Monday, April 3, 2017

White House Weddings: Lucy Payne Washington

On, Sunday, March 29, 1812, the first documented wedding held at the White House took place. Lucy Payne Washington, sister of Dolley Madison and sister-in-law of President James Madison, married Supreme Court Justice Thomas Todd.

Lucy Ann <i>Payne</i> Washington Todd
Lucy Payne Washington
Lucy was born in Virginia to John and Mary Payne, a Quaker couple, sometime between 1769-1778 (sources are contradictory).

Lucy was apparently possessed of a breezy nature and liked to use slang. In her teen years (some sources say she was 15), Lucy met George Steptoe Washington, a nephew of George Washington, who was in Philadelphia studying law. They eloped in 1793 and he brought her back to his Virginia plantation, Harewood (now in West Virginia). 

Lucy's parents broke off their relationship with her because she'd married outside the Society of Friends. They later reconciled, however, and Lucy's mother and her younger children later moved to Harewood to live with Lucy and George. Lucy's sister Dolley, a widow, married the future president, James Madison, in Lucy and George's parlor.

Lucy and George had four sons, three of whom survived to adulthood: Samuel, William, and George. 

Sadly, George died of consumption when he was 37 in 1809, leaving Lucy a widow.

Thomas Todd was born in Virginia in 1765. His legal career took him from Virginia to Kentucky, but in 1807, he was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Thomas Jefferson. (While Thomas and Dolley's first husband shared the surname Todd, they were not related.)
Thomas Todd SCOTUS.jpg
Supreme Court Justice Thomas Todd, by Matthew Harris Jouett (public domain)
When he met Lucy Payne Washington, Thomas was a widower. His wife Elizabeth passed away after giving birth to five children--one of whom, Charles, eventually became ambassador to Russia.

The wedding seems spontaneous, because Dolley Madison wrote to her father to announce the impending nuptials, saying the event was "unexpected" and caused "distress" to the household, but Dolley preferred him to the "gay flirts" who courted Lucy. In the same letter, Dolley  describes Thomas as "estimable" and "very rich, very handsome."

The White House wedding was held on the State Floor, probably the Blue Room. Lucy was attended by three bridesmaids, Miss Hamilton, Miss Hay, and Dolley. Thomas had three groomsmen, Payne Todd (Dolley's son), John Payne (Lucy and Dolley's brother), and a Mr. Edward Coles.  The Rev. McCormick presided. 
Dolley Madison, public domain
It was probably a small affair, as was the custom at this time. Nevertheless, with Dolley Madison as hostess, the reception was probably lovely and tasteful.

The next day, the couple retreated to his estate in Kentucky. His service as a Supreme Court Justice required him to be in Washington for a few months a year, and Lucy accompanied him, no doubt enjoying visiting family on those occasions.

The couple went on to have three children: William J., Madisonia, and James Madison. 

After only fourteen years of marriage, in 1826, Thomas died. He was 61. He was buried in a family cemetery, but was later re-interred at the State Cemetery in Frankfort.

Lucy lived another twenty years, but she is not buried with Thomas. She was initially buried at Harewood but was later removed, along with the remains of her son Samuel, to be re-interred at nearby Zion Episcopal Church at the request of Samuel's wife Louisa. 

Her tombstone notes that she was the wife of George Steptoe Washington, not Thomas Todd. George, however, is buried in Georgia, where he died.



Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she's the award-winning author of a dozen historical romances who's seen her work on the ECPA and Publisher's Weekly Bestseller Lists for Inspirational Fiction. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne lives in California and enjoys fancy-schmancy tea parties, genealogy, the beach, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos. You can learn more about her and her latest release, The Reluctant Guardian (Love Inspired Historical) on her website,


  1. White House weddings are interesting to read about. All the changes through the years with individuals and their beliefs.

    1. Isn't it interesting to learn how weddings and customs have changed through history? I'm learning so much as I research the posts.

      Thanks so much for popping in today. Hope your week is off to a great start!

  2. I love your series on White House Weddings. Dolly Madison is one of my heroines. Such a wonderful lady.

    Thanks for a great post!

    1. Thanks, Amber! I've sure enjoyed researching these White House weddings.

      Dolley Madison was indeed a wonderful lady: intelligent, diplomatic, thoughtful, and kind. She was also quick. I admire her, too.

      Have a great day!

  3. Fascinating post! Being shunned by parents for the choice of a mate would be such a terrible experience.

    1. I agree, Stephanie. I can't imagine it. It doesn't seem like they were parted for long, and I'm so glad they reconciled.

      Hope you're having a great day!

  4. This story was especially fascinating for me to read as my 4th great grandmother was Anna Payne. She was another sister to Dolley and Lucy. Aunt Dolley certainly appears to have been a fascinating and amazing woman. Wish I could have actually known her.