Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Today we visited Montpelier in Orange, VA, the home of James and Dolley Madison.

From Hale, Sarah Josepha Buell. Woman's Record: Or, Sketches of All Distinguished Women, from the Creation to A.D. 1868. Arranged in Four Eras, with Selections from Authoresses of Each Era (Harper, 1874).

"In 1817, Mr. Madison's second term of office having expired, he retired to his paternal estate in Virginia. Montpelier, as this place was called, had a large and commodious mansion, designed more for comfort and hospitality than show, where the mother of Mr. Madison had always resided. One wing of the house was appropriated to her, and she had there her separate establishment and her old servants, and maintained all the old customs of the last century. By only opening a door the observer passed from the elegancies, refinements, and gayeties of modern life, into all that was venerable, respectable, and dignified in bygone days. It was considered a high favour and distinction by the great and the gay who thronged to visit Mr. and Mrs. Madison at Montpelier, if they were permitted to pay the homage of their respects to his reverend mother. A lady who was admitted to visit her when she was in her ninety- seventh year, thus describes the scene: "She— Mrs. Madison, the elder — still retained all her faculties, though not free from the bodily infirmities of age. She was sitting, or rather reclining on a couch ; beside her was a small table filled with large, dark, and worn quartos and folios, of most venerable appearance. She closed one as we entered, and took up her knitting, which lay beside her. Among other inquiries, I asked her how she passed her time.

"I am never at a loss," she replied ; "this and these"—touching her knitting and her books— "keep me always busy; look at my fingers, and you will perceive I have not been idle." In truth her delicate fingers were polished by her knitting needles. "And my eyes, thanks be to God, have not failed me yet, and I read most part of the day. But in other respects I am feeble and helpless, and owe everything to her" — pointing to Mrs. Madison, who sat by us. "She is my mother now, and tenderly cares for all my wants!" My eyes were filled with tears as I looked from the one to the other of these excellent women. Never, in the midst of her splendid drawing-room, surrounded by the courtly and brilliant, the admired and respected—herself the centre of attraction, the object of admiration — never was Mrs. Madison so interesting, so lovely, so estimable, as in her attendance on her venerable mother-in- law, whom she loved and honoured with grateful affection."

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