Marc 29 1812: First Wedding in the White House

Thomas Todd
Lucy Washington
On March 29, 1812,  Dolley Madison's sister Lucy Washington married Thomas Todd, an associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. This was the first wedding to take place in the Executive Mansion or the White House. The bridesmaids were Miss Hamilton, Miss Morris and Miss Hay. The groomsmen were Payne Todd (Dolley's son), John Payne (Dolley's brother), and Edward Coles.  The wedding was a modest affair presided over by the Reverend Mr. McCormick. Most agree that Judge Thomas was a good catch.  Dolley Madison describes him as "estimable" and "very rich, very handsome" in a letter of March 20, 1812 written by her and Lucy to their father: 

March 22 1812,  My dear Papa-
I write in the most delightful yet strange agitation possible — Mrs Washington is to be married next Sunday to Judge Todd & Mifs Hamilton, Mifs Hay & myself are to be Bridesmaids & Mr Coles Mr Payne & Payne Todd Groomsmen — We have already shed so many tears on the occasion that we now begin to smile as we view the bright side of the Picture. The Judge is so estimable & amiable  a man that every person respects & admires him; he is very rich, very handsome.
Poor Mrs Washington has caused a great deal of distrefs to herself & all of us by this unexpected event they go off the next morning to Harewood & proceed from thence to the Judge's estate in Kentucky — Mrs W will write a postscript —
Mrs Madison says she wishes most earnestly that you be here at the marriage. Your flattering Eulogium very highly valued friend, I shall prize, and recollect, when, / am far away — the prospect of separation now before me, from all my heart has been accustomed to love deprefses me beyond description, but, we must yield to fate — I hope your wishes in my favor may be availing — and be afsured they are sincerely reciprocated to you — for the last time perhaps I sign the Initials of 

L. W. . .

The historian Catherine Allgor describes Lucy and the wedding as follows [1]
Lucy cultivated the image of flibbertigibbet: “I am a bit of a fool, always was, and I fear always will be—or rather shall be.” She also played the clown, indulging in breezy, slightly racy, even slangy language—she shopped for “tasty” glass and “a little snuff to comfort us”—perhaps as a way to compete with young Anna. After joking that Anna could only try to fill the void for Dolley after her own departure, Lucy commented wistfully: “Dont think me selfish dear sister—you know I always was jealous of you because I wish to be first in your affections.” Much as she might affect a certain flightiness, when it came to the serious business of marriage, Lucy shared her sister’s considered judgment. Her youthful elopement had allied her with the preeminent American family. In 1812, she married again, and again well, to Judge Thomas Todd of Kentucky. Contemporaries described him as a dark, good-looking man with a “kind heart and popular manners.” Dolley regarded him as “a Man of the most estimable character, best principles, & high talents,” and commented approvingly to Anna, “I told you how amiable & respectable Judge Todd is—how wise Lucy was to chuse him in preferance to the gay flirts who coarted her.” Lucy’s three sons now had a father; Lucy gained five older children and a beautiful Frankfort home in “fine society.” The best part of the marriage, from Dolley’s point of view, was that, as a Supreme Court justice, Todd had to come to Washington for at least two months a year, and he promised to bring Lucy. This almost made up for having a sister living so far away, a prospect that Lucy dreaded as much as Dolley. Her big sister reported: “Lucy is in deep distress & you may suppose that my greaf is not slight.” Lucy’s wedding was the first in the White House. It was modest affair; still, belying her reputation as the most feminine of women, Dolley did not indulge in discussions of the details. 
Lucy's first marriage had been to Major George Steptoe Washington, a nephew of George Washington, who died on January 10, 1809. Justice Todd was about seventeen years older than Lucy and a widower with five children. He lived in Lexington, Kentucky. Earlier, Dolley had told her other sister Anna that she would miss her sister but that Lucy would find "fine society good schools for her children" in Lexington. As noted above, Dolley also comforted herself with the idea that Todd as a Supreme Court Justice would need to be in Washington at least two months of the year. 

Details of the wedding of March 29th are not known. In the 1800s most weddings did not involve great gatherings or exchange of  expensive gifts [2].


1. Catherine Allgor, A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation (New York: Henry Holt and Company), page 207
2. Catherine Allgor, Catherin, at 106

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