After DOLLEY PAYNE TODD recovered from yellow fever and the death of her husband and her younger son in 1793 she began to be seen in Philadelphia society once again. Soon she received a note from a friend conveying a request from Aaron Burr that she meet James Madison who very much wanted make her acquaintance. The two met at her home and soon the attentions of the “great little Madison” (he was 5′ 4″) resulted in talk of an engagement. According to a memoir compiled by Dolley’s grand niece the rumor reached the President and Mrs. Washington. The niece recounted a conversation said to have taken place when Mrs. Todd and Martha Washington met.
“Dolly,” said Mrs. Washington, “is it true that you are engaged to James Madison? ” The fair widow, taken aback, answered stammeringly, *’No,” she “thought not.” ” If it is so,” Mrs. Washington continued, “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.”
It seems there was substance to the rumor. Dolley and James Madison were married in September of 1794 in her sister’s home, Harewood, in Virginia. After the wedding celebration the couple resided in the Madison home, Montpelier, but by the end of the year they were back in Philadelphia. At Madison’s request Dolley shed her Somber Quaker attire and joined in the gaiety of the Philadelphia social scene.
Source: The Memoirs and Letters of Dolly Madison, wife of James Madison, President of the United States, edited by her Grand-Niece (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., The Riverside Press, Cambridge: 1886) 14-17. Dolley’s portrait, dated 1804, is by Gilbert Stuart and is in the Library of Congress.