James Madison | 4th President, 1809-1817

Birthplace, Port Conway, Virginia
Raised on a plantation in sight of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, James Madison, born on March 16, 1751, was a sickly child who never strayed far from his mother’s side. He was born while his mother was staying at her paternal home, Belle Grove, 400 yards to the east of the site when her son was born. His father, James Madison, Sr., had acquired substantial wealth by inheritance and by his marriage to Eleanor Rowe Conway, the daughter of a rich tobacco merchant. James’s youth was marked by extreme changes. His most vivid childhood memories were of his fears of Indian attacks during the French and Indian War of 1755, and the day his family moved from their little farm house to a large plantation mansion-Montepelier. He also suffered from psychosomatic (stress-induced) seizures, similar to epileptic fits, that plagued him on-and-off throughout his youth.

Home, Montpelier, Montpelier Station, Virginia
Montpelier frames a vista dominated by Madison’s beloved Blue Ridge Mountains. When Madison’s father built the first section of Montpelier in the 1760s, he oriented it toward the west and a seemingly endless frontier. By the time Madison first enlarged the house, in the 1790s, a new Nation had been born and he had shaped its constitution. When he added the two one-story wings, he was President of the United States, and American settlers were pushing westward into the lands of the Louisiana Purchase that he had helped to acquire. In his retirement, Madison continued to look toward the west, whose open spaces guaranteed that the United States could remain a Nation of farmers, his ideal for the republic.

Montpelier, the lifelong home of James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” and fourth President of the United States, was also home to three generations of the Madison family from 1723 to 1844. The mansion core was built by Madison’s father c.1760. Madison, born in 1751, married Dolley Payne Todd in 1794. After a second presidential term, the Madisons returned to Montpelier in 1817 where their legendary hospitality kept them in touch with world affairs.

With advice of his friend, Thomas Jefferson, Madison enlarged the house, adding the Tuscan portico c.1797. Additional changes were made c.1809 by James Dinsmore and John Neilson, master builders working for Jefferson. A domed garden temple was also built on the property. The house was further enlarged c.1900 by William duPont. Today, it remains the nucleus of a 2,700-acre estate containing farmlands, forests, formal gardens, 135 buildings, and a steeplechase course. Upon his death in 1836, Madison was buried on the estate. Dolley Madison later returned to Washington where she died in 1849. Her grave is also in the Madison family cemetery at Montpelier.

Following Madison’s death, the contents of the house were auctioned off and Montpelier changed hands six times until it was purchased in 1900 by William and Anna Rogers duPont. Mr. duPont enlarged the house dramatically and added barns, greenhouses, staff houses, and even a train station. Mrs. duPont created a 2.5-acre formal garden, which has been restored by the Garden Club of Virginia. The duPont’s daughter, Marion, took over the 2,700-acre property in 1928. Today, the Montpelier property is owned and exhibited by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Home, The Octagon, Washington, DC
The Octagon House, built by Colonel John Tayloe for his family between 1801-1802, was given its distinctive name by the Tayloe children. It is within blocks of the White House. When the British burned the White House during the War of 1812, President James Madison and his wife Dolley temporarily lived at the Octagon. Six months later, President Madison signed the Treaty of Ghent in the upstairs parlor. This important treaty declared that England and the United States were at peace once again.

Gravesite, Montpelier, Montpelier Station, Virginia
The aging James Madison died quietly at his breakfast on June 28, 1836, after having been confined to his room for chronic rheumatism and severe attacks from liver dysfunction for six months. His family and much of the nation had hoped that the eighty-five year-old-Madison would live to July 4, so as to join Jefferson and Adams in the list of former presidents who had died on that historic date. Over 100 slaves, family friends, and relatives attended his burial the next day at the family cemetery at Montpelier.

The Madison Family Cemetery is the understated resting place for two of America’s most remarkable people, James and Dolley Madison. When the last founding father died in 1836, Dolley, together with friends, family and slaves paid loving respect. Public tribute came two months later, when John Quincy Adams delivered a passionate oration celebrating the man who had formulated the Constitution and sponsored the Bill of Rights. After the death of her cherished James, Dolley moved to Washington, D.C., where she resumed her role as the city’s leading hostess. When she died in 1849, nearly penniless, all of Washington turned out for her state funeral. This rare honor acknowledged the legacies of both Madisons and their profound role in shaping our Nation.

Museum, Orange, Virginia
The James Madison Museum features exhibits on James and Dolley Madison, featuring one of the nation’s most outstanding collections of Madisonia. The focal point of the Madison Room is Madison’s favorite chair, a campeachy chair given him by his good friend, President Thomas Jefferson. Also on display are a number of personal items, papers and furnishings.

Thomas Jefferson called James Madison “the best farmer in the world” and to pay respect to Madison the farmer, the Museum’s Hall of Transportation & Agriculture displays an interesting collection of antique farm tools. Also featured are a 1924 Model T Ford, a 1931 Seagrave fire truck that began its career in Orange County, and the Arjalon Price House, a 1733 “patent” or “cube” house. The “Price House” is only partially reconstructed so that visitors will be able to see the building practices of the day.

The Museum building was built in 1928 as an automobile dealership. The Powell Nash dealership opened that year and sold the Nash line of cars. Adjacent to and owned by the museum is former Hill Top Restaurant, which was previously a gas station and later converted to a restaurant.