William Randolph was baptized in Moreton Morrell, Warwickshire, England on 7 November 1650, He was the son of Richard Randolph (21 February 1621 – 2 May 1678) and Elizabeth Ryland (1625–ca. 1669). 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 Sussex. His mother was a daughter of John Ryland of Warwick. William was the second of seven Randolph children, all born in Moreton Morrell between 1647 and 1657.
No record has yet surfaced as to William Randolph's residences 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. He fell ill in August 1702 and his son, William, took his place. Randolph resigned the clerkship completely in March 1703.
Randolph was a founder and one of the first trustees of the College of William and Mary. 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. 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 and was connected to the families of many other prominent individuals:William Randolph II (born November 1681) married Elizabeth Beverley (the daughter of Peter Beverley, a Speaker of the House of Burgesses and Treasurer of Virginia) around 1705 and had five children who lived to adulthood. He was the grandfather of Beverley Randolph, the eighth Governor of Virginia. and Ann Bolling Randolph Fitzhugh.
Thomas Randolph of Tuckahoe (born ~June 1683) married Judith Churchill and/or Judith Fleming between 1705 and 1712. He was the great-grandfather of John Marshall, as well as the 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.
Isham Randolph of Dungeness (born December 1684) married Jane Rogers in 1717 and had nine children, including Jane Randolph (who married Peter Jefferson and was the mother of Thomas Jefferson), Mary Randolph (who was the mother of Charles Lilburn Lewis and grandmother of Isham and Lilburn Lewis), Ann Randolph (who was the mother of James Pleasants, Jr., the 22nd Governor of Virginia), and Susannah Randolph (who married Carter Henry Harrison I and was the great-grandmother of Carter Henry Harrison III and great-great-grandmother of Carter Henry Harrison IV) – both five-time mayors of Chicago.
Richard Randolph (born ~May 1686) married Jane Bolling, a descendant of Pocahontas, around 1714. He was the grandfather of the colorful Congressman John Randolph of Roanoke.
Henry Randolph (born ~October 1687) did not marry.
Sir John Randolph (born ~April 1689) married Susanna Beverley (another daughter of Peter Beverley) around 1718. He studied at the Inns of Court, practiced law in Williamsburg. John was the only native of Colonial America to receive a knighthood. He was the 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 (born ~October 1690) married Miss (Elizabeth?) Grosvenor around 1715.
Mary Randolph (born ~1692) married Captain John Stith, a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and the son of John Stith, around 1712. Her son, William Stith, was the third president of the College of William and Mary; her son-in-law, William Dawson, was the second president of The College of William & Mary. Mary was the great-grandmother of Congressman William Johnston Dawson. Her second son, John Stith III, was the great-great-grandfather of Armistead C. Gordon and also Junius Daniel, Brigadier General of the Confederate States Army.
Elizabeth Randolph (born ~1695) married Richard Bland around 1711 and had five children, including Mary Bland (who married Henry Lee I and was the mother of Henry Lee II, the grandmother of Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee III, and the great-grandmother of Robert E. Lee), Theodorick Bland of Cawsons (who was the father of Congressman Theodorick Bland as well as grandfather to John Randolph of Roanoke), and the statesman Richard Bland (who was the great-great-grandfather of Roger Atkinson Pryor).
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. 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, Bland, Dilliard, 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 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 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 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.