Friday, September 3, 2010

Adam and Eve of Virginia

Much has been written about my 10th great-grandparents, Colonel William Randolph and Mary Royall Isham Randolph.

I recently wrote about Reverend William Dawson who was the second president of The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. He was married to Mary Randolph Stith, who was the daughter of Captain William Stith Jr. and Mary Randolph.

Mary’s parents have been referred to as "the Adam and Eve of Virginia" because of both the number of children they had but also the significant historical personalities from their line.

Herman Melville, who wrote Moby Dick, called the Randolphs the quintessential "old established family in the land," and used them as a contrast to those families whose sons were forced into the dangerous job of whaling.

Colonel William Randolph arrived in Virginia in 1673 without much money but with a solid connection through his uncle, Henry Randolph, who had settled in the Colony a decade before. William Randolph was thought to have been a carpentry apprentice in England and, once in America, he began a business building barns. He soon began using hired help for the actual labor and functioned as a contractor.

Randolph also began purchasing land on what was called Turkey Island in pieces; ultimately building a large brick mansion with a dome on the property.

He also persuaded the Governor of Virginia to grant him a large plantation that adjoined his on Turkey Island that belonged to Nathaniel Bacon but had been confiscated after Bacon had
staged a revolt against the colonial government.

Randolph was around 30 years old when married Mary Isham, daughter of Henry Isham, another large plantation owner in the area, which secured Randolph’s place in colonial society and his position as one of the wealthiest men in the area. She was around 22 years old at the time of their marriage.

One of Randolph’s best friends was Colonel William Byrd, a London goldsmith, who moved to Virginia in the late 1660s. The Byrds and The Randolphs are said to have spent much time together and, when Byrd died in 1704, the families continued their friendship and Randolph remained close to William Byrd II who is considered the founder of Richmond, VA. Byrd II also wrote a book called “The Secret Diaries of William Byrd of Westover” which include many references to The Randolph Family.

As Randolph’s wealth increased, he built a line of ships that carried both cargo and immigrants between England and the Colonies.

As he acquired more property, he converted it from wilderness into farms and plantations and was very passionate about the possibilities the development new land offered everyone. He also took a leading role in trying to civilize Indians and hired them to work on his plantations. In everything one can read about Randolph, it is clear he was well-respected throughout Virginia and the surrounding area and offered legal advise and assistance to thousands of the colonists.

William and Mary Randolph had nine children.

I found an additional connection to The Randolphs which I think is interesting. While researching, I came across this manuscript which was written in 1949 by Wassell Randolph, the president of Cossitt Library here in Memphis and a prominent Memphis attorney at the time.

Wassell Randolph researched his ancestor William Randolph extensively and wrote:
"William Randolph, like so many prominent contemporary colonists, was an indiscreet eater and drinker. Consequently, he suffered severely from gout. The first spell mentioned in “The Secret Diary” occurred in December 1709 and recurrent attacks followed in January and May succeeding. How long had he suffered from this malady is not known, but he was so afflicted in 1700. It reoccurred persistently and may have been a contributing cause to his death."
William Randolph died April 21, 1711 at 5 p.m. in his home on Turkey Island and his wife, Mary, died Dec 29, 1735. She was buried on Turkey Island in the Randolph Family Cemetery, next to her husband.

Their headstone contains the following inscription:

Col. Wm Randolph of Warwickshire, but late of
Virginia, Gent. Died 11th 1711.
Mrs. Mary Randolph his only wife, she was the daughter
Of Mr. Henry Isham by Catherine his wife. He was of
Northamptomshire, but late of Virginia, Gent.

The Randophs had several children who played a role in American History, including:

Elizabeth Randolph Bland – mother of Richard Bland who was the first to put in writing the legal reason the colonies should become independent from England. Through her daughter, Mary Bland Lee, she was also the ancestor of Light Horse Harry and his son Robert E. Lee.

Thomas Randolph – great grandfather of John Marshall, Chief Justice of the US and great-great-grandfather of Thomas Mann who married Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Martha.

Richard Randolph - married a granddaughter of Pocahontas, Jane Bolling, and was grandfather of congressman John Randolph.

Isham Randolph – grandfather of Thomas Jefferson.

Sir John Randolph - the only native of Colonial America to receive a knighthood and father of Peyton Randolph, president of the First Continental Congress.

Mary Randolph - had a daughter, Mary Stith who would marry William Dawson, who would become the second president of William and Mary College. The Dawsons had a son named John Dawson who became a lawyer and who married Penelope Johnston, heiress and daughter of the Governor of Virginia.
Their daughter married John Castellaw and they named their son John Dawson Castellaw and he led many wagon trains from Bertie Co., North Carolina into Haywood Co., TN. John’s son was Thomas Jefferson Castellaw whose son was Thomas Jefferson Castellaw Jr. His son was Bob Castellaw and his daughter was Elizabeth Castellaw Williams who was the mother of my father, Bob Williams. Visit for more about The Castellaw Family.

Today, Turkey Island is still privately owned, but there are several owners. Randolph’s mansion burned in 1806 but parts of the foundation are still visible. The Randolph Family Cemetery is still there and is completely walled in and located between the former front of the mansion and the James River.

The oldest grave is that of William Randolph.

Other sources:
Genealogy of the Page Family
Descendants of William Randolph
Virginia's Colonial Dynasties
Col. John Wise of England and Virginia
Virginia Colonial Decisions


  1. Nice summary.

    Thank you,

    Another Randolph (Turner) descendant

  2. Actually, the Randolphs did not first own Turkey Island. It was very first owned by James Crewes.

  3. The Jane Bolling you have mentioned is the 3rd great granddaughter of Pocahontas who was the daughter of John Bolling who was the son of Jane Rolfe who is the daughter of Thomas Rolfe who is the son of Pocahontas