Furnishing the room of John Payne Todd
The Small Bedchamber
During our interpretive period of the Madisons’ retirement era, John Payne Todd, Dolley Madison’s son from her first marriage, maintained a bedchamber at Montpelier. It is unknown which room was his as detailed accounts of bedchambers are rare. Previously referred to as “the small bedchamber,” this space has now been furnished and interpreted as Payne’s bedroom and has been opened to visitors since January 2018.
With a wealth of research provided by former Director of Museum Programs, Meg Kennedy, former curator Teresa Teixeira utilized a range of source material to assist her in devising his bedchamber. This includes primary sources, contemporary trends, and found evidence within the walls. She also used Montpelier’s other decorated rooms for guidance, as well as the Todd House in Philadelphia and Payne’s own house, Toddsberth, Montpelier.
Wallpaper & Textiles
The evidence of this vibrant paper in Payne Todd’s room came from tiny wallpaper fragments on the surbase reveals of the sides of the room’s mantel pilasters discovered by Dr. Susan Buck in 2007. The wallpaper, “Bees and Stars,” is reproduced from a pattern that was produced in France but used in America. Bees were used as a symbol of Napoleon and six-pointed stars as a symbol of his empire. The Madisons had several figures and images of Napoleon on display throughout the House.
The reproduction bedhangings created for this room are based on physical evidence found in a rodent’s nest within the room’s wall. The silk fragment has a plain weave with golden-colored warps and red wefts. Green was chosen for a lining color based on comparable documentation and extant samples from other collections. The bedhangings were adapted from a design by Thomas Sheraton, a prominent furniture designer in the early nineteenth century.
Like the bedhangings, a sample of woven grass carpeting was found during the 2008 restoration. The grass carpeting, or grass matting as it was also called, found in the wall is one of the largest extant pieces known from this period. The grass carpet we have installed is not an exact replica of the fragment found in the wall; ours is noticeably thicker than the period matting in order to allow guests into the space.
The furniture chosen to be used in Payne Todd’s bedchamber include Montpelier or Madison provenance and era-appropriate pieces.
The late 18th-century bed installed in Payne’s room that is very stylistically similar to a bed with strong Madison provenance located in the large bedchamber at Montpelier. Both beds feature acanthus leaf carvings and intricately carved foot posts.
The wardrobe installed in this room has a firm Montpelier provenance and a possible Madison provenance. According to family history, the wardrobe was purchased by Benjamin Thornton as part of the sale of Montpelier from Henry Moncure. It was later sold to Frank Littleton, owner of Monroe’s Oak Hill along with an affidavit from the Thornton sisters stating its purported Madison provenance. It dates to the Madisons’ lifetime (1815-1835), and large case furniture such as this piece would often stay within a house through successive owners.
Positioned in front of the wardrobe is a William and Mary style swing gate table with a family history of belonging to James Madison. Stylistically, it dates to the mid-eighteenth century, making it likely that it originated in James Madison Sr.’s household.
The objects seen in Payne Todd’s room combine functionality and elegance.
The clock installed on the mantel in Payne Todd’s bedchamber is ormolu or gilded bronze. It’s classical features emphasize the significant cultural role of enlightenment symbolism in early-nineteenth-century décor. A gilt Eros, the loyal son of Aphrodite, kneels atop the clock. The faceplate of the clock reads, “Delaunoy [FC]er Eleve de Berguet,” indicating the maker of the works. Delaunoy was a student of Berguet, a well-known French clockmaker who worked with Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and Napoleon. As with the “Bees and Stars” wallpaper, we again see the French influence at Montpelier.
As no physical evidence was found for permanently installed light fixtures in this room, we have installed a pair of Argand lamps. In 1784, Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison about Argand’s novel device: “There is a new lamp invented here lately which with a very small consumption of oil (of olives) is thought to give a light equal to six or eight candles. The wick is hollow in the middle in the form of a hollow cylinder, & it permits the air to pass up thro’ it. It requires no snuffing…”
A purple Canova washbowl brings together the romance of the Eros clock and the practicality of the Argand lamps. Although evidence of a purple Canova bowl in the Longport pattern has not been found by the Archaeology Department at Montpelier, this pattern would have been produced during the interpreted time period.
Creating the Space
Textiles, furniture, and objects build the space’s story. The challenge then is to create a welcoming space for guests to live that story.
Unlike a private bedroom, an interpreted bedroom requires space for guests touring through. Great planning goes into where objects and furniture are in the room. Stantions are used to guide guests throughout the spaces and to keep the collection objects safe from damage.
Clothing is scattered around the room to illustrate Payne Todd’s presence. Since he was noted holing up in his room for days on end, this dishevelment would be appropriate. The garments used almost make up one full outfit: a shirt, fall front trousers, and a coat. Together with a waistcoat (vest) and other accessories, the garment would have pulled together to look like the illustrated fashion plates of the time. The clothes are sized to fit Payne Todd’s measurements as given in his passport.
The wine bottles seen in Payne Todd’s room and throughout the Madison home were reproduced from a Madison bottle label found by the Montpelier Archaeology Department. Historic documentation tells us that Payne Todd drank frequently. His use of alcohol greatly affected the lives of James and Dolley, even after their deaths.