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Collection James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859

1751 to 1773

The Colonial Period


  1. March 16, 1751
    (March 5, Old Style)*

    James Madison born Port Conway, Virginia, 1st of 12 children of James Madison and Nelly Conway Madison. The Madisons' considerable wealth in land, slaves, and tobacco provides for family home, Montpelier, in Virginia's Orange County, and for eldest son's education. James is an excellent student but a frail and sickly child.

    *March 5 by Old (Julian) Calendar, March 16 by New (Gregorian) Calendar. New Calendar adopted by Great Britain and its colonies in 1752. To bring calendar in line with solar year, 11 days added; new year begins in January rather than March.

    James Madison Sr. and Nelly Conway Madison. Image Credit: Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown, VA. A historic property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
  2. 1769

    Enters College of New Jersey (now Princeton); graduates in 1771. Compiles books, collections of aphorisms, and other texts and, like most 18th-century students, commits parts of these texts to memory for future use. One such book, "A Brief System of Logick," appears to have been written by Madison during his years at College of New Jersey.

    [Detail] Brief System of Logick. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
  3. 1772

    Returns to Virginia. Studies law. Becomes involved in local politics, particularly issue of religious freedom for nonconformist sects in Virginia.

  4. December 16, 1773

    Group of patriots, disguised as American Indians, raid British tea ships berthed in Boston Harbor and dump tea into harbor in protest.

    [Detail] "Boston tea-party." Three cargoes of tea destroyed. Dec. 16, 1773. Photomechanical print (postcard) : color. D. Berger. 1903. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZC4-1582.