Lost Photos of History – James Madison In The Drawing Room At Montpelier

James Madison Sits in the Drawing Room at Montpelier

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4th U.S. President and Father of the Constitution, James Madison sits in his drawing room at Montpelier, Orange County, Virginia.

James Madison was  known for dressing in black.  His trusted slave, Paul Jennings stated,  “I have heard Mr. Madison say, that when he went to school, he cut his own wood for exercise. He often did it also when at his farm in Virginia. He was very neat, but never extravagant, in his clothes. He always dressed wholly in black — coat, breeches, and silk stockings, with buckles in his shoes and breeches. He never had but one suit at a time. He had some poor relatives that he had to help, and wished to set them an example of economy in the matter of dress. He was very fond of horses, and an excellent judge of them, and no jockey ever cheated him. He never had less than seven horses in his Washington stables while President.”1

Today I snapped this candid photo of James Madison sitting in his drawing room at Montpelier.  It was a rare occasion to see him dressed a little spiffier. This was all Dolley’s doing as she was tired of seeing him dressed in black. Dolley added a little extra color to her little husband by tying his queue in a red ribbon.

James Madison sitting in the drawing room at Montpelier.
James Madison sitting in the drawing room of his Montpelier mansion.

Dolley said, “If I see one more photo of Mr. Madison dressed in black, I’m going to scream.”

Dolley purchased his new suit for such an occasion as this, though Madison balked at the idea of wearing it. Well, at least we have this photo now to prove he would wear something other than black.

James Madison sitting in the drawing room at Montpelier.
Close up view of James Madison sitting in the drawing room of his Montpelier mansion.

Madison’s slave, Paul Jennings, continued to tell me more about the former president and his wife, Dolley.

“Mrs. Madison is a remarkably fine woman. She is beloved by every body in Washington, white and colored. Whenever soldiers marched by, during the war, she always sent out and invited them in to take wine and refreshments, giving them liberally of the best in the house. Madeira wine was better in those days than now, and more freely drank.”2

James Madison sitting in the drawing room at Montpelier.
Sepia toned photograph of James Madison sitting in the drawing room of his Montpelier mansion.

“Mr. Madison, I think, is one of the best men that ever lived. I never saw him in a passion, and never knew him to strike a slave, although he had over one hundred; neither would he allow an overseer to do it. Whenever any slaves were reported to him as stealing or ‘cutting up’ badly, he would send for them and admonish them privately, and never mortify them by doing it before others. They generally served him very faithfully. He is temperate in his habits. I don’t think he drank a quart of brandy in his whole life. He eats light breakfasts and no suppers, but rather a hearty dinner, with which he take invariably but one glass of wine.”3

Paul Jennings, body servant of James Madison

Life Mask Reconstructions

The above images of James Madison are Photoshop compositions using the face of Madison taken from  life masks. The life mask was cast from a plaster mold of Madison’s head and upper torso in 1825 by J. I. Browere.

James Madison Life Masks
Photoshop life mask before and after reconstructions of James Madison. Original Life Mask Image Source: James Madison, 1825, John Henri Isaac Browere (1790-1834), Plaster, H: 28.5 x W: 21 x D: 11.5 in. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0244.1940. Photograph by Richard Walker.

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Sources & References:
1,2,3Paul Jennings. “A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison ” Brooklyn:George C. Beadle., 1865 https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/jennings/jennings.html (Public Domain)

Original Life Mask Image Source: James Madison, 1825, John Henri Isaac Browere (1790-1834), Plaster, H: 28.5 x W: 21 x D: 11.5 in. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0244.1940. Photograph by Richard Walker.

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