Dolley Madison at Montpelier

Dolley Madison and James Madison at Montpelier

Home >> Lost Photographs of History >> Dolley Madison and James Madison at Montpelier

A visit with Dolley and James

The year is 1825, and we made yet another visit to Montpelier in our time travel adventures. This time we got to speak more with Dolley Madison, The Great Little Madison’s wife.

“Dolley Madison, the Orange County resident whose fashion sense set trends and whose social expertise brought real bipartisanship to Washington, set the standard followed by later first ladies such as Jacqueline Kennedy and Nancy Reagan. Madison chose her clothes as carefully as her guest list.”1

We met the Madisons on the front lawn of Montpelier framed by the beautiful Virginia Blue Ridge mountains in the background. I grabbed the camera once again to get a shot of the couple. Dolley greeted us in her red ermine-trimmed overdress that she wore during the War of 1812.

James and Dolley Madison

Dolley Madison and James Madison on the front lawn of Montpelier

The Madisons of Fashion

James says with a smile, “My beloved Dolley cost me deep in the pockets for her attire. When I was president, Dolley sent William Lee to Paris to assemble a wardrobe. She wrote and told him to draw on me for the amount. I’ve never forgotten the shock of that $2000 bill; it was eight percent of my presidential salary for that year.”

Dolley retorts, “My dear little Madison, do you remember what I said to you after you received that bill and balked at it?”


“I am afraid I shall never ask for anything more.”2

James chuckles, “Do not listen to her. Go upstairs and look in that wardrobe of hers. Believe me; she’s asked for a lot more and gotten it.

“Oh, hush Madison!”

Mr. Madison, himself now dressed a little spiffier, surprises us with his colorful attire. Customarily dressed in black, Dolley sees to it that he is dressed differently today. After our third trip to Montpelier, the once described “gloomy, stiff creature . . . who has nothing engaging or even bearable in his manners – the most unsociable creature in existence,” James Madison has opened up to us. He is now showing us more of his humorous, fun-loving side. A side, that historians note was reserved only for his close friends and family.3

James and Dolley Madison

Dolley Madison and James Madison on the front lawn of Montpelier

The Romantic Mr. Madison

Mr. and Mrs. Madison invite us to stay for a few days.

Dolley asks us if we would like some ice cream. Of course, we couldn’t resist as the Madisons are known for having some of the best ice cream in the state.

We start to walk to Madison’s temple, where he keeps his ice underneath. He slips his arm around Dolley as they walk, and we see that this couple is still romantic as ever.

I say to Dolley, “I hear you two are quite the couple, happily married and still romantic after all these years.

“Oh yes, Dolley says, 'Shortly after Madison and I started courting, he recruited my cousin to send me a letter that he approved “with sparkling eyes.'4 He said that he 'thinks so much of me in the day that he has lost his tongue, at night he dreams of me and starts in his sleep calling on me to relieve his flame for he burns to such an excess that he will be shortly consumed.'5 Believe me, after all these years of marriage; nothing has changed.”

James then quickly retorts, “Now, you hush, Dolley. Don’t be telling all that!”

Dolley laughs and then says, “Another time, he sent a note to me and said to send a kiss to my friend and “accept a thousand for yourself.” My sister Lucy told me that Madison said that when he kisses me, he’s afraid that he’ll make her mouth water.”6

Somewhat embarrassed, James says, “Dolley, please, is all this necessary? Let’s change the subject.”

James and Dolley Madison

Dolley Madison and James Madison standing in the drawing room at their Montpelier home in Orange, Virginia.

Mr. Madison, still embarrassed, does indeed quickly change the subject as he hands us some of Dolley’s best ice cream.

“This is Dolley’s favorite flavor…… oyster. If you don’t like it, we have parmesan, asparagus and chestnut ice cream.”7

I thought to myself, Asparagus ice cream? What, no chocolate? Don’t know if I’m going to like this. Too bad the Madisons never lived to see Private Label, Ben & Jerry’s or perhaps Häagen-Dazs

James and Dolley Madison

Dolley Madison and James Madison standing in the drawing room at their Montpelier home in Orange, Virginia.

James and Dolley Madison Daguerreotype

Photoshop reconstruction of the 1825 life mask of 4th U.S. President James Madison by John Henri Browere and Daguerreotype of Dolley Payne Todd Madison. See more at The Lost Daguerreotype Photograph of James and Dolley Madison

About Life Masks:

Before photography, life masks were the best way to give us an exact likeness of their subject. Plaster would be applied to the head and sometimes upper torso to create a mold from which a life mask (cast bust) of the person would be created. In addition to being three-dimensional, the faithful transfer process of the life mask creation eliminated the “artistic license” and “sympathetic treatment” employed by many contemporary portrait artists. Thus, using life masks, I am able to complete a forensic/academic study of how the subjects most likely appeared using Adobe Photoshop to add flesh, hair, and other details.

James Madison life mask

(Left) 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. (Right) Life Mask Photoshop Reconstruction of James Madison

Dolley Madison life mask

(Left) Source: Google Arts & Culture, A view of a life mask of Dolley Madison. (Right) Life Mask Photoshop Reconstruction of James Madison

Browere’s made life masks of many famous early Americans, Marquis De Lafayette, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Dolley Madison and James Madison to name a few.

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Sources & References:
1Bryan McKenzie. “Montpelier exhibit highlights Dolley’s fashion, social sense.” The Daily Progress, 2 July 2011
2Conover Hunt. “Getting It Right, The Embellished Obligations Of Dolley Madison.” The White House Historical Association.
3,4,5,6David O. Stewart. “The Surprising Raucous Home Life of the Madisons”
7Molly Yun.”Ice Cream: An American Favorite Since the Founding Fathers” PBS

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Home >> Lost Photographs of History >> Dolley Madison and James Madison at Montpelier