explained, “what has added greatly to her illness is the consciousness that the world has expected the publication of the works, and the fear that her friends would consider their appearance tardy.” A month later an old friend wrote his wife that Mrs. Madison’s “wasted form bore testimony that she had suffered much, probably in mind as well as body.”

The behavior of Dolley’s closest companions only exacerbated her stress. John Coles Payne was a recovering alcoholic, with no experience in the world of letters or business. He saw taking care of his sister as a burden, and itched to move west. Her brother’s impending departure pained Dolley. She wrote William Cabell and Judith Page Walker Rives on April 4, 1837, “He is about to leave us with his family for his long intended removal to the west—a circumstance which gives me great sorrow.” Payne also had little understanding of publishing and floundered in the effort. Most seriously, he took for granted that the papers were worth $100,000, as JM had projected before his death. The size of this estimate offended publishers, and later congressmen, who believed the papers to be worth substantially less.

Dolley’s son, John Payne Todd, was even more difficult. He was an alcoholic, a gambler, and utterly irresponsible. When he met with publishers in New York and Philadelphia, he simply offended them. Not only did his behavior alienate possible publishers, he rarely wrote home, leaving his mother wondering about the state of his progress, which only added to her level of strain. As John Coles Payne wrote Payne Todd on October 12, 1836, “I am not capable of judging the degree of seriousness attached to her indisposition, but mental agitation, I am convinced deeply adds to it. Whether your return would not cordially operate a beneficial effect in tranquillising her nervous agitation your own feelings will best determine.” John Coles Payne concluded: “I proffer no other guide.”

Dolley’s only constant source of support and comfort was her niece, Anna Coles Payne Causten. Anna was sweet and caring and remained by her aunt’s side throughout this difficult period. And when the remnant of Dolley’s family moved west, Anna stayed with her and remained a constant companion for the rest of Dolley’s life. But though Anna provided Dolley with emotional support, she could neither help get the papers published nor assist Dolley in the legal matters surrounding James’s will.

Dolley turned to contemporary medicine for help, but it did not offer her much relief. She called first on the services of two local doctors, Dr. Edmund Pendleton Taylor and Dr. Peyton Grymes. Dolley was apparently dissatisfied with their treatments, however, because she quickly turned to the advice and guidance of Dr. Philip Physick. Physick, a well-known Philadelphia doctor, had treated Dolley’s ulcerated knee in 1805. He was an ailing old man by the 1830s, firmly entrenched in the “heroic” medical practices of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Bleeding, blistering, leeching, and purging patients were all methods with which “regular” doctors of his generation believed “toxins could be extracted from a sick body via bodily fluids.” This is not to say that heroic methods were the only medical treatments available. Many doctors also turned to traditional domestic remedies that used plants and herbs. Doctors resorted to these solutions because they were often familiar and effective treatments for common afflictions. Still, as more “homeopathic” healers competed with traditional physicians of the early nineteenth century, “regular” physicians remained stubbornly dedicated to the harsh, often debilitating, methods taught in medical schools.

Dr. Physick prescribed a combination of heroic and homeopathic medicines. Edward Coles, living in Philadelphia, relayed the doctor’s instructions in letters to Dolley throughout this period. At first, Physick instructed Dolley to bathe her eyes in a wash made from pith of elder (although the doctor later corrected the instructions to pith of sassafras). Physick then sent her an ointment to apply to her eyes, which John Coles Payne described as “very painful.” By 1837 Physick believed more dramatic methods were necessary. Edward Coles wrote John Coles Payne on January 20, 1837, that Physick “said Mrs M. should be leeched—but if she cannot get leeches she must be bled—that depletion is necessary. He inquired how she bore blistering, & whether it produced much irritation, if it did not, blisters behind the ears would be of service.” But Dolley was not particularly inclined to be bled. John Coles Payne described bleeding as “the alternative to which her feelings are not friendly at present.” Though sassafras and milk washes provided Dolley’s eyes with momentary relief, she remained very ill. Her health had so deteriorated by February of 1837 that John Coles Payne wrote Edward Coles hoping to get Dr. Physick’s support for taking Dolley to White Sulpher Springs, in what is now West Virginia, for relief.

Finally, in March of 1837, Congress passed a resolution that authorized the purchase of James Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention of 1787. On March 30, 1837, John Forsyth wrote Dolley that Congress had agreed to purchase the papers and that she would soon be paid “$30,000, appropriated by Congress, at its recent Session.” A few days later, on April 4, 1837, Dolley wrote her friends Judith and William Cabell Rives that her health had finally improved, and that even her eyesight was better (although the stress of writing to her worrisome son had again injured it).

The letters from this period reflect how the strain of widowhood and the pressure of publishing her revered husband’s papers affected Dolley’s health. There is evidence throughout Dolley’s correspondence that her eyes weakened in periods of stress. The illness she experienced after her husband’s death, however, was the most severe ailment she had yet faced. But she recovered. With the weight of publication off her shoulders and the promise of remuneration, Dolley’s health improved, and she soon returned to Washington and the society she loved so much.


Sources of the quotations: Septimia Anne Randolph Meikleham, “Recollections of James and Dolley Madison,” manuscript (Monticello Research Library); Anna Coles Payne Causten to Edward Coles, 23 October 1836; William Cabell Rives to Judith Page Walker Rives, 29 November 1836; Dolley Payne Todd Madison to William Cabell Rives and Judith Page Walker Rives, 2 April 1837; John Coles Payne to John Payne Todd, 12 October 1836; Volney Steele, M.D., Bleed, Blister, and Purge: A History of Medicine on the American Frontier (Missoula, Montana, 2005), 2–3; John Coles Payne to Edward Coles, 29 December 1836; Edward Coles to John Coles Payne, 20 January 1837; John Coles Payne to Edward Coles, 27 January 1837; John Forsyth to Dolley Payne Todd Madison, 30 March 1837. For further information on Dolley’s health see especially the correspondence between John Coles Payne and Edward Coles in this period. More information on medicine in the early nineteenth century can be found in William G. Rothstein, American Physicians in the Nineteenth Century: From Sects to Science (Baltimore, Maryland, 1972), and Steven M. Stowe, Doctoring the South: Southern Physicians and Everyday Medicine in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2004).

Dolley Madison and the Founding of the Washington Orphan Asylum

On December 18, 1815, three notable Washington women submitted to the Congress of the United States a petition containing two requests. First, they asked for an act to incorporate an orphan asylum. As a corporation it would be able to hold property and become a legal guardian to the girls at the orphanage. Second, they appealed to Congress to help fund its construction and donate city land on which to build their institution. The petition was signed by the charity’s first and second directresses and its secretary: Dolley Madison, Marcia Van Ness, and Margaret Bayard Smith, respectively.

The British army had razed much of Washington when it invaded and burned the city in August 1814. The White House had been destroyed, as had both Houses of Congress, and the office of The National Intelligencer. And there was collateral damage to businesses, hotels, and commercial sites. Homes of both the wealthy and poor had been ruined. Government departments had moved into private houses and Congress seriously debated shifting the national capital back to Philadelphia. The result was personal and economic dislocation throughout the city and a sense of malaise about its future. In January of 1815 a South Carolina congressman described Washington to his wife as a “city to which so many are willing to come to and all so anxious to leave.” But while the wealthy had the means to sustain this kind of blow, the poor did not.

If the postwar mood in Washington was despairing, there was also a resolve to improve the city. Talk of removing the capital to Philadelphia generated a determination to create a “phoenix on the Potomac.” In the autumn of 1816 a group of men founded the Columbia Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, and a year later the Washington Botanical Society. The city was not only to remain the capital of the nation, but to become a center of learning.

The city’s leading women responded as well. Marcia Van Ness, wife of a former congressman from New York and local real estate developer, and Elizabeth Riley Brown, wife of the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Washington, conceived of the idea of creating a Protestant female orphan asylum, especially as the extant Catholic organizations, such as the Poor Clares and the Sisters of the Visitation in Georgetown, did not support orphanages. Widows and orphans of soldiers killed in battle could petition Congress for pensions, but there were no provisions to help the truly defenseless: the eight-year-old girl left on the street, or the three-year-old whose extended family could no longer feed her. As the author of the First Annual Report of the Washington Orphan Asylum stated, “Of all the various charities, which, as members of the human family, we are called upon to bestow, none appears so extensively useful as the support and education of the children of the poor. And among these children, none are so destitute and helpless as orphans.”

While the immediate roots of the Washington Orphan Asylum lay in the 1814 burning of Washington and the ravages of the War of 1812, it was also part of a movement to organize asylums by and for women (and girls), which had begun to appear in the late eighteenth century. Private women’s philanthropic institutions first sprang up after the American Revolution in urban areas like New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston. The Washington Orphan’s Asylum was thus part of a dual impulse: a movement to create organizations by women for women and girls, and a local determination to rebuild the city after the war.

We have no surviving correspondence between Dolley Madison and Marcia Van Ness during this period, but it is probable that Van Ness asked Dolley to become the first directress for several reasons. Any supporting legislation would have to go through the United States Congress, and as First Lady, Dolley had congressional connections and social standing. The Protestant reforming women of the era also keenly felt the need to act as “femininely” as possible. And Van Ness knew Dolley as canny and feminine. This generation of reforming women tried never to cross gendered lines of behavior, unlike the supporters of women’s rights and abolition during the Jacksonian era. As one historian has written, “ever cognizant of the precarious position they occupied, the women of the early associations exercised extreme caution that their activities provoked no unnecessary criticism.” As Dolley later wrote her niece, Mary E. E. Cutts, “our sex are ever loosers, when they stem the torrent of public opinion.”

From her side, Dolley understood personal devastation and financial injury. As a young woman, her family’s fortunes had plummeted when her father’s business failed. And when he died, her mother had been forced to open a boarding house until one of Dolley’s sisters, Lucy Payne, married the nephew of George Washington. At that point the family split up. Her sister Anna stayed with Dolley, while the two youngest children, Mary and John Coles, went with their mother to live with Lucy Payne Washington. By the time she became First Lady, Dolley had experienced not only economic decline, but the deaths of her first husband, her younger son, both of her parents, three of her brothers, and her youngest sister.

When the city of Washington burned, Dolley’s personal possessions went up in flames. As she wrote her sister on August 23, 1814, “our private property must be sacrificed, as it is impossible to procure wagons for its transportation.” In addition, there was the anger the citizens of Washington felt at the lack of military protection of their city, and their sense of abandonment as James rode off to Bladensburg. Dolley was keenly aware of this. As she wrote her cousin Edward Coles on May 13, 1813, “if I could, I would describe to you the fears & alarms, that circulate around me. For the last week all the City & G. Toun (except the Cabinet) have expected a visit from the Enimy, & ware not lacking in their expressions of terror & reproach.” Part of creating a postwar feeling of good will was finding ways to support the ordinary citizens of the national capital.

Dolley did more than lend her name. Whether or not she composed the petition to Congress, she wrote it out so that it would officially be in her handwriting. And she was the most generous contributor. She gave twenty dollars as her subscription fee, and an additional thirty-five dollars as a donation. By contrast, Marcia Van Ness gave ten dollars through her subscription, Juliana Gales contributed twenty dollars but was not a subscriber, and so it went. Most supporters either made a donation or became subscribers, but not both. We have no correspondence indicating why she (and James) were so generous and are simply left to speculate that James and Dolley used the occasion to defuse the anger the citizens of Washington had directed toward the president during the war.

The establishment of the Asylum was first broadcast in The Daily National Intelligencer on October 10, 1815, through an announcement for a meeting for “the Ladies of the county of Washington and neighborhood,” to join as “an association to provide for destitute orphans.” For, the article explained, “a nobler object cannot engage the sympathy of our females.” In a city where meeting space was scarce, they congregated in the chamber of the House of Representatives—which itself had only recently been repaired and rendered usable. On October 13, the paper announced that Dolley Madison had become the first directress, Marcia Van Ness the second directress, and Margaret Bayard Smith, wife of the founder of the newspaper, the secretary. And on November 27 the Intelligencer trumpeted that the ladies had found a house on the northwest corner of 10 Street NW, near Pennsylvania Avenue, and were ready for operation. “The children are to be educated, fed and clothed at the expense of the Society, and at the Asylum. They are to have moral example and religious instruction, and to be taught the habits of industry.” In sum, these “destitute orphans” were to be “trained in the paths of virtue and future usefulness.”

The first items on the agenda were to create a constitution and to incorporate. The first was straightforward, as they had only to agree among themselves. But the second proved more difficult. To secure incorporation, they had to petition Congress, which sat as the committee of the whole and read the bill three times. On March 16 the Senate then voted on it, and rejected the proposal by a vote of 17 to 16 (with three abstentions). In the House, the bill had been sent to the committee for the District of Columbia “to incorporate the subscribers to the Female Orphan Asylum of the City of Washington and to vest in them the fee simple title to four of the public Iota in the City of Washington, to promote the benevolent objects of the Institution.” On March 27, a week and a half after the Senate had voted no, the House committee simply voted not to report out the bill. The Senate vote did not divide along party or regional lines. A few votes were predictable. Nathaniel Macon (D-NC), who found almost any government action unacceptable, voted no. Christopher Gore (F-MA), a hard-core member of the opposition party, voted no. Jonathan Roberts (D-PA), a long-standing Democratic Republican, voted yes. But there were negative votes by Democratic Republicans and positive ones from Federalists, and no noticeable divide along the Mason-Dixon line.

The arguments for and against covered a wide swathe of opinion. Jeremiah Mason (F-NH), who had opposed the War of 1812 and was close to other Federalist conservatives such as Rufus King and Christopher Gore, wrote his wife about the vote. “Mrs. Madison,” he penned, “with other high court dames, lately petitioned Congress for an act of incorporation for a Female Asylum, of which Mrs. M. was to be the presidentress. The Senate most ungallantly rejected the petition.” And, he continued, in what reads today as having a rather mean-spirited and self-satisfied tone, “Being among the rebels on this occasion, I expect to experience no more smiles at the palace.” Robert Goodloe Harper (F-SC) spoke against the act in the Senate. He distrusted both women and corporations. The asylum was, he said, a praiseworthy goal, and he admired everyone associated with it, but “was this strange anomaly in law [a corporation], of a body politic composed of married women, at all necessary to the objects of the institution?” Jonathan Roberts (D-PA), on the other hand, presented a favorable argument to the Senate. Addressing Harper’s stated concerns, Roberts explained that incorporation was neither novel nor repugnant. “Similar acts were to be found on the statute books of some of the States. The charter would give no privilege nor sanction any abuse.” Rather, “it would enable the trustees of a praiseworthy institution to secure, in the most eligible and favorable manner, the application of such means as may be given by benevolent persons to the benevolent objects of the association.”

The “ladies” nevertheless moved forward with their orphan asylum. In 1828 Congress incorporated the Asylum. For Dolley, it was a short, and honorific, affiliation. In April of 1817 the Madisons retired to Montpelier. At that time Marcia Van Ness offered the position of first directress to First Lady Elizabeth Monroe. She refused it. Van Ness then took over the role and remained the asylum’s central figure until her death in 1832.


Sources of quotations: William Lowndes to his wife, 8 January 1815, as cited in Constance McLaughlin Green, Washington: A History of the Capital (Princeton, NJ, 1962), 66; Green, Washington, 56–80; Report of the Washington Orphan Asylum Society (Washington, DC, 1817); Barbara Berg, The Remembered Gate: Origins of American Feminism: The Woman & the City, 1800–1860 (Oxford, UK, 1978), 160; Dolley Madison to Mary E. E. Cutts, 10 March 1835; “Orphans Asylum,” Daily National Intelligencer, 10 October 1815, 3; Daily National Intelligencer, 13 November 1815 and 27 November 1815; House Journal, 27 March 1816, 539; Jeremiah Mason to Mrs. Mason, Washington, March 16, 1816, in Memoir and Correspondence of Jeremiah Mason (Cambridge, MA, 1873), 137. For further information on the orphan asylum and the women involved see District of Columbia Petition of the Board of Trustees of the Orphan Asylum of Washington to the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States, 18 December 1815, Record Group 233, House Records 14A-f3.5, Box 22, National Archives and Records Administration; and Frances Carpenter Huntington, “The Heiress of Washington City: Marcia Burnes Van Ness, 1782–1832,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society (1969–1970). For more information on the postwar capital see Wilhelmus Bogart Bryan, A History of the National Capital 1 (New York, 1914), 628–637 and Constance McLaughlin Green, Washington: A History of the Capital (Princeton, NJ, 1962), 66–72. For more on the burning of Washington see Walter Lord, The Dawn’s Early Light (New York, 1972) and Anthony Pitch, The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814 (Annapolis, MD, 1998). Finally, on Catholic institutions, benevolent societies, and women’s involvement see Timothy A. Hacsi, Second Home: Orphan Asylums and Poor Families in America (Cambridge, MA, 1997); Barbara Berg, The Remembered Gate: Origins of American Feminism: The Woman & the City, 1800–1860 (Oxford, UK, 1978); Susan Lynne Porter, “The Benevolent Asylum—Image and Reality: The Care and Training of Female Orphans in Boston, 1800–1840” (Ph.D. dissertation, Boston University, 1984); and Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill, NC, 1980).

Purchase and Publication of the Papers of James Madison

When James Madison died on June 28, 1836, he left Dolley Madison a grieving and increasingly ill widow. She not only had to carry on with her daily life, but also fulfill the terms of James’s will, of which the most important was to sell his papers. James had spent his retirement editing them, and he believed they would fetch $100,000 from a trade publisher. Based on that conviction, he left $12,000 worth of legacies, including money for the University of Virginia, Princeton University, and the American Colonization Society, and bequests of $9,000 to his nieces and nephews, or their descendants. The money raised from the sale of his papers was also to be Dolley’s retirement fund.

From the moment James died, Dolley’s health collapsed, and continued to degrade. She was, therefore, from the beginning unable to handle any of the business at hand, whether it was finishing James’s manuscript or chasing down a publisher. Dolley did, however, have circles of friends and family to help, including her brother John Coles Payne, who lived on a farm carved out of Montpelier and helped her edit the manuscript. In July and August Dolley and John thought finishing the edition would be harder than selling it. By the end of August this had proved untrue. One hundred thousand dollars was not a price any publisher would pay up front, and Dolley did not have the money to agree to a jointly funded publication with the profits from sales to be divided between her and the publisher. In addition, Dolley’s son, John Payne Todd, decided that he would go to Boston, New York, and Philadelphia to meet and bargain with publishers. Todd was incapable of successfully completing this task. He was a gambler and an alcoholic, with neither business experience nor humility to soften his ignorance. As James Kirke Paulding wrote Jared Sparks on September 11, 1836, “if you are acquainted with him [Todd], you need not be told that he is the last man in the world to compass such a business. ”

It was Nicholas Trist, old friend of the family, devoted admirer of James, grandson by marriage of Thomas Jefferson, and a member of Andrew Jackson’s inner circle, who finally suggested that Dolley sell James’s papers to the federal government, and that this sale include only part of James’s writing, especially his notes from the debates on the Constitutional Convention. After October 1836 Dolley’s goal, following the advice of her friends, shifted from sale to a commercial publisher to sale to the federal government, with the price set at around $30,000. From this point on William Cabell Rives, Virginia senator, disciple of James, and nearby friend, took the lead in engineering this sale. He tried at first to shepherd through a bill in the second session of the Twenty-fourth Congress, but while it passed the Senate, the House never took it up. Finally, in a parliamentary move of some mastery, Rives simply inserted the motion as a line item into the federal budget, which was passed in a special session of Congress in March 1837. The American government acquired the papers, and Dolley received $30,000.

The story of Dolley and her husband’s manuscript did not end in March 1837. Dolley continued to worry about how Congress would publish her husband’s writings and would do so until they were issued in 1840. Neither did her financial burdens cease. The decades-long slump in Virginia agriculture, augmented by the five-year-long depression of 1837, made that impossible. But the sale marked the end of a critical chapter in her life as a widow. It allowed Dolley to fulfill the terms of her husband’s will and to make his most important texts available to the American people, to honor him as she believed he deserved, and to reclaim her health.


The major sources are the letters to be found in this volume. See also Arnold A. Rogow, “The Federal Convention: Madison and Yates, ” The American Historical Review 60 (January 1955); Donald O. Dewey, “James Madison Helps Clio Interpret the Constitution,” The American Journal of Legal History 15 (January, 1971); Ralph Ketcham, James Madison (Charlottesville, VA 1990); David B. Mattern and Holly C. Shulman, The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison (Charlottesville, VA 2003); Sheila McVey, “Nineteenth Century America: Publishing in a Developing Country,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 421 (September 1975); Peter L. Rousseau, “Jackson’s Monetary Policy, Specie Flows, and the Panic of 1837, ” Journal of Economic History 62 (June 2002); and Drew McCoy, The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy (Cambridge, UK 1989).

Madison v. Madison

In the fall of 1836, the newly widowed Dolley Madison brought a complaint known as Madison v. Madison to the Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery for Orange County, Virginia. She was the executrix of James Madison’s will, and in sorting out his legacies she had concluded that her husband had intended to provide equally for thirty-one of his collateral descendants (in addition to several specific legacies). A member of the Madison clan, almost assuredly William Madison, objected to her calculations.

Over the years William had become increasingly unhappy with the settlement of the Madison family estates. He set the pattern over James Madison, Sr.’s will. Tensions continued to mount between James and William. On June 15, 1829, James, who had been ill and was running a fever, drafted a letter to his brother arguing that “the delay [in settling their disputes] had become so very pressing on my situation that, unreasonable as it wd. be, I had rather sick as I am, undertake to visit you than that the distressing State of things shd. continue.”

After James’s death, William became a thorn in Dolley’s side. In 1836 he claimed $2,000 in services rendered in the disposition of James Sr.’s estate, and went on to press Dolley to promise to pay him—should he prove his case. William brought suit to recover this $2,000 against Dolley, and the argument simmered for years, continuing even after William’s death.

In response to William’s complaint, Dolley asked to place the case with the Circuit Superior Court, “to direct the distribution thereof according to the rights of the parties.” The County Court was likely to be a slower venue than the Circuit Court. While the County Court was run by justices of the peace who rarely had a law degree, the Circuit Court judges were lawyers. Virginia had evolved a system of many courts, and “having an alternative to the county courts, many Virginians carried their suits to the higher courts, staffed as they usually were by professional judges and convened on schedule at nearby county seats.”

James instructed in his will, “I devise to my Dear wife during her life the tract of land whereon I live.” It was he, of course, and not she, who owned the Montpelier estate and any other lands outside of the Montpelier boundaries, but as his widow she could inherit both personal and real property. “I devise to my Dear wife,” however, was a contingent statement. His testamentary disposition of land stated that her actions would determine the end result: whether or not the estate would go to Dolley in fee simple, or be sold after her death “for cash or on credit as may be decreed best for the interest of those entitled to the proceeds thereof.” If she wanted to own the property outright and leave it to her son, John Payne Todd (or anyone else) she would have to fulfill his terms: that nine thousand dollars be “equally divided between all my nephews and neices which shall at that time be living, and in case of any of them being dead leaving issue at that time living—then such issue shall take the place of its or their deceased parent” within three years. Dolley would have to find not only James’s nieces and nephews, but also their children.

