Dolley Madison, age 36
White House Historical Association

Dolley Madison at the age of 36.
May 20, 1768: Early Life

Dolley Payne is born in the Quaker community of New Garden (now part of Greensboro), North Carolina to parents John Payne and Mary Coles Payne.

April 1769

The Paynes move back to Hanover County, Virginia, where they had lived before Dolley’s birth.

December 16, 1773

A group of men dress as Native Americans board three tea ships in the Boston Harbor and dump the tea overboard in protest to high taxes in the Boston Tea Party.

July 2, 1776

With the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress votes unanimously to declare independence from Great Britain.


Dolley’s father, John Payne, liberates his slaves and moves his family to Philadelphia where he will start a starch-manufacturing business.


John Payne’s starch business goes under which precipitates his dismissal from the Pine Street Monthly Meetings for being unable to pay his debts. Rejection from the Quaker community sends Dolley’s father into a deep depression from which he will never recover. Dolley’s mother, Mary Coles Payne, supports her family by taking in boarders. Most of the occupants are Congressmen who are representing districts in other states.

January 7, 1790: Dolley's First Marriage

Per the request of her father, Dolley marries John Todd, a lawyer, in Philadelphia, PA, at the Pine Street Meeting House.

February 29, 1792

Dolley gives birth to her first son, John Payne Todd.

October 24, 1792

Dolley’s father, John Payne, dies. His widow, Mary, has established herself as a successful manager of a boarding house and is able to care for her family in her husband’s absence.

August - November 1793

The Yellow Fever epidemic sweeps through Philadelphia, claiming the lives of an estimated 5,000 Americans.

September 1793

Dolley gives birth to her second son, William Temple Todd, in the midst of the Yellow Fever epidemic but flees to Gray’s Ferry in South Philadelphia shortly after.

October 14, 1793

Dolley loses both her infant son, William Temple Todd, and her husband, John Todd, to Yellow Fever. Though it is not confirmed that Dolley contracted the fever, she did fall ill around the same time but recovered.

Constitutional Convention delegate James Madison
New York Historical Society

Constitutional Convention delegate James Madison
May 1794: James Madison

U.S. Congressional Representative James Madison asks to be introduced to Dolley by their mutual friend, Aaron Burr. Burr is a regular at the Payne Boarding House run by Dolley’s mother. James and Dolley begin their courtship.

Mid-August 1794

Dolley accepts a marriage proposal by James Madison, who had been engaged once before but never married.

September 15, 1794

Dolley marries U.S. Representative James Madison at her sister’s home in West Virginia. The marriage results in Dolley’s dismissal from the Quaker community since James is not a Quaker.


When James Madison retires from Congress, Dolley and James retreat from Philadelphia to make a home at Madison’s estate, Montpelier, near Orange, VA.

March 4, 1797

John Adams is inaugurated as the second U.S. president.

June 11, 1800

The U.S. capitol officially moves from Philadelphia, PA, to Washington, D.C.

March 4, 1801

Thomas Jefferson is inaugurated as the third U.S. president.

May 1801

The Madisons move to Washington, D.C. after James becomes Secretary of State for Thomas Jefferson’s administration.

From time to time, Dolley serves as Jefferson's hostess in the White House, as he is a widower.


Dolley and other women in Washington City donate goods for the Lewis and Clark expedition.

July 11, 1804

Alexander Hamilton dies in a duel with Aaron Burr.


Dolley Madison campaigns behind the scenes for her husband in his presidential run.

March 4, 1809: Entering the White House

James Madison is inaugurated as the 4th President of the United States. Dolley becomes the first First Lady to host the Inaugural Ball in Washington, which is held at Long’s Hotel.

June 18, 1812

The War of 1812 begins after years of rising tension between Great Britain and the U.S.

March 4, 1813

Dolley Madison’s famous ice cream is served at her husband’s second inaugural ball.

The burning of the White House
White House Historical Association

The burning of the White House.
August 24, 1814

After receiving word that the British intended to burn the White House, Dolley orders the removal of the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington from the state dining room’s wall upon evacuation.

With the British invasion, James and Dolley Madison flee and set up a temporary “White House” in the Octagon House in Washington D.C. Dolley campaigns to keep the city as the nation’s capital.

December 24, 1814

The signing of the Treaty of Ghent ends the War of 1812, though the news will not reach America for weeks and the treaty will not be ratified by James Madison until February 17.

June 18, 1815

Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo.

Dolley near the close of Madison's presidency
New York Historical Society

Dolley near the close of Madison's presidency.

The Madisons return to Montpelier at the end of James’ second term.

July 4, 1826

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams die.


Payne Todd spends time in debtors prison in Philadelphia.

June 28, 1836

James Madison dies and is buried at Montpelier.

November 1837: Life After James

Dolley lives in Montpielier and a house in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.


Dolley is given a lifetime seat on the House Floor. This is an unprecedented honor.

August 1844

Due to financial distress contributed to by John Payne Todd’s extensive gambling debt, Dolley is forced to sell Montpelier along with the estate’s slaves and live full time in Washington.


Congress purchases James Madison’s professional papers from Dolley. She had helped in publishing the papers upon Madison’s return to Montpelier.

July 12, 1849

Dolley dies in Washington D.C. and is laid to rest in the Congressional Cemetery. Though Dolley wished to be buried next to her husband in the Madison Family Cemetery, the estate had been sold to private owners.

January 12, 1858

After much negotiation, Dolley is buried in the Montpelier burial ground.

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