William Randolph


William Randolph : biography

November 1650 – 11 April 1711

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.Fiske, John, and James Grant Wilson, 1900 ed., p. 174

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.


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.

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.Eckenrode, H.J. 1946., pp. 31–32; Cowden, p. 32 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 of land on Swift Creek, south of the James.Kukla, Jon. 1981., p. 98

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 to Randolph’s previous land holdings.Eckenrode, H.J. 1946., pp. 38–39 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 of newly-opened land near Richmond; a tract at Tuckahoe Creek and a 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 . He paid property taxes on in Surry County and in Henrico County in 1704.