Dolley employed the court to locate the dispersed members of the Madison family. The Court repeatedly summoned Madisons to appear in Court and give testimony, and at least some of them did so. In 1837 Dolley’s checks began to flow again. In April James Madison Hite began to help distribute James’s bequest to the Hite branch of the family, and by June Dolley had begun contacting Roses. The Fredericksburg, Virginia, newspaper, the Political Arena, ran notices—lists of Madisons who needed to be contacted. Slowly Dolley located them, some alive, some dead, some deceased with children. The Court agreed that the disposition of money would be per stirpes, helped sort out the financial arrangements, and appointed legal guardians for infant children. Some nephews simply took the money, while others were particular in their dealings with her and the bank. Dolley found it expedient to file petitions to complete the payments, presumably because of family feuding, but by the fall of 1837 the Court issued lists of legatees that indicated which ones had been notified. By mid 1838 the work had been done. The catalogue of names had been revised, eligibility fixed, decrees written, and the money paid. The processes of deciding who should inherit and of locating heirs had taken two years to accomplish.


Sources for quotations: James Madison to William Madison, 15 June 1829, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress. See also T. Kuroda, The County Court System of Virginia from the Revolution to the Civil War (Ph.D. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1996), 249; A. G. Roeber, Faithful Magistrates and Republican Lawyers : Creators of Virginia Legal Culture, 1680–1810 (Chapel Hill, 1981); and A. O. Porter, County Government in Virginia: A Legislative History, 1607-1904 (New York, 1947), 157, 161–162. For examples of the notices seeking Madison legatees see in this edition The Political Arena: Fredericksburg Virginia, 26 August 1837.

Who Said Dolley Was a Heroine?

It was a hot August day in 1834 when Dolley Madison received a letter from her old Washington friend Margaret Bayard Smith. Smith had agreed to write a biographical sketch of Mrs. Madison for a new four-volume work, The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans. Few women were to be found in any of the volumes, and few women were asked to write for the project. The third volume, scheduled for publication in 1836, was to include essays on both James and Dolley Madison. No other woman was to be included in that volume. It was an important assignment, even for so distinguished a writer as Smith. As Smith began researching her subject, she asked Dolley to jot down her memories, outline her family history, and lend Smith some copies of her letters. Who were her parents, where had she grown up, what kind of education had she received, when had she moved to Philadelphia, and who were her siblings? The former First Lady responded with a brief account of her early history: birth, parents, education, first and second marriages. But it was very slight information indeed, and despite repeated requests and promises, Dolley sent her biographer little more.

There were, of course, practical reasons for her reserve. She was busy caring for her increasingly ill husband and shouldering the burdens of housekeeping as well as receiving streams of visitors. Indeed, she explained to Smith that she would have to “plead also my constant engagements of different sorts at home.” But her reasons may have been both more complicated and more typical of her generation than her preoccupations as a housewife might indicate. Biographers during the Early Republic strove to proclaim America’s virtue and glory to their fellow Americans and to the world; they wanted to instill the values they saw in the founding fathers in the nation as a whole. In this environment the public side of great personages was important, but not their private lives. Public figures, including James Madison, destroyed their personal correspondence, and many of Dolley’s surviving letters instruct their recipients to burn them. As one contemporary biographer wrote, “Private character is much more an object of individual curiosity, than of general interest, or public importance. A representative of it may amuse and entertain; but it is rarely calculated to improve.” Thus Dolley told her niece Mary Cutts that she could not give Smith “anything of importance in my own Eyes,” adding that she found “egotism . . . so repugnant to my nature that I shrink from recording my own feelings, acts or doings.”

And yet while Dolley Madison stonewalled her biographer, she was careful to provide her with one particular letter. She wanted Smith to have the letter she had mailed her sister in August 1814 describing her own heroic actions during the British attack on Washington. She was insistent that Smith receive it, telling her nieces, “If you have lost it or omitted to give it to her, it will be much to my injury.” As a result, what stands out most in Smith’s short biography of Dolley is that single letter. The rest of the sketch Smith wrote largely from her own memory. She had, after all, resided in Washington since the beginning of the Jefferson administration and had been good friends with the Madisons for over three decades. She knew what social life was like in the early days of the city and how Dolley had conducted herself as First Lady. She remembered what the president’s mansion had looked like before it was burned, and she had visited Montpelier, the Madison plantation in Orange County, Virginia. Smith included no direct quotations in her work. But she did reprint this one letter.

We may never know the contents of the original letter. Dolley Madison sent Smith only a copy of it, not the original. She wrote Smith that her letters were with her sister Lucy Washington Todd in Kentucky, and that she was “unwilling to have them exposed to the Mail,” but she told Mary Cutts that “the original is nearly torn to bits by the mice” (although she gave no indication how she knew this if the letter was in Kentucky). We might expect that in a moment of such stress she would have written in a more dashed and hurried fashion than usual, and yet there is a more formal quality to this letter as it was printed than is evident in most of her writing. Moreover, there are details included that she would not have needed to tell her sister. And we know that Dolley was not committed to telling Smith the truth, for she had already written in a letter that she had been born in North Carolina “whilst my Parents were there on a visit of one year to an Uncle,” when in truth the Paynes had migrated to a Quaker community in central North Carolina and had remained there for three years before moving back to Virginia. Four years later she would write to an unknown correspondent that her husband had wanted her to read over his letters “and if any letter—or line—or word struck me as being calculated to injure the feelings of any one or wrong themselves that I would withdraw them or it.” As a consequence, she admitted, she had made “slight corrections,” as she felt these were “consonant to his wishes.”

But the letter of August 1814 is about courage and bravery. It is about one woman’s determination to prevail against the enemy and to champion American independence. Americans still carry the image of Dolley Madison saving the icons of the nation. When asked what they know about Dolley Madison, most Americans today recall her stand in Washington against the enemy, her courage, and her rescue of the portrait of the nation’s greatest leader and founding hero, George Washington.

She stamped her own legend. Her reticence, while appropriate for a woman of her time and station, served more than one purpose. Again and again she instructed her correspondents to burn her letters. She knowingly and carefully protected her personal and inner life. And she was careful about her public face.


Major sources are letters in this digital edition, especially: DPM to Margaret Bayard Smith, 31 Aug. 1834; DPM to Smith, 17 Jan. 1835, DPM to Mary E. E. Cutts, 2 Dec. 1834; DPM to Mary E. E. Cutts and Dolley P. Madison Cutts, 2 Jan. 1836; DPM to Mary E. E. Cutts, October 1834. For the National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, Herring and Longacre commissioned essays from among a wide range of their contemporaries. On September 11, 1834, Smith’s husband, Samuel Harrison Smith, in a short note to JM mentioned “transmitting the enclosed letter for Mrs. Madison” (DLC). Although DPM did not preserve this correspondence, we can presume that Margaret Bayard Smith was asking for more materials, as she may also have done indirectly through Mary and Dolley Cutts. For biography in the Early Republic, see Scott E. Casper, “Constructing” American Lives: Biography and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill, NC, 1999).

The Madison Family

James Madison had six siblings who survived to adulthood: Francis Madison (1753–1800), Ambrose Madison (1755–1793), Nelly Conway Madison Hite (1760–1802), William Madison (1762–1843), Sarah Catlett Madison Macon (1764–1843), and Francis Taylor Madison Rose (1774–1823). Of these, only two were still alive in 1836: William Madison and Sarah Macon. What follows is a description of the family genealogy.1

1. Francis Madison and his descendants

Francis Madison (1753–1800) married Susannah Bell Madison (1750/1757–1834) in 1772. Francis was two years younger than James. Ralph Ketcham describes him as “a shadowy figure almost never mentioned in family correspondence.” His wife, Susannah Bell, was a local woman and they lived on a farm not far from Montpelier.2 Their children:

James Francis Madison (1775/1779–1827/1830). He remained in Madison County, living on the family estate, Prospect Hill. He possibly committed suicide.

William Madison (ca. 1778–ca. 1850/1860). He remained in central Virginia and by 1850 seems to have moved in with his sister (Catherine [Kitty] Bell Madison Taliaferro) and her husband (Dr. Alexander Spotswood).

Elizabeth Conway Madison Shepherd (ca. 1780–1850). In 1798 she married Alexander Shepherd. In 1836 she was widowed and living in Culpeper, Virginia. Her children:

Susan M. Shepherd

James Francis Madison Shepherd. He was known as Madison Shepherd and we know that he attended college.3

Nelly Madison Wood (ca. 1784–1819). She married William Wood and moved around 1816 to Petersburg, Virginia, where she died in 1819. The couple had four children.

Margaret Wood Tappan (d. 1836). She moved to Tennessee and in 1832 married Benjamin Swett Tappan, a merchant and businessman originally from Massachusetts.

Elizabeth Wood (d. 1829). She died in Petersburg, Virginia, in 1829.

Susan M. Wood Porter (d. before 1836). She married a local man, George C. Porter, in 1825 in Orange County, Virginia.

Joseph Wood (died after 1836). He moved with his family to Tennessee.

Mary (Polly) Conway Bell Madison Smith (1786?–1835). In 1804 she married William Haslett Smith, a Baltimore merchant who moved to Virginia. She died before 1836, leaving two children:

Walton Smith who moved to Mississippi.

Mary (Nancy) Conway Bell Smith Buck. She married John Buck in 1831, and seems to have moved with him to Fredericksburg, Virginia. He died in 1851 and she some time after that.

Catlett Madison (1786/1790–1850/1860): A small farmer, he was born, lived, and died in Madison County, Virginia. He married to Winifred (Winny) Sydnor Routt in 1807. They seem to have remained childless.

(Reuben) Conway Madison (1786/90–1835), known as Conway. He married Winna(?) in 1807 and their children included Mary, Francis, James, William, Eugenia, and Elizabeth. In 1837 Winna, now a widow, was living in Fulton County, Illinois. In the list of payments to nieces and nephews all but William are listed with Winna as their legal guardian. Despite John Payne Todd’s testimony of 3 May 1837, numbering William among the living, William was not included with the other descendents of Conway and Winna in the Decree of 5 May 1838.

Frances (Fannie) T. Madison Shepherd (ca. 1792–1866). She married James Thompson Shepherd (d. 1868) of Madison County, Virginia, in 1831. He ran a tavern for Paul Verdier and was a farmer. Their children:

Walton Francis Shepherd (1835–1891). Named after his father’s first wife (with whom James Thompson Shepherd had three children), Walton may have been a farm manager. He married Sallie Twyman around 1868.

Catherine (Kitty) Bell Madison Taliaferro (1791–1869). She married Dr. Alexander Spotswood Taliaferro in 1835. The couple lived in Madison County, residing at her father’s plantation, Prospect Hill (later called Greenway). They appear not to have had children, although Dr. Taliaferro had children from a previous marriage.

2. Ambrose Madison and his descendents

Ambrose Madison (1755–1793). He was James Sr.’s third son, and of all of James Jr.’s brothers the one who was the closest, a “congenial, and valued colleague.” 4 Ambrose was a planter who helped care for Montpelier and ran his own farm called Woodley. He married Mary Willis Lee (1757–1798) in 1780, and died of yellow fever, contracted in Richmond, Virginia, in 1793, the same year Dolley’s first husband died. He was a major in the state militia. Ambrose and Mary had only one child who survived to adulthood:

Nelly Conway Madison Willis (1780–1862). She was James’s favorite niece and his ward until she reached her majority. In 1804 she married Dr. John Willis (1774–1811). She prospered: in the 1820 census she is listed as having eighty-five slaves, and twenty years later had forty-four. By 1850 she apparently lived at least part time with her son John Willis.5 Nelly Willis had two children:

Mary Lee Willis Lee (1806–1836). In 1820 she married Orange County planter and state politician John Hancock Lee (1803–1873).

John Willis (1809/10–1885). He became an Orange County planter, and remained resident in the county until he died. He married his cousin, Lucy Taliaferro Madison, in 1839. One of their daughters, Claudia Marshall Willis, married the Orange County historian William Wallace Scott. He married his cousin, Lucy Taliaferro Madison.

3. Nelly Conway Madison Hite and her descendents

Nelly Conway Madison Hite (1760–1802) was the oldest girl and oldest sister in James Madison’s family. She married Isaac Hite (1758–1836), a successful planter in the Shenandoah Valley, in 1783. Nelly Hite had three children who lived to adulthood:

Nelly Conway Hite Baldwin (1789–1830). In 1809 she married Dr. Cornelius Baldwin (1791–1849). She gave birth to seven children who survived to adulthood.

Eleanor Conway Baldwin Davison (1810–1849). She married Edward Jaquelin Davison (d. ca. 1849) from Winchester, Virginia, in 1835. They had moved to Jefferson City, Missouri, by 1845.

Mary Briscoe Baldwin (1811–1877). She never married, but instead became a teacher and a missionary. In 1836 she was in Greece. In 1869 she moved to Palestine.

Isaac Hite Baldwin (1813–1882). He married Mary E. Keckley in 1847. He became a doctor in the U.S. Army and then retired to Frederick County, Virginia.

Ann Maury Baldwin Hay (ca. 1819–1899). In 1844 she married Isaac Hite Hay. After she was widowed she went first to Missouri to live with her sister Eleanor, and after Eleanor died, she moved to Palestine to live with her sister Mary.

James Madison Baldwin (b. ca. 1821)

Cornelius Baldwin (ca. 1823–1836). He died before James Madison.

Robert Stuart Baldwin (1824–1898). He married Letitia Jane Speck in 1846/7. He trained as a doctor at the University of Virginia. He became a surgeon in the Confederate Army. By 1883 he had moved to Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

Frances Madison Hite Ransom (b. 1790). She married James Lackland Ransom and the couple lived in Jefferson County, [West] Virginia. In the 1860 U.S. census James is listed with $64,000 of real estate and $14,500 in his personal estate. He does not appear in the 1870 census, although one article lists James L. Ransom as an absentee owner in Jefferson County in 1830.6 The family appears nowhere in Madison v. Madison or on any of Dolley’s lists of Madison family members. The couple had children:

Georgiana Hite Ransom Washington (ca. 1822–1860). She was born in Jefferson County, Virginia and was educated at the Sisters of the Visitation of Georgetown in Washington, D.C. In 1845 she married Benjamin Franklin Washington (d. 1872) and moved to San Francisco.

Sarah Elizabeth Bibb Ransom Botts. She was born in Jefferson County, Virginia, and in 1851 married Lawson Botts. One of several lawyers appointed as John Brown’s defense counsel in 1859, he became a Confederate officer with the 2nd Virginia Infantry Regiment under Stonewall Jackson, dying after being wounded in action in 1862.

James Madison Hite, Sr. (1793–1860). He graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1814. In 1815 he married Caroline Matilda Irvine. In 1836 he was living in Frederick County, Virginia. Their children:

Isaac Irvine Hite (b. 1820). Isaac Irvine Hite was the son of James Madison Hite and Caroline Matilda Irvine Hite, and the grandson of Nelly Conway Madison Hite and Isaac Hite. In 1838 he married Susan Burwell Meade, daughter of Col. Richard Kidder Meade and Rebecca Green Meade, with whom he had six children, three of whom lived to adulthood. He later married Ann Maria Hopkins Cutler, daughter of Dr. Arthur Hopkins, with whom he had no children.

Caroline Matilda Hite Baker (b. 1822). Caroline Matilda Hite was the daughter of James Madison Hite and Caroline Matilda Irvine Hite and the granddaughter of Isaac Hite, Jr. and Nellie Conway Madison. She attended the Female Seminary in Georgetown in 1838 and while there enjoyed a close relationship with Dolley. Caroline Hite married Maj. Alexander Baker on 27 August 1839.

James Madison Hite, Jr. (b. ca. 1824). Married Harriet Greene Meade, daughter of Col. Richard Kidder Meade.

Ann Elizabeth Hite Skinker (b. ca 1831–1912). The daughter of James Madison and Caroline Matilda Irvine Hite, she married Thomas Julian Skinker Sr. in 1848.

4. General William Madison and his descendents

General William Madison (1762–1843) was James Madison’s youngest brother. He engaged in local politics and was a planter, although after the end of the Napoleonic Wars his farm did not do well. In 1783 he married Frances Throckmorton (1765–1832). He outlived his first wife and all but two of his legitimate children. He fathered one illegitimate child, John (Jack) R. Madison (ca. 1815–ca. 1848). William married John’s mother, Nancy Jarrell, in 1834. He and Frances had children:

Rebecca Conway Madison Chapman (1785–1861). She married Reynolds Chapman, clerk of the Orange County Court House, in 1802, and was one of only two of William’s children still alive when JM died. The couple lived in a large, comfortable, house called Berry Hill close to town. At some point after her husband died in 1844, Rebecca moved into a boarding house or hotel owned by Elizabeth Strother Hansbrough in Orange. She had six children:

William Madison Chapman (d. 1846). He never married.

Judge John Madison Chapman (1810–1879). He was a lawyer who lived in Orange. In 1852 he temporarily moved to Washington, D.C., but by 1874 he was the Mayor of the town of Orange. After the Civil War he became Judge of the 11th Judicial district of Virginia. He married Susan Digges Cole in 1841.

Jane Madison Chapman Slaughter (ca. 1806–ca. 1853). She married Thomas Towles Slaughter.

James Alfred Chapman (1813–1876). He married Mary Edmonds McKinney in 1837.

Mary Ella Chapman Myers (1819–1847). She married Moses Myers II in 1847 and died in childbirth.

Richard Conway Chapman (1819–1881). He was listed in the 1850 census as living in a boardinghouse run by Elizabeth Hansbrough in the town of Orange and employed as a lawyer. He seems to have died in 1881, still a bachelor.

John Madison (1787–1809). He attended the Charles Town Academy in what is now West Virginia. While there he corresponded with JM on his studies. John died from tuberculosis.

William (Billy) F. Madison (1789–1812). He died from tuberculosis. He was appointed midshipman in 1809, but wrote JM in March of 1810 that at the urging of his father he wanted to leave the navy and obtain a commission in the army. William Madison Sr., Billy’s father, wrote to Congressman John Dawson to obtain the post. On 24 May 1812 Reynolds Chapman told JM that Billy was “worn down to a mere skeleton”.

Alfred Madison (1791–1811). He attended the College of William and Mary and corresponded with JM about his studies. Falling ill there of tuberculosis, he was sent to Philadelphia by JM to be treated by doctors Benjamin Rush and Philip Syng Physic, but the disease proved fatal. He was engaged to Caroline Homassel before he died.

Robert Lewis Madison (1794–1828). He stayed with DPM and JM in the Executive Mansion (the White House) over the winter of 1812–13, and the Madisons provided at least some financial support for Robert to attend Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Robert married Eliza Strachan in 1816 and went on to represent Madison County in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1821 to 1823. After that he considered moving to eastern Florida, perhaps because his cousin, Edgar Macon, was already there. He stayed in Virginia, however, and died two years later from tuberculosis. His wife remained in Orange County for a while, but moved back to her hometown of Petersburg, where she died in 1837. JM stipulated in his will that there would be money to support Robert and Eliza’s sons’ education. Their children:

Thomas Cooper Madison (1817–1866). He trained at the University of Virginia between 1833 and 1836, entered the medical corps in 1840, and served in the Mexican War. He resigned from the corps at the start of the Civil War and served in the Confederate army as a surgeon. He died in St. Louis, Missouri. He married Laura Reade.

William Alexander Madison (ca. 1818–1849). He married Elisabeth Rebecca Stockdell (1820–1906) in 1841, and died in New Orleans.

Robert Lewis Madison (1828–1878). He attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, becoming a doctor in 1851. By the end of the decade he had moved on to the faculty of the Virginia Military Academy (VMI) at Lexington, Virginia, where he was Stonewall Jackson's physician. Robert L. served the Confederate army throughout the Civil War—including a period stationed in Orange County—and eventually returned to VMI, where he was one of Robert E. Lee's attending physicians in the general's last years. At the end of his life he moved to Thomasville, Georgia, for his health, and died there. He was married twice, first in 1853 to Letitia Lee (1829–1857) of Orange County and then in 1860 to Helen Bannister (1828–1889).

Ambrose Madison (1796–1855). Known as Major Ambrose Madison, he married Jane Bankhead Willis (1803–1862) in 1819. Ambrose purchased land in Orange County, Virginia, in the 1820s and 1830s, creating a plantation he called Cleveland. In 1843 he inherited his father's estate, Woodberry Forest in Madison County, to which he and his family moved. In that same year and again in 1844, he was appointed sheriff of Orange County. Their children:

Lucy Taliaferro Madison Willis (1820–1868). She married her cousin, Col. John Willis, in 1839. Their estate was known as Rockwood, and they lived there after 1848 until 1860, when they moved to a new mansion named Mayhurst. One of their daughters, Claudia Marshall Willis, married the Orange County historian William Wallace Scott.

Mary Frances Madison Marye (1822–1856). In 1843 she married Col. Robert Burton Marye (1819–1881), a local lawyer and farmer, and settled on his plantation located where the glebe for St. Thomas’ Parish had been before the Revolution.

William Willis Madison (1826–1888). He was a farmer in Orange County, Virginia, until 1859 when he sold his plantation and relocated to Texas. He married Roberta Willis Taliaferro, who died shortly after their move to the Southwest. He died in Shreveport, Louisiana.

James Ambrose Madison (1828–1901). A doctor and farmer, he was trained at the University of Virginia and the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He lived in Orange County, Virginia. He was married first to Lucy Maria Hiden in 1850 (1830–1886), and then in 1893 to Frances Branch Willis (1842–1899).

Eliza Lewis Madison Taliaferro (1834–1886). In 1854 she married Col. Thomas Dorsey Taliaferro, who attended Virginia Military Institute and became a colonel in the Confederate Army. She died in Texas thirty-two years later.

Leila Bankhead Madison Dabney (1837–ca. 1894). In 1857 she married Judge William Pope Dabney (1829–1894), who was educated at Hampden Sydney College and studied law at the University of Virginia. He was a farmer, state politician, and judge of the county courts of Powhatan and Cumberland counties. After the start of the Civil War he joined the Fourth Virginia Cavalry. Jane Turner Censer notes in The Reconstruction of White Southern Womanhood, 1865–1895, that after the Civil War, despite Dabney’s career as a lawyer and a judge, the family struggled financially (p. 15).

James Edwin Madison (1798–1821). He studied French, classics, and law at the University of Pennsylvania. JM supported his education. James Edwin returned to Madison County and died at Woodberry Forest from tuberculosis. He never married.

Lucy Frances Madison (1800–1828). She died at Woodberry Forest from tuberculosis.

Eliza Madison Willis (1802–1824). She married Lewis Willis in 1819. She lived and died in Virginia.

Letitia Madison Slaughter (1806–1828). She married Daniel French Slaughter in 1825 and three years later died from tuberculosis at her home in Orange County, Virginia. Her children:

General James Edwin Slaughter (1827–1901). He was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, attended the Virginia Military Academy in Lexington, Virginia, and served in the U.S. Army from 1847 to 1861, including action in the Mexican-American War. With the outbreak of the Civil War James was dismissed from the Union army, and he joined the Confederate service. Appointed first lieutenant of artillery in the Confederate army, Slaughter served under General P. G. T. Beauregard in Alabama and Florida, becoming himself a brigadier general in 1862. He served on the staff of General Braxton Bragg in Mississippi and Alabama. In 1863 he went to Texas as General John Bankhead Magruder's chief of artillery, remaining there until the end of the war, at which point he moved to Mexico, where he stayed for several years. After returning to work in Mobile, Alabama, he moved to New Orleans. He died on 1 January 1901 while visiting Mexico City, and was buried there. He never married.

