Thomas Jefferson Papers

Enclosure: Thomas Jefferson’s Biography of Peyton Randolph (ca. 1723–75), [ca. 26 July 1816]


Biography of Peyton Randolph (ca. 1723–75)

[ca. 26 July 1816]

Peyton Randolph was the eldest son of Sr John Randolph of Virginia, a barrister at law, and an eminent practitioner at the bar of the General court. Peyton was educated at the college of Wm & Mary in Williamsburg, & thence went to England, & studied law at the temple. at his return he intermarried with Elizabeth Harrison, sister of the afterwards Governor Harrison, entered into practice in the General court, was afterwards appointed the king’s Attorney General for the colony;1 and became a representative in the House of Burgesses (then so called) for the city of Williamsburg.

Governor Dinwiddie having, about this period, introduced the exaction of a new fee on his signature of grants for lands, without the sanction of any law, the House of Burgesses remonstrated against it, and sent Peyton Randolph to England, as their agent, to oppose it before the King & Council. the interest of the Governor, as usual, prevailed against that of the colony, and his new exaction was confirmed by the king.

After Braddock’s defeat, on the Monongahela in 1755. the incursions of the Indians on our frontiers spread panic and dismay thro’ the whole country; insomuch that it was scarcely possible to procure men, either as regulars or militia, to go against them. to counteract this terror, and to set good example, a number of the wealthiest individuals of the colony, & of the highest standing in it, in public as well as in their private relations, associated under obligations to furnish2 each of them two able bodied men, at their own expence, to form themselves into a regiment, under the denomination of the Virginia blues, to join the colonial force on the frontier, and place themselves under it’s commander, George Washington, then a Colonel. they appointed William Byrd, a member of the council, Colonel of the regiment, and Peyton Randolph, I think, had also some command. but the original associators had more the will than the power of becoming effective soldiers. born and bred in the lap of wealth, all the habits of their lives were of ease, indolence and indulgence. such men were little fitted to sleep under tents, and often without them, to be exposed to all the intemperances of the seasons, to swim rivers, range the woods, climb mountains, wade morasses, to skulk behind trees, and contend as sharp shooters with the savages of the wilderness, who in all these scenes and exercises would be in their natural element. accordingly the Commander was more embarrassed with their care, than reinforced by their service. they had the good fortune to see no enemy, and to return at the end of the campaign rewarded by the favor of the public for this proof of their generous patriotism & good will.

When afterwards in 1764. on the proposal of the Stamp-act, the House of Burgesses determined to send an Address against it to the king, and Memorials to the Houses of Lords & Commons, Peyton Randolph, George Wythe, and (I think) Robert C. Nicholