AKA Dolley Payne
Birthplace: Greensboro, NC
Location of death: Washington, DC
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Montpelier Estate National Historic Site, Montpelier, VA
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: First Lady
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Wife of US President James Madison
Dolley Payne's father was a struggling businessman who freed his slaves after the Revolutionary War of 1776. She was born and raised a Quaker, and wore the religion's traditional garb through her childhood and marriage to a young lawyer named John Todd Jr. He was killed just three years after their wedding, along with one of their two sons, in a raging epidemic of yellow fever.
A family friend, Aaron Burr, introduced her to then-Congressman James Madison, who proposed marriage mere weeks later. When she married Madison, an Episcopalian, she joined his church -- and remade herself as a socialite, taking up snuff, having an occasional nip of alcohol, and discarding her dowdy Quaker clothes for bright, colorful gowns.
While her husband was Secretary of State, she served as de facto hostess at state dinners and official functions of widower Thomas Jefferson's Presidency. She acted as a public spokeswoman for the fundraising effort that, in 1804, sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the Louisiana territory. When her husband became President in 1809, she hosted the first party to be called an inaugural ball, then took charge of his social calendar.
In 1814, while the War of 1812 was still raging, the British Army advanced on Washington, and the President left the city to be on the front lines with the troops. He ordered his wife to flee the city, but she refused to leave until she heard the advancing cannon fire, and even then, she kept her wits about her. She commandeered a large wagon off the street, and helped White House servants load it with vital state documents, the President's papers and books, her favorite silver and china, and Gilbert Stuart's famous painting of George Washington. When the Madisons returned the White House was in ruins, but she almost immediately resumed hosting the social events for which she had become famous. The capitol's society nightlife was widely perceived as helping to rally the wounded city, and the nation. By all accounts, Dolley Madison's natural charm, cultivated graciousness, and enthusiasm for public life set the standard for future First Ladies, and began the tradition that cast the President's wife as the nation's hostess.
After her husband's two terms in office, she retired with him to his Virginia plantation. After his death she was forced to sell their family home and most of his property to settle the debts of her son, John Payne Todd, a gambler and playboy who had been sent to debtors' prison at least twice. With her estate gone, she returned to Washington, where she again became a favored guest at society events. At her death in 1849, President Zachary Taylor is said to have eulogized her as "the First Lady of the land" -- the first use of the term "First Lady" to describe a head of state's spouse.
Biographers and sources as reputable as Encyclopedia Britannica have claimed that Dolley was a nickname, that her true name was Dorothy or Dorothea. The preponderance of evidence, though, suggests that Dolley was her Christian name -- and she always spelled it 'Dolley', not 'Dolly'. Also contrary to popular belief, the Zingers and donut gems made by the Dolly Madison Bakery are not based on the First Lady's recipes. The company was named in honor of her reputation as the premier Washington hostess, but the snack cakes were first concocted in 1937, long after her death.
Father: John Payne (starchmaker, b. 1736, d. 24-Oct-1792)
Mother: Mary Coles Payne (ran a boarding house, b. 1745, m. 1761, d. 8-Feb-1808)
Brother: Walter Payne (b. 1762, d. 1784)
Brother: William Temple Payne (b. 1766, d. 1795)
Brother: Isaac Payne (b. mid-1760s, d. 1795)
Sister: Lucy Payne Washington Todd (b. 1777, m. nephew of George Washington 1793, d. 1846)
Sister: Anna Payne Cutts (b. 1776, m. US Congressman Richard Cutts, d. 1832)
Sister: Mary Payne Jackson ("Polly", b. 1773, m. US Congressman J.G. Jackson, d. 1809)
Brother: John Coles Payne (b. 1782, d. 1860s)
Husband: John Todd, Jr. (attorney, b. 1763, m. 7-Jan-1790, d. Oct-1793 yellow fever epidemic)
Son: John Payne Todd (playboy, b. 29-Feb-1792, d. 1852)
Son: William Temple Todd (b. Jul-1793, d. Oct-1793 yellow fever epidemic)
Husband: James Madison (US President 1809-17, b. 1751, m. 15-Sep-1794, d. 1836)
Irish Ancestry Maternal
English Ancestry Paternal
Scottish Ancestry Paternal
French Ancestry Paternal
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