Major Philip Madison Slaughter (d.1894). He was a civil engineer and lawyer. A major in the Confederate army, he served with the “Louisiana Tigers” regiment from New Orleans.7 After the war he worked for the U.S. government as a civil engineer in Georgia, Alabama and Florida. He married Mary C. Luzenburg.

5. Sarah Catlett Madison Macon and her descendants

James Madison’s sister Sarah Catlett Madison (1764–1843) married Thomas Macon (1765–1838) in 1790. They were planters, residing not far from Montpelier in an area of Orange County still known as Somerset. By 1820 they had three thousand acres and over sixty slaves. Thomas Macon, however, appears to have died intestate and in debt. Their children:

James Hartwell Madison Macon (1791–ca.1877). An Orange County farmer, he married a member of the Barbour family, Lucetta Todd Newman (1799–1878). Their children:

Thomas Newman Macon (1816–1899). He lived all his life in Orange County. He never married.

Lucy Conwayella Macon Knox (1819–1872). She married Dr. John Knox (1817–1889) of Richmond, Virginia.

Sara Frances Macon Goss Hill (1824–aft. 1885). Married twice, first to John Goss of Athens, Georgia in 1853 and second to Thomas Hill of Culpeper, Virginia.

Edgar Barbour Macon (1830–1923). Married Virginia A. Caison (1833–1905) and moved to Virginia Beach. He joined the Confederate army and served under General Mahone. After the war he taught school and went into politics.

James Madison Macon, Jr. (ca. 1833– aft.1885). Married Emma Riley in 1865 and lived in Richmond, Virginia.

Reuben Conway Madison Macon (1838–1827). Married Emma Cassandra Riely (1847–1942) from Frederick County, Virginia, in 1865. He became a civil engineer and worked for the railroad until he enlisted in the Confederate army. After the war he returned to Orange and became a farmer and realtor and member of the local elite.8

Conway Catlett Macon (1792–1860). He remained for many years in Orange County, Virginia, serving at least one term as sheriff. Eventually he moved to Richmond, Virginia. He married Agnes Mayo (1796–1869). Their children:

Sarah Elizabeth Macon (1816–1831).

Ellen Ann Macon Cave (ca 1824–1875). She married Felix H. Cave, the son of Richard Cave who lived on an estate called Montebello, two miles north of the town of Orange in Orange County, Virginia. He moved to Richmond where he became a merchant, and Ellen Ann Macon Cave died there.

Edgar Macon (1827–1861). He was born in Orange County, attended Virginia Military Academy, and became a merchant in Richmond. He died in the First Battle of Manassas. He married Jane Macon.

Lucy Conway Macon Washington (1834–1887). She married Wallace Washington (1834–1894) in 1864 and lived in Richmond, Virginia.

Josephine Macon Smith (b. 1836).

Mary Roberta Macon (1838–1847). She died at Greenwood in Orange County, Virginia, while living with her aunt Lucy Hartwell Macon Conway.

Lucy Hartwell Macon Conway (1794–1871). She married a cousin, Reuben Conway (1788–1838), in 1811 and lived at Greenwood, a plantation in Orange County. They had no children.

William Ambrose Macon (1797–1856). He never married. In 1853, like his brothers Henry and Reuben Conway, he moved in with his widowed sister Lucy.

Edgar Macon (1801–1829). He attended Princeton as a young man and while at college he corresponded with JM about his studies. He read law with James Barbour. Barbour, and perhaps JM, supported Edgar’s ambition to go into public life. In 1822 Monroe appointed Edgar to the legislative council of the Florida Territory, and a year later as U.S. district attorney for the eastern district of Florida. In 1827 he purchased the local newspaper printing plant, and started the Florida Advocate. He died two years later.

Henry Macon (1805–1853). He never married, and like his brothers William Ambrose and Reuben moved in with his widowed sister Lucy.

Reuben Conway Macon (1808–1853). He never married, and like his brothers William Ambrose and Henry moved in with his widowed sister Lucy. In his will he freed his slaves and stipulated that the proceeds of his estate should go toward the transport of his slaves to Liberia, but there is no indication that any of his slaves did, in fact, emigrate.

6. Frances Taylor Madison Rose and her family

Frances Taylor Madison Rose (1774–1823). Fanny Rose was the youngest of all of JM’s siblings, his junior by twenty-three years. She married a doctor, Robert Henry Rose. They lived in Orange County until 1822 when they relocated to Alabama. The Roses were very unhappy about the settlement of JM Sr.’s will.

Hugh Francis Rose (1801–1856). He moved with his parents to Alabama and then to Tipton County, Tennessee. He became a physician. He married Emma Taliaferro Newman, daughter of Captain Francis Newman. Their children:

Ellen Conway Rose Jones (b. ca. 1831). She married Richard James Jones in 1850 in Tipton County, TN. By 1880 they were in Memphis. She was still living, widowed, in 1910.

Octavia Rose (b. ca. 1835).

Ann Fitzhugh Rose Bell (b. ca. 1835)

Frances Madison Rose (b. ca. 1833)

Eliza Camilla Rose Rogers (b. ca. 1834). She married Henry A. Rogers. By 1880 she seems to have moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Emma Newman Rose Moore (b. ca. 1838). She married T. A. Moore.

Hugh Francis Rose, Jr. (b. ca. 1840). He married Margaret Ellen Rose Rose.

Robert Rose (b. ca. 1842).

Samuel Patrick Rose (ca. 1844–1893). He was born in Tipton County, Tennessee. He joined the Confederate army. After the war he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he became a lawyer. In 1868 he moved to Covington, Tennessee, where he practiced law and edited a newspaper and served for one year as mayor. In 1872 he returned to Memphis and continued as a lawyer. In 1873 he moved to Denver, Colorado, and practiced law.

Ambrose James Rose (1802–1837). He moved with his family to Alabama and seems to have stayed there until the 1830s, when he resettled in Lowndes County, Michigan. He married Elizabeth Kelly. By 1830 they seem to have been living in Pickens County, Alabama. Their children:

Frances T. Rose Winston (b. 1829). She married William Winston.

Jane N. Rose (b. 1833).

Nelly Conway Rose Newman (ca. 1803–ca. 1830). She married Captain John Francis Newman in 1824. They seem to have moved to Mississippi.

Edward Woodyear Newman

Hollis Fryer Newman (male)

Ellen Rose Newman Wheelock (ca. 1830–1869). In 1850 she married John Ambrose Wheelock (d. ca. 1866) in Tipton, Tennessee. He was an Episcopal minister.

Mary Frances Newman Rose. She married James Rose.

Henry Rose (1804–aft. 1860). He married Sarah J. Smith (b. ca. 1822) from Rushville, Illinois. He was a merchant in Tipton County, Tennessee, in 1860.

Robert Henry Rose (b. 1843)

Samuel Jordan Rose (b. ca 1846. He lived in Macon, Tennnessee.

Margaret Ellen Rose (b ca. 1848). She married her cousin, Hugh Frances Rose Jr.

Nancy T. Rose Belle McCarty (b. ca. 1850), She was married twice, first to a man named Belle, and second to a man named McCarty.

Samuel Jordan Rose (1805–1868). He lived in Randolph County, Tennessee, and married Prudence W. Jones in 1839. Their child:

John R. Rose (b. 1844).

Later he married Dorothy Ann W. Rose, the sister of his first wife, in 1847, still in Tennessee. Their children:

Martha W. Rose (b. ca. 1849)

Bronson Baylis Rose (b. ca. 1851). He moved to Texas and was married to Alice T. Lytle.

Maria Jones Rose.

Polly Ward Rose Hall. She married a man named John G. Hall.

Robert Henry Rose (ca. 1806–after 1858). He married Nancy Campbell White in 1840. The family lived in Schuyler County, Illinois, and their children seem to have remained there. Their children:

Mary Rose (b. ca. 1842)

Susanna T. Rose (b. ca. 1843). She married Edwin H. Stewart in 1864.

Robert Madison Rose (b. 1846). He married Emily Catherine Noble.

Frances H. T. Rose (b. ca. 1849). She married Orlando Manlove in 1877.

Sarah Anna Rose (b. ca. 1856). She married Samuel Prentiss in 1878.

Carrie May Rose (b. ca. 1858). She married James H. Alpin.

Erasmus Taylor Rose (1808–1874). A doctor, he moved with his family to Tennessee and died in Memphis. He married Mary Louise Rose (daughter of John Nicholas Rose). Their children:

Mary Ella Rose (ca. 1846–after 1874).

John Nicholas Rose (b. ca. 1849).

Hugh James Rose (b. ca. 1851).

Robert Rose (b. ca. 1853). Married Matilda W. Christian.

Henry Rose

Frances M. Rose (b. ca. 1815). She died unmarried.

James Madison Rose (ca. 1815–1836). He died at the Alamo fighting for Texas.


[1] Unless otherwise noted, information in this genealogical essay is from Thomas Chapman, “Descendants of Ambrose Madison, the Grandfather of President James Madison, Jr.,” The Montpelier Foundation (2006); Ann Miller, Antebellum Orange (Orange, VA, 1998); J. Randolph Grymes, Jr., The Fanny Hume Diary of 1862: A Year in Wartime Orange, Virginia (Orange, VA, 1994); W. W. Scott, A History of Orange County, Virginia (Baltimore, 1974); and the many online genealogical resources now available, including Ancestry.com; the National Genealogical Society’s National Intelligencer marriage and death abstracts; FamilySearch.org; and others indexed at Cyndy’s List.
[2] Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (Charlottesville, VA, 1995), 370.
[3] See Dolley Payne Todd Madison to Lucy Hartwell Macon Conway, 2 February 1839.
[4] Ketcham, James Madison, 370.
[5] J. Randolph Grymes, Jr., The Fanny Hume Diary of 1862: A Year in Wartime Orange, Virginia (Orange, VA, 1994), 35 n. 21.
[6] Department of Research of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, “Absentee Ownership of Slaves in the United States in 1830,” The Journal of Negro History 9:2 (1924): 228.
[7] Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, vol. 5 (New York, 1915), 804
[8] Ibid., 895.

Dolley Madison’s Land Sales, 1836–1840

From the late 1810s onward, James and Dolley Madison, along with most of their neighbors and fellow Virginians, experienced economic setbacks. The Panic of 1819 hit Virginia hard, as soaring demand and increased agricultural production gave way to diminishing prices and glutted markets after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars. Credit tightened and the price of land fell. In the 1820s Virginia agriculture experienced a series of bad tobacco and wheat harvests. As Dolley wrote her son John Payne Todd on 20 July 1832, she would rather work for a salary “than depend on a plantation for pin money.” Neighbors and relatives in search of greater opportunities, like James’s sister Fanny and brother-in-law Robert Rose, migrated to virgin land farther south and west. The Madisons became land rich and cash poor, especially as they were now without the government salary James had earned in the early decades of the century. James managed the estate well, but as he wrote Thomas Jefferson on 24 February 1826, even with careful management they were “living very much throughout on borrowed means” (quoted in Mattern and Shulman, 219).

James resisted selling his slaves—the easiest and most valuable cash crop of the period. As he wrote Edward Coles in 1834, “I have in order to avoid the sale of Negroes sold land till the residue will not support them” (3 October 1834, Princeton University Library, Edward Coles Papers). What was left was land with little value, and a plantation owner with no credit. He sold what he could and managed with great care. In one of his last letters to Thomas Jefferson, James wrote, “Since my return to private life (and the case was worse during my absence in Public) such have been the unkind seasons, and ravages of insects, that I have made but one tolerable crop of Tobacco, and but one of Wheat, the proceeds of both of which were greatly curtailed by mishaps in the sale of them.” And so, he continued, “having no resources but in the earth I cultivate, I have been living very much throughout on borrowed means” (24 February 1826, in James Morton Smith, ed., The Republic of Letters, vol. 3 [New York, 1995], 1967). During the last ten years of his life, James disposed of half a dozen tracts of land, totaling some 1,500 acres. With the exception of one tract across the Rapidan River in Madison County and some acreage in Kentucky, the land was in Orange County. But James sold only land that was outside of the central Montpelier plantation core; he kept the family farm intact.

And then there was John Payne Todd. Dolley’s son was an alcoholic and a gambler who had turned spending money into a highly developed art. During the 1820s and 1830s, Todd wandered between Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and Montpelier, leaving a trail of debt in his wake. When Todd was away, James and especially Dolley worried endlessly about him and the debt he was accumulating. As James wrote Todd on 15 February 1826, “It is impossible as you must know to account for a conduct so extraordinary without the most painful suppositions” (DPM3204). James spent about $40,000 paying off his stepson’s debts, the equivalent of which in today’s currency is over $90 million. How much of the Madisons’ financial woes were due to Todd’s profligacy is impossible to calculate, but his impact on their finances is critical to remember.

Once widowed, however, Dolley's first transaction was not a sale but an acquisition. By a deed dated 23 July 1836, Dolley paid her brother and sister-in-law, John Coles and Clara Wilcox Payne, $4,000 to purchase the 240-acre farm that James had left in his will to John C. Payne. The parcel was located immediately southwest of the main Montpelier tract, and was probably a portion of “Sawney’s,” the 560-acre tract that James Sr. deeded his son in 1784, locally known by the name of its former enslaved overseer. (The parcel was also known as “Edmondson’s” or “Emmerson’s,” and in some deeds appears by those names.)

John Coles Payne had decided to move his family to Illinois. He wanted to quit the trials of being a middling white man in the slave South. “I am tempted to ask the use of a slight sketch,” he wrote his cousin Edward Coles on 28 February 1837, “from your tried charts, of the portions you are best acquainted with north of the dividing line which separates the descendants of Europe & of Africa.” He wanted to remove himself from competition with slave labor. “I, and mine, having no interest in the latter, and dependant on our personal exertions for support & advancement, it would be useless to extend research beyond that line, as we are indisposed to compete with them in physical labour productive of no higher reward than theirs” (DPM3035). Dolley did not write down her reactions to her brother’s decision to move to the northwest. She was quite ill during the period and wrote very little. But she had taken care of her brother since his return from North Africa in 1812, and she would have felt it was her duty to purchase their land and help them however she could.

Dolley must have borrowed the money for this purchase, for two weeks later she placed a deed of trust on 600 acres of the Montpelier tract to secure a $4,000 debt to her neighbor James B. Newman. Dolley continued to divest portions of the Madison land. She initially dealt with parcels that adjoined Montpelier, but over the years she included acreage from the core plantation itself. Between July 1836 and April 1840, Dolley was partner to twelve conveyances of land from Montpelier and the immediate surroundings. These transfers mirror the decline of her finances.

In mid-November of 1836, Dolley sold two more tracts of land, both portions of the “Winslow” tract located just northwest of the main Montpelier tract. In 1790, James Sr. had purchased 560 acres from Harry Winslow; James Jr. had later sold off a 200-acre portion of it. This time a neighboring landowner, Reuben Newman Sr., purchased 50½ acres for $606 and William Smith paid $1,474 for the adjoining 184 acres.

On 15 February 1837, Dolley gave her power of attorney to John Payne Todd “to ask, demand, sue for, recover and receive of & from all the several debtors of the late James Madison all such sum or sums of money debts and demands whatsoever which are now owing unto the Estate of the late James Madison” (DPM0988). Although limited in scope, this power of attorney clearly marked a critical change in her son’s legal involvement in Montpelier and in the relationship between mother and son. By the 1820s James had become painfully aware of his stepson’s profligate tendencies. In his will James bequeathed his stepson only a few personal mementoes. James carefully willed neither land nor money to John Payne Todd. Whatever her reservations may have been, Dolley could not say no to Todd. Widowhood thus changed Dolley’s relationship to her son, and that in turn had important consequences for how the widow Dolley dealt with her estate.

In 1838 Dolley began to deed land to Todd. In November, for the considerations of “natural love and affection” and $1 for each transaction, she deeded Todd first her life interest in the plantation mill seat and then 400 acres, the residue of “Sawney’s.” In March of 1839 Todd turned around and sold 41 acres of the old “Sawney’s” (or “Edmondson’s”) tract to James Newman for $574. A year later, in March 1840, Todd placed a deed of trust on the 360-acre residue of the tract to secure a $3,000 debt he owed to a Michael Reese (also spelled Rees).

Dolley continued to sell land to her neighbors. In July 1838 she conveyed 201 acres of the former Payne property to James B. Newman for $2,814. In June of the following year, Dolley sold Reuben Newman an 18-acre portion of Montpelier located at the extreme northwest corner of the estate for $378.75. This sale marked the first outright conveyance of land that was not simply Madison property, but part of Montpelier. Dolley was now eating into the beloved Madison estate. In December 1839, to secure a note for $5,000 endorsed by one of James’s nephews, Ambrose Madison, she placed a deed of trust on the entire Montpelier parcel. An attached note indicated that in case of default, “in the event of its being necessary to make a sale of the land as will be sufficient to raise the money,” the piece would be laid off on the southwestern corner and line, or any other part “where Mrs. D. P. Madison may wish it laid off.” A note in the margin states that the original deed was delivered to Ambrose Madison on 17 December 1842, thus suggesting that a default had occurred. This may have been a factor in the subsequent sale of the property.

In April 1840 Dolley deeded yet another parcel to her son Todd. For the considerations of family and $1, Dolley deeded him 200 acres at the southeastern corner “where she now resides,” Montpelier. The stage was now set for the disposition of the entire Montpelier estate. It would pass out of the family within the next few years.

—Ann L. Miller

[Ann L. Miller is a consultant to the Papers of Dolley Madison Project. She is the Historian for the Virginia Transportation Research Council, Research Historian for the Orange County (Virginia) Historical Society, and a former consultant historian to Montpelier.]

St. Thomas Church

In February 1838, Dolley Payne Todd Madison pledged fifty dollars to St. Thomas Church, in St. Thomas Parish, Orange County, Virginia, to pay down the debt on a new building erected in 1833–1834. Four years later the church was still in debt, and new subscriptions to pay down the loans were taken. The church vestry wrote out a pledge list on 12 February. That document has been included in The Dolley Madison Digital Edition. Few parish records between 1740 and the Civil War survive, and neither Dolley nor James Madison wrote about their personal or familial relationship with the county Episcopal Church. We therefore include some background.

As long as Virginia remained a colony, the Episcopal Church was part of the Church of England. It was the established church, and all the members of a local parish, that is, the men and women who lived within its geographical boundaries and had enough income to be taxpayers, were taxed to support it, regardless of creed. This public money supported a minister, buildings, and the local social welfare system. During the colonial era each Virginia parish also maintained public transportation, supported tobacco inspectors, and so on.

The American Revolution terminated this relationship. The Church of England was disestablished, and religious freedom proclaimed. Virginia Episcopalians had now to create a new system of self-governance and finance for their faith community. In the end they did so, but the process required nearly half a century, and took its toll on local organized religious life. In 1776 there were one hundred parishes and one hundred and nine ministers in Virginia. During the war seventeen loyalist ministers fled and twenty-eight ministers died. The pipeline for new ministers collapsed as English bishops required new ministers to take an oath of allegiance to the British monarch. As one church historian melodramatically wrote of the years between the Revolution and the Jacksonian era, “One by one the parishes gave up the hopeless struggle and passed into the inanition of seeming death.” Bishop William Meade, a contemporary chronicler as well as a major force for Evangelical Episcopal revival in the state, asserted, “If we except the interval between 1797 and 1800 . . . the [Orange County] parish was without a resident minister from 1774 to 1832.”

What for Meade was a matter of great distress, for James Madison was a sign of social improvement. In a letter to Robert Walsh of 2 March 1819 he wrote, “The old churches built under the establisht. at the public expense; have in many instances gone to ruin . . . owing chiefly to a transition of the flocks to other worships.” Different denominations, he observed, meaning principally Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, “have multiplied & continue to multiply;” but not the Episcopalians. He concluded that, “On a general comparison of the present & former times, the balance is certainly & vastly on the side of the present. . . . It was the universal opinion of the Century preceding the last, that Civil Govt. could not stand without the prop of a Religious establishment.” The Virginia experiment of disestablishment and religious liberty, James proclaimed, now exposed the falsity of that proposition [1].

Following the American Revolution, the Episcopal Church in Virginia “went into a free-fall in the early nineteenth century while competing denominations experienced rapid growth.” Among the many state counties and parishes, the deterioration of the parish of Orange County was among the worst. But over the course of decades, the Virginia Episcopal Church did regain much of its old strength, although now differently structured and increasingly evangelically oriented. The first Virginia Bishop after the Revolution, Bishop James Madison, was a cousin of President James Madison. He died in 1812, having presided over many years of decline. The next bishop was Bishop Richard Channing Moore who was appointed in 1814 and was a leading member of the enthusiastically evangelical wing of the Church. His ascension to the post proclaimed victory for the evangelicals, and they began a campaign to win control over the statewide church governance. The evangelical wing of the church gained power for decades, in part sailing with the wind of the Second Great Awakening.

The building of a new Episcopal Church in Orange must be seen in this context. Between the Revolution and the 1830s, St. Thomas Parish rarely had a resident clergyman. It shared ministers with neighboring counties and made do with lay readers. Community events were more likely to be dances and hunts than revival meetings or formal Sunday worship. In 1832 the Parish finally acquired a new minister, William G. H. Jones. Bishop Meade tells us that Jones arrived in Orange simply on a visit, and that he was then persuaded to stay. Jones was, however, very much a member of the evangelical wing of the church, and for the state leaders there was symbolic importance in bringing James Madison’s parish into the evangelical Episcopal fold. How accidental Jones’s appearance in Orange was, or how random his persuasion to remain, is a question at which we can only guess.

When Jones took over there was left neither a physical church building in Orange, nor a parish vestry, nor were any so-called “chapels of ease” functioning [2]. Jones set about first pulling together a vestry, and second constructing a building. There was an announcement in the local newspaper, the Fredericksburg Herald,on 12 September 1832, proclaiming a “motion” that the following October St. Thomas parish would begin building a new church that would be “40 feet front, 50 length, and 20 pitch, the side wall to be brick, thick, and the gable an walls to be one and a half brick thick; four windows on each side, 10 feet high by 41 feet wide.” [3] The vestry bought one acre of land from James Forbes on 12 July 1833 for $220. The job was completed in 1834 at the cost of about $3,500.

There is no mention of this event in the extant correspondence of either Dolley or James Madison. It is easy to imagine James distancing himself from this new evangelical neighbor. But we should also assume that as leading members of the community the Madisons would have contributed at the highest level from the beginning. In 1838, Dolley, now widowed and suffering economic distress, pledged fifty dollars toward making up the remaining debt on the new Church. Only one other gift matched hers; none surpassed it.


Quotations are from: William M. Clark, ed., Colonial Churches in the Original Colony of Virginia (Richmond, VA., 1908), 45; Bishop [William] Meade, Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia, vol. 2 (Philadelphia, PA, 1900), 93; David B. Mattern, ed., The Papers of James Madison, Retirement Series, vol. 1 (Charlottesville, VA, 2009), 430; Edward L. Bond and Joan R. Gunderson, “The Episcopal Church in Virginia, 1607–2007,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (vol. 115, no. 2): 219; the Fredericksburg Herald, 12 September 1832.


