Jane Randolph Jefferson

Jane Randolph Jefferson (9 February 1721-31 March 1776) was the mother of Thomas Jefferson. According to the Jefferson family bible, she was born 9 February 1721 (o.s.) in Shadwell parish, Tower Hamlets, London. The parish register of St. Paul's, Upper Shadwell, notes her baptism on 25 February 1721 as the daughter of Isham Randolph (1687-1742), "mariner" of Shakespeare's Walk (literally around the corner from the church), and Jane Rogers (1698-1760). The Randolphs left London for Virginia shortly thereafter and were in the colony by October 1725 when Jane's sister, Mary, was born in Williamsburg.

The first record of Jane's presence in Virginia is her marriage to Peter Jefferson (1708-1757) on 3 October 1739 in Goochland County, probably at Isham's home on the James River, called Dungeness. There is no evidence that Jane brought any land or servants to the marriage. Isham provided her a dowry of £200 but it was not paid until his death, three years later, from the proceeds of his estate. Jane bore ten children with Peter: Jane (1740), Mary (1741), Thomas (1743), Elizabeth (1744), Martha (1746), Peter Field (1748), an unnamed son (1750), Lucy (1752), and a set of twins, Anna Scott and Randolph (1755).

Peter died in 1757, leaving their house and plantation (named Shadwell for her London birthplace) on the Rivanna River to Jane. Although much of the main house at Shadwell burned in 1770, she continued to live there until her death on 31 March 1776. She was buried in the family graveyard at Monticello.[1]

Jefferson seldom mentioned his mother. According to Dumas Malone, there was an "almost complete failure to mention her name" outside of his financial records. Jane, therefore, "remains a shadowy figure."[2] The lone reference to her in Jefferson's correspondence can be found in a June 1776 letter from him to his uncle William (Jane's brother), a merchant in Bristol, England. Among a host of other issues, Jefferson writes William, "The death of my mother you have probably not heard of. This happened on the last day of March after an illness of not more than an hour. We suppose it to have been apoplectic."[3]

The paucity of sources leaves a number of outstanding questions about Jane, such as whether she accompanied her family to Virginia or joined them later (no evidence exists either way) and whether she died at Monticello rather than at Shadwell (her late-nineteenth century tombstone states the former). Certainly, any attempt to recover the real Jane Jefferson has been concealed by fanciful assumptions about the kind of person she was. That her family was of modest means, at best, and not aristocratic in any sense of the word, appears clear. The family accounts reveal that she husbanded her family's resources with a level of care, skill, and prudence that may have chafed her oldest son's spending inclinations yet which also kept the family out of debt, a considerable achievement in eighteenth-century Virginia.

Footnotes

  1. MB, 1:415.
  2. Malone, Jefferson 1:37-38.
  3. PTJ 1:409.

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