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Peyton Randolph (September 10, 1721 – October 22, 1775) was a planter and public official from the Colony of Virginia. He served as speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, chairman of the Virginia Conventions, and President of the Continental Congress.

Early life

Randolph was born in Virginia to a prominent family. His parents were Sir John Randolph and Susannah Beverley; his brother was John Randolph. He was also the grandson of William Randolph.

Randolph attended the College of William and Marymarker, and later studied law at Middle Temple at the Inns of Court in Londonmarker, becoming a member of the bar in 1743.

Political career

Randolph returned to Williamsburg after he became a member of the bar, and was appointed Attorney General of the Colony of Virginia the next year.

He served several terms in the Virginia House of Burgesses, beginning in 1748. It was Randolph's dual roles as attorney general and as burgess that would lead to an extraordinary conflict of interest in 1751.

The new governor, Robert Dinwiddie, had imposed a fee for the certification of land patents, which the House of Burgesses strongly objected to. The House selected Peyton Randolph to represent their cause to Crown authorities in London. In his role as attorney general, though, he was responsible for defending actions taken by the governor. Randolph left for London, over the objections of Governor Dinwiddie, and was replaced for a short time as attorney general. He was reinstated on his return at the behest of officials in London, who also recommended the Governor drop the new fee.

In 1765 Randolph found himself at odds with a freshman burgess, Patrick Henry, over the matter of a response to the Stamp Act. The House appointed Randolph to draft objections to the act, but his more conservative plan was trumped when Henry obtained passage of five of his seven Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions. This was accomplished at a meeting of the House in which most of the members were absent, and over which Randolph was presiding in the absence of the Speaker.

Randolph resigned as attorney general in 1766. As friction between Britain and the colonies progressed, he became more in favor of independence. In 1769 the House of Burgesses was dissolved by the Governor in response to its actions against the Townshend Acts. Randolph had been Speaker at the time. Afterwards, he chaired meetings of a group of former House members at a Williamsburg tavern, which worked toward responses to the unwelcome tax measures imposed by the British government.

Continental Congress and later life

Randolph was elected as presiding officer in both the First and Second Continental Congresses, in large part due to his reputation for leadership while in the House of Burgesses. He did not, however, live to see American independence; Randolph died in Philadelphiamarker, and was buried at Christ Churchmarker. He was later re-interred at the College of William and Mary chapel.

Randolph County, North Carolinamarker, formed in 1779, and two United States Navy ships called were named in his honor, as is the Peyton Randolph elementary school in Arlington, Virginiamarker.

Randolph's house survives and is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Known as Peyton Randolph Housemarker, it is shown to the public as part of the Colonial Williamsburgmarker complex.

Family ties

Further reading

  • John Reardon, Peyton Randolph, 1721-1775: One Who Presided, 1981, Carolina University Press; ISBN 0-89089-201-6.

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