1. What Madison did not add in this letter was that the other Protestant denominations after the disestablishment of the church fought over who would decide what assets now belonged to whom. The local Anglicans saw what they considered their own property being sold off to the point where churches were dismantled for bricks, and the silver was taken for auction. See Edward L. Bond and Joan R. Gunderson, “The Episcopal Church in Virginia, 1607–2007,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (vol. 115, no. 2): 212–19.

2. A “chapel of ease” is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a chapel built for the convenience of parishioners who live far from the parish church” (http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/30560#eid9820441)

3. The motion was signed by Peyton Grymes, Reynolds Chapman, Reuben Conway, Edmund P. Taylor, Garland Ballard, Thomas Scott, and Mann A. Page.

The Franking Privilege

Two days after James Madison died, George Tucker—lawyer, philosopher, writer, and member of the faculty at the University of Virginia—wrote a letter to Henry Clay informing the senator that the former president had just passed away. Toward the end of the letter Tucker asked Clay if it would “be practicable, and if practicable, would it be safe and prudent to extend the franking privilege to Mrs. Madison?” [1] Clay accepted Tucker’s suggestion, and asked one of his colleagues, Senator Benjamin Watkins Leigh of Virginia, to undertake the task, which Leigh did. The bill passed without dissent, [2] and then went to the House, where it was read three times and again unanimously agreed upon [3]. “An Act of Congress grants the franking privilege to Mrs. Madison during her life,” was printed in the newspapers, which at least in the case of the Fayetteville Observer was accompanied by the statement that “this act was introduced by Mr. Leigh, and met with a prompt and unanimous sanction in both houses.” [4] Dolley expressed her appreciation to President Jackson, who had signed it into law in October 1836. Henceforth, the widow Dolley could mail and receive all of her letters and packages for free.

Franking allowed specified individuals simply to write their names on the upper right hand corner of a piece of mail and avoid the postage rate. It covered postage both for mail received and sent. Before the Civil War the ordinary sender might prepay postage—or he might not. If the sender did not do so, then the receiver was required to pay the postage bill in order to take possession of the letter or package, and so on. With franking, congressmen could freely send mail to their constituents, and in turn hear from those living within their district, keeping lines of communication open between government members and citizens. It became an indispensible part of political organization. As a Maine congressman stated in 1844, franking was the current “that animates the organization of both political parties” [5].

The Post Office Act of 1792, which organized the U.S. postal system, stated that members of Congress could send and receive mail and packages. It further specified that “All letters and packets to or from the President or Vice President of the United States; and all letters and packets, not exceeding two ounces in weight, to or from any member of the Senate or House of Representatives, the Secretary of the Senate, or Clerk of the House of Representatives,” could be franked [6].

The cost of a letter to either sender or receiver in the decades before the Civil War was steep, and the privilege of franking significant. In 1792, for example, the cheapest possible rate was six cents postage per letter if that piece of mail weighed less than one ounce and consisted of only one piece of paper, and if that letter had been mailed at a post office and did not need to be transported more than thirty miles. It could cost as much as twenty-five cents to ship a letter 450 miles, and if the sender wanted the postman to pick it up, rather than go himself or herself to the post office, an extra penny was added to the cost. [7] Congress clearly understood the financial burden, and also the temptations of getting your letter mailed by someone who had franking privileges. Because franking, under the Post Office Act of 1792, included subsidizing the cost of sending newspapers through the postal service, it hastened “the rapid growth of the press” in the United States [8]. We might also note that one continuing issue for the post office was whether a national mail system should be a service provided to the American people by its government, or whether it should follow a business model that would require postal charges to cover all expenses. The reader of the DMDE will occasionally see a correspondent indicating that a letter is being hand delivered. This implies that he or she has done so, at least in part, to avoid the cost of the federal mails.

The privilege was, of course, sometimes abused. Congress anticipated this and included in the 1792 legislation the warning that “no person shall frank or enclose any letter or packet, other than his own.” And that if “any person shall counterfeit the hand-writing of any other person, in order to evade the payment of postage; such person or persons, so offending, and being thereof duly convicted, shall forfeit and pay, for every such offence, the sum of one hundred dollars.” By the 1840s there were jokes about congressmen sending home their dirty laundry in a franked parcel. DMDE readers will notice the number of times the word “free” appears at the top of an address included in the DMDE, and the number of relatives and friends who inquired if she would post their mail for them. Delia Tudor Stewart, for example, asked Dolley on 18 January 1842 if the former first lady would “do me the favour to frank the enclosed which the bearer will afterwards take to the Post office.”

As a member of Congress, secretary of state, president, and then former president, James Madison had this right for most of the years between 1789 and his death in 1836. Dolley must have experienced the franking privilege not only as an honor, but as a financial blessing when conducting her private, legal, and social affairs as a widow. In 1841 Congress granted franking privileges to the widow of President William Henry Harrison, the proponents of the bill arguing that Dolley Madison had received the honor. To this day members of Congress have full franking privileges, although the structure, function, and importance of the U.S. mail service has been altered beyond recognition.


1. George Tucker to Henry Clay, 30 June 1836, in Henry Clay, The Private Correspondence of Henry Clay, ed. Calvin Colton (New York, 1856), 406. This George Tucker is not to be confused with his more famous cousin, St. George Tucker. Martha Washington had received franking privileges in 1800. See “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875,” American Memory, “Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789–1793, Thursday, April 3, 1800 (http://memory.loc.gov/).

2. Clay told Dolley in a letter he wrote to her on 18 August 1836 that he, Clay, had proposed this to Leigh.

3. Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 1835–1836, Friday, July 1, 1836, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875” (http://memory.loc.gov/).

4. “An Act of Congress,” Fayetteville (Tennessee) Observer, 21 July 1836.

5. Richard R. John, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Cambridge, MA, 1995), 58.

6. “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774–1875,” American Memory, “Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789-1793, Tuesday, January 10, 1792 (http://memory.loc.gov/).

7. According to the website Measuring Worth, twenty-five cents would today be worth $5.79 according to the Consumer Price Index, but $99.70 using the unskilled wage index. Unskilled wage is “payment (wage rate) per time period for unskilled labor,” which might more closely approximate the way an ordinary free, white, voting, American male would experience that amount of money.

8. John, Spreading the News, 58.

Political Patronage, Dolley Madison, and the Presidency of William Henry Harrison

On 3 March 1841 Philip Hone observed in his diary that Washington had become “an immense animated Whig matter” in which “every hole and corner” was filled. “Thousands have arrived to-day,” he wrote, “and happy is the man who finds ‘where to lay his head.’ ” Washington was preparing for the inauguration of the new president of the United States, General William Henry Harrison, whose election, Hone thought, had both “destroyed and elevated the hopes of hundreds of thousands, and which is destined to effect a change of principles and policy to which the whole world looks with interest” [1]. Two terms of Andrew Jackson, followed by a single term of Martin Van Buren, had given the Democratic party twelve consecutive years in power, and the Whigs were anxious for their turn. They got it in 1840 with Harrison, hero of the War of 1812, governor of the Indiana Territory, senator from Ohio, and minister plenipotentiary to the new nation of Colombia. By January 1841 Dolley had heard the news not only through the newspapers and word of mouth, but also in letters from job seekers.

Dolley had always gotten requests for patronage, especially during the War of 1812 when her husband was president and there were jobs to be handed out in an expanding military effort. Appeals never stopped, although they did taper. For example, as recently as 1839 Sarah Ann Tingey Dulany, daughter of Thomas Tingey, the commandant of the Washington Navy Yard from 1800 to 1829, had asked Dolley to help secure positions in the U.S. Navy for her sons. Dolley had written the secretary of the navy, her old friend James Kirke Paulding, but to no avail. In a period of peace the navy was simply shrinking and such petitions were in vain. [2] A change of tone and tempo came in early 1841 after the nation learned of Harrison’s victory. We do not know how many such letters arrived for Dolley. We have only those that survived and have been recovered. But the type of request changed.

With the Jacksonian years at an end, Whigs were seeking jobs in the new environment of “the spoils system.” The founding presidents had appointed men (white and property owning) to fill the jobs necessary to run and defend the nation. But the government was still quite small, and the impact of the emerging two-party system—as it would become—on political appointments not yet so great. Andrew Jackson had changed the system of job appointments and civil service tenure when he swept out the old guard and replaced them with his own men. By Harrison’s inauguration there were therefore many job seekers who believed that a new Whig administration would address the iniquities of twelve years of Democratic Party rule, and that now they could benefit from this change in power—if only they could find the right door on which to knock and present themselves.

From the moment Harrison arrived in Washington, office seekers besieged him. He reached the city on 9 February, and from that moment wherever he went he was overwhelmed by a storm of men wanting jobs from him: on the streets of the city, at receptions, dinners, assemblies, and soirees. After 4 March, office seekers lined up at the doorways of the White House swamping him with petitions and requests. No matter that Whigs had vowed to end Jacksonian abuses, and that Harrison intended to improve the civil-service system, the torrent went unrestrained. This environment was distinctly different from the early years in Washington, and even from the 1830s. [3]. In 1841 the appeals were for a larger range of jobs, and included those whom the Jacksonians had turned out of office, men such as Richard Cutts and Thomas Lorraine McKinney.

On 25 January, Septimia Randolph Meikleham wrote Dolley from Havana. As the seventh, and youngest, daughter of Martha Jefferson and Thomas Mann Randolph, a woman who had grown up at Monticello, Septimia was well acquainted with the Madisons. In 1836 she had married a Scottish doctor named David Meikleham and moved to Cuba. That January after hearing of Harrison’s election, Septimia wrote Dolley that the Meiklehams were “very anxious to leave this country as it disagrees so entirely with the Dr., our only difficulty is in not being able to carry the Drs. Practice with us, and it would probably take him some time” to reestablish himself. Thus Septimia stated, “I am exceedingly anxious to get him some Office that will support us either till he can resume his practice or till we have laid by enough to settle quietly down some where,” preferably as part of the diplomatic corps [4]. We do not have Dolley’s letter of response—if indeed she wrote one—but she did tell her nephew Richard Dominicus Cutts that she had heard from Septimia “to petition the President elect in favor of Dr. Mickleham for a consulship,” but that she had “shrunk from the commission” [5].

Dolley was, in fact, writing Richard D. in response to his letter asking her to help his father, her brother-in-law Richard Cutts, who had been the second auditor of the U.S. Treasury from 1817 to 1829. Jackson had swept Richard out of office, and Richard had subsequently experienced severe economic difficulties. So Richard D. called on Dolley for her help. But even to Richard D., whom she loved dearly, she wrote that she had “as yet no acquaintance with Genl. Harrison.” Her husband, she said “was attached to the General as one of our bravest and best men, [and] so was I, but, so it happened we were personally strangers” [6] It is improbable that James thought Harrison one of the bravest and finest, but Dolley had written her friend Phoebe Morris in 1812 that “the disgraceful conduct of Hull has been repaired—& the Brave Harrison, will soon finish a contest forced upon us, by every sort of oppression” [7] Her recommendation to Richard D. was that he contact Henry Clay, and that in asking Clay’s favor Richard D. should take the letter Dolley was writing him to Clay to confirm her support of his request.

On 9 March Thomas Lorraine McKenney wrote Dolley asking her help in seeking reappointment to his old position as commissioner of Indian Affairs. Again we do not have Dolley’s response, but it is tempting to read the six lines from the second canto of Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock that she wrote on the verso side of McKenney’s letter in this light, especially the last two lines which state “favours to none, to all she smiles extends, / often she rejects but never once offends” [8]. McKenney did not get his old job; Dolley probably never asked.

Nowhere did Dolley write that this was not the Washington she had left in 1817. But it was not, and in these letters and her responses we therefore witness a change in the American political system. Nor do we see her directly turning her back on pleas for help, but we must assume that she did so. We hear in her comments a discomfort and unease at how to respond. Given her reputation as a channel for patronage during her husband’s administration, it is especially interesting here to listen to those hints in her responses to requests for such favors from the new president.

On 4 April 1841, after only one month in office, William Henry Harrison died. What Harrison might or might not have done for Dolley’s friends and acquaintances we will never know. But this slice of correspondence illuminates the hope that Harrison’s election ignited in the breasts of all Whig office seekers. And it tells us something more about Dolley and her evolving attitude toward patronage [9].


1. Philip Hone, The Diary of Philip Hone, ed. Allan Nevins (New York, 1936), 529.

2. Sarah Ann Tingey Dulany to Dolley Madison, 17 January 1838, and Dolley Madison to Lucy Hartwell Macon Conway, 2 February 1839, DMDE.

3. While West Point was founded in 1802, the U.S. Naval Academy would not begin until 1845. This absence of a naval academy during the period also probably played a role in the continued use of patronage to secure appointments in the U.S. Navy throughout most of Dolley’s life.

4. Septimia Meikleham to Dolley Madison, 25 January 1841, DMDE.

5. Dolley Madison to Richard Dominicus Cutts, 17 February 1841, DMDE.

6. Ibid.

7. Dolley Madison to Phoebe Pemberton Morris, [ca. 17 October 1812], DMDE.

8. Poem in Dolley Madison’s hand, [1841], DMDE.

9. For more on Dolley Madison and her patronage during her husband’s administration, see David B. Mattern and Holly C. Shulman, eds., The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison (Charlottesville, VA, 2003), 97–99.

The Madison Family’s Mills

In the Virginia Piedmont of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, water-powered mills were vital both for the production of food, especially meal and flour, and for processing commodities such as lumber. Before the invention and implementation of the steam engine, these mills were the primary source of power and were the only way heavy equipment could be run other than by brute animal or human force. By the middle of the eighteenth century, wheat—a product that, unlike tobacco, required milling—had become an important part of the Virginia economy, especially in the Piedmont. As late as 1849 Virginia was the fourth largest wheat-growing state in the nation, after Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York. Although corn was ground as well, primarily for local use, it was the production of and trade in wheat that in large measure generated the building of mills in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Virginia, and made the owning and operating of them a profitable investment.

Virginians constructed two categories of water-powered mills. The first and most common type was called a “custom” mill. These were small-to-medium-sized mills made to provide items for their owners’ plantations and/or to supply a small commercial service to the surrounding vicinity. The capacity of these mills was limited, and they were worked on a “custom” basis, grinding small amounts of grain or other materials brought in by local inhabitants. In compensation for this work a percentage was kept for the miller’s or mill owner’s use or resale. The second type of mill was a “merchant” mill, established as a commercial operation. Merchant mills were generally located on major rivers, and they often included milling complexes that offered several types of service, such as grinding grain and sawing lumber.

Like their neighbors, the Madisons grew and sold wheat and constructed and operated mills. Three mills are noted in the Madison family records.[1] The gristmill seat on Madison Run, to the southeast of the main Montpelier plantation, was the oldest of the three, dating back to the 1720s. That mill was rebuilt several times. The sawmill, located at the northwest corner of the main Montpelier plantation, dated from at least the early nineteenth century and provided lumber for the enlargement of the Montpelier mansion, as well as for other plantation and limited commercial needs. The third was a merchant mill that began operation in the late eighteenth century as a partnership among members of the Madison family. It was located about five miles northeast of Montpelier on the Rapidan River.

A Custom Gristmill: The Madison Run Mill

The plantation gristmill was among the earliest mills developed in the vicinity of what would become Montpelier. In 1723 Ambrose Madison, the president’s grandfather, and Ambrose’s brother-in-law, Thomas Chew, patented the tract that would later become the Montpelier plantation, plus some adjoining lands. Ambrose’s portion of the tract lay northwest of the crest of the Southwest Mountains; Chew’s portion lay to the southeast. In 1726 the partners recorded their improvement accounts for the land, in which they cited the several settlements or “quarters” that they had established on the property in order to perfect title.[2] These included Chew’s mill at the southeast corner of the land. As late as the second quarter of the eighteenth century, county records refer to “Chew’s mill.”[3] In the early 1750s James Madison Sr. purchased the Chew mill along with most of the adjoining Chew land. By the mid 1750s the mill was being cited in county records as “Madison’s mill,” and the millstream as Madison’s Mill Run.[4]

In his will James Madison Sr. left the plantation gristmill jointly to two of his sons: James Jr., who was to inherit the main Montpelier plantation, and Ambrose, whom James Sr. had settled on a plantation called Woodley that was carved from a portion of the old Chew land adjoining the gristmill. Ambrose, however, predeceased his father and James Jr. acquired the mill with the associated tract of land. A gristmill continued to operate on the site throughout most of the Madison ownership, although the structure was rebuilt a number of times, probably after it had been destroyed by floods, or by the spontaneous combustion produced by the dust accumulated from the grinding of grain. We do know something about the number of times both James Sr. and James Jr. rebuilt the gristmill. On 22 January 1798 James Madison Sr., “who owns the land on both sides of Madisons Mill Run,” petitioned the Orange County court to rebuild a mill at the place “where he formerly had a Mill”[5]. The petition was granted, but whatever was built, if anything, was gone within a few years. By 1803 several deeds regarding the settlement of James Madison Sr.’s estate refer to “the old mill seat” and fifty acres of adjoining land; but the wording of the deeds suggests that the mill was not standing at the time.[6] On 22 October 1804, and again on 29 April 1806, James Jr. entered petitions to the Orange County court “to erect a water grist mill upon the run called Madison’s Mill Run, where James Madison decd formerly had a mill.” As had been the case with his father’s petition, a jury was appointed to view the site, and approved the petition.[7] In an 1808 deed regarding the settlement of his father’s estate, James Jr. inherited 100 percent interest in “the old mill seat” on the road from Orange Courthouse to Gordonsville, “upon which the said James Madison has lately erected a mill” along with the adjoining fifty acres.[8]

The gristmill continued to operate through James Madison’s ownership, although at one point during the early 1820s James seems to have discussed selling it to a local miller, James McKinney.[9] He did not sell it, however, and we know that the Madison plantation mills, both grain and wood, sustained serious damage in 1824. On 13 September of that year James wrote of his debts and bad crops to his brother-in-law Richard Cutts, adding, “To these [casualties] I might add the sweeping injuries from floods both to my Grist & to my saw Mills.”[10]

In the spring of 1835 James Madison composed his will. Originally he devised Dolley a life estate in “my grist mill with the land attached,” directing that the mill property be sold at her death and the proceeds divided in the same way as the proceeds resulting from the disposition of the main Montpelier plantation. Sometime between 15 and 19 April he changed his mind, and in a codicil he directed that “the proceeds from the sale of my grist mill and the land annexed sold at the death of my wife” should be paid to the secretary of the American Colonization Society, Ralph Randolph Gurley, in trust for the society.[11]

Thus in 1836 the gristmill became a matter of immediate and personal concern for the newly widowed Dolley. On 12 November 1838 she conveyed her life interest in the mill tract to John Payne Todd, stating that she was giving to Payne, “all her right title and claim in and to the tract or parcel of land upon the grist mill is situated” in “consideration of the natural love and affection which the said Dolly P. Madison has & bears towards her son the said John P. Todd and of the sum of one dollar to her in hand paid” and that she conveyed “only what interest she holds by the devise aforesaid of her said husband.”[12] It is possible she transferred her interest based on the fact that there was no longer a standing mill on the land within a few years of Madison’s death. At least the land tax records of the late 1830s and 1840s show no buildings on the tract. Perhaps she also reasoned that the Colonization Society had already received much of its benefit from Madison’s estate: she had already given them her husband’s bequest of two thousand dollars.[13]

This, however, was not the understanding of the Colonization Society, which—after first writing Payne Todd and receiving no answer from him—appealed directly to Dolley Madison for the remainder of the property. In a letter dated 15 November 1842, William McLain, secretary and treasurer of the society, wrote Dolley that the society’s creditors were “pressing us hard for payment,” and attempted to persuade her to turn over the mill property to them. In this they were unsuccessful, and in 1845 they conveyed their “reversionary interest” in the mill (i.e., that which they would receive after Dolley Madison’s death) to Gordonsville businessman James Hunter by deed of 12 February 1845.[14] Slightly over a month later, on 15 March, John Willis, Madison’s great-nephew, purchased a half interest in the mill tract from Hunter.[15] Willis subsequently acquired Hunter’s interest in the property, and sometime around 1846, tax records indicate that Dolley Madison’s life interest in the property had been restored to her.[16] Willis rebuilt the mill in the early 1850s, after Dolley Madison’s death, and around the same time he entered into a partnership in the mill tract with his friend, adjoining landowner Garrett Scott, whose son, James M. Scott, purchased the mill in 1867. By the early twentieth century the mill was known as White’s Mill for the miller who ran the premises, under which name it continued to operate into the 1920s. The structure no longer stands.

A Custom Sawmill: The Montpelier Sawmill

The Montpelier sawmill was located near the northwest corner of the Montpelier plantation, a few hundred yards west of the family cemetery, and just west of present day Route 639. It is uncertain when this mill was established, but it was in operation by the spring of 1809. Powered by a small stream, this mill was probably an “up-and-down” sawmill, with a long saw fixed to an upright frame, in which the waterwheel set in motion gears that moved the saw in a reciprocating motion. Madison apparently planned to have the lumber for the 1809–12 enlargements to the Montpelier house sawn at this mill, but the stream flow proved to be insufficient at times.[17] The sawmill continued to operate, but the flow of water remained a problem. In January and February of 1821 James wrote his agent in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a man named Robert Mackay, that the sawmill required a new saw. Mackay sent the replacement, but after it had arrived James reported that not only were there no holes in it by which to attach it to the wooden frame, but it also had a flaw in the teeth. James asked MacKay to send him another one, noting that the defects wasted water, which is “a very scarce [item].”[18] The sawmill appeared on the various plats of the estate that Dolley had drawn up in 1842 and 1844 as she began selling core portions of the Montpelier estate to the Richmond merchant and Orange County summer resident Henry W. Moncure. Either just before or soon after the final sale on 1 August 1844, when Dolley conveyed the Montpelier house and the residue of the land to Moncure, he offered terms of sale by which Dolley could redeem the property and improvements—including the sawmill—as part of the provision of the deed of trust. Were she, and John Payne Todd, to redeem the land they would reacquire the tract that “has on it the Montpellier dwelling house, springs, overseer's house, saw mill and pond and plainly appears by the plat hereunto annexed of a survey made by W.D. Clark of the seventeen hundred and sixty-seven acres formerly constituting the Montpellier estate. . .” [19] Portions of the mill subsequently were incorporated into later agricultural buildings, and parts of the foundation still remain. The old mill pond, long silted up, is now a level meadow adjoining the mill site.

