William Randolph

William Randolph

William Randolph (November 7, 1650 - April 11, 1711) was a colonist and land owner who played an important role in the history and government of the Commonwealth of Virginia. He moved to Virginia sometime between 1669 and 1673, and married Mary Isham (1652- December 29, 1735) a few years later. [Sankey, Margaret D. “Randolph, William (1650-1711), colonist in America.” ] His descendants included several prominent political figures, including Thomas Jefferson and John Marshall. Genealogists have taken an interest in him for his progeny's many marital alliances, referring to him and Mary Isham as "the Adam and Eve of Virginia".


William Randolph was born in Morton Morell, Warwickshire, England, to Richard Randolph (1620-1671) and Elizabeth Ryland (1625-1699). Like several other immigrants from the English gentry, he was a second son. William was educated at home, concentrating his studies on Greek, Latin, and law.

His uncle, Henry Randolph, emigrated to North America in 1642 [Eckenrode, H.J. 1946., Pg.31] and rose to the position of Clerk of the Colony. Henry paid a visit to England in 1668 and may have encouraged his nephew to emigrate. Henry died a few years after William arrived in Virginia.

The Randolphs were established gentry, in England, meaning that they had property and a family tradition of knightly military service signified by a coat of arms. Although the family can be directly traced back only as far as 1500, the name appears in the Domesday Book and there is a distinguished Scottish family with which they may have been connected. There is better evidence that they were descended from Surety Barons of Magna Carta through a female line. The historian David Hackett Fisher shows a chart illustrating gentry intermarriages in which the Randolphs and Ishams figure. Although there is no record of William's attending a university, his half-uncle Thomas Randolph was an Oxford don and noted poet. [Malone, Dumas (Ed.). 1963., Pg.371 ]

Early Career

After his arrival in Virginia, Randolph began working as an "undertaker" (building contractor), before turning to tobacco farming. [Eckenrode, H.J. 1946., Pg. 31-32] Even after he had acquired property, a tax roll refers to him as "William Randolph, Merchant". At some point he owned a ship which traveled between Bristol, England and his dock at Turkey Island.


Randolph's early acquisitions were in the neighborhood of Turkey Island. This land had been settled for decades, and was held by several owners, from whom he purchased. Possibly his first purchase was convert|591|acre|km2 of land on Swift Creek, south of the James. [Kukla, Jon. 1981., Pg.98]

In 1676, the colonist Nathaniel Bacon rebelled unsuccesfully against the colonial government, and his estate, Curles, was forfeited. Randolph made an assessment of the estate for Governor Berkeley and was allowed to buy it for his estimated price, adding convert|1230|acre|km2 to his land holdings. [Eckenrode, H.J. 1946., Pg.38-39] This conflict of interest was criticized by his neighbors.

After the capital of Virginia moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg in 1699, Randolph was able to use his political power and influence to acquire almost convert|10000|acre|km2 of land in the vicinity of Richmond; a convert|3256|acre|km2|sing=on tract at Tuckahoe Creek and a convert|5142|acre|km2|sing=on plot at Westham. [Kukla, Jon. 1981., Pg.98] This land became the basis of the Tuckahoe and Dungeness Plantations founded by two of his sons.

William Randolph owned a considerable number of slaves. This reflected the rise of slavery during his business career. Around 1675, Governor Berkeley reported that the population of the colony was 40,000, with 4,000 indentured servants and 2,000 slaves. But as the supply of indentured servants declined late in the 17th Century, the planters turned to slaves for work in the labor-intensive business of tobacco culture.

It is difficult to determine the acerage or number of slaves he owned at his death. His will has been transcribed and a copy appears on the internet. One estimate is that he had 20,000 acres. He paid property taxes on 1,655 acres in Surry County and 19,465 acres in Henrico County in 1704.

Political and Social Activities

Randolph held multiple official appointments. [Malone, Dumas (Ed.). 1963., Pg.372 ] 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. [Kukla, Jon. 1981., Pg.100]

In addition, Randolph represented Henrico County in every assembly of the House of Burgesses from 1684 to 1698, was the Speaker of the House of Burgesses in 1698, and was the Clerk of the House from 1699 to 1702. [Kukla, Jon. 1981., Pg.100] He fell ill in August of 1702 and his son, William, took his place. Randolph resigned the clerkship completely in March of 1703. [Kukla, Jon. 1981., Pg.102]

Randolph was also one of the founders and first trustees of the College of William and Mary. [Kukla, Jon. 1981., Pg.100] His son, John Randolph, was awarded a knighthood on a trip to London to secure a royal charter for the College.

Randolph was a friend of William Byrd and served as an advisor to Byrd’s sons during their political careers. [Sankey, Margaret D. “Randolph, William (1650-1711), colonist in America.” ] He is mentioned in one of Byrd's diaries without the supercilious tone Byrd employed with most of his contemporaries, no small character reference. Byrd also describes a visit to Tuckahoe Plantation around 1733.

He built a mansion on the Turkey Island plantation on high ground overlooking the island and the river. It featured a ribbed dome and was known as the "Bird's Cage".


