William Randolph
Portrait by John Wollaston (c.1755)
26th Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses
In office
Preceded byRobert Carter
Succeeded byRobert Carter
Personal details
Moreton Morrell, Warwickshire, England
Died21 April 1711 (aged 60-61)
Virginia, British America
Resting placeTurkey Island, Virginia
Mary Isham
(m. 1676)
Children10, including William, Thomas, Isham, Richard, John and Edward
Residence(s)Henrico County, Virginia
OccupationPlanter, merchant, politician

William Randolph I (bapt. 7 November 1650 – 21 April 1711) was an English-born planter, merchant and politician in colonial Virginia who played an important role in the development of the colony. Born in Moreton Morrell, Warwickshire, Randolph moved to the colony of Virginia sometime between 1669 and 1673, and married Mary Isham (ca. 1659 – 29 December 1735) a few years later.[1][2] His descendants include many prominent individuals including Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Paschal Beverly Randolph, Robert E. Lee,[3] Peyton Randolph, Edmund Randolph, John Randolph of Roanoke, George W. Randolph, and Edmund Ruffin.[citation needed] Due to his and Mary's many progeny and marital alliances, they have been referred to as "the Adam and Eve of Virginia".[4]

Early years

William Randolph was baptized in Moreton Morrell, Warwickshire, England on 7 November 1650. He was the son of Richard Randolph (21 Feb 1621 – 2 May 1678)[5][6] and Elizabeth Ryland (21 Oct 1621 – 1669) of Warwickshire.[6] Richard Randolph was originally from Little Houghton (also called Houghton Parva), a small village east of Northampton, where Richard Randolph's father, William, was a "steward and servant" to Edward la Zouche, 11th Baron Zouche (1556–1625), having previously served in that same capacity to Sir George Goring, a landowner in Sussex.[6][7][a] William was the fourth of seven Randolph children.[6]

Richard and Elizabeth moved to Warwickshire before the birth of their first child in Moreton Morrell in 1647. They lived within the "heart of Parliamentarian Warwickshire" throughout the end of the English Civil Wars.[6] His family were among the Cavaliers who supported the king.[10] In 1657, the last of their children was born in Moreton Morrell. The same year, Elizabeth's father was buried there. Then, the family moved to Dublin.[6] His mother died there around 1669 and his father about two years later.[5][6][11]

William's uncle, Henry Randolph (1623–1673), traveled to England and Ireland from Virginia in 1669, and sponsored William to emigrate to Colonial Virginia.[5][12] He arrived without money and an axe. He arrived in an area replete with others whose families had also supported the king during the Civil War. His family had long been members of the court.[10] William Randolph was in the colony by 12 February 1672 when he appears in the record as witness to a land transaction.[6]

These were men who had fought on the royal side in the Civil War in England and now sought refuge in Virginia. They were known as 'Cavaliers,’ and they gave Virginia a social atmosphere it never subsequently lost.

— H. J. Eckenrode, author of The Randolphs: The Story of a Virginia Family[10]


Coat of Arms of William Randolph

The Chesapeake economy was centered around tobacco, grown within the English mercantile system for export to markets in Britain and Europe.[13][14] Indentured servants and slaves supported the tobacco industry at that time.[15] By 1674 Randolph imported 12 persons into the colony and thereby earned his first land patent. Over the course of his life, he imported 168 slaves and indentured servants to Virginia.[6] In later years Randolph became a merchant and a planter, and co-owned several ships used to transport tobacco to England and goods back to Virginia. He established several of his sons as merchants and ship captains.[6]

He trained as a lawyer[16] and was a partner with Peter Perry and Edward Hill, Jr. in the law firm Hill, Perry & Randolph in the 1680s.[17] He held multiple official appointments.[18] At the local level, he became clerk of Henrico County Court in 1673 and held the position until he was asked to serve as a justice of the peace in 1683. He also served as sheriff and coroner.[19] Randolph represented Henrico County in every assembly of the House of Burgesses from 1684 to 1698, was Speaker of the House of Burgesses in 1698, and was the Clerk of the House from 1699 to 1702.[19] He had briefly been attorney-general of the colony, but according to a Crown report of September 1696 by Edward Randolph of New England "is wholly unacquainted with the laws and practice of the Courts in England".[20] He fell ill in August 1702 and his son, William, took his place. Randolph resigned the clerkship completely in March 1703.[21]

Randolph was a founder and one of the first trustees of the College of William & Mary.[19][b] Randolph was a friend of William Byrd, and he served as an advisor to Byrd's sons during their political careers.[1] He is mentioned in one of Byrd's diaries as "Colonel Randolph", his militia title.