A Merchant Mill: Madison Mills

(also known as Madison’s Mill at Barnett’s Ford and Barnett’s Ford Mills)

A merchant mill was located in Madison County on the Rapidan River at Barnett’s Ford near the crossing of present day Route 15. This mill was referred to in the chancery suit known as Hite v. Madison as both a “gristmill” and a “merchant mill,” indicating that it was a commercial operation intended to grind grain. Sometime around 1793–94 James Madison Sr., in partnership with his surviving sons James Madison Jr., Francis Madison, and William Madison, established this mill, which was styled William Madison & Co. The earliest documentation of this mill dates from a 23 December 1793 record setting aside one acre on the Orange County side of the river for the abutment of the mill dam being built by Francis Madison.[20] In the partnership agreement of 29 July 1795, Francis Madison and his wife conveyed to James Madison “the elder,” James Madison “the younger,” and William Madison, a three-fourths share (resulting in one fourth share to each) of partnership in Francis Madison’s mill dam and mill, noting that Francis will “appropriate” sixteen acres of land in Madison County, “part of the Tract whereon the said Francis lives” to be “for the use of the said Mill.” [21]

Francis Madison passed away in 1800 and James Madison Sr. died in 1801. After James Sr.’s death a petition to sell the mill property and divide the proceeds among his heirs was presented to the Virginia legislature, but it failed to pass. James Jr. wrote his brother-in-law Isaac Hite on 25 March 1801, “the death of my brother Francis without a Will, & with a number of children mostly under age, had made it very desireable that the Mill in which he held a fourth part should be sold, for paying the debts of the partnership, as well as on other accounts. The state of this property under the will of my father, must, as you will perceive, become so much more perplexed as greatly to strengthen the reasons for selling.”[22]

The county land tax books carried the sixteen-acre mill tract under the names of James Madison [Sr.], James Madison Jr., and William Madison until 1807. In that year, as part of the suit of William H. Smith & wife and others v. Alexander Shepherd—a Madison County chancery suit involving Francis Madison’s heirs—commissioners were appointed to sell 16½ acres with the mill “commonly called Madison’s Mill at Barnett’s Ford.” A David Smith of Maryland purchased the property at auction.[23] John Walker, sheriff of Madison County, subsequently acquired the mill in 1812, although formal transfer was not made until 1817.[24] Walker, along with James’s brother William Madison, transferred the estimated sixteen acres “along with the mills and improvements thereunto appurtenant, known by the name of Barnett’s ford mills” and the one-acre site of the mill dam abutment on the Orange County side of the river to John Fray and Aaron Carpenter by deed of 14 June 1820.[25] Madison County records are not clear as to what part William Madison played in the title of the mill tract after the first years of the nineteenth century; there is no recorded documentation to indicate under what circumstances he reacquired—or reasserted—an interest in the mill tract between 1808 and the date of the 1820 deed to Fray and Carpenter. There are no records to indicate that James Madison Jr.’s interest in the mill extended past roughly 1807. The mill passed through a number of subsequent owners. Rebuilt and enlarged several times, it operated until the mid-twentieth century. The foundation remains and the adjoining hamlet is still known as Madison Mills.

—Ann L. Miller

[Ann L. Miller is a consultant to the Papers of Dolley Madison Project. She is the historian for the Virginia Transportation Research Council, research historian for the Orange County (Virginia) Historical Society, and a former consultant historian to Montpelier.]


1. All structures appear to have been frame buildings set on a foundation or first story of stone masonry.

2. These accounts were dated 23 November 1726 and recorded on 6 December 1726. They included Chew’s mill at the southeast corner of the land. See Spotsylvania County Will Book (SCWB) A, p. 42; see also Ann Louise Brush Miller, “Buildings, Works, and Improvements,” Early Patent Structures in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, 1721–1735 (unpublished master’s thesis, University of Virginia, 1989).

3. See, for example, Orange County Order Book (OCOB) 1, p. 8; OCOB 2, p. 310 and 406; Orange County Deed Book (OCDB) 12, p. 78.

4. See, for example, OCOB 5, p. 486; OCOB 6, pp. 301–2; OCDB 15, p. 312.

5. Orange County Minute Book (OCMB) 4, p. 56.

6. OCDB 23, pp. 184 and 185.

7. OCMB 4, pp. 642 and 838.

8. OCDB 24, p. 472.

9. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition identifies McKinney accordingly: “James McKinney (b. ca. 1773) was a postmaster (1808–10) and miller in Brooke County, in what is now West Virginia. By 1810 he was living at Slate Mills in Culpeper (now Rappahannock) County but later that year he settled in Milton, where he began a partnership with Thomas Mann Randolph to operate TJ’s manufacturing mill.” James McKinney to Thomas Jefferson, 30 March 1809, Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney, editors in chief, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition. http://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu/founders/TSJN-03-01-02-0080. See also James McKinney to James Madison, 23 December 1822, Papers of James Madison, Library of Congress.

10. James Madison to Richard Cutts, 13 September 1824, Massachusetts Historical Society.

11. James Madison’s Will: Last Will, Testament, and Codicil, 15 April 1835.

12. Land Record: Indenture, 12 November 1838

13. Dolley Payne Todd Madison to Ralph Randolph Gurley, 1837. DMDE.

14. OCDB 39, p. 545.

15. OCDB 40, p. 17.

16. Orange County Land Tax Books 1847–1849; no deed is recorded.

17. A 20 April 1809 letter from carpenter James Dinsmore to Madison noted that “. . . There has been but little progress Made in the getting of Plank yet there is plenty of water [at the Montpelier sawmill] and if we Can get timber May soon have enough Sawed . . .” James Dinsmore to James Madison, 20 April,, Papers of James Madison Digital Edition, J.C.A. Stagg, editor, (University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, Charlottesville, VA, 2010). However by 4 May, only two weeks later, the situation at the mill had changed. Dinsmore reported that the builders were in the process of finishing the flooring for the rear colonnade, but there was not enough water to run the sawmill, writing that “. . . we are engaged in preparing flooring plank for the Colonnade it being the only Stuff we have kiln dryed, or indeed I May Say Sawed, Mr. Gooch [the Montpelier overseer] has engaged Sawyers to Cut by hand, to Make another kiln full, the water not holding out at the Saw Mill. . . ” James Dinsmore to JM, 4 May 1809, Papers of James Madison Digital Edition.

“James Dinsmore (ca. 1772–1830), house joiner, was a native of Ulster living in Philadelphia in 1798 when he began a decade of service with TJ at Monticello. . . . With carpenter John Neilson, who had worked with him at Monticello since 1804, Dinsmore then worked for three years on renovations to Montpellier, James Madison’s house. Dinsmore co-owned a mill at Pen Park near Charlottesville with John H. Craven from 1811 to 1815, settled in Charlottesville after 1818, and worked as the principal master carpenter at the University of Virginia and on renovations to Bremo, John Hartwell Cocke’s house, before drowning in the Rivanna River.” —“James Dinsmore’s List of Thomas Jefferson’s Tools,The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition [accessed 02 Sep 2011]

18. JM to Robert MacKay, 7 January 1821, Papers of James Madison, Library of Congress; JM to Robert MacKay, 20 February 1821, Papers of James Madison, Library of Congress.

19. OCDB 39, p. 416; Conditional sale contract between Dolley P. Madison and Henry W. Moncure [a date of “8 August 1844?” has been added in another hand], DPM/LOC.

20. The summons had been issued on 22 July 1793. Francis’s plantation lay on the north (Madison County) side of the river. See OCMB 3, pp. 182 and 202.

21. Madison County Deed Book (MCDB) 1, p. 345.

22. James Madison to Isaac Hite, The Papers of James Madison Digital Edition [accessed 04 Sep 2011].

23. Associated deeds document that David Smith was the father of William H. Smith, who had married one of the daughters of Francis Madison. See MCDB 4, pp. 404–7.

24. MCDB 6, p. 409.

25. MCDB 7, p. 82.

The Webster-Ashburton Treaty, the North East Boundary Line, and Richard Dominicus Cutts

By 1841 the British had decided it was time to settle the boundary issues between the United States and Canada, but they found the Americans to be intractable partners. The British government therefore sent Alexander Baring, 1st Baron Ashburton, who had married an American in 1798, to negotiate with the Tyler government. The result was the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. The document was signed on 9 August 1842 and then sent to the Senate where it passed on 20 August. The editors of The Papers of Daniel Webster state that the treaty “fixed the boundary that now exists between Canada and the United States, resolved disputes nearly as old as Daniel Webster himself, and left little of a significant nature other than the Oregon question for the United States to quarrel over, and paved the way for an Anglo-American rapprochement.”

The treaty awarded about seven thousand square miles to the United States and around five thousand to Great Britain. But faulty maps mandated yet one more survey. The result, according to Francis M. Caroll, was “a mixture of needs and political expediency.” As Lord Ashburton admitted, the northeastern boundary dispute was “the most important because, beyond measure, the most difficult of all those differences with America which it was the purpose of my special Mission to endeavor to settle.”

Dolley’s nephew, Richard Dominicus Cutts—an engineer with a Maine heritage, who was also a relative of the Maine Governor and Senator John Fairfield—wanted a job with the subsequent boundary commission which Congress mandated in March 1843. “Having been since the very commencement of the Survey of the N.E. Boundary employed upon it,” Cutts wrote Fairfield on 22 March 1843, “I am extremely anxious of being retained in my capacity as Engineer, under the new organization.” Fairfield, he believed, held the key to his appointment. But as the days passed and Cutts learned that the politics of the commission were turning against him, he sought help from his aunt Dolley. She composed a generic “dear sir” letter on 20 March 1843, perhaps intended for Secretary of State Daniel Webster, or for his son, Fletcher Webster, chief clerk of the Department of State. On 29 March Cutts again wrote Fairfield, worried that a letter from Dolley would not command attention. “I am informed that to back my claims & rights, it only requires in addition to the request of my Aunt, a recommendatory letter from you to the Secretary of State, to insure & render certain my appointment. Is it too much to ask this favour of you?”

Cutts was not appointed. Whether the decision was based on party politics or something else is not clear. Fairfield, after all, was not a Whig and therefore not a member of Daniel Webster’s party; he was a powerful Democrat from Maine. In the end Cutts was not bypassed, as he later received an appointment to the U.S. Coast Survey that came out of the Boundary Commission.


Kenneth E. Shewmaker et al., eds., The Papers of Daniel Webster: Diplomatic Papers, Volume I, 1841–1843 (Hanover, NH, 1983), xxi; Francis M. Carroll, A Good and Wise Measure: The Search for the Canadian-American Boundary, 1783–1842 (Toronto, 2001), 304. Ashburton is quoted in William L. Lucy, “Some Correspondence of the Maine Commissioners Regarding the Webster-Ashburton Treaty,” The New England Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 2 (June, 1942): 332. For the story of the maps see Carroll, A Good and Wise Measure. For an easy-to-read map see “The Border Dispute: How the Maine-New Brunswick border was finalized,” http://www.upperstjohn.com/history/northeastborder.htm; the Richard D. Cutts letters to John Fairfield are in the Maine Historical Society, Special Collections, Collection 145; R. Scott Byram, “The Work of a Nation: Richard D. Cutts and the Coast Survey Map of Fort Clatsop,” Oregon

Historical Quarterly, vol. 106, no. 2 (Summer, 2005): 260.

Mourning and Hair

Hair contains the embodiment of the person, with none of the cumbersome, overly physical aspects of personal clothing or effects. In nineteenth-century America, whether in novels or real life, people sent news of a beloved’s death in a letter that often contained a lock of the deceased’s hair. In the antebellum bestseller Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe describes how the despicable Simon Legree learned of his mother’s death: “one night, when he was carousing among his drunken companions, a letter was put into his hand. He opened it, and a lock of long, curling hair fell from it, and twined around his fingers. The letter told him his mother was dead; and, dying, she blessed and forgave him.” Frances Lichten in her study of British culture, Decorative Art of Victoria’s Era, wrote that “hair is at once the most delicate and lasting of our materials and survives us, like love."

Following British practice, Americans made jewelry enclosing bits of hair from the loved one, worn at least in part to remind the wearer of the ever-present possibility of death. But the meaning of this practice shifted over time. From memento mori it became an expression of a nineteenth-century culture that sentimentalized and romanticized death and the dead. Mourning jewelry and the feelings the pins, rings, and earrings both inspired and expressed had begun to appear by the 1830s.

In her practice and assumptions about memorializing the dead Dolley was not alone among her friends and family in Virginia. Their letters inform us about their practices of mourning, indicating a shift in how the dead were remembered, and locating the tradition of creating jewelry with hair enclosed in the 1830s. We can link the practice to the rural cemetery movement of the same period, often dated to the establishment of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston in 1831. Especially in urban areas, the graveyard became a garden fashioned to house the beloved deceased. It was no longer a gloomy churchyard but, as Gary Wills writes, “a return to nature, a pantheistic identification of dissolution with initiation.” Graveyards were created for the living by instilling messages of healing truths, “of natural death and rebirth, in the cycle of seasons.” Graves were clothed in the beauty of nature.

One of the ways Dolley preserved intimate memory was through hair. It is a little moment, a domestic gesture, quiet, not grand. It is like a whisper easily missed in all the sounds of her times.


David E. Stannard, ed., Death in America (Philadelphia, 1975), especially the essays by Ann Douglas, Stanley French, and Lewis Saum; Pat Jalland, Death in the Victorian Family (New York, 1996); Barbara Jones, Design for Death (Indianapolis, 1967); Frances Lichten, Decorative Art of Victoria’s Era (New York, 1950); Martha Pike, “In Memory of: Artifacts Relating to Mourning in Nineteenth Century America,” Journal of American Culture (Winter, 1980); Stephen Railton, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture: A Multi-Media Archive (http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/) as viewed on 28 January 2008; Esther Schor, Bearing the Dead: The British Culture of Mourning from the Enlightenment go Victoria (Princeton, NJ, 1994); Gary Wills, Lincoln at Gettysburg (New York, 1992).

Dolley Madison and the Montpelier Enslaved Community, 1836–1843

When James Madison died in June of 1836, Dolley inherited Montpelier and the roughly 100 enslaved men, women, and children he owned. In his last years, Madison, who had long grappled with the issue of slavery politically and personally, contemplated emancipating the Montpelier slaves in his final will. In the end, however, Madison left the entire enslaved population to Dolley, with the following proviso: “it is my desire that none of [the slaves] should be sold without his or her consent or in the Case of their misbehaviour” (DPM3225). Throughout their retirement years, rather than sell his slaves, Madison resorted to selling land to raise cash for his creditors. Eventually, however, as Madison explained to Edward Coles (his friend, former secretary, and Dolley’s cousin) in an 1834 letter, “in order to avoid the sale of Negroes” he had “sold land till the residue will not support them, concentered and increasing as they are.” Madison admitted that he had, “yielded to the necessity of parting with some of them to a friend and Kinsman who I am persuaded will do better by them than I can, and to whom they gladly consent to be transferred.”[1] The sale transferred ownership of 16 slaves to Madison’s relative, William Taylor.[2] Thus, upon Madison’s death, Dolley also inherited the financial and moral dilemma which had plagued her husband: a plantation that had for years failed to meet their financial needs and roughly 100 slaves—“too numerous for the cultivation of [the remaining] land”—whom she was not to sell without their consent (DPM2827).

When Madison died, no inventory was made of his property; therefore, no record of the slaves he owned, much less their names, ages, or family connections, remains extant. The federal census provides the only enumeration of the slaves (by age and sex) owned by James, and later Dolley. Since the census was only recorded every ten years, personal property tax records and correspondence help to fill in the record.

In 1830, the census listed Madison as the owner of 97 enslaved men, women, and children, a number believed to have remained relatively constant for many years, with few known sales.[3] Six years later, in May of 1836 (about a month before his death) Madison informed a visitor that there were roughly 100 slaves at Montpelier; he also noted that “nearly two-thirds [of his slaves]…are too young or too old to work much.”[4] That year Madison paid personal property taxes on just 38 enslaved individuals.[5] At the time, property owners in Virginia were taxed only on slaves who were aged 12 and over, and who were healthy enough to work. Any slaves who were “too young or too old to work” as Madison himself noted, or those who were infirm, were not taxed.

In 1840, roughly four years after inheriting the plantation, the census listed Dolley as the owner of 105 slaves, 33 of whom were under the age of 10.[6] That year she paid personal property taxes on 55 enslaved individuals, up from Madison’s 38 in 1836. After 1840, the number of individuals Dolley paid taxes on gradually decreased; in 1843 she paid taxes on just 39 slaves.[7] Though the total number of slaves she owned in 1843 is not known, the personal property tax indicates that Dolley probably owned at least double the number she paid taxes on. Thus in 1843, Dolley likely owned at least 75 enslaved men, women, and children.

In the years following Madison’s death, Dolley’s financial situation grew increasingly precarious. Although she had an abundance of slaves who represented valuable chattel property, extant evidence suggests that Dolley largely resisted selling slaves between 1836 and 1843. Like Madison before her, Dolley sold outlying lands, and even began to sell portions of the main Montpelier plantation to satisfy creditors.[8] Though she never articulated her feelings on slavery, at least not in any of her extant correspondence, it is evident that Dolley had an extremely complex relationship with the institution. Holly Shulman asserts that biographers have traditionally assumed that Dolley’s Quaker upbringing (and the fact that her father freed his slaves), coupled with her marriage to Madison, suggests that Dolley was “if not antislavery…not entirely sanguine about the peculiar institution.” As Shulman argues, however, “a closer investigation casts doubts on these assumptions.”[9]

Though the silence in Dolley’s correspondence makes it is difficult to characterize her thoughts on slavery, it seems she took Madison’s stipulation (that none of the slaves be sold without their consent) into consideration. After the sale of Montpelier, for example, her son, John Payne Todd, wrote her: “As to the negroes I take some credit on this score of none having been disposed of but agreeably,”(DPM2204) though the enslaved individuals may well have felt otherwise. Although Dolley resisted selling slaves, she did sell some individuals during this period, nearly always to local planters who were unlikely to sell them again. The fluctuation in the number of slaves Dolley owned between 1836 and 1843 (roughly 100 in 1836 and 75 in 1843) may be attributed to a relatively small number of sales, natural births and deaths, as well as an increased death rate during periods of epidemic illness.

Weeks after Madison died in June 1836, Edward Coles visited Montpelier. While there he observed that “Reports had gotten abroad that she (Mrs. Madison) wished to sell many of [her slaves] & every day or two…a Negro Trader would make his appearance, & was permitted to examine the Negroes. It was like the hawk among the pigeons” (DPM2827). Although Coles’ note painted a bleak picture, there is no evidence that Dolley ever sold an individual to slave traders.[10] Coles’ letter did note, however, that while he was there, Dolley sold a woman and two children to her nephew, Ambrose Madison, who lived nearby. And Coles was quick to point out that the woman had “protested agt being sold & the more so as her Husband was not sold with her” (DPM2827). Coles’ account is the only mention of this sale. It is possible that Dolley was following Madison’s stipulation, selling the woman (and children) because she had misbehaved in some manner. Indeed, years later, in the summer of 1844, Dolley enquired about doing just that, asking Payne Todd—to whom she had recently deeded a number of the slaves—whether she “could dispose of a bad girl” (DPM1389). It is also possible that Dolley simply needed the cash, and may have reasoned that selling her to a local relative was better than selling her to a trader.

The August 1836 sale represents one of just three documented sales of enslaved individuals Dolley made between 1836 and 1843. Though the exact date is unclear, the second transaction was the sale of a young domestic servant named Benjamin Stewart. His sale seems to break not only Dolley’s pattern of selling slaves locally, but Madison’s stipulation that the slaves only be sold with their consent as well. Indeed, in 1848, Stewart wrote to Dolley from Columbus, Georgia asking her to purchase him back, “so that I might come back to Virginia Among my friends!...I know Mistress Madison, if you will but Consider my unfortunate situation away from my – Relatives, who are very near & very dear to me you will if not yourself influence some person to buy me.”[11] In 1843, the year before she sold Montpelier, Dolley made the third known sale of enslaved individuals during this period. That year she sold two enslaved young men, George and Paul, to Henry Wood Moncure, the Richmond businessman who would purchase the estate in August of 1844.[12]

Aside from these three documented sales, it is possible Dolley made other transactions, for which the papers failed to survive. In March of 1841, for example, Richard M. Chapman wrote a letter of introduction for Benjamin Walker, an Orange County farmer who was “anxious to purchase slaves for his own use” (DPM1618). Chapman was (as a justice of the peace and the brother of Reynolds Chapman, Clerk of the Orange County Court), was well acquainted with Dolley and her financial situation. In addition, it seems that Richard Chapman also knew of Dolley’s reservations about selling slaves against their will, because he added that Walker “is a kind and good master he wishes the slaves for his farmer purposes & has no desire to purchase & sale again, he never has been engaged in that business. The slaves after knowing him I am sure would be pleased with him as a master” (DPM1618). There is no documentation to affirm or deny that Dolley sold slaves to the local landowner, but the decline in her slaves between 1840 and 1844 indicates that she may well have sold some individuals to the purported “good master,” Benjamin Walker.

In October of 1839 another man contacted Dolley about purchasing slaves. George Waggaman, a lawyer, planter, and politician wrote Dolley with a proposal to purchase a number of the Montpelier slaves for his new sugar plantation in Louisiana, noting that she might wish to “rid” herself “of the trouble of the management…of [her] negroes” (DPM1185). Dolley politely declined, making it clear that while she had contemplated selling a portion of her slaves, she was not prepared to do so at that time “owing to their reluctance to leave this place or its neighborhood” (DPM1186). The reason she provided echoed Madison’s sentiment. And yet, Dolley may have had other considerations in mind at the time. Months later, in May of 1840, for example, she wrote to her nephew, Richard D. Cutts, lamenting her inability to reimburse another family member a debt she owed them, noting that she had an ample number of “negroes but they cannot command one hundred at this time,” by which she was likely referring to the price she could expect to receive for the sale of field laborers (DPM1203).

In addition to the sales, the decline in the number of slaves Dolley owned in the years prior to 1844 may be attributed to periods of “sickness” which swept through the neighborhood and county throughout this time (DPM1336). In September 1842, for example, Dolley wrote her brother, John Coles Payne: “your letter…found me in the midst of a sick colored family, whom I have nursed, and attended to ever since I came home following the Physician’s advice with great anxiety and fatigue—[the doctor] having previously lost a man, and a woman Cook of great value to me—their disease generally, sorethroat…It has…been more than…three weeks since my return, and this sickness still continues among the negroes here, and in the neighbourhood” (DPM1313). It is likely that a number of other Montpelier slaves—in addition to the “man…and woman Cook”—lost their lives to that illness, and perhaps during the other periods when fever swept through the neighborhood. In the summer of 1843 Dolley referred to another period of sickness and intimated that it affected the enslaved community. She wrote her great nephew, James Madison Hite, “Pardon me dear Madison for allowing days to pass, ere I replied to your interesting letter of July 27th—much sickness prevailed in my family then, and now, of which I have partaken—and hence the cause of my silence” (PM1336). Like all references to the enslaved community, however, the documentation is scant and Dolley tended only to write in specifics concerning domestic servants, or those who were “of great value” to her. It is likely that a number of enslaved individuals perished during these and other periods of sickness in the Montpelier neighborhood, but that their deaths went unrecorded.

As 1843 came to a close, Dolley moved permanently to Washington, taking with her a small number of domestic servants. It is estimated that at the end of the year she owned approximately 75 enslaved men, women, and children. Those who remained at Montpelier, after her departure for the city, were left unofficially in the hands of her scapegrace son, Payne Todd. Though the years following Madison’s death had undoubtedly filled the slaves with uncertainty and concern for their futures, the period from 1836 to 1843 was, in many ways, the calm before the storm. 1844 would bring greater anxiety to the enslaved community as Dolley was sued repeatedly by her creditors and she and Payne Todd negotiated the sale of the Montpelier estate.

—Amy Larrabee Cotz

[Amy Larrabee Cotz is a consulting editor for the Papers of Dolley Madison Project. Prior to working with the DMDE, she was the research associate for the African-American Research Initiative at Montpelier.]


