From yellow fever to marriage – Dolly Madison and Bill of Rights Commemorative Coins

Today, the Dolly Madison Commemorative Silver Dollar coin joins the Bill of Rights Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin to tell the story of 220 years ago.

In early September 1793, Thomas Jefferson wrote from his Philadelphia location:

“An infectious and deadly fever has broken out in this place. The deaths under it, during the week before last, were about forty, the last week fifty, and this week I fear they will be two hundred, so rapidly is it increasing.

“Everyone is leaving the city who can. Colonel Hamilton has been ill, but on the road to recovery. The President, according to an arrangement made some time ago, left for Mt. Vernon yesterday. The Secretary of War is starting out on a visit to Boston. I shall go in a few days to Virginia. When we shall meet again may depend on the course of the malady, and on that may depend the date of my next letter.”

Just prior to this, Dolly Payne Todd and her two young children, one only three weeks old, left Philadelphia to escape the epidemic. Her husband, however, returned to the infected city and the deathbeds of his parents who succumbed to the yellow fever.

John Todd returned to his pretty young wife outside the city. Unfortunately, he caught the infection and brought the germs with him. He died soon after their reunion, as did their young baby.

Dolly caught the fever, too, but survived after a long recuperation.

When she became stronger, Dolly moved back to Philadelphia to help her widowed mother with her boarding house.

As a young and attractive twenty-two year old, Dolly collected many admirers when she walked along the streets of Philadelphia.

After observing how the gentlemen would position themselves to watch her pass, one of her friends jokingly told her, “Really Dolly, thou must hide thy face, there are so many staring at thee.”

It was on one of her walks that an older gentleman of 43 saw Dolly and finagled an introduction to her.

Now, some thought she should be in mourning. However, as a young Quaker, she did not wear mourning clothes. Moreover, Dolly had the healthy attitude that she could not change what had happened and could not benefit from dwelling on the past.

Mr. Madison, the older gentleman, asked Aaron Burr, who boarded at Dolly’s mother’s house, to perform the introduction.

At their first meeting, Dolly captured the heart of Mr. Madison, whom with his bookish ways, many thought would always be a bachelor.

As was wont in those days, people quickly spread the word about the meetings between Mr. Madison and Dolly.

Soon, the First Lady requested that Dolly visit her.

Mrs. Washington asked, “Dolly, is it true that you are engaged to James Madison?”

Unnerved, Dolly stammered her reply, “No, I think not.”

Mrs. Washington advised, “If it is so, do not be ashamed to confess it: rather be proud; he will make thee a good husband, and all the better for being so much older. We both approve of it; the esteem and friendship existing between Mr. Madison and my husband is very great, and we would wish thee to be happy.”

Soon, the rumors became fact.

On September 15, 1794, James Madison, Jr. married Dolly Payne Todd at Harewood, the home of her younger sister Lucy.

History notes, “A most delightful picture is given of this country wedding; friends and neighbors from far and near driving over.

After being showered with rice after the ceremony, the newlyweds left Harewood to travel to their home at Montpelier.

Belated congratulations to the Madisons as shown with her on the Dolly Madison Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin and him on the Bill of Rights Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin.

Dolly Madison James Madison