William Randolph

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William Randolph : biography

November 1650 – 11 April 1711

William Randolph (bapt. 7 November 1650 – 11 April 1711) was a colonist and land owner who played an important role in the history and government of the British colony of Virginia. He moved to Virginia sometime between 1669 and 1673, and married Mary Isham (ca. 1659 – 29 December 1735) a few years later.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 His descendants include several prominent individuals, including Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Robert E. Lee, and John Randolph of Roanoke. 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 Morrell, Warwickshire, England on 7 November 1650, 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.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) 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.Roberta Lee Randolph, The First Randolphs of Virginia (1961), pp. 17–18

No record has yet surfaced to fix William Randolph’s residences after his birth until 1672, when he appeared 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.Kelliher, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 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."Visitation of Northampton 1681," Publications of the Harleian Society 87 (1935), pp. 173–77 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.Eckenrode, H.J. 1946., p. 31 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.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


Political and social activities

Randolph held multiple official appointments.Malone, Dumas (Ed.). 1963., p. 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., p. 100

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.Kukla, Jon. 1981., p.102

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.