1. James Madison to Edward Coles, October 3, 1834, box 1, folder 32, Edward Coles Papers, MS C0037, Princeton University Library, Princeton, New Jersey. Madison discussed emancipating the Montpelier slaves with Edward Coles, who had moved to Illinois in 1819 and freed his own slaves. (For more on Coles, see Kurt E. Leichtle and Bruce G. Carveth, Crusade Against Slavery: Edward Coles, Pioneer of Freedom (Carbondale, IL, 2011); and Suzanne D. Cooper-Guasco, “On the Altar of His Principals: Edward Coles and the Crucible of Slavery,” (PhD Dissertation, University of North Carolina, 2004).) Harriet Martineau, who visited the Madisons at Montpelier in March of 1835, noted that Madison “talked more on the subject of slavery than on any other, acknowledging, without limitation or hesitation, all the evils with which it has ever been charged.” (Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel (London, 1838.)) For a discussion of Madison’s thoughts on slavery, see Drew McCoy, The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy (New York, 1989).

2. Ironically, the sale of those enslaved individuals enabled Madison to reimburse Coles $2000 he had previously borrowed.

3. 1830 U.S. Census; Census Place: Orange, Virginia; Page: 321; NARA Series: 19; Roll Number: 196; Family History Film: 0029675. As noted previously, in October of 1834 Madison sold 16 slaves to his kinsman, William Taylor. Harriet Martineau, who visited the Madisons a few months later, however, in March of 1835, later wrote that during her visit Madison mentioned that he “had parted with some of his best land to feed the increasing numbers [of Montpelier slaves], and had yet been obliged to sell a dozen of his slaves the preceding week,” indicating that Madison sold an additional 12 slaves in the spring of 1835. Unlike the October 1834 sale, however, no other mentions of the alleged second sale of 12 individuals are extant. It may be that Martineau misstated or misunderstood Madison, or it may be that he did indeed sell an additional 12 slaves that spring. (Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel (London, 1838.))

4. Charles Jared Ingersoll, "A Visit to Mr. Madison at Montpelier," The Globe (Washington, DC), 12 August, 1836.

5. Personal Property Tax Records, Orange County, Virginia, 1833-1844, Library of Virginia, reel 265.

6. 1840 U.S. Census, accessed online via Ancestry.com, 11/2012. Year: 1840; Census Place: Orange, Virginia; NARA Series: M704, Roll: 573; Page: 15; Image: 34; Family History Library Film: 0029691

7. Personal Property Tax Records, Orange County, Virginia, 1833-1844, Library of Virginia, reel 265.

8. See Editorial Notes: Dolley Madison's Land Sales, 1836-1840; Dolley Madison's Land Sales, 1841-1848

9. See: Holly Cowan Shulman “History, Memory, and Dolley Madison: Notes from a Documentary Editor” in The Queen of America: Mary Cutts’s Life of Dolley Madison” edited by Catherine Allgor. University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, Va., 2012. Pp 60-1.

10. One local trader, James G. Blakey, for example, had ties to the Madisons. Blakey was a brother-in-law to John Sorrilles, a secretary to Madison in his later years. In September of 1836, Dolley seems to have employed Blakey to deliver a sample of the manuscript of James’ papers to Albert Gallatin in Washington.

11. Benjamin F. Stewart to Dolley Payne Todd Madison, July 13, 1848, Papers of Dolley Madison, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

12. In addition to those two young men, in 1844 Henry Moncure bought two additional groups of slaves from Dolley and John Payne Todd, totaling 22 enslaved men, women, and children. See Editorial Note: DPM and the Dispersal of the Montpelier Enslaved Community, 1844


James Madison to Edward Coles, October 3, 1834, box 1, folder 32, Edward Coles Papers, MS C0037, Princeton University Library, Princeton, New Jersey; Kurt E. Leichtle and Bruce G. Carveth, Crusade Against Slavery: Edward Coles, Pioneer of Freedom (Carbondale, IL, 2011); Suzanne D. Cooper-Guasco, “On the Altar of His Principals: Edward Coles and the Crucible of Slavery,” (PhD Dissertation, University of North Carolina, 2004); Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel (London, 1838.); Drew McCoy, The Last of the Fathers: James Madison and the Republican Legacy (New York, 1989); 1830 U.S. Census; Census Place: Orange, Virginia; Page: 321; NARA Series: 19; Roll Number: 196; Family History Film: 0029675; Charles Jared Ingersoll, "A Visit to Mr. Madison at Montpelier," The Globe (Washington, DC), 12 August, 1836; Personal Property Tax Records, Orange County, Virginia, 1833-1844, Library of Virginia, reel 265; Holly Cowan Shulman “History, Memory, and Dolley Madison: Notes from a Documentary Editor” in The Queen of America: Mary Cutts’s Life of Dolley Madison” edited by Catherine Allgor. University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, Va., 2012. Pp 60-1; Benjamin F. Stewart to Dolley Payne Todd Madison, July 13, 1848, Papers of Dolley Madison, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Dolley Madison and the Dispersal of the Montpelier Enslaved Community, 1844

On 5 July 1844, Dolley, who was then living in Washington, D.C., received an urgent and poignant letter: “My Mistress…The sheriff has taken all of us and says he will sell us at next court unless something is done before to prevent it - We are afraid we shall be bought by what are called negro buyers and sent away from our husbands and wives…think my dear mistress what our sorrow will be” (DPM1385). No doubt, the letter, written by her domestic servant, Sarah Stewart, articulated the anxiety felt by the enslaved men, women, and children at Montpelier, who that summer found themselves in the midst of the break-up of their community, as legal decisions ordered that they be levied for Dolley’s debts, and Dolley herself decided to sell the estate. Indeed, 1844 marked a watershed year for the slaves at Montpelier.

The Madisons’ financial situation had been tenuous throughout their retirement years. After James died in 1836, things did not improve for Dolley. Like Madison before her, she resorted to selling off outlying land and portions of the Montpelier estate to keep creditors at bay, while she largely resisted selling slaves, though they were a valuable asset.[1] But by 1844 Dolley’s financial and legal situation reached a new level of crisis. That spring and summer she found herself the defendant in a number of lawsuits for her failure to pay off creditors. As far as the law was concerned, her slaves were a commodity, and thus liable to be sold to pay her debts. And in August, Dolley and her son, John Payne Todd, finally sold Montpelier to Henry Wood Moncure, after a long period of negotiation.

Concurrent with all of that upheaval, Dolley, who had moved permanently to Washington in the fall of 1843, increasingly entrusted her son with her legal affairs, despite the fact that he was often negligent and a notorious spendthrift on whom she could rarely rely. But she loved and trusted him. He was, after all, her only surviving child, and the only close male relative to whom she could turn.[2] Thus days after receiving Stewart’s July note, Dolley transferred ownership of the majority of the Montpelier slaves to Todd.

At the beginning of 1844, it is estimated that Dolley owned roughly 75 enslaved men, women, and children.[3] Following their transfer to Todd's ownership, many of those individuals became the victims of further stress and uncertainty as he sold some to Moncure, some individually and, by the fall, began using still others as collateral in deeds of trust, as he borrowed from one creditor to pay off another. The dramatic events of 1844—especially the legal decisions due to Dolley’s debts, the transfer of the slaves to Payne Todd, and the sale of the estate—acted in concert to break-up the Montpelier enslaved community.

On 5 March 1844, legal decisions came down in two separate suits brought against Dolley by Thomas A. Robinson & Co., merchants in Orange. The rulings favored the plaintiffs in the amounts of $249.07 and $1,111.97. The sheriff was directed to “attach so much of the goods and chattels” of the defendant “as will be the value sufficient to satisfy and pay the within mentioned sum.” Accordingly, the sheriff noted that “one Negro boy named Abraham” would satisfy the sum of $249.07 (DPM6356), while “One negro Woman named Harriett, One Negro boy named John & One Negro Man Named William” would together satisfy the debt of $1,111.97 (DPM6357). The sheriff could have physically removed the slaves from Dolley’s estate and held them until the next sale, or until Dolley made payment. Putting them in jail, however, would have necessitated feeding, housing and perhaps medically caring for them during that time. Evidence suggests that the slaves remained at Montpelier, under a lien.

On the first of July yet another judgment ordered that Dolley remit $2,600 to the plaintiff, William Smith. An attachment was again made by the sheriff and “Executed upon…Thom, Nicholas Jn., Ben, Vilett, Edward, Willoughby, Mathew, Gabriel, Milly and 4 children namely, Hannah, Jim, Randal & Milly, Charlotte & her two children to wit; Elizabeth & Caty” (DPM4723). Like those named in the Robinson cases, evidence indicates that they too remained on the property under a lien, instead of being held by the sheriff to await sale.[4] Although the individuals named in these three legal decisions remained at Montpelier, the entire enslaved community no doubt began to realize (if they had not already) the gravity of Dolley’s financial situation and the implications it could have for their futures.

A fourth legal decision against Dolley in 1844 had immediate and lasting effects on the Montpelier slaves. William Madison, Dolley’s only living brother-in-law at the time of her husband’s death, claimed that James died owing him $2,000. The sum, William argued, remained outstanding from the settlement of their father’s estate years prior. In September of 1839, over three years after Madison’s death, William coerced Dolley into signing a bond, wherein she promised to pay the $2,000 in “Negroes at a fair price, or in money” (DPM6371). When Dolley failed to pay the bond (plus interest) within the designated two years, William sued her for the debt.[5] Just weeks after he filed suit in the summer of 1843, however, William died. But his executors continued to press the case. On 7 May 1844 the court decided in favor of William’s estate.[6]

Unlike the judgments previously mentioned, however, the decision in this case did not immediately include an attachment “of the goods and chattels.” [7] It was not until late June that Payne Todd met the sheriff, “to give him a list of Negroes belonging to Mrs. Madison…for the purpose of a levy in the Case of Madison vs. Madison.” Fifteen days after Todd provided that list, on 5 July, Sarah Stewart wrote the cri de coeur quoted at the beginning of this essay, notifying her that, “the sheriff has taken all of us.” Stewart’s letter went on to relay that they were to be sold at the next sale unless someone intervened. And, rightly fearing the possibility of being sold to “negro traders,” Stewart implored Dolley to, at the very least, “get neighbors to buy us that have husbands and wives, so as to save us some misery which will in a greater or less degree be sure to fall upon us at being separated,” adding, “think my dear mistress what our sorrow must be” (DPM1385). While her slaves were still held by the sheriff, Dolley transferred ownership of 37 named men and women, and implied the transfer of at least 13 unnamed children (the children of the enslaved women listed), to Todd in two deeds of gift, dated the 16th and 17th of July. Her reasons for doing so are not entirely clear; however, it is clear that Todd took full advantage of the freedom of action untrammeled ownership of the slaves gave him.[8]

On 22 July 1844, the day of the court sale Stewart mentioned, Henry Moncure—the Richmond merchant who had for months been negotiating the purchase of Montpelier with Dolley and Todd, and who had purchased at least two enslaved young men from Dolley in 1843—became directly involved when he provided the funds necessary to keep the enslaved community off the auction block.[9] By a deed dated 22 July 1844, Moncure purchased 13 enslaved men, women, and children from Todd.[10] He later referred to the transaction when he noted that he “purchased of the Colo Todd several Servants and released thereby several others from the hands of the Sheriff” (DPM6193). Todd also referenced the sale and confirmed the connection to the Madison case, referring to the individuals as “those [sold] to Moncure levied by the Madison debt” (DPM6282). Thus by mid-July the break-up of the enslaved community was underway, set in motion first by debts, especially the levy in the William Madison case, and then by Dolley’s two deeds of gift, legally transferring the majority of the slaves to Todd.

Days after Moncure purchased the aforementioned 13 slaves, he purchased the Montpelier estate, by deed dated 1 August 1844.[11] Though the sale of Montpelier was plagued with complications for months, it signified that those purchased by Moncure would remain at Montpelier. Those he did not purchase, however, would move to Todd’s estate, or to D.C. with Dolley, if they were not sold to another party beforehand. At the end of August, Moncure purchased an additional 9 slaves from Payne Todd. However, those individuals were still held under the William Smith lien (related to his aforementioned debt suit with Dolley), which served to complicate the transaction until the situation was rectified in early October.

The sale of the Montpelier estate was anything but an amiable business deal. Moncure was exceedingly frustrated by Payne Todd’s retaining “possession of the land…long after it should have been surrendered.” Moncure also noted later that during this period when Todd failed to vacate the premises, Todd ruined what was by that time his property. Moncure stated that Todd “removed…a neat newly framed building; and pulled to pieces, for the purpose of carrying the same away a wheat machine which was a fixture to the barn…It was then left but so injured as to have been of no use since.”[12] As late as the end of November, Todd wrote his mother, “Becky attends every day to the removal of the furniture” from Montpelier, to his estate, Toddsberth. In the same November letter, Todd added that he was “building some log Houses” for the “negroes,” implying that those slaves who would remain in his possession may still have been living at Montpelier, nearly three months after the deed of sale (DPM6282). All told, Moncure purchased 22 enslaved men, women, and children from Payne Todd in 1844: Nicholas; Charles; Gerry; Sam; Fanny and her son Ebenezer; Edwin; Sylvia and her children, Fanny, Abraham, Frank, Elizabeth, and William; Milley and her children, Milley, Hannah, James, and Thomas J. Randolph; Thomas; Charlotte and her children, Elizabeth and Caleb.[13]

Over the course of the dreadful summer of 1844, along with the levies, liens, and sales to Moncure, the enslaved community was subject to Todd’s poor management in Dolley’s absence, exacerbated by his own periodic absenteeism. A letter written by William Dixon, Dolley’s overseer, in early July, informed Dolley of the health issues the slaves were facing. He ended his note by telling Dolley that the sheriff “has been [to Montpelier] scine J P left and has put the [slaves] in aconfusion that they dont know what to do” (DPM2101). In addition, documents related to the sales of individual slaves provide insight into the personal struggles and losses borne by the enslaved community throughout the chaotic year.

By early July, Payne Todd had arranged for William, a young man, perhaps a domestic servant, to be sold to Alfred Chapman, a grandson of William Madison, and a great-nephew of James Madison’s. On 9 July, however, overseer William Dixon’s aforementioned letter informed Dolley that “among the hands” there was a “greateal of sickness.”[14] “William,” Dixon wrote, “is lying at the point of deth.” He requested that Dolley “let Susan know about her son to what acondition he is in” (DPM2101). William may well have been the son of Dolley’s enslaved lady’s maid, Sukey (a common nickname for Susan), who was serving in Washington at the time, far away from her gravely ill, fifteen-year-old son.[15] William did indeed die of his illness shortly thereafter, perhaps even before Sukey received word that he was sick. Later that fall, Todd sold another young enslaved man, Nicholas, Jr., in William’s place. There is only one other documented sale of an individual extant for 1844, though others may well have been sold by Todd in the same manner. On 1 January 1845, Todd wrote his mother about the sale of Rebecca Walker, another child of Sukey’s. Clearly after the transaction had taken place, Todd wrote, “Becca I did not tell you I sold to Mr John Chapman for 600 & odd dollars.”[16]

Rebecca Walker was one of a small number of enslaved individuals who emerge from obscurity in 1844 due to the relative frequency with which she appears in correspondence. Her recorded experiences, and those of Madison’s former valet, Paul Jennings, provide a measure of insight into the impact the events of 1844 had on individuals and their families. Rebecca, like her mother Sukey, was a domestic servant who traveled to and from Washington from time to time to serve Dolley. On 6 April, for example, Todd wrote to inform his mother that the “Waggon with provisions Raif, Becca & Nicholas are on the Road [to Washington]” (DPM2014). Aside from mere mentions such as this between Payne Todd and Dolley as they coordinated the movement of domestic servants and goods, Rebecca is unique because while she was in the city she received a letter from her husband in Orange. In early May, over a month after Rebecca had traveled to Washington, she received a letter from her husband, Peter Walker—a slave who was owned by the Willis family of Woodley, a plantation adjacent to Montpelier. As one of just a handful of surviving letters to or from Montpelier slaves, Walker’s note provides a fleeting glimpse of the strain enslaved families faced, indeed of the emotional fortitude needed to endure long periods of separation, let alone a lifetime of enslavement.

On 11 May, Peter Walker wrote Rebecca, sharing news from the neighborhood, but, more importantly, informing her about the health of their children. Walker wrote, “I am well and have been generally so since you left as also are our children except Richd who has been unwell for a long time He is very much reduced and almost totally unlike the same.” Near the end he added, “my Dear Rebecca remember the Solemn vow We have taken to be faithful to each other till death—I have yet no reason to doubt you. All at MtPilier ant Woodly join me in love to you” (DPM3306). When Peter wrote his letter in May, he and Rebecca were undoubtedly aware of Dolley’s financial situation, but they could not have known the extent to which their community and perhaps their own family would be forever altered in the coming months. As previously mentioned, in the late fall of 1844, Payne Todd sold Rebecca Walker to John Chapman, who lived nearby in Orange. Though Rebecca was sold locally, she and Peter would continue to endure an abroad marriage. She would never again, however, serve Dolley in Washington alongside her mother.

Paul Jennings, like Rebecca and her mother, Sukey, was another domestic servant who accompanied and served Dolley in the city after Madison’s death.[17] Over the course of the spring and summer of 1844 his correspondence chronicled his personal loss, even as the dramatic events of the year played out around him. Jennings, who had been Madison’s most-trusted valet throughout his retirement, was in 1844 married to Fanny Gordon, an enslaved lady’s maid at Howard Place, another plantation adjacent to Montpelier, with whom he had had at least five children. On 6 April, Todd wrote to let Dolley know that he was sending her a wagon with provisions and exchanging some of the domestic staff, noting that Jennings should return with the wagon. Later that month, on 23 April, after Jennings had returned to Montpelier, he himself wrote to let Dolley know that he had arrived “home” safely and updated her about the health of “the peple,” including his wife Fanny, whom he found quite ill (DPM1368).

Weeks later, Jennings, who was still in Orange, wrote to Sukey in Washington about his wife’s declining health. On 13 May he wrote: “pore fanney I am looking Every day to see the last of her–to my supris she Call me to her Beed side last Friday she Expressed her self in the tone of a Repented sinner–as tho she wer sinking in the grave” (DPM3370). Although, according to Jennings’ note, Fanny was gravely ill in May, she lingered until early August 1844, just days after Moncure purchased Montpelier. The day after she died, Todd wrote to his mother: “I shall send on the Carriage with Paul whose wife died last night if not requested otherwise” (DPM2070). Thus Jennings was allowed almost no time to comfort his children, or to grieve his wife’s passing. And, in addition to his painful loss, Jennings undoubtedly realized that with the sale of the estate, Dolley would no longer be returning to Montpelier. From that point on, therefore, he would need to get special permission in order to visit the neighborhood where his children and the majority of his friends and family lived.

Although August 1844 was especially difficult for Paul Jennings, within four years he would attain his freedom. Thereafter, he would reunite with his children, remarry, become a property owner in Northwest Washington, and a leader of the city’s free black community. Indeed, in 1847, the planning the largest-ever attempted slave escape aboard the schooner Pearl was attributed to Jennings and two others. But in late 1844, all of that was still to come. Instead, Jennings returned to Washington to serve Dolley, knowing that he would rarely have the opportunity to see his children in the future.

In the last days of November 1844, as Payne Todd looked to the final dispersal of the enslaved community, he wrote his mother that she should have Sarah Stewart with her in Washington, whom he noted as “very valuable indeed,” as well as Ralph and Catherine Taylor and their children (DPM6282). Dolley and Todd’s financial situation, and the future of the slaves still owned by them at the close of the year was, however, far from secure. In late November, for example, Todd engaged in a new practice: using slaves as collateral to secure loans. On 26 November, he conveyed eight individuals—“John a Blacksmith Matthew a man, and Winny his wife, Gabriel and Willoughby, men, Abraham a boy, Harriet a Woman, and Violet a Girl”—by deed of trust, in order to secure a $500 loan.[18] At the end of 1844, Payne Todd and Dolley Madison likely owned about 35 enslaved men, women, and children.[19]

The arresting events of 1844 had a lasting impact on the slave community. After over 120 years in the Madison family, Montpelier had been sold. The land had been home to perhaps as many as six generations of enslaved men, women, and children, dating back to the first individuals who were sent to clear and improve the land by Madison’s grandfather in 1723.[20] It is possible that a number of the individuals Dolley owned at the beginning of 1844 were descended from that first generation of Madison slaves. Thus those who were caught up in the events of 1844 undoubtedly recognized Montpelier as far more than their place of bondage; it was their home, and the home of their ancestors. Though the men, women, and children who were sold to Moncure, and those who moved to Toddsberth, continued to reside in the same neighborhood, their futures remained unclear. Those who moved to Washington with Dolley were forced to leave behind their kin and community, and, in some cases, their children (and perhaps grandchildren), as 1844 came to a close.

—Amy Larrabee Cotz

[Amy Larrabee Cotz is a consulting editor for the Papers of Dolley Madison Project. Prior to working with the DMDE, she was the research associate for the African-American Research Initiative at Montpelier.]


1. See editorial notes: Dolley Madison's Land Sales, 1836-1840; Dolley Madison's Land Sales, 1841-1848; and Dolley Madison and the Montpelier Enslaved Community, 1836-1843.

2. After Madison died, Dolly found herself without any male relatives to rely upon for support. Her brother, John Coles Payne, moved to Illinois less than a year after Madison’s death. Her only surviving brother-in-law, William Madison, became an enemy of sorts when he brought a suit against her claiming that James owed him money related to settling their father’s estate years prior. And, although relatives and friends such as Edward Coles, Richard D. Cutts, and Nicholas Trist attempted to counsel her, they lived far away.

3. It is important to bear in mind that the total number of slaves (75), likely included a significant number of elderly or infirm individuals (perhaps as many as 25), whom Dolley would not be able to sell due to their inability to work any longer. For a discussion on the numbers of Montpelier slaves prior to 1844, see editorial note: Dolley Madison and the Montpelier Enslaved Community, 1836-1843.

4. Charlotte had two children, a daughter named Elizabeth, and a son named Caleb. It seems that the documents related to the William Smith case incorrectly listed “Caleb” as “Caty.”

5. William Madison proved to be a thorn in Dolley’s side in the years following James’ death in 1836. According to Ralph Ketcham, although James and William never came into “open conflict” before Madison died, “an unmistakable uneasiness existed.” William’s personal losses and failings, as well as his dissatisfaction with the settlement of his parents’ estates likely fueled his compulsion to pursue the debt he claimed James owed him. (For more on William Madison, see Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography, especially page 617).

6. See glossary identification for General William Madison.

7. John Payne Todd Journal, 1844-1847, The Peter Force Collection: Series 8 & 9, MS 17137, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

8. Although the deeds to Todd named just 37 men and women, subsequent documentation suggests that at least 13 children were also part of that transaction, the known children of the women listed. Therefore at least 50 enslaved individuals were transferred to Todd in the two deeds of gift. And, it seems that the deeds also failed to list those who were old or infirm, individuals who would not have been recognized as having monetary value, and were therefore not subject to being levied by the sheriff or likely to be sold by Payne Todd. For example, one of the women transferred to Todd was named Milley, a roughly forty-year-old mother of four. Although Milley’s children were not listed in Dolley’s transfer of slaves to Payne Todd, Milley and her children were sold to Moncure by Todd on 27 August 1844. After the sale, Payne Todd made a listing of the slaves he sold and the prices he received. Milley and her children were listed in a family grouping that included a 90 year old woman, also named Milley, who was assigned no monetary value. While the evidence is wanting, it indicates that the elderly Milley may well have been transferred to Moncure with her family.

