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William Randolph (bapt. 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 Virginiamarker. He moved to Virginia sometime between 1669 and 1673, and married Mary Isham (c1659–December 29, 1735) a few years later. 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 baptized in Moreton Morrellmarker, Warwickshiremarker, Englandmarker on 7 November 1650, the son of Richard Randolph (1621–1678) and Elizabeth Ryland (1625–c1669). Richard Randolph was originally from Houghton Parva, a small village east of Northampton, where his father 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 his native Sussex. Elizabeth was the daughter of John Ryland of Warwick. William was the second of seven Randolph children, all born in Morton Morell between 1647 and 1657.

There is no record of how William spent the years between ages seven and 22, when he surfaced in Virginia. 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. 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. 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.. It is not unreasonable to assume that Henry encouraged his nephew at that time to return with him 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.

Early career

The Chesapeake economy was centered around the staple of 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. Somehow by 1674 he had acquired enough money to import 12 person 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). His most advantageous move, however, appears to have been his marriage to Mary Isham, the only child of relatively wealthy parents who emigrated to Virginia from Northamptonshire about the time of the Restoration of Charles II. Afterwards he became, like a number of his contemporaries, a merchant and a planter, partnering with others in the ownership of several ships on which to transport tobacco to England and goods back to Virginia and helping to establish several of his sons as merchants and ships captains.


Randolph's early acquisitions were in the neighborhood of Turkey Island, located in the James River about 20 miles southeast of present-day Richmond. This land had been settled for decades, and was held by several owners, from whom he purchased. Possibly his first purchase was of land on Swift Creek, south of the James.

In 1676, the 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 to his land holdings. This conflict of interest was criticized by his neighbors.

Around 1700, when Randolph's political career was at its peak, he received land grants to almost of newly opened land in the vicinity of Richmond; a tract at Tuckahoe Creek and a plot at Westham. 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, but portions are missing. One estimate is that he had . He paid property taxes on in Surry County and in Henrico County in 1704.

Political and Social Activities

Randolph held multiple official appointments. 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.

In addition, Randolph represented Henrico Countymarker 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. He fell ill in August of 1702 and his son, William, took his place. Randolph resigned the clerkship completely in March of 1703.

Randolph was also one of the founders and first trustees of the College of William and Marymarker. 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 served as an advisor to Byrd’s sons during their political careers. He is mentioned in one of Byrd's diaries as "Colonel Randolph", his militia title.

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 III, General of Cavalry in the Revolution, and his son Robert E. Lee.
William Randolph Jr. (1681 - 1742) of Turkey Island, Henrico County, VAmarker
Thomas Randolph (1683 - 1729) of Tuckahoe Plantation, Goochland Countymarker
:Great-grandfather of John Marshall. Great-great-grandfather of Ann Cary (Nancy) Randolph, who married Gouverneur Morris, and her brother Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., 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. Sea captain and merchant in London for 15 years of his youth before returning to Virginia.
Henry Randolph (1687 - ?) of Chatsworth
Richard Randolph (1691 - 1748) of Curles Plantation Henrico County
:Married Jane Bolling, a descendant of Pocahontas. Grandfather of the colorful Congressman John Randolph of Roanoke.
Mary Randolph (Stith) (1692 - ?)
Sir John Randolph (1693 - 1737) of Tazewell Hall, Williamsburg
:Studied at the Inns of Court, practiced law in Williamsburg. The only native of Colonial America to receive a knighthood. Father of Peyton Randolph, President of the First Continental Congress, and John Randolph, a Loyalist. The latter's son, Edmund Randolph, served as a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention and became the first U.S. 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. The sons of William Randolph were each distinguished by the estates left to them.

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 Skipwith families.

Randolph’s Legacy

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 Revolution. 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. It was the period of William Randolph's most famous descendants. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and the 18-year-old John Marshall was at 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.

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, which must be rounded to approach the Thames Estuary. The founder of Dungeness Plantation, Isham Randolph, spent the majority of his adult life as a ship's captain, and so was quite familiar with the feature. Furthermore, Dungeness, Virginia, is located on a bend in the James River that similarly reminds one of the geography of Dungeness, England.

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.


  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), 18-19.
  2. 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).
  3. Roberta Lee Randolph, The First Randolphs of Virginia (1961), 17-18.
  4. Kelliher, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  5. "Visitation of Northampton 1681," Publications of the Harleian Society 87 (1935), 173-77.
  6. Eckenrode, H.J. 1946., Pg.31
  7. 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), 47-51.
  8. Eckenrode, H.J. 1946., Pg. 31-32; Cowden, 32.
  9. Cowden, 51, 57-59.
  10. Kukla, Jon. 1981., Pg.98
  11. Eckenrode, H.J. 1946., Pg.38-39
  12. Kukla, Jon. 1981., Pg.98
  13. Malone, Dumas (Ed.). 1963., Pg.372
  14. Kukla, Jon. 1981., Pg.100
  15. Kukla, Jon. 1981., Pg.100
  16. Kukla, Jon. 1981., Pg.102
  17. Kukla, Jon. 1981., Pg.100
  18. Sankey, Margaret D. “Randolph, William (1650-1711), colonist in America.”
  19. Fiske, John, and James Grant Wilson, eds. 1900., Pg.174


  • Colonial Wills of Henrico County, Virginia, Part One, 1654 - 1737, abstracted and compiled by Benjamin B. Weisiger III, p. 90.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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