William Randolph’s children included:

:Elizabeth Randolph (Bland) (1680 - 1719)::Ancestrix of Henry Lee, General of Cavalry in the Revolution, and his son Robert E. Lee.:William Randolph Jr. (1681 - 1742) of Turkey Island Henrico County:Thomas Randolph (1683 - 1729) of Tuckahoe Plantation, Goochland County::Great-grandfather of John Marshall. Great-great-grandfather of Ann Cary (Nancy) Randolph, who married Gouverneur Morris, and her brother Thomas Mann Randolph II, who married Thomas Jefferson's daughter, Martha. Ancestor of Confederate Secretary of War George W. Randolph.:Isham Randolph (1685 - 1742) of Dungeness Plantation, Goochland County::Grandfather of Thomas Jefferson.:Henry Randolph (1687 - ?) of Chatsworth:Richard Randolph (1691 - 1748) of Curles (Neck) Plantation Henrico County::Married Jane Bolling, a descendant of Pocahontas. Grandfather of the colorful Congressman John Randolph of Roanoake.:Mary Randolph (Stith) (1692 - ?):Sir John Randolph (1693 - 1737) of Tazewell Hall, Williamsburg::Practiced law in Williamsburg. The only native of Colonial America to receive a knighthood. Father of Peyton Randolph, first President of the Continental Congress. Grandfather of Edmund Randolph, first US Attorney General.:Edward Randolph (1695-?) of Bremo::Sea captain, resided in England.

The total number of children is not certain because of deaths in infancy and the tendency to name children after their deceased siblings. However, it is known that at least nine children survived into adulthood. [Sankey, Margaret D. “Randolph, William (1650-1711), colonist in America.” ] The sons of William Randolph were each distinguished by the estates left to them. [Fiske, John, and James Grant Wilson, eds. 1900., Pg.174]

Early generations of Randolphs married into several other gentry families, including Beverley, Fleming, Byrd, Carter, Cary, Harrison and Page. Later affiliations included members of the Lewis, Meriwether and Skipworth families.

Randolph’s Legacy

With William Randolph as its patriarch, the Randolph family became extremely well-respected in Virginia. 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. The Randolphs, like the rest of the Virginia gentry, strongly supported the Revolution.


Turkey Island derives its name from the first explorers of the James River, who noted that it contained a large population of wild turkeys. The term can refer to the surrounding area as well as the island. William Randolph's residence overlooked Turkey Island, and he is buried near the site of the house. [Sankey, Margaret D. “Randolph, William (1650-1711), colonist in America.” ]

Tuckahoe was the Native American name for and edible water plant. It became a pejorative reference for members of elite Tidewater society.It is highly likely that the cultural term tuckahoe derives from Tuckahoe Plantation, established by William Randolph's son, Thomas. Tuckahoe is the only remaining intact plantation of William's sons.

Dungeness is the headland of a shingle beach in Kent, England. The founder of Dungeness Plantation, Isham Randolph, spent several years of his youth in England, which may explain the choice of name.

The publisher and philanthropist William Randolph Hearst was not a descendant of William Randolph. He was descended from Isabel Randolph, b. 1709 in Virginia. William's descendants of that period have been carefully enumerated and do not include an Isabel.



*Colonial Wills of Henrico County, Virginia, Part One, 1654 - 1737, abstracted and compiled by Benjamin B. Weisiger III, p. 90. http://boards.ancestry.com/localities.northam.usa.states.virginia.counties.henrico/2157/mb.ashx
*Daniels, Johathon Worth. 1972. "The Randolphs of Virginia", Doubleday.
*Eckenrode, H.J. 1946. "The Randolphs: The story of a Virginia family." New York: The Bobbs Merrill Company.
*Fischer, David Hackett, 1989. "Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America", Oxford University Press, USA.
*Fiske, John, and James Grant Wilson, eds. 1900. "Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume V: Pickering – Sumter", 174-179. New York: D. Appleton and Company. http://www.archive.org/details/appletonscyclopa05wils.
*Kukla, Jon. 1981. "Speakers and clerks of the Virginia House of Burgesses 1643-1776." Richmond, VA: Virginia State Library.
*Malone, Dumas (Ed.). 1963. "Dictionary of American biography, volume VIII: Platt-Seward", 371-372. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
*Sankey, Margaret D. “Randolph, William (1650-1711), colonist in America.” "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography" August 2004. http://www.oxforddnb.com/.

External links

* [http://vhs3.vahistorical.org/vhsimages/museum/paintings/Portraits/WilliamRandolphI.1951.31.jpgPortrait of William Randolph: Virginia Historical Society]
* [http://vhs3.vahistorical.org/vhsimages/museum/paintings/Portraits/MIRandolph.1927.20.jpgPortrait of Mary Isham Randolph: Virginia Historical Society]
* [http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/hiway_markers/images/3380_1.jpgPicture of Virginia Historical Marker for Turkey Island]
* [http://www.pickettsociety.com/turkey_island/turkey_pix.html Photographs from Turkey Island, including excavation of Randolph's mansion]
* [http://www.virginians.com/redirect.htm?topics&ra Genealogy site discussing Randolph's will and property.]

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