9. Though William Madison’s executors were successful in receiving the judgment they desired in the spring of 1844, Dolley and Payne Todd countersued months later. The countersuit carried on for a little over two years. In October of 1846, Dolley’s suit was successful and the 1844 decision was overturned.

10. Answer of Henry W. Moncure, July 1, 1847, box 629, folder Wall File J, 1, Orange County Ended Chancery, Ended Dates: 1847-1848, Orange County Courthouse, Orange, Virginia.

11. See editorial note, Dolley Madison's Land Sales, 1841-1848.

12. Answer of Henry W. Moncure, July 1, 1847, box 629, folder Wall File J, 1, Ended Chancery Causes 1847-1848, Orange County Courthouse, Orange, Virginia.

13. It is possible that a number of elderly slaves may have been transferred to Moncure along with the estate. Evidence indicates that 90-year-old Milley, for example, may well have been transferred to Moncure in this fashion; see note 7.

14. It should be noted that while there is no extant documentation of other deaths due to that “sickness” it is not unlikely that others also lost their lives at the same time.

15. Elizabeth Dowling Taylor first posited an analysis of Sukey’s familial connections within the Montpelier enslaved community in her book, A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons, published in 2012 by Palgrave MacMillan.

16. John Payne Todd to Dolley Payne Todd Madison, January 1, 1845, Papers of Dolley Madison, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. For an analysis of Sukey’s familial connections see Taylor’s A Slave in the White House.

17. Much of the research on Paul Jennings is attributed to the work of Beth Taylor. For a full-length treatment of Jennings, see her book, A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons.

18. Orange County Court Minute Book 1843-1848; Orange County Court Deed Book 39, p. 485.

19. At the beginning of 1844, it is estimated that Dolley owned approximately 75 enslaved men, women, and children (see editorial note: Dolley Madison and the Montpelier Enslaved Community, 1836-1843). Over the course of 1844, Todd sold 22 slaves to Henry Moncure in two separate lots dated 22 July and 27 August. As was noted, evidence indicates that Moncure may have also taken on an unknown number of elderly slaves, such as 90-year-old Milley; see note 7. Payne Todd sold at least two individuals (Nicholas, Jr., and Rebecca Walker) to local buyers; it is very possible, however, that Todd sold others in the same fashion, but that the documentation failed to survive. Although Sukey’s son William was the only slave known to have died from the “greateal of sickness” noted by Dolley’s overseer, William Dixon, in early July, others may have also lost their lives during that period. In addition to these documented sales and deaths, there are other indications that individuals may have been sold as well. In mid-August, for example, Dolley wrote to ask Payne Todd if she could “dispose of a bad girl,” though there are no other extant references to that transaction (DPM1389). In 1845, Payne Todd paid taxes on 20 slaves (he did not pay taxes on slaves prior to 1845), all of whom were over the age of 16. At that time in Virginia, individuals would not have paid taxes on slaves under the age of 12, or those who were elderly or infirm. The extant correspondence coupled with the personal property tax indicates that at the close of 1844 Payne Todd (and Dolley) still owned approximately 35 slaves.

20. Ann L. Miller, The Short Life and Strange Death of Ambrose Madison. Orange County Historical Society, Inc., 2001.


Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography; John Payne Todd Journal, 1844-1847, The Peter Force Collection: Series 8 & 9, MS 17137, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Answer of Henry W. Moncure, July 1, 1847, box 629, folder Wall File J, 1, Orange County Ended Chancery, Ended Dates: 1847-1848, Orange County Courthouse, Orange, Virginia; A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons, Palgrave MacMillan (2012); John Payne Todd to Dolley Payne Todd Madison, January 1, 1845, Papers of Dolley Madison, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; Orange County Court Minute Book 1843-1848; Orange County Court Deed Book 39, p. 485; and Ann L. Miller, The Short Life and Strange Death of Ambrose Madison. Orange County Historical Society, Inc., 2001.

Dolley Madison’s Land Sales, 1841-1848

The first half of the 1840s saw the end of the Madison ownership of the Montpelier estate, as Dolley Madison’s financial situation continued to deteriorate. Debts (including financial obligations she incurred in the process of settling James Madison’s estate), her lack of ability as a manager, and her continuing dependence on her alcoholic and improvident son, John Payne Todd, all added to, and compounded, her monetary woes.

Dolley disposed of all of the outlying tracts of land around Montpelier during the later 1830s. She sold some land to neighbors, but she also had transferred other tracts to her son John Payne Todd, whose alcoholism and debts continued to increase; Todd quickly sold part of this land and encumbered the rest with deeds of trust to secure his own, considerable, debts. The only tracts that he seems to have retained were the land around his residence, Toddsberth, approximately two miles southeast of Montpelier. He also had an interest in 200 acres “at the South east corner” of Montpelier that his mother had deeded him on 8 April 1840 (DPM3328). In her deed, Dolley appears to have transferred the property to Todd outright, but that land was never subsequently assessed in his name and he apparently never paid taxes on it, so the exact form of transfer is uncertain.[1] The description in the deed is sufficiently vague that it is uncertain whether this land was within the Montpelier line, or immediately adjacent.

By 1840, Dolley had already placed three deeds of trust on the main Montpelier plantation. On 11 August 1836, Dolley took a deed of trust on 600 acres at the eastern end of the plantation, with Orange County Clerk Reynolds Chapman acting as trustee, securing a debt of $4000 to neighborhood planter James B. Newman (DPM3318). On 30 August 1839, Dolley had conveyed a deed of trust on Montpelier to her neighbor, William Smith, acting as trustee, to secure a debt of $5600 owed to George Bradley of Henderson County, Kentucky (DPM3342). And on 17 December 1839, Dolley had placed another deed of trust on the Montpelier plantation, with James B. Moore as trustee, to secure a $5,000 note endorsed by Ambrose Madison, one of James’s nephews (DPM3327). In the event of default under any of these deeds of trust, sufficient land was to be cut from the Montpelier tract and sold to cover the amount of the debt. The land involved in the Smith/Bradley transaction was to “be laid off on the North Western line or any other part where Mrs. Dolly P. Madison may wish it laid off.” The land involved in the Moore/Ambrose Madison transaction was to “be laid off on the South Western corner & line or in any part where Mrs. D. P. Madison may wish it laid off.” Given the vagueness of these descriptions, the intended locations are cannot be pinpointed with any degree of accuracy.

On 27 October 1841, William Smith released the 30 August 1839 deed of trust. Scarcely a week later, and before that release from Smith had been recorded in the court records, Dolley used more of the Montpelier land to secure yet another loan. On 3 November 1841, she conveyed 1,000 acres, “part of the Montpelier tract of land, upon which the said Dolly P. Madison now resides” to her neighbor James Newman, as trustee, in order to secure a $6,000 debt to local businessman David Graham (DPM6215). We know that the 1,000 acres being put under trust was “to be laid off by Commencing at a Corner hickory Saplin[g] in Newman’s line and running thence a line in a North direction across the said Montpelier tract, to the line of the Land upon which Lucy Conway now resides, so as to include the western Side of that line . . . with . . .the Houses and buildings thereon, and appurtenances thereto belonging . . .” And we can approximate the location of this dividing line; it is apparent that the land affected by the deed of trust constituted the entire western section of the plantation, including the main house and associated outbuildings. This deed of trust carried with it a line of credit: in addition to the $6,000 for which Dolley was already indebted to Graham, the deed noted that “it is Contemplated and expected” that David Graham “will advance and loan to the said Dolley Madison from time to time a further sum not exceeding . . . the sum of Two thousand Dollars.” Dolley was to repay the total loan, with interest, within three years.

All, or nearly all, of the plantation now was subject to deeds of trust, and Dolley’s options for repaying her debts were diminishing. Substantial land sales were virtually the only path left to her. By the end of the following year, the dismantling and sale of the Montpelier plantation was proceeding in earnest.

Payne Todd arranged for a survey of the eastern portion of Montpelier by local surveyor William D. Clark, and 409 acres were surveyed on 21 September 1842 by Clark and his assistants Thomas and Benjamin, two (apparently enslaved) “servant Men” acting as the chain carriers. By deed of 12 November 1842, Dolley and Todd conveyed the 409 acres and enough additional acreage to total 750 acres, to Henry W. Moncure of the city of Richmond (DPM6216). The consideration was $13 per acre, for a total of $9,750. The deed stated that “the right to part [of the land] whereof is in the said John P. Todd and also the right to the residue thereof in the said Dolly P. Madison,” and Todd joined with Dolley in this and the other conveyances of land from the main plantation. It is uncertain whether his presence on the deed was relative to his interest in the 200 acres that his mother had deeded him in 1840 (or another, unrecorded, agreement), or was generally reflective of his control over his mother.

The text of the November 1842 deed and the description of the land conveyed were tortuous, confusing, and in places incomplete. Possibly Todd drafted the deed himself. Only the survey plat of the 409 acres was included with the deed, and the measurements referenced in the deed did not total 750 acres. These errors necessitated a deed of correction. An additional survey was undertaken by Clark on 18 December 1842, and the new deed was made out on 29 December 1842 (DPM6217). An additional consideration of $1,625 was noted in this deed, and the accompanying plat detailed the 409 acre tract as well as tracts of 216 acres and 125 acres adjoining it to the north. Together these tracts constituted the entire eastern portion of the Montpelier tract—nearly half of the entire plantation. The residue of the property lay to the west of the boundary lines, and consisted of a little over 1000 acres, approximating the land in the deed of trust to secure the debt to Graham. The three tracts making up the 750 acres conveyed to Moncure are identified as “Sheen Estate” on the survey made on 18 December 1842. The origin or significance of the name is unknown: its only other appearance in the records is Moncure’s reference to “Sheen” in a 17 December 1842 letter to Dolley Madison concerning the correction of the errors (DPM1320).

Having purchased the eastern 750 acres, Moncure was also interested in acquiring the remainder of the property. Among Dolley Madison’s papers is an agreement, signed only by Moncure but apparently made around the time of Moncure’s purchase of the 750 acres, which would have allowed Moncure to rent half the Montpelier house, and have use of some outbuildings, plus the use in common of the grounds and gardens, for a term of three years (DPM1387).

Moncure’s interest in purchasing the residue of the Montpelier tract remained high over the next several years. At various times he proposed a conditional sale that potentially could allow Dolley and Todd to redeem the property later by repaying Moncure an amount equal to the purchase price and the amount of the deed of trust (although Moncure eventually withdrew the conditional offer due to Todd’s opposition to the sale (DPM1399).

Ultimately, Moncure did purchase the remainder of the Montpelier estate, by a deed of 1 August 1844 for a consideration of $18 per acre (DPM6219). A survey of the full estate, made by William D. Clark, was attached to the deed, and showed the three tracts (totaling 750 acres) conveyed in 1842, as well as the western portion of the property that now was being sold. The original total acreage of the Montpelier tract was identified as 1,767 acres; it was noted that this total acreage included the 18 acres sold to Reuben Newman in 1839 as well as the 750 acres conveyed to Moncure. The tract was described as that on which there were located “the Montpelier dwelling house, overseers house and a mill and pond” (the latter being the plantation sawmill and its millpond). The language of the deed specified that, in conveying the residue, “not only the said Dolly P. Madison unites herein but the said John P. Todd also, he having as it is said by him, a right in the said land or some part thereof under a conveyance from the said Dolly P. Madison which has not been admitted to record.”

Suffering continued problems and confrontations with Todd, Moncure made one last offer, on 5 October 1844, to rescind the sale, but in her reply two days later, Dolley Madison conveyed her intention to let the sale stand (DPM1399) and (DPM1400. One hundred and twenty-one years of Madison ownership of Montpelier had come to an end.

Following the confirmation of the sale of the property, James B. Newman released the 1836 deed of trust on Montpelier (the trustee, Reynolds Chapman, having died earlier in the year) in a quitclaim deed of 25 November 1844 (DPM6221). The 1839 deed of trust on Montpelier to secure Ambrose Madison’s note for $5,000 finally was released by James B. Moore on 6 October 1848 (DPM6226).

Dolley had continued to repose full trust in her son—on 29 July 1844, three days before the date of the deed to Moncure, she had formally granted him her power of attorney in her ongoing suit with William Madison’s executors (DPM6220), and he had a continued involvement in running her business and financial affairs. It is therefore hardly surprising that another deed of correction was required due to an incorrect calculation of acreage. Dolley, along with Todd, issued a deed of correction to Moncure dated 10 November 1848, a little over seven months before her death. The deed corrected an error in the acreage of the property: the 18 acres conveyed to Newman in 1839 had not previously been counted in the total, after all, and the full acreage of the main plantation had been 1,785 acres. Moncure had acquired 1,767 acres out of this total (DPM6224).

Dolley’s signature on this deed was certified in Washington, D.C. the same day as the document was written. However, Todd—perhaps due to his own fecklessness; perhaps as a final insulting gesture to Moncure—neglected to have his own signature certified for another three years, until 5 September 1851, only four months before his own death. The final recordation of the document took place in Orange County on 9 October 1851, closing the sad, final chapter of Dolley Madison’s sale of Montpelier.

—Ann L. Miller

[Ann L. Miller is a consultant to the Papers of Dolley Madison Project. She is the Historian for the Virginia Transportation Research Council, Research Historian for the Orange County (Virginia) Historical Society, and a former consultant historian to Montpelier.]


1. The description in the deed is sufficiently vague, that it is uncertain whether this land was within the Montpelier line, or immediately adjacent.

The Montpelier Surveys and Plats

A plat is a diagram, map, or plan of a piece of land. Usually, the plat includes the information from a survey of the property, and shows the metes and bounds, as well as features such as streams or other bodies of water, and often, the names of adjoining landowners.[1] Improvements, such as buildings and roads, may be shown as well.

Historically, in Virginia, land has been described by its “metes and bounds”; the property lines identified by the compass bearing; and the distances expressed between various points or landmarks. In the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, and into the twentieth century in Virginia, these landmarks were usually such items as watercourses, trees, rocks or other monuments. Specific points are commonly identified in these surveys by letters of the alphabet: “A,” “B,” “C,” etc. Markers such as stones or stakes were sometimes set in order to delineate points on the survey if no natural landmarks were present.[2]

The presence of metes and bounds to describe Madison family landholdings in patents, deeds, and other documents indicates that surveys and, almost certainly, the related plats, were made from the earliest years of the Montpelier-area land acquisitions in the eighteenth century. However, no plats of the Montpelier lands are known to survive from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The only plats of the main Montpelier plantation that continue to exist from the Madison era are the plats attached to the deeds by which Dolley Madison and John Payne Todd sold land to Henry W. Moncure: the eastern section of the plantation in 1842, and the remaining (western) portion of the property in 1844. William D. Clark, the local surveyor, did the original surveys upon which all of these plats were based.

In Clark’s 21 September 1842 survey of Montpelier, his plat carried the notation of “Chain Carriers servant Men {Thomas & Benjamin” (DPM6216 and DPM6222). Clark’s subsequent survey, made relative to corrected acreage and dated 18 December 1842, notes “Chain Carriers on 1st survey Thomas & Benjamin” and “2nd survey Abraham & Benjamin” identifying them as “servants” (DPM6217 and DPM6218). From the context of the survey records, it appears probable that these men were slaves owned by William D. Clark who assisted him in his surveying business. “Chain carriers” handled the metal-link chains that were then the standard instruments for measuring property lines. These chains, known as Gunter’s Chains, measured 4 “poles” (also called “rods”), for a total of 66 feet. A pole (or rod), 16.5 feet, was one of the standard units of land measurement of the era.[3] The surveyor determined the property lines utilizing a magnetic compass that was usually set on a tripod for stability. Since magnetic compass headings varied from true north according to the area of the country, the declination from true north was noted (Clark notes the magnetic declination as “0° 30’ Westwardly” and also notes the presence of “magnetic local attraction on all of the Lines”). Magnetic attraction was a common problem in areas such as the region around Montpelier, where geologic material, such as iron in the underlying rock, caused problems with compass readings.

Plat 1: medium or high resolution

The plat [left] attached to the first deed from Dolley Madison and Payne Todd to Henry Moncure shows only one of the parcels being conveyed, the tract of 409 acres (DPM6216). (The total conveyance was supposed to be the 409 acre parcel and as much additional land as was needed to make up 750 acres). The plat shows only the outlines of the tract, with two small streams (each marked merely “branch”), and the names of the adjoining landowners noted at the appropriate boundary lines.

Plat 2: medium or high resolution

The deed of correction and attached plat [right] show additional information (DPM6217). The plat of the property, called “Sheen Estate,” shows all three tracts comprising the 750 acres, along with the names of the adjoining landowners.[4] Of the streams passing through the tracts, “Poplar Run” and “Mill Run” are named, although the third, small stream is still merely marked “Branch.” Generally, the same landmarks were used in the two surveys, with one exception: the September survey cites one point, “G,” as marked by “A Gum hickory & Chestnut oak” while the December survey refers to these trees as “A Gum Hickory & Spanish oak.” Since Chestnut oaks and Spanish oaks are different species of oak trees, it is uncertain whether this difference represents a mis-transcription, a correction of the tree description, or a substitution.

Plat 3: medium or high resolution

The plat [left] attached to the final deed of 1 August 1844 (DPM6219) shows the full plantation, including the western residue being conveyed to Moncure, the eastern 750 acres that he had previously purchased, and the 18+ acres from the western corner that had been sold to Reuben Newman in 1839 (and subsequently passed to his son, Thomas). Taking up two full pages in the deed book, the plat shows not only the boundaries and adjoining landowners to the various tracts, but also includes sketches of the main house, the overseer’s house that was located near the family cemetery, two roads, various watercourses, and the saw mill and mill pond. In the thumbnail sketches of the buildings, care apparently was taken to represent actual architectural features: the main house is shown with its flat roofed one story wings, its two story main section is represented with its hipped roof; and even the arched fanlight over the front door is definitely, although crudely, drawn in (DPM6219).

—Ann L. Miller

[Ann L. Miller is a consultant to the Papers of Dolley Madison Project. She is the Historian for the Virginia Transportation Research Council, Research Historian for the Orange County (Virginia) Historical Society, and a former consultant historian to Montpelier.]


1. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “mete” as a particular point or position; “bound” as a landmark indicating the limit of an estate or territory; and “metes and bounds” as a boundary or limit.

2. The “section” system of dividing land on a square 1-mile grid (640 acres), which was common in the Midwest and west of the United States from the later nineteenth century, was not used in Virginia.

3. Also mentioned in some deeds, and not to be confused with rods, were “roods”: a rood was a quarter acre, or 40 square poles.

4. It is unclear why this plat designates the property as "Sheen." It is possible that John Payne Todd or someone else named it after the area of London named Sheen, located near Richmond Park, but that is simply speculation.


"I hope you will excuse the liberty I take of addressing you…I have a great taste for specimens of the hand-writing of distinguished individuals," one autograph seeker wrote Dolley in 1844 (DPM2029). James Madison started receiving requests for his autograph beginning in the mid 1820s. After his death, Dolley continued to get applications from strangers, and even from friends and relatives, for his (and sometimes her own) signature or document. The requests likely taxed the often-ill and burdened Dolly, but they were, no doubt, emotionally rewarding; they reminded her of the public’s continuing veneration of her beloved husband.

While collecting signatures of the noteworthy began in Europe in the 18th century, it was not until the second decade of the 19th century that it became a pastime in the United States. Historians have argued that the Reverend William B. Sprague was the first American to engage in this hobby.[1] Sprague was a tutor for a relative of George Washington's, and before leaving that position in 1816, a nephew of Washington's gave Sprague leave to take any of the late president's letters he wished, so long as a copy was left.[2] Thereafter, some 1500 of Washington's letters composed the foundation of Sprague's collection. By the end of the 19th century, autograph collecting had become so widespread that some began referring to it as a mania.[3]

The rise in popularity of autograph collecting throughout the 19th century paralleled an increased interest in authenticity, and an emerging patriotism, "as autographs came to be regarded as a special medium for conjuring intimacy with the past."[4] Collectors pursued signatures from the famous and infamous, those who were still alive and those long deceased who had made an impact on some aspect of American life. More sophisticated collectors held entire signed documents in higher regard than merely an autograph. The collectors felt that by compiling these ephemera, they were preserving and protecting historical documents, and thus the past itself. Less sophisticated collectors, however, merely sought a signature clipped from a document. They were notorious for pillaging the “papers of deceased authors, statesmen, and Revolutionary war heroes…and living luminaries found themselves besieged with requests for signatures by [the] so-called ‘autograph fiends.’”[5]

Among the most highly regarded signatures were those of individuals associated with the founding of the nation. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were an especially sought after group. Madison's own status as the "Father of the Constitution" and the fourth president of the United States made his signature an important object, a desirability that grew as the years passed. As late as 1930, for example, a collector noted, "another excellent set, and an increasingly popular one, is that made up of men who signed the Constitution."[6] Reverend William Sprague, himself a stranger to Madison, wrote the fourth president on 5 July 1828 to "request the favor that you would send me something in your own hand writing and with your signature." Sprague also asked for "any thing in the hand of either of the other Presidents, or of any of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence . . . It would be desirable that it should be a letter, or a note, or something entire in itself, though no matter how unimportant, as the hand writing is the principal thing that is desired."[7]

Dolley likely found the requests for her husband’s (and her own) autograph both an onus and a pleasure. And yet she probably saw the requests as more than that, as she, too, became an autograph seeker. Indeed, by 1839 Dolley had amassed quite a collection of her own. That October she wrote out "D.P.M.'s Autographs," a list that included more than 80 well-known individuals, including herself and other ladies she held long friendships with, such as Eliza Collins Lee. Her list began with "General Washington," and proceeded to "Mr. & Mrs. Adams," "Mr. Jefferson," "Mr & Mrs Madison," "Mr. Monroe," "Mr. & Mrs. J.Q. Adams," "Genl. Jackson" and "Mr. Van Buren" (DPM3056), the first eight presidents of the new nation.

—Amy Larrabee Cotz

[Amy Larrabee Cotz is a consulting editor for the Papers of Dolley Madison Project. Prior to working with the DMDE, she was the research associate for the African-American Research Initiative at Montpelier.]


1. Josh Lauer, “Traces of the Real: Autographomania and the Cult of the Signers in Nineteenth-Century America,” Text and Performance Quarterly 27 (2007): 149.

2. George Washington’s Last Will and Testament, 9 July 1799,n.13. The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition, ed. Theodore J. Crackel. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008. Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (New York, 2006), 99–100.

3. Lauer, “Traces of the Real.” For more on the art and history of autograph collecting, see: Thomas F. Madigan, Word Shadows of the Great: The Lure of Autograph Collecting (Detroit, 1971); Charles Hamilton, Collecting Autographs and Manuscripts (Norman, 1961); Michael Coenen, “The Significance of Signatures: Why the Framers Signed the Constitution and What They Meant by Doing So,” The Yale Law Journal 119 (2010).