Randolph was the founder of a dynasty of individuals who shaped commerce and governmental administration for years. They were "one of the most numerous and wealthiest" of the "first families" of the colony. Between Randolph and his heirs, they acquired tens of thousands of acres, including establishment of eleven large neighboring plantations that were worked by hundreds of slaves.[23]

Turkey Island Plantation

Randolph acquired property by purchase, headright, marital interest and land grant. His early acquisitions were in the neighborhood of Turkey Island, located in the James River about 20 miles (32 km) southeast of present-day Richmond.[24][c][d] Randolph began living at the Turkey Hill estate, which included the island and surrounding area,[1] in 1670. That residence no longer exists.[27][e] William Randolph's residence overlooked Turkey Island, and he is buried near the site of the house.[1] Randolph's Turkey Island Plantation became the seat of the Randolph family.[26]

Curles Neck Plantation

In 1676 a Virginia colonist, Nathaniel Bacon, rebelled unsuccessfully against the colonial government and his estate was forfeited. This was Curles Neck Plantation, located near Turkey Island. Randolph made an assessment of the property for Governor Berkeley and was allowed to buy it for his estimated price, adding 1,230 acres (5.0 km2) to Randolph's previous land holdings.[28] The property eventually became the home of William's 5th son Richard Randolph.

Tuckahoe and Dungeness

Around 1700, when Randolph's political career was at its peak, he received land grants to almost 10,000 acres (40 km2) of newly opened land near Richmond; a 3,256-acre (13.18 km2) tract at Tuckahoe Creek and a 5,142-acre (20.81 km2) plot at Westham.[25] This land became the basis of the Tuckahoe[f] and Dungeness Plantations, which were later founded by two of William Randolph's sons.

Marriage and children

Mary Isham Randolph

Randolph married Mary Isham (ca. 1659-December 29, 1735), around 1676. Her father was Henry Isham of Northamptonshire.[6] Her mother, Katherine Banks Royall Isham, was one of the wealthiest women in the colonies for their time. In Henrico County, Virginia, the Ishams owned a large estate in Bermuda Hundred which was across the river from Randolph's Turkey Island estate.[6][30]

William Randolph had ten children[31] who survived into adulthood:[1]

The sons of William Randolph were each distinguished by the estates left to them.[47] Early generations of Randolphs married into several other gentry families, including Beverley, Bland, Bolling, Dilliard, Fleming, Byrd, Fitzhugh, Carter, Cary, Harrison and Page. Later affiliations included members of the Lewis, Meriwether and Skipwith families.


Randolph died on 21 April 1711[31][48] at his Turkey Island plantation.[6][j] Mary and two of their sons, Thomas and William, were executors of the estate that spelled out the manner in which his numerous land holdings were distributed to his sons. Profits from the Pigeon Swamp plantation were to pay off his debt of £3259 to Micajah Perry III's law firm before title was to be transferred in accordance with the will.[17]


In their wealth and social status, the Randolphs were much like other families of the Chesapeake elite. If anything set them apart it was their participation in the political life of the colony, clearly traceable to William Randolph's example. Randolphs and close relatives formed the predominant political faction in the colonial government during the 18th century, with many members of the elected House of Burgesses and the appointed, and more exclusive, Council.[citation needed]

Most of the Randolphs, like the rest of the Virginia gentry, strongly supported the Revolution.[citation needed] However, John Randolph (son of Sir John), in opposition to both his brother Peyton and son Edmund, remained loyal to Great Britain and left Virginia.[citation needed] Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and 18-year-old John Marshall was at Valley Forge for the trying winter of 1777–1778.

