James Monroe’s Family Life


Being the fifth president of the United States of America, James Monroe is known for establishing principles of foreign policies, thus, known as the Monroe Doctrine.

Perhaps his contribution to the USA can be found in history books or possibly discussed inside the classroom. But ever wonder about the family life of this prominent yet private man? In this article, we will unveil some known information about James Monroe’s family whereabouts.

Elizabeth Kortright

As James Monroe was serving as a delegate to the Continental Congress in New York in 1785, he met young Elizabeth Kortright, the youngest daughter of a wealthy merchant named Lawrence Kortright. She doesn’t have any formal education but acquired social graces and elegance; she knows French and Latin.

A year after courtship, James, who was twenty-six years old and Elizabeth, who was only seventeen, got married performed by Reverend Benjamin Moore on February 16, 1786. The newlywed migrated to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where James practiced law.

They had three children with two daughters and one son. Eliza, James Spence, and Maria Hester.

As a supportive young wife to her budding political career, she moved with James as he was appointed to France in 1794 by President Washington. Amidst the French Revolution, she contributed to saving Madame de la Fayette, who was held in prison and expected to face death on the guillotine. She went to see Madame de la Fayette together with her servants in the carriage. Giving a hint of American interest in this matter, Madame de la Fayette was released. She was hailed as La belle Americaine due to her famous beauty and boldness.

In the spring of 1797, the Monroe family returned to Virginia, where James was elected as a governor again. Tragically, they lost a son, James Spence, in infancy. Subsequently, Elizabeth experienced episodes of probable epilepsy and deteriorated her social activity.

Because of her frail health, she did not contribute much to her husband’s campaign for the presidency. James became the fifth president of the United States on March 4, 1817. She was passive during inauguration activities. She was absent in both the swearing ceremony and reception. Eliza stepped up and served as White House hostess in her mother’s absence.

She is often absent in many social receptions and other events. Rumor spread that she was suffering in some form of mental illness since there are no medical detections of epilepsy during their time, and the family wishes not to disclose any details about Elizabeth’s health condition.

After James’ term as the president, he, together with his family, faced tremendous debts mostly for non-reimbursed entertainment expenses and various properties. They sold the plantation in Highland in Albemarle County to pay their debts.

Despite Elizabeth’s fragile health, she managed to travel to New York to visit her youngest daughter, other friends, and relatives. The couple retired in their Oak Hill mansion, where she died on September 23, 1830, at the age of 62.

Later, James died in New York under Maria Hester’s care on July 4, 1831.

James Monroe’s Eldest daughter, Eliza Kortright Monroe Hay

Eliza Kortright Monroe was the eldest daughter of James Monroe and Elizabeth Kortright. She was born in December 1786. Eliza attended the school of Madame Jeanne Campan in Paris while her father was serving as the ambassador to France. She befriended the daughter of Josephine de Beauharnais, Hortense de Beauharnais, who later became the queen of Holland. Eliza acted as an unofficial first lady on behalf of her ailing mother.

George Hay was a prominent lawyer in Virginia. They had one daughter, Hortensia.

Eliza’s husband died on September 21, 1830, two days before her mother passed away. Her father died in their house in New York. Due to the consecutive losses she experienced, she returned to Paris and stayed there until her death on January 27, 1840.

James Spence Monroe

James Spence, named after his father and his grandfather did not live very long. He was second of the Monroe children and lived for only 16 months. The initials “JS” were engraved in his gravestone.

Maria Hester Monroe Gouverneur

Maria Hester was born on April 8, 1802. She was the youngest daughter of the Monroes. She was brought to London as a baby because of her father’s state matters. From 1816-1819, she attended Madame Grelaud’s school in Philadelphia.

Eventually, she married her first cousin, Samuel Gouverneur. It was the first-ever wedding ceremony of a president’s child in the White House that happened in 1820.

They had three surviving children named James Monroe Gouverneur, Elizabeth Kortright Gouverneur and Samuel Lawrence Governeur, Jr. They lost their first daughter on September 4, 1821.

Maria Hester, together with her husband and her father moved to New York City. Former president James Monroe took his last breath at their New York home. President John Quincy appointed Samuel as the postmaster of New York City.

On June 20, 1850, Maria Hester died at the retirement home of her parents in Oak Hill County, Virginia, at the age of 48.