Virginia Jefferson Randolph Trist

Virginia Jefferson Randolph (1801-1882) was born at Monticello, the plantation home of her grandfather, Thomas Jefferson. She was the sixth child and fourth surviving daughter of Martha Jefferson Randolph and Thomas Mann Randolph. Like her siblings, Virginia spent much of her childhood at Monticello and occasionally accompanied her grandfather on trips to Poplar Forest, his plantation in Bedford County.

Virginia shared an affinity for music with Jefferson, who bought her a pianoforte from Boston though he could ill afford it. After a youthful romance and long engagement with Nicholas Philip Trist, the grandson of an old friend of Jefferson's, the two were married at Monticello on 11 September 1824. They remained there while Nicholas studied law and acted as Jefferson's secretary, and then again while Nicholas helped his brother-in-law, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, settle Jefferson's estate after his death in 1826.

In 1828 Nicholas accepted a State Department clerkship in Washington, D.C., but Virginia remained at her brother's Edgehill plantation until 1829, when she, her children, and her mother were able to join Nicholas. The Trists moved to Havana, Cuba, in 1834, when Nicholas was appointed consul and remained there until 1841. In the late 1840s, her husband, then serving as chief clerk of the State Department, was sent to Mexico to negotiate a peace treaty to end the war with that country.

After her husband's near financial ruin, occurring after his dismissal by President Polk following that negotiation, Virginia and Nicholas' sisters attempted to run a school for young ladies. The effort failed, adding to their debts. The Trists then moved to Alexandria, Virginia, and after her husband's death in 1874, Virginia lived with one of her three children until her own death in April 1882.


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Virginia is my favorite of Jefferson's six granddaughters. While not the most scholarly of the bunch, she was a lively and witty observer of life at Monticello and I think she would have been the most fun! Her letters are invaluable sources for family and material life at Monticello both before and after TJ's death. She was the one chosen by Nicholas Trist, grandson of Jefferson's old friend Elizabeth House Trist, who presumably had his pick! Virginia stayed in Albemarle County until the family vacated Monticello in 1829. She packed the last wagon to leave, and then joined Nicholas in Washington where he had a post in the State Department.

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