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William Randolph (1650-1711), Thomas Jefferson's great-grandfather, was baptized November 7, 1650, in Morton Morrell, Warwickshire, England, a small village situated midway between Warwick Castle and Edgehill. He was the fourth of seven children of Richard Randolph (1620 - ca. 1671) and Elizabeth Ryland (1625 - ca. 1669).
William's father (baptized February 24, 1621/2) was born in Little Houghton, Northamptonshire, where his grandfather, also William, was steward and servant to Edward, Lord Zouche, a councilor for the Virginia Company of London. William's mother was from Warwickshire, where the Randolphs moved sometime before 1647, when Richard and Elizabeth's first child was born at Morton Morrell. The family remained in the heart of Parliamentarian Warwickshire through the end of the Civil Wars, the Commonwealth, and much of the Protectorate. At some point after William's seventh birthday, when his last sibling was born and his grandfather William buried (both in Morton Morrell), the family moved to Dublin, Ireland. His mother died in Dublin ca. 1669, followed by his father ca. 1671.
William's uncle, Henry Randolph (baptized November 27, 1623, Little Houghton, Northamptonshire), emigrated to Virginia ca. 1642. It is known that Henry visited Ireland and England between 1669 and 1670, at which time he may have encouraged his nephew to join him in Virginia. Henry died in Henrico County, Virginia, in 1673.
William first appears in Virginia records as witness to a deed on February 12, 1672. In 1674, he qualified for his first land patent by claiming headrights for importing twelve people. Around 1676, he married Mary Isham, a widow of some means, daughter of Henry Isham from Northamptonshire. Mary bore William ten children, of whom nine survived to adulthood (Mary, William, Henry, Elizabeth, Isham, Thomas, Richard, John, and Edward), an astonishingly high number given seventeenth-century child survival rates. In addition to dozens of grandchildren and hundreds of great-grandchildren – among whom are Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall (1755-1834), Edmund Randolph (1753-1813), John Randolph of Roanoke, Sir John Randolph (ca. 1693-1737), Richard Bland (1710-1776), and Peyton Randolph (ca. 1721-1775) – he was responsible for importing 168 indentured servants and slaves into Virginia.
Although primarily a tobacco planter and transatlantic merchant – several of his sons and grandsons would boost the family's commercial operation by becoming ship's captains – William served in the House of Burgesses, was elected Speaker of the House for one term, served as clerk of the House of Burgesses, and for four years was Attorney General of the colony (a post that members of his family would hold for most of the eighteenth century). He was recommended for appointment to the Virginia Council in 1705, but he never received the position.
William died at his home, Turkey Island, on the James River, on April 21, 1711.
Although William has been variously described as a carpenter who started off in Virginia by building barns, as one of the "high loyalists in the Civil Wars," and as a member of the wealthy English gentry, there is no evidence for any of those claims. In fact, the evidence that does exist makes the first unlikely and rules out the others.
- Taylor Stoermer, 1/4/09
- Evans, Emory G. "A Topping People": The Rise and Decline of Virginia's Old Political Elite, 1680-1790. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2009.
- Randolph, Robert Isham. The Randolphs of Virginia, A Compilation of the Descendants of William Randolph of Turkey Island, and His Wife Mary Isham of Bermuda Hundred. Chicago, .
- Randolph, Wassell. William Randolph I of Turkey Island, Henrico County, Virginia, and His Immediate Descendants. Memphis: Seebode Mimeo Service, Distributed by Cossitt Library, 1949.
- 1. Roberta Lee Randolph, The First Randolphs of Virginia (Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1961), 17-18, 22-23; Clifford Dowdey, The Virginia Dynasties: The Emergence of "King" Carter and the Golden Age (New York: Bonanza Books, 1969), 135; Terry Slater, A History of Warwickshire (Chichester: Phillimore, 1997), 76-80; Publications of the Harleian Society 87 (London: The Society, 1935): 176-77.
- 2. Margaret D. Sankey, "Randolph, William (1650-1711)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 46 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 23-24. It is possible, even likely given the historical circumstances, that the Randolphs moved to Dublin as part of Oliver Cromwell's program to repopulate the city and revive its trade. Ireland's population – Catholic and Protestant alike – and its economy were devastated by the wars and plague between 1641 and 1652. Dublin had been especially hard hit, losing half its population. Parliament, through an Act of Settlement in 1652, offered advantages, such as property and the freedom of the city, to Protestant tradesmen, artificers, and merchants who would move there. The project was particularly successful in boosting the Protestant merchant community, especially after 1655 when economic conditions began to improve. There is some slight evidence that William's father, Richard, could have been a merchant-mariner, trading with Barbados in 1659. See T.C. Barnard, Cromwellian Ireland: English Government and Reform in Ireland 1649-1660 (Oxford: Clarendon, 2000), 77-80; James S. Wheeler, Cromwell in Ireland (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999), 225-27; Samuel R. Gardiner, History of the Commonwealth and Protectorate 1649-1656, vol. 3 (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1965), 79, 82. For Richard Randolph, see Peter Wilson Coldham, The Bristol Registers of Servants Sent to Foreign Plantations, 1654-1686 (Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1988).
- 3. Gerald Steffens Cowden, The Randolphs of Turkey Island: A Prosopography of the First Three Generations, 1650-1806 (Thesis, College of William and Mary, 1977), 62; Homer Worthington Brainerd, A Survey of the Ishams in England and America: Eight Hundred and Fifty Years of History and Genealogy (Rutland, VT: The Tuttle Pub. Co., 1938), 86-87.
- 4. Cowden, The Randolphs of Turkey Island, 51-52.
- 5. Ibid., 57.
- 6. Ibid.; The Commonplace Book of John Randolph of Roanoke, Tucker-Coleman Papers, 1664-1945, Special Collections, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
- 7. Louis B. Wright and Marion Tinling, eds., The Secret Diary of William Byrd (Richmond: Dietz Press, 1941), 333.
- 8. Cowden, The Randolphs of Turkey Island, 49; Virginia Gazette, March 4, 1737; Oxford DNB.