See also


  1. ^ Although two of his father Richard's older half-brothers—the poet Thomas Randolph (1605–1634), and poet and Vicar Robert Randolph (1611–1671)--were educated at Cambridge and Oxford respectively[8] (Thomas having attended Westminster School and Robert being "incorporated" , as an Oxford Fellow upon his graduation from Cambridge), they did so largely on scholarship and there are no records of William, his father Richard, or Richard's full siblings (John, 1619 – 1680; Henry, 1623 – 1673, and George, 1627 – 1645) having attended either public school or universities.[9]
  2. ^ His son, John Randolph, secured a royal charter for the College on one of several trips to London to conduct business for the colony.[citation needed] While in England in 1730, he conducted business on behalf of the College of William and Mary. Due to his "diplomatic talent shown on that visit, as well as his high standing at the bar in Virginia", he was knighted in tribute.[22]
  3. ^ This land had been settled for decades, and was held by several owners, from whom he purchased. Possibly his first purchase was 591 acres (2.39 km2) of land on Swift Creek, south of the James.[25]
  4. ^ Turkey Island received its name from Captain Christopher Newport who explored the James River in May 1607. It was named for the large number of wild turkeys on the island.[26]
  5. ^ Randolph's grandson, Ryland Randolph, is believed to have been the individual who designed a brick mansion with a large dome on the estate in the late 1760s. The residence was ruined during the Civil War. Its buried foundation has been the subject of an archaeological study.[27]
  6. ^ Tuckahoe plantation was named for the neighboring creek. Called Tochawhoughe by Captain John Smith, Tuckahoe was the Native American name for an edible water plant.[29] Tuckahoe is the only remaining intact plantation of William's sons.
  7. ^ William Randolph II had seven children. Two of his earliest children, Beverely and William, died very young and their names were given to older children.[33]
  8. ^ Thomas' wife was Judith Fleming.[36] There was a belief among some that Judith Churchill of Middlesex was Thomas' wife. However, there are a series of records that show that his wife was Judith Fleming: 1) A marriage record shows that Thomas Randolph of Henrico County married Judith Fleming on October 16, 1712. 2) She married Nicholas Davies in 1733, which was witnessed by the bride's brothers, John and Tarleton Fleming. 3) Two deeds showed that William Randolph III's mother was Judith Fleming Davies.[35]: 32–37  The theory that Thomas married Judith Churchill by historian William Edward Railey[37][38] is now known to be incorrect. There was confusion about family members named Judith; one was Judith Fleming, married to Thomas Randolph; and the other was Judith Wormeley (1694-1716), step-daughter of Col. William Churchill, married to Mann Page in 1712, and mother of Maria Judith (Page) Randolph.[35]: 32–38 
  9. ^ a b Richard Randolph and Elizabeth Randolph were both ancestors of John Randolph of Roanoke. Richard was his grandfather; Elizabeth was his great-grandmother.[citation needed]
  10. ^ His date of death is also stated as or 11 April 1711.[6]


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  2. ^ Emory G. Evans, A "Topping People": The Rise and Decline of Virginia's Old Political Elite, 1680–1790 (2009), pp. 18–19
  3. ^ a b Dillon, John Forrest, ed. (1903). "Introduction". John Marshall; life, character and judicial services as portrayed in the centenary and memorial addresses and proceedings throughout the United States on Marshall day, 1901, and in the classic orations of Binney, Story, Phelps, Waite and Rawle. Vol. I. Chicago: Callaghan & Company. pp. liv–lv. ISBN 9780722291474.
  4. ^ Jean Houston (11 October 1996). A Mythic Life: Learning to Live our Greater Story. HarperCollins. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-06-250282-7.
  5. ^ a b c Robert M. Randolph (13 November 2019). Peyton Randolph and Revolutionary Virginia. McFarland. pp. 181–182. ISBN 978-1-4766-3862-1.
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  8. ^ Venn, John (15 September 2011). Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge, from the Earliest Times to 1900. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-03609-2.
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  10. ^ a b c Taylor, Tess (16 December 2013). "Remembering the Randolphs". VQR. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
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  12. ^ Eckenrode, H.J. 1946., p. 31
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  25. ^ a b Kukla, Jon. 1981., p. 98
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  33. ^ Randolph, Wassell (1949). William Randolph I of Turkey Island, Henrico County, Virginia: And His Immediate Descendants. Seebode Mimeo Service; distributed by Cossitt Library. p. 39.
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  43. ^ a b Goode, George Brown (1887). "Excursus.-The Stith Family". Virginia Cousins: A Study of the Ancestry and Posterity of John Goode of Whitby. Richmond: J. W. Randolph & English. pp. 210–212.
  44. ^ Brown, John Howard (1900). "Armistead Churchill Gordon". Lamb's Biographical Dictionary of the United States. Vol. III. Boston, Massachusetts: James H. Lamb Co. p. 331.
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  46. ^ Frances Bland Randolph Chapter, NSDAR (8 August 2010). "The Family of Frances Bland Randolph Tucker". Petersburg: Frances Bland Randolph Chapter, NSDAR.
  47. ^ Fiske, John, and James Grant Wilson, 1900 ed., p. 174
  48. ^ Tyler, Lyon Gardiner; Morton, Richard Lee (1902). The William and Mary Quarterly. Institute of Early American History and Culture. pp. 166–167.