After learning so much about the War of 1812 while working at Fort McHenry, I started to have more of an interest in the American Revolution. Many of the same people who were prevalent during the War of 1812 were usually a major political or military figure during the Revolution, so it was only a matter of time before my interest in this time period was peaked. My past studies usually revolved around the Civil War and WWII, but I’ve found that America’s early history is fascinating.
One of the places we visited during out time showing the house in Baltimore was Montpelier, or James and Dolley Madison‘s house. James Madison‘s name may ring a bell to those of you that know a little about our Founding Fathers as the “Father of the Constitution.” He composed the first drafts of both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Thomas Jefferson and Madison founded the Democratic-Republican Party, one of America’s first opposition political party of the time, which served as a platform against Alexander Hamilton and his Federalist Party. Madison served as Jefferson’s Secretary of State and later as President, from 1809 – 1817.
How this actually relates to the War of 1812, besides the date, is that Madison was President during the War of 1812. During his first Administration, the United States prohibited trade with both Britain and France. If you read my previous post on the War of 1812, you know that both of these countries were at war with each other – known as the Napoleonic Wars. The United States attempted to remain neutral, but ultimately entered the war against England.
Visiting Montpelier was exciting. It was a relatively easy drive from Baltimore, and the proximity to Monticello is so close that I recommend you try to visit both. Definitely plan time for both if you decide to visit them in the same day as there is an entrance fee of about $20-$25, depending on the tours you want to take, and they have scheduled times. We took the Dolley Madison tour, which still gave a great description of the house as we walked through but from a “Dolley” perspective. I highly encourage at least a house tour, and to take at least an hour and walk around the grounds. Each of these historic houses have large acres of land that you can stroll, and there is usually at least one if not multiple gardens. Beautiful!
All of the homes we visited were homes that the founders lived in after their career was over, but they also lived with their slaves. One in particular at Montpelier, Paul Jennings, was born at Montpelier in 1799 to a white British merchant and a black woman. Jennings became Madison’s personal servant, where he learned to read and write. He was 10 when he accompanied Madison to Washington D.C. As the newly elected President. Jennings was eventually sold to an insurance agent named Pollard Webb, who allowed Jennings to purchase his own freedom at $8/month. After Jennings purchased his own freedom he continued to visit Dolley Madison as she grew older, and sometimes gave her small sums of money to get by. This paradox should not be lost to history – remember that many of our Founding Fathers owns slaves, at the same time they were advocating for “rights for all men”. Join a tour to learn more about Mr. Jennings and his remarkable life, and remember that the struggle for equality did not end with the first draft of the Constitution.
As you walk through the Madison’s house remember that most of the item on display may be original, and do not touch! We want to preserve all of our history, the good AND the bad, for future generations to learn and enjoy on their own. Continue traveling, and we will see you here next time!