4. Lauer, “Traces of the Real,” 145.

5. Lauer, “Traces of the Real,” 144, 155.

6. Madigan, Word Shadows of the Great, 235.

7. William B. Sprague to James Madison, 5 July 1828. The James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Dolley Madison's Winston Kin

In 1822, Dolley Madison's aunt, Lucy Coles Winston, came to Lauderdale County, Alabama, to live. A recent widow, Lucy had decided to join her daughter, Martha Henry Winston Armistead, and other family members in making the trek from Culpeper County, Virginia, to the newly-opened lands near the Tennessee River town of Florence.

Always on the move, members of Dolley Madison's Winston family were never hesitant to leave established homes and search out more desirable places to live. In 1935, one of her distant cousins, Elizabeth Winston Sheehan, described them well when she wrote, "Today they (the Winstons) are whacking down primeval forests, living in log cabins with mud chimneys–imitating dirt-daubers; tomorrow, in the city, vicing with nabobs, rolling in carriages, surrounded with velvets, silks, tapestry, and all such paraphernalia; then pushing onward for new lands–hunting for the place where the sun sets."[1]

On the way to Alabama in 1822, Lucy Winston's traveling party stopped near Saltville, Virginia, to visit with Lucy's first cousin, Elizabeth Henry Campbell Russell, a sister of Patrick Henry who had moved to frontier Virginia years earlier. In 1808, Dolley Madison's husband, James Madison, had come through the valley, campaigning for the Presidency and had been highly impressed by the eloquent prayer that his wife's cousin, Mrs. Russell, said for him. Lucy Winston's daughter, Martha Armistead, remarked that none of them had dry eyes when their party left her after their visit in 1822. Lucy Winston was both shocked and inspired to learn that her formerly-wealthy Cousin Elizabeth had given away most of her property, including her beautiful home and her slaves (to whom she gave land of their own), and spent her days ministering to her neighbors and to travelers who passed by her humble log cabin abode. (Elizabeth's daughter, Sarah Buchanan Campbell, who was married to General Francis Preston in 1797, received much of her mother's property, and built the mansion in Abingdon that is now known as the Martha Washington Inn.)[2]

After Lucy Winston settled into her own "humble abode" in Alabama (a "rough but comfortable enough" cabin built for her to live in while the larger family home was being completed), she expressed a desire to emulate the piety of her Cousin Elizabeth–even though she yearned with all her heart to be back in her Virginia neighborhood where she had been accustomed to living in fashionable homes in the midst of a social whirl that sometimes included Dolley and James Madison.[3] Homesick, disoriented, and missing her sons who had stayed in Virginia, Lucy wrote to her daughter-in-law, Susan Winston, saying, "Why will you not write to me and tell me how you and the dear girls are. I feel highly interested in all things that concerns you and your family. I should be glad even to hear from the Negroes, particularly old Sucky. How did she bear Lily's death?[4]

In December of 1822 Dolley Madison wrote to Anna Payne Cutts, "I hear Aunt is to return in the spring - that the sickly climate frightens her away" (DPM2241). Unfortunately, Lucy Winston was not able to make the long and difficult journey back to Virginia, in spite of her fervent desire to do so, and died on October 1st, 1823. She probably never received the letter that her son, Dr. Isaac Winston, wrote to her in September of 1823, saying that he had met with his brother, Walter, at Auburn (near Brandy Station, in Culpeper County), and with William Alexander, at Zhe Hol, on Cedar Run, and they had agreed to "send for you at any instant you will appoint. You shall have horses, servant, carriage and money, and one of your sons to wait on you."[5] Dolley Madison had always felt a special fondness for her Aunt Lucy, who was her mother's sister. They may have spent years living near each other when the Paynes moved from North Carolina to the Coles Hill plantation in Hanover. Dolley had gone to stay with her Uncle Isaac (her mother's first cousin) and her Aunt Lucy Winston in Hanover in 1794 when she was making a decision whether or not to marry James Madison.[6] Later, the Winstons moved to Culpeper, and James and Dolley Madison sometimes visited with them on their way back home to Montpelier from Washington - once staying at their home, Zhe Hol, for three days due to heavy rains and flooding in the area (DPM0168).

Lucy Winston's daughter, Dolley Coles Winston (who came to Alabama with her), had spent all the time she possibly could with her first cousin, Dolley Madison, in Washington and at Montpelier, and was said by Dolley to have been "frantick" to be back with her when she had to return home in June of 1807 (DPM0150). In April of that year, Dolley Madison had written to her Aunt Lucy Winston, scolding her "'for not knowing my heart better' than to suppose the girl stayed too long–the visit was a favor" (DPM0147). After she came to Alabama in 1822, Dolley Winston continued to correspond with her cousin Dolley Madison, keeping her informed of the family news (DPM0595). In November of 1822, Dolley Winston wrote to her sister-in-law, Susan Winston, telling her that she had suffered for several weeks from a severe illness that had caused her to lose all her hair and reduced her to a "skeleton."[7] After she recovered her health, Dolley Winston found that, at age 33, she was "surrounded by beaus, some of very hansome fortunes" [8] (a situation that may have reduced her anguish at being separated from her cousin in Virginia.) Some time in 1823 or 1824, Dolley Winston married Dr. Jonathan Beckwith, a much younger man from Fredericksburg, Virginia, who had been staying in the Armistead/Winston home while he established himself in Lauderdale County as a physician and a planter.

Lucy Winston's son, Dr. Isaac Winston (a first cousin and special friend of Dolley Madison), also thought of relocating to north Alabama. In 1827, Dr. Winston wrote to his brother-in-law, Dr. Jonathan Beckwith: "The times in Virginia continue very dull, the low price of produce together with the uncertainty of making wheat, our staple crop, render Farming rather unprofitable. I have a great desire to visit your state & Tennessee as I am still anxious to remove to a new Country, but the difficulty of selling my Land I am apprehensive will prevent me, at least for the present."[9] Dr. Winston decided to stay in Virginiaand eventually moved to Alexandria. In 1856, he wrote to his niece, Dolley Beckwith's daughter, Elizabeth Beckwith, begging for news of his sister, Martha Winston Armistead, and other family members who seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth after going away to Alabama. "Tell me," he wrote, "is my Sister alive? Has she suffered much loss by the War? Where, and how is she? O! Tell me every thing about her; about your self, the Doctor and your Brother -- Give me information also concerning Fontaine Armistead and his Father in law Col. Winston."[10]

Dolley Madison's first cousin, William Alexander Winston, another of Lucy's sons (who was living in her former home, Zhe Hol), had considered, in 1823, joining his mother in Alabama, but decided to stay in Culpeper County after Lucy advised him to "see and judge for yourself, and depend on no person's opinion. Transfering a man's family and all his propity 7 hundred miles is an important business." She assured him, however, that "should you remove to any of the Western states before I die it will give me pleasure to do all in my power for you. ... I think if you could awake tomorrow and find yourself here you would wish all your enterest here."[11]

Despite the strenuous objections of William Alexander Winston's wife, Polley, who feared for the safety of her children who were moving away from Virginia, their daughter, Martha Virginia Winston Payne (1817-1846), went to live in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1843 after her marriage to Dr. John J. Woodville Payne. William Alexander Winston's brother, Walter Coles Winston, had been searching for land in the Columbus area since the 1830s and had moved his family there that same year (1843). Walter's intention was to make his fortune and build an elegant home in Columbus in the style of Auburn, his home in Culpeper County.

Walter Coles Winston wrote his cousin John Payne Todd on 13 December 1843 from Columbus, Mississippi, that "altho’ I have not purchased land, I am sensibly struck with the great difference between my prospects here, in a pecuniary point of view, & my past experience in my native State–my Estate there under a system of rigid economy & persevering industry yealded a proffit insufficient for the support of my family in the plainest stile. my prospects in this country, after deducting from it a considerable am’t on acc’t of sacrifices in the sale of my property in Va. & heavy expenditures incurred on the road in removing, are good for from $4000 to $5000 a year–This difference is very striking, & will enable me if I live a few years to make a decent provision for my Children" (DPM3245).

In September of 1846, Dolley Madison's cousin, Dolley Winston Beckwith, traveled with her 19-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Beckwith, from their home in Lauderdale County, Alabama, to Columbus to visit with her brother, Walter Coles Winston, and other relatives who had moved there from Culpeper County–including her niece, Martha Virginia Winston Payne (who died later that same year, leaving a three-month-old baby). Dolley Winston Beckwith wrote to her husband, Dr. Jonathan Beckwith: "It is a very hansome place, some very hansome buildings and a much larger town than I espected." She asked for permission to leave Elizabeth to spend the winter in Columbusas "In November and during the winter is very gay and pleasant. ... the girls all beg that I will leave her and the old people wish it too."[12]

Another of Dolley Madison's cousins, Alfred Anderson (the son of Lucy Winston's daughter Mary Ann Winston Anderson), moved to Green County, Kentucky, where he became famous. Alfred, who was a lawyer, had bought land in Lauderdale County, Alabama, during the early land sales, intending to settle near his grandmother and his aunts, but decided to move to Kentucky where his father, Garland Anderson, had built a house around 1819. In 1852, Alfred inherited his father's property and acquired the slaves that came with the estate. He set the slaves free and gave them land on which to make a living. The area is now known as "Anderson Free State."[13]

Other cousins of Dolley Madison who settled in the Tennessee Valley in the early 1800s were descendants of her great-uncle, Captain Anthony Winston, of Buckingham County, Virginia. Captain Anthony first moved his family to Davidson County, Tennessee, to a plantation adjacent to that of General Andrew Jackson, who became a good friend. Around 1810, the family relocated to Huntsville, in Madison County, Alabama. When land became available in the Muscle Shoals area, Captain Anthony moved to the new town of York Bluff (present Sheffield) onto a plantation that he bought from General Andrew Jackson–selling Jackson the land that he still owned near Jackson's home, The Hermitage, in Tennessee.[14]

Enterprising and ambitious, Captain Anthony Winston and his sons built fine homes in and around Tuscumbia (just across the Tennessee River from Florence, where Lucy Winston had gone to live in 1822). Ever-ready to defend "the good name of their friend and military hero, General Jackson," some of the Winston men became involved in duels and fights that have become legendary in Tuscumbia - including W. Winter Payne, who was said to be "wealthy, irascible and brave, for he had Winston blood in his veins."[15] John Anthony Winston, Captain Anthony's grandson, later moved to south Alabama, where he became successful in politics due to his "frankness and independence." He was elected as Alabama's first native-born governor in 1853.[16]

Still looking for the place where the sun sets, as the Winstons used to say, Dolley Madison's Winston cousin, Peter Fontaine Armistead (the husband of Lucy Winston's daughter, Martha Winston Armistead) was unable to resist the allure of new land farther west, when land in Mississippi became available for purchase in the 1830s. He purchased property on the Mississippi River at Friar's Point, south of Memphis, Tennessee, and later established a home on a plantation near Sardis, Mississippi, where he moved permanently in 1850. His wife, Martha Winston Armistead, stayed in Lauderdale County, in the house where her mother, Lucy Winston, had come to live in 1822, and received the family plantation as compensation for her dower. She continued to raise crops of cotton with the help of a number of slaves who had long been in the Winston family, some of whom, such as Woodson, were apparently well-known to Dolley Madison. According to stories passed down through the family, Woodson was either a highly-regarded slave or a freedman. Martha Armistead appointed him as her overseer after her husband, Peter, had gone to live in Mississippi. In February of 1823 Lucy Winston said in a letter to her son, William Alexander Winston: "Woodson requests you will give his love to his mother and her children and tell them he is very well."[17] In another letter Lucy asked William Alexander's wife, Polley, to "Tell Dolley Woodson is well and still a bachelor."[18]

In December of 1851 Peter Armistead, in a letter to his brother-in-law, Dr. Jonathan Beckwith, decried the fact that he had "never known money so hard to get." He had had poor crops in Mississippi and was unable, at that time, to sell his land on the Mississippi River. Legally separated from his wife, Martha Winston Armistead, he remarked to Dr. Beckwith that he didn't know whether to "rejoice or regret" that Dr. Beckwith's daughter, Elizabeth (who had participated in the social season at Columbus, Mississippi, five years earlier) was "still in a state of single blessedness."[19]

Looking for adventure and fortune, as well as the "setting sun," several of Lucy Winston's grandsons joined the gold rush and traveled across the county in 1849, finally reaching the western edge of the country before returning with their gleanings to establish homes in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Virginia. Some of their kinsmen remained in California and became prominent in business and in politics.

During the Civil War, Dolley Madison's Winston cousins passionately defended their homes and their honor against invading Yankee armies, but lost much of the wealth and property they had accumulated. After the War, Lucy Winston's grandson, Peter Fontaine Armistead, Jr. (who had married his cousin, a granddaughter of Captain Anthony Winston), recruited a labor force of former slaves who were willing to work for him as sharecroppers on his plantation near Tuscumbia. Another of Lucy's grandsons (Dolley Winston Beckwith's son, Alexander Winston Beckwith), was unable to find laborers in Lauderdale County and tried (and failed) to cultivate his land by himself. His new bride, Mollie Mason (a descendant of George Mason, of Virginia), bought his plantation from him with the money she brought to the marriage as her dower, and managed it while Alexander traveled back and forth to a plantation in Helena, Arkansas, where workers were easier to find.

The Winstons were typical white, planter, Virginians, in their outmigration pattern; from Virginia to Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Mississippi. What set them apart, along with their sheer determination to succeed, was the magnitude of their family's connection (which included most of the early leaders of America), and their ability to identify and possess desirable new land. Dolley Madison's mother's first cousin, Patrick Henry, was part of a Virginia land company that tried to buy millions of acres in the Tennessee Valley during the late 1700s.[20] James Madison of Farmville, Virginia, said to have been a cousin of Dolley's husband, President James Madison, was a member of a land company that bought a great deal of property in the Muscle Shoals area, including land near the Tennessee River neighboring the place where Lucy Winston came to live in 1822.

Though the Winstons were willing to take the risk of moving to new locations in the early 1800s, many of those who had moved to north Alabama and Mississippi stayed in place after the Civil War, in spite of looming poverty. They generally managed to hold onto their homes and community positions, and never relaxed their high standards for living well. They still take their family connections seriously.

—Milly Wright

[Milly Wright worked in the aerospace industry in Huntsville, Alabama, and Cape Canaveral, Florida, and taught physics and math at Huntsville High School before moving to Florence, Alabama, where she became interested in history. A former president of the Tennessee Valley Historical Society, and Heritage Preservation, Inc. of Florence, she has published a number of articles on local history. She and her husband maintain their 190-year-old Armistead/Winston home and have moved two historic log homes onto their property (including the cabin inhabited by Peter Armistead after he moved to Mississippi).]


1. Elizabeth Winston Sheehan, “‘Oak Hill, the Home of William Overton Winston of Sumter County’ by Elizabeth Winston,” Historic Homes of Alabama and their Traditions, ed. National League of American Pen Women (Birmingham, AL, 1935), 1.

2. Lucy Winston to Dr. Isaac Winston, 5 November 1822, in the possession of Lucy Robb Winston Works as of 1989; William B. Kent, A History of Saltville, Virginia (Radford, VA, 1955), 104.

3. Lucy Winston to Dr. Isaac Winston, 5 November 1822, in the possession of Lucy Robb Winston Works.

4. Lucy Winston to Susan Winston, 5 November 1822, in the possession of Lucy Robb Winston Works.

5. Dr. Isaac Winston to Lucy Winston, 19 September 1823, in the possession of Lucy Robb Winston Works.

6. Virginia Moore, The Madisons, a Biography (New York, 1979), 11, 91.

7. Dolley Coles Winston to Susan Winston, 5 November 1822, in the possession of Lucy Robb Winston Works.

8. Dolley Coles Winston to Susan Winston, 5 November 1822, in the possession of Lucy Robb Winston Works.

9. Dr. Isaac Winston to Dr. Jonathan Beckwith, 28 September 1827, in the possession of Lucy Robb Winston Works.

10. Dr. Isaac Winston to Elizabeth Beckwith, 23 September 1856, in the possession of Lucy Robb Winston Works.

11. Lucy Winston to William Alexander Winston, 1823, in the possession of Lucy Robb Winston Works.

12. Dolley Winston Beckwith to Dr. Jonathan Beckwith, 23 September 1846, in the possession of Mr. Lucien Winston as of 1989.

13. Kenneth T. Gibbs, Historic Architecture of Green County, Kentucky (Greensburg, KY, 1983), 27-28.

14. Harold D. Moser, J. Clint Clifft, eds., The Papers of Andrew Jackson, vol. VI (Knoxville, TN, 2002), 193, 311, 447.

15. Susan M. Sheridan, “Fire Eaters and Duelists of Old Tuscumbia,” Journal of Muscle Shoals History, vol. 9 (1981), 136-139. Published Annually by the Tennessee Valley Historical Society; James Edmonds Saunders, Early Settlers of Alabama (Baltimore, MD, 1969), 124.

16. Thomas McAdory Owen, LL.D., History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, vol. IV (Chicago, IL, 1921), 1790.

17. Lucy Winston to William Alexander Winston, February 1823, in possession of Lucy Robb Winston Works.

18. Lucy Winston to Polley Winston, 1823, in possession of Lucy Robb Winston Works.

19. Peter F. Armistead to Dr. Jonathan Beckwith, 22 December 1851, Foster-Wood Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Manuscript Section, Nashville, TN.

20. Patrick Daily, Patrick Henry - The Last Years - 1789-1799 (Bedford, VA, 1986), 49.

The Grymes Tract (Madison County, Virginia)

In 1722, a land patent for 12,000 acres, located between the Rapidan and Robinson Rivers in what was then Spotsylvania County (now southern Madison County), was granted to Cole Digges of York County, Peter Beverley of Gloucester County, and William Robertson of Williamsburg.[1] The required improvements were not made to the land, and the patent lapsed. In 1729, the entire tract was regranted to John Grymes.[2]

The property remained in the Grymes family until the 1770s when Benjamin and Charles Grymes divided and sold much of the tract as a series of large parcels ranging in size from around four hundred to several thousand acres. Among the purchasers was James Madison Sr., who acquired 2,301 acres on the north bank of the Rapidan River near the modern hamlet of Madison Mills.[3] A portion of this land was occupied soon after by James Madison Sr.’s son, Francis, to whom Madison Sr. deeded the western 1,000 acres of the parcel in 1784, describing it as the land where Francis “now lives.”[4] This property became Francis Madison’s plantation, Prospect Hill (later known as Greenway).

Francis Madison deeded his brother, William, forty acres of the Prospect Hill land in 1791, and William received the residue of the Grymes parcel, amounting to another 1,300 acres, from his father around 1794.[5] (The transfer of the 1,300 acres was not recorded by deed, but was referenced in the tax records and confirmed by the will of James Madison Sr.)[6] William Madison’s portion of the land became his plantation, Woodberry Forest (now Woodberry Forest School). In 1812 William Madison bought—or James Madison bought for him—an additional 564 acres of Grymes land from the widow of Benjamin Grymes. William probably kept this land, located north of the Woodberry Forest property, for agricultural use or as forest, as there is no record of an evaluation of value based on improvement.[7]

The Grymes family retained at least a portion of their old patent land well into the nineteenth century. At the time of William Madison’s acquisition of the additional 564-acre tract in 1812, tax records indicate that at least another 550-plus acres were still owned by the Grymes family, as well.[8]

In the context of the lawsuit between William Madison and Dolley Madison, the question of payment for the Grymes tract arose, since between 1820 and 1825, William sold off part of that tract.[9] On 3 July 1845 John Strode Barbour Sr. sent a letter to John Payne Todd with additional information about that transaction.

—Ann L. Miller

[Ann L. Miller is a consultant to the Papers of Dolley Madison Project. She is the Historian for the Virginia Transportation Research Council, Research Historian for the Orange County (Virginia) Historical Society, and a former consultant historian to Montpelier.]


1. Virginia Patent Book 11, p. 147.

2. Virginia Patent Book 13, p. 385.

3. Culpeper County Deed Book I, p. 34.

4. Culpeper County Deed Book M, p. 206.

5. Culpeper County Deed Book Q, p. 359; Madison County Land Tax Books 1793-1795.

6. Orange County Will Book 4, p. 1.

7. Madison County Deed Book 5, p. 205; Madison County Land Tax Books 1812-1820.

8. Madison County Land Tax Books, 1793-1820.

9. Madison County Deed Book 7, p. 66; Madison County Deed Book 8, p. 357, p. 360.

Naval Ball of 8 December 1812

During the period of the Early Republic it was customary to celebrate important events with a ball. In this instance, a gathering was planned to celebrate several American naval officers, especially Isaac Hull, Charles Morris, and Charles Stewart, for their recent victories over the British forces. The event was announced in the local newspapers in early December and held on the 8th of that month. Years later, in 1845, Charles Stewart maintained “the citizens of Washington were then honoring me.”[1] The focus of the gathering changed, however, with the news that Stephen Decatur, commanding the USS United States, had captured the HMS Macedonian on 25 October 1812. Decatur asked one of his officers, Archibald Hamilton, son of Secretary of Navy Paul Hamilton, to bring the flag of the British frigate to Washington and present it at the Naval Ball. He did so. Dolley accepted the gift; the president remained home, working in his office.

Within days, the story of the flag of the HMS Macedonian was in dispute. A poem appeared in the local newspapers trumpeting that Hamilton had laid it at Dolley’s feet: “No monarchs here, at whose proud feet to lay/ The rising Emblem of her future sway/ Her modest Heroes find their wish complete/ In British colours at a LADY’s feet.”[2] In response, the editors of the National Intelligencer wrote an article on 14 December stating that “the writer of the following [the above-cited poem] no doubt alludes to an incident said to have occurred at the ‘Naval Ball’ some evenings ago, at which, in sportive gallantry and colours of the Macedonian were laid at a lady’s feet. If the incident did occur, as reported, we certainly did not witness it.”[3] Thus was born the story that Archibald Hamilton had laid the flag on the floor of the ballroom directly in front of Dolley; in some versions she proceeded to stomp on it.

Dolley Madison’s BallThe tale lives on, as attractive historical legends often do, especially those that convey the kind of message that this one did: of a First Lady so adamant in her hatred of the British that she would tread on British colors; of an American navy, as represented by Archibald Hamilton, that would virtually ask her to do so by spreading the flag before her feet; and of a president standing on the sidelines while his wife took center stage (although perhaps whispering naval orders in the shadows). In 1900, American painter and illustrator Jennie Augusta Brownscombe (1850–1936) captured the myth perfectly in a painting she titled “Dolly Madison’s Ball.” It is currently owned by the Huntsville, Alabama, Museum of Art, which has graciously given the DMDE permission to include it here.

By 1845, the story of Dolley and the flag was but a small segment of a larger historical spitting match about who could or should take the credit for U.S. naval victories during the War of 1812. Albert Gallatin, the only surviving member of President Madison’s wartime cabinet, and Edward Coles, President Madison’s secretary during the war, charged Charles Jared Ingersoll and Commodore Charles Stewart of falsifying the past by misrepresenting the events surrounding “the purpose of the executive government to lay up, or not, the navy, during the last war.”[4] Ingersoll had just published a work on the War of 1812, and Stewart was writing letters to the press in support of Ingersoll’s version. Gallatin and Coles were furious.


1. Edward Coles to James Gallatin, 22 November 1845.

2. National Intelligencer (Washington, DC) Monday, December 14, 1812.

3. Ibid.

4. The New York Herald (New York, NY) Friday, 5 December 1845. For further reading on this controversy, see Cleveland Daily Herald, Cleveland, Ohio, 1 November 1845.

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