Kurt's Historic Sites

Madison gate

James Madison

Interment Location Visited Sequence in Graves I Have Visited
Montpelier Station, VA July 12, 2005 3rd Constitution Signer visited; 25th President visited

Photographed July 12, 2015.

In 1827, politician and attorney Charles J. Ingersoll toasted James Madison as the “father and guardian of the [C]onstitution.” Madison’s legacy is that of a statesman, a politician, a husband, a stepfather, and an enslaver. The Virginian, who served as the fourth U.S. president from 1809 to 1817, is buried in the small family cemetery at Montpelier, his plantation in Orange County.

The Father of the Constitution’s gravesite was unmarked for more than two decades after his death in 1836. In 1857, locals raised $700 to pay for the 25-foot obelisk that stands over him today. The comparatively diminutive monument behind it is the memorial for the president’s vivacious and socially masterful first lady, Dolley Madison.

Photographed July 12, 2015.
Photographed July 12, 2005.

Montpelier is located 28 miles from Monticello, the estate of Madison’s political ally and presidential predecessor, Thomas Jefferson. I first toured their plantations on July 12, 2005, when I was ten years old. As I drove onto the Montpelier grounds for my second adventure there at age 20, I realized I was visiting on July 12, 2015, exactly a decade later. Later that day I reacquainted myself with Monticello and, for the first time, stopped at nearby Highland, the property of Madison and Jefferson’s contemporary, James Monroe — a presidential home trifecta.

Of the 100 or so people laid to rest in the Madison Family Cemetery, only 31 have gravestones. When I visited with my parents and sister in 2005, there were temporary markers over the plots of the president’s paternal grandparents, Ambrose and Frances Taylor Madison. Ambrose bought the tracts of land that were developed into Montpelier. The Madison patriarch died after an illness in 1732, and three enslaved people — Pompey, Dido, and Turk — were convicted of poisoning him.

Photographed July 12, 2005.

Fast Facts

Born: March 16, 1751 in Port Conway, Virginia

Spouse: Dolley Payne Todd Madison (m. 1794-1836)

Political Affiliation: Democratic-Republican Party

Served in Cabinet of: Thomas Jefferson

Cabinet Position: Secretary of State

Presidential Term: 1809-1817

Vice Presidents: George Clinton (1809-1812); Elbridge Gerry (1813-1814)

Died: June 28, 1836 in Montpelier, Virginia

Cause of Death: Heart Failure

Age: 85

Last Words: “Nothing more than a change of mind, my dear.”

Interment: James Madison’s Montpelier, Montpelier, Virginia

"The liberal appropriations made by the Legislature of Kentucky for a general system of Education cannot be too much applauded. A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
- James Madison
August 4, 1822 in a letter to William T. Barry

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

“Dinner to Professor List.” Georgia Currier, November 22, 1827. https://gahistoricnewspapers.galileo.usg.edu/lccn/sn82015765/1827-11-22/ed-1/seq-2/.

Madison, James. James Madison to William T. Barry, August 4, 1822. Letter. From National Archives, Founders Online. Accessed December 31, 2021. https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/04-02-02-0480.

Picone, Louis L. The President is Dead! The Extraordinary Stories of the Presidential Deaths, Final Days, Burials, and Beyond. Rev ed. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2020.

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