Join the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello for a virtual Fellow's Forum with Holly Cowan Shulman, research professor in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia.

 Click here to join us on Zoom on Thursday, December 16, 2021 at 4:00 p.m. ET!


Historians and biographers who have written about Dolley Madison have assumed that being a Quaker meant that her father’s emancipation of the family’s slaves in 1783 was a natural outgrowth not only of her father’s faith, but of her earliest beliefs. Of all the Christian groups in America, the Quakers were the first to question and then reject the institution of slavery. Dolley lived as a Quaker in the slave-holding states of North Carolina and then Virginia until she was fifteen years old, and historians have presumed that by living in a Quaker world, her relationship to the institution of slavery was molded by her Quaker theology. Quakers should refuse to participate in war; they should wear plain dress and speak in plain language; they should foreswear drink and marry only within their own faith; and they should reject the institution of slavery.


In this talk, Holly Shulman will examine this assumption in three layers. First, what did the Society of Friends think about slavery before the American Revolution and how did those views change between the Seven Years War and the War for Independence? Next, did the views of southern Quakers differ from those who lived in Pennsylvania, especially Philadelphia, which formed the heart of American Quakerism? And third, what do we know about Dolley as a Quaker? Who were Dolley’s parents? What might we learn from their membership first in the North Carolina Meeting, New Garden, and then in the Virginia meeting, Cedar Creek? Given a complete lack of epistolary evidence, what can we discover about her daily life in that world: did she live on a plantation? Did she grow up with slaves? And how did her early years influence her later relationship both with the institution itself, and the enslaved community that lived on her second husband’s plantation? How did the child Dolley Payne influence the woman Dolley Madison?


About the Speaker:


Holly Cowan Shulman is a historian and documentary editor who recently completed The Dolley Madison Digital Edition, published by Rotunda, the electronic imprint of the University of Virginia Press. She also co-edited The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison with David Mattern and has published essays derived from her work on Madison’s papers. She is currently writing on a book of essays and documents on Madison, her understanding of slavery, and her relationship with the enslaved community at the Madison plantation, Montpelier. She intends to publish a short monograph (without documents) on Madison, her enslaved community, and slavery. She is working on both books with her former associate editor on the DMDE, Amy Larrabee Cotz. 



Before shifting to the history of the early republic, Shulman studied international propaganda, writing a book about the Voice of America during World War II, and essays on American radio propaganda. She co-edited The Encyclopedia of Eleanor Roosevelt with Maurine Beasley.  


She is currently a research professor in the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia.