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William Randolph

William Randolph
26th Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses
In office
Preceded by Robert Carter
Succeeded by Robert Carter
Personal details
Born ca. November 1650
Moreton Morrell, Warwickshire, England
Died 11 April 1711 (aged 60)
Resting place Turkey Island, Virginia
Spouse(s) Mary Isham
Children 9
Residence Henrico County, Virginia
Occupation Plantation owner
Religion Anglican

William Randolph (bapt. 7 November 1650 – 11 April 1711) was a Edmund Ruffin. 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".


  • Background 1
  • Early career 2
  • Property 3
  • Political and social activities 4
  • Descendants 5
  • Legacy 6
  • Observations 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • Bibliography 11
  • External links 12


William Randolph was baptized in Sussex.[3] Elizabeth was the daughter of John Ryland of Warwick. William was the second of seven Randolph children, all born in Moreton Morrell between 1647 and 1657.[4]

No record has yet surfaced to fix William Randolph's residences after his birth until 1672.

Although his father's older half-brother, the poet Thomas Randolph, attended Westminster School and Cambridge University, he did so largely on scholarship and there is no record of any other members of William's family having attended either public school or university.[5] At some point in the late 1650s or 1660s, his parents moved to Dublin, where they both died, his mother around 1669 and his father in 1671, so William may well have spent the bulk of his formative years in Ireland.[6] It is also known that William's uncle, Henry Randolph (1623-?), in 1669 traveled to Britain from Virginia, to which place he had emigrated around 1642.[7] Henry probably encouraged his nephew at that time to return with him to the Chesapeake. In any case, William Randolph was in the colony by 12 February 1672 when he appears in the record as witness to a land transaction.[8]

Early career

The Chesapeake economy was centered around tobacco, grown within the English mercantile system for export to markets in Britain and Europe. Randolph appears to have arrived in the province with little capital and few transatlantic connections. One historian suggests that he started off in the colony as an "undertaker" building houses, but there is no evidence for it.[9] By 1674 he had acquired enough money to import 12 persons into the colony and thereby earned his first of many land patents (between 1674 and 1697 he imported 72 servants and 69 slaves for which he collected patents for more than 7000 acres). 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.

Around 1675 he married Mary Isham (1660 Bermuda Hundred, James River, Henrico County, Virginia–25 December 1735 Turkey Island, Henrico County, Virginia), whose father, Henry Isham (c. 1628 Pytchley, Northamptonshire–c. 1676 Bermuda Hundred, James River, Henrico County, Virginia), was from a gentry family in Northamptonshire. After arriving in Virginia, Henry had married in 1659, a wealthy widow, Katherina Banks Royall (c. 1630 Canterbury, Kent–aft. 1 December 1686 Henrico County, Virginia).


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.[10] 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.[11]

In 1676 a Virginia colonist, Nathaniel Bacon, rebelled unsuccessfully against the colonial government and his estate was forfeited. This was Curles, 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.[12] This conflict of interest was criticized by his neighbors.

In 1678 Mary Isham's brother died, making her the heiress to her father's large estate. William Randolph had married her before her brother's death, because the brother's will refers to her as "Mary Randolph".

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.[11] This land became the basis of the Tuckahoe and Dungeness Plantations, which were later founded by two of William Randolph's sons.

William Randolph owned a considerable number of slaves. This reflected the rise of slavery during his business career. Around 1675 Governor Berkeley reported the population of the colony as 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 tobacco cultivation.

It is difficult to determine the acreage or number of slaves he owned at his death. His will has been transcribed and a copy appears on the internet, but portions are missing. One estimate is that he had 20,000 acres (81 km2). He paid property taxes on 1,655 acres (6.70 km2) in Surry County and 19,465 acres (78.77 km2) in Henrico County in 1704.

Political and social activities

Randolph held multiple official appointments.[13] 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.[14]

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.[14] He fell ill in August 1702 and his son, William, took his place. Randolph resigned the clerkship completely in March 1703.[15]

Randolph was a founder and one of the first trustees of the College of William and Mary.[14] His son, John Randolph, secured a royal charter for the College on one of several trips to London to conduct business for the colony.

Randolph was a friend of William Byrd, and he served as an advisor to Byrd’s sons during their political careers.[16] He is mentioned in one of Byrd's diaries as "Colonel Randolph", his militia title.

Randolph 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 had at least nine children[17] and was familially connected to many other prominent individuals:

Researchers are unsure of the total number of children born to William Randolph and Mary Isham Randolph, 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.[16] The sons of William Randolph were each distinguished by the estates left to them.[31]

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


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.

Most of the Randolphs, like the rest of the Virginia gentry, strongly supported the Valley Forge for the trying winter of 1777–1778.


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.[16]

Tuckahoe was the Native American name for an edible water plant. It became a pejorative reference for members of elite Tidewater society. It is 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, which must be rounded to approach the Thames Estuary. The founder of Dungeness Plantation, Isham Randolph, spent several years of his adult life as a ship's captain, and therefore was familiar with the feature. The name may have been chosen to suggest a turning point in a long voyage. The similar headland at the southwestern top of Cornwall, Land's End, has inspired the names of several enterprises, including two plantations.

The name "Bremo" comes from a Germanic word meaning "edge", in this case the edge of a river. The root also occurs in the English word "brim". The plantation identified with Edward Randolph was near Turkey Island, in Henrico County. The extant Bremo Plantation was established in the early 19th century in Fluvanna County, far to the west. These plantations are shown on the 1751 Fry-Jefferson map.

See also


  1. ^ 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.[19]
  2. ^ Most sources indicate that Thomas Randolph married a woman named either "Judith Churchill" or "Judith Fleming" around 1705 or 1710 and that the couple had three children.[10][17] Historian William Edward Railey reported that T. Randolph married Churchill in 1710, but that she died in 1712 (possibly during the birth of his oldest son, William).[21] Railey notes that T. Randolph married his second wife, Fleming, that same year on 16 October 1712.[21][22]
  3. ^ a b Richard Randolph and Elizabeth Randolph were both ancestors of John Randolph of Roanoke. Richard was his grandfather; Elizabeth was his great-grandmother.


  1. ^ Margaret D. Sankey, "Randolph, William (1650–1711)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004); Emory G. Evans, A "Topping People": The Rise and Decline of Virginia's Old Political Elite, 1680–1790 (2009), pp. 18–19
  2. ^ a b  
  3. ^ Louis A. Knafla, ‘Zouche, Edward la, eleventh Baron Zouche (1556–1625)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004); W. H. Kelliher, ‘Randolph, Thomas (bap. 1605, d. 1635)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)
  4. ^ Roberta Lee Randolph, The First Randolphs of Virginia (1961), pp. 17–18
  5. ^ Kelliher, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  6. ^ "Visitation of Northampton 1681," Publications of the Harleian Society 87 (1935), pp. 173–77
  7. ^ Eckenrode, H.J. 1946., p. 31
  8. ^ Gerald S. Cowden, The Randolphs of Turkey Island: a Prosopography of the First Three Generations, 1650–1800 (unpublished PhD diss., College of William and Mary, 1977), pp. 47–51
  9. ^ Eckenrode, H.J. 1946., pp. 31–32; Cowden, p. 32
  10. ^ a b c Glenn, Thomas Allen, ed. (1898). "The Randolphs: Randolph Genealogy". Some Colonial Mansions: And Those Who Lived In Them : With Genealogies Of The Various Families Mentioned 1. Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates & Company. pp. 438–439. 
  11. ^ a b Kukla, Jon. 1981., p. 98
  12. ^ Eckenrode, H.J. 1946., pp. 38–39
  13. ^ Malone, Dumas (Ed.). 1963., p. 372
  14. ^ a b c Kukla, Jon. 1981., p. 100
  15. ^ Kukla, Jon. 1981., p.102
  16. ^ a b c Sankey, Margaret D. “Randolph, William (1650–1711), colonist in America”
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Page, Richard Channing Moore (1893). "Randolph Family". Genealogy of the Page Family in Virginia. New York: Press of the Publishers Printing Co. pp. 249–272. 
  18. ^ Standard, W.G. (1895). "Major Robert Beverley and His Descendants". In  
  19. ^ 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. 
  20. ^ a b Randolph, Robert Isham (1936). The Randolphs of Virginia: A Compilation of the Descendants of William Randolph of Turkey Island and His Wife Mary Isham Of Bermuda Hundred (PDF). 
  21. ^ a b Railey, W.E. (September 1918). Morton, Jennie C., ed. "Notes and Corrections of the Railey Geneaology". The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society (Frankfort, Kentucky: The State Journal Company) 16 (48): 47–49. 
  22. ^ Railey, William Edward (2002) [1938]. History of Woodford County, Kentucky. Genealogical Publishing Com. p. 278.  
  23. ^ Sorley, Merrow Egerton (2000) [1935]. "Chapter 13: Col Charles Lewis of Buck Island". Lewis of Warner Hall: The History of a Family. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co.  
  24. ^  
  25. ^ a b c  
  26. ^ a b  
  27. ^ a b  
  28. ^ Brown, John Howard (1900). "Armistead Churchill Gordon". Lamb's Biographical Dictionary of the United States III. Boston, Massachusetts: James H. Lamb Co. p. 331. 
  29. ^ a b Bland, Theodorick (1840). "Appendix". In Campbell, Charles. The Bland papers: Being a Selection from the Manuscripts of Colonel Theodorick Bland Jr. of Prince George County Virginia I. Petersburg, Virginia: Edmund & Julian C. Ruffin. pp. 145–149. 
  30. ^ Frances Bland Randolph Chapter, NSDAR (8 August 2010). "The Family of Frances Bland Randolph Tucker". Petersburg: Frances Bland Randolph Chapter, NSDAR. 
  31. ^ Fiske, John, and James Grant Wilson, 1900 ed., p. 174


  • Colonial Wills of Henrico County, Virginia, Part One, 1654–1737, abstracted and compiled by Benjamin B. Weisiger III, p. 90.
  • Daniels, Jonathan 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.
  • 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.
  • Randolph, Wassell.. William Randolph I of Turkey Island (Henrico County) Virginia and his immediate descendants. Memphis, Tenn.: Seebode Mimeo Service : Distributed by Cossitt Library, 1949.
  • Sankey, Margaret D. “Randolph, William (1650–1711), colonist in America.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography August 2004.

External links

  • Portrait of William Randolph: Virginia Historical Society
  • Portrait of Mary Isham Randolph: Virginia Historical Society
  • Picture of Virginia Historical Marker for Turkey Island
  • Photographs from Turkey Island, including excavation of Randolph's mansion
  • Genealogy site discussing Randolph's will and property.
  • For an accurate view of the life of William Randolph, written and moderated by historians at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, visit William Randolph
  • 1751 Fry-Jefferson Map
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