28 January 2020

One good result of the yellow fever epidemic

Here's an interesting story told in the book "Bring Out Your Dead" that I reviewed above.  I thought this excerpt was worth posting separately.
"Among Quakers John Todd, Jr, was known as a promising attorney... Four years earlier, John had married a lovely southern belle, Dolley Payne, and installed her in a pleasant home at Fourth and Walnut... When the pestilence began, John moved Dolley... to a farm home near Gray's Ferry... Early in October his father, a schoolmaster in Chestnut Street, fell ill of the fever; so did his mother.  John attended them both, but they died... he rode down to Gray's Ferry to his wife and children.  At the doorstep, fainting, he gasped out to Dolley's mother, "I feel the fever in my veins, but I must see her once more."  Dolley, still weak from her confinement, came down the stairs only in time to gather him in her arms... He died that evening.

For weeks afterward Dolley Todd lay close to death with fever, and the infection passed through her whole family.   The new little baby died; but winter came on [killing mosquitoes], and she and her older son recovered.  They returned with her mother to the city, where the mother began to take in gentlemen boarders.  The handsome young widow of lawyer Todd was an appealing spectacle.  Senator Aaron Burr certainly thought so... It was Senator Burr who introduced Dolley Todd to Congressman James Madison of Virginia.  That the distinguished statesman was twenty years her senior, even that he was a head shorter than she, did not long deter the lady... Dolly married James Madison, and entered upon a career that would have amazed her simple, adoring Quaker lawyer.  Dolley Madison's role in history began in the yellow fever of 1793."
And now you know - as Paul Harvey used to say - "the rest of the story."

Related: Dolley Madison on "American Experience." [30-minute video about how Dolley Madison invented the position of First Lady.]

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