Recovery from Crisis

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Dolley Payne Todd's House

Corner of Fourth and Walnut

Dolley Todd's House: Three-story red brick house with attic dormer rooms

© 2003 Nancy Davis

In 1794 the recently widowed, 26-year-old Dolley Payne Todd (1768-1849) married James Madison, 43, the Congressional Representative from Virginia. In 1801 she and her new husband moved to Washington City, where he served as Secretary of State during Jefferson's two terms. Famed for her social graces, she presided in her typically regal manner at the first inaugural ball in Washington when her husband followed Jefferson into the presidency.

—Joseph Mussulman

In 1803, Philadelphia and other American cities were emerging from a period of crisis. In the decade before, the city had experienced yellow fever epidemics that had emptied the city of those able to leave, and had left the federal government in hiatus, to say nothing of the deaths of the city's inhabitants (10 percent of the population in 1793). In those years yellow fever scythed through the houses of the low and the high, young and old. It brought death to Benjamin Franklin Bache, Franklin's grandson, to the husband and infant of Dolley Todd, to Samuel Powel the wealthy former Mayor, to Dr. James Hutchinson as he ministered to his patients, and to Benjamin Rush's sister, Rebecca, as well as three of his pupils as they helped him minister to his. Although Philadelphia could reasonably lay claim to be America's medical capital, Pennsylvania Hospital did not admit yellow-fever patients and in any case effective treatment was far form certain. It was not reassuring to a visitor that an epidemic, only relatively less severe than those earlier in the decade, had occurred in 1802.

Still, at the beginning of the nineteenth century Philadelphia, with a population of almost 70,000, was the largest American city, a seaport of "merchants, mariners and mechanics" about to burst its bounds to become the first American industrial metropolis.1

George Logan had reason to be satisfied in May 1803. He was one of Pennsylvania's senators, and a member of a Senate committee that had approved Jefferson's request for funds for a special project. The executor of the project would be welcomed once more to Logan's Stenton. Jefferson was in the White House, not in what Philadelphians had hoped would be the Executive Manor on 9th Street but an unfinished building in Washington. The commercial and merchant forces that gentlemen farmers like Logan so distrusted were gone from the corridors of the national government. But what Logan might have considered the temple of the Hamiltonians, the Bank of the United States, was serving as the national government's bank. Its demise and replacement—and the consequent designations First Bank and Second Bank—were decades off.

Political power had slipped from the Federalists much as it had slipped even earlier from the founding Society of Friends. The pacifism of orthodox Quakers had brought them opprobrium and harassment during the Revolution. Their religious tolerance on the other hand had brought—to southeastern Pennsylvania—neighbors of all religious persuasions and nationalities. The houses of worship of diverse religious communities appeared and reappeared throughout the city. St. Peter's Church and especially Christ Church, though hardly matching the Quaker preference for plainness such as that of the Arch Street Meeting House then under construction at 4th Street, look today much as they looked in 1803.

1. Edward P. Richardson, "The Athens of America," in Russell F. Weigley et al., ed., Philadelphia: A 300 Year History (New York: Norton, 1982), 208.

Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service Challenge Cost Share Program