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Dolly Madison

            Dolly Payne Madison was born in Guilford County, North Carolina on May 20, 1768. Dolly was born the first girl in a family of several children to Quaker parents, John Payne and Mary Coles. She spent her childhood in Scotchtown, Virginia. "The Paynes were well connected and sufficiently prosperous, small planters in Hanover County."1 The Quaker house forbade festivity, shunned amusement and frowned upon the world's vanities. After a preliminary visit to Philadelphia, John Payne returned to Hanover County to dispose of his property and free his slaves and in July 1783 he settled with his family in the pleasant city of Philadelphia. In Philadelphia Dolly brought loveliness and charm to the Quaker Evening Meetings. In her mind, however, there were other things in Philadelphia more engrossing than the routine of meetings. Under her Quaker gown Dolly's heart yearned, frankly and without any shame, for these things. Yet, when her family told her to marry John Todd, she stood up dutifully at first and second meeting and proclaimed her willingness to do so. His father was an eminent Quaker schoolteacher; John was a prominent young lawyer, twenty-seven years old. She did not contend against John Todd. "Dolly had the ability to accept whatever fate might have to offer and make the very best of it."2 They were married on January 7, 1790, at the Friends' Meeting House on Pine Street. In the summer of 1793 there came the yellow plague. Dolly was struggling with her children along the crowded road to Gray's Ferry, one of the panic driven throngs escaping from the stricken city. John Todd stayed behind to give his able bodied and courageous help, and before the winter was over Dolly had lost her husband and her baby. Dolly herself was desperately ill for she had caught the fever from John when he came staggering out at last to Gray's Ferry. She recovered to find herself a widow at twenty-five, and executrix of her husband's will.

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