Prior to becoming Dolley Madison in 1794, Dolley Todd and her first husband, John Todd, lived at this house from 1791-1793. This 18th century, 3-story, Georgian home was built in 1775 by John Dilworth. John Todd died in 1793 and, soon after, Dolley married James Madison. She remained in Philadelphia until the Madisons retired, temporarily, to the family estate at Montpelier in Virginia in 1797. The house is now part of the larger Independence National Historical Park. It has been restored to how it looked while it was occupied by the Todds with period artifacts and furniture. It is occasionally open as a house museum that provides a window into the life of a solidly middle-class, Philadelphia family at the end of the 18th century.
the daughter of John and Mary Payne, a Quaker family that moved to Philadelphia
from Virginia in 1783. She was 15 at the
time and one of eight children. Her
father had freed his slaves after converting to the Quaker religion as slavery
was antithetical to the ideals of Quakerism.
He tried his hand as a starch merchant in Philadelphia, but failed to
such a degree that he was expelled from the Society of Friends. John Payne died in 1792, forcing his widow to
open a boarding house to make ends meet.
Mary Payne would leave Philadelphia the next year and move in with her
daughter, Lucy, who had married a nephew of George Washington.
the 22-year-old Dolley had married lawyer John Todd in 1790 and the two quickly
had two sons, John Payne Todd (known as Payne) and William. The house was also home to Dolley’s sister
Anna and two of John’s law clerks, who boarded with the Todds. Tragedy struck the family in 1793 in the form
of a yellow fever epidemic. Dolley, like
many, fled the city for a country resort.
However, her husband stayed in the city to care for his parents and his
law practice. Dolley lost her in-laws,
husband and 3-month-old son, William, all in 1793 (her son and husband on the
same day). She was now a widow at 25
with a one-year-old son to care for and in financial difficulty.
prior to her husband’s death, they had travelled in the social circle that included
many members of the federal government where she perhaps encountered the likes
of James Madison and Aaron Burr. Madison
was serving in the House of Representatives from Virginia and indications are
that Burr, Madison’s college friend, arranged the meeting between Dolley and
James at this home on Walnut Street. The
courtship progressed quickly and the two were married less than a year after
John Todd’s death, thus securing Dolley’s future as well as that of her young
son. The Madisons then moved to James’
home on Spruce Street and lived there until James’ term expired in 1797 when
they moved to Virginia and, later, the White House.
Todd Houses was then occupied by Revolutionary War General Stephen Moylan, the
man credited with using the term “United States of America” for the first time,
until 1807. It now features the
recreated law office of John Todd, the Todds bedroom and their parlor. It also contains two leather fire buckets that
were required in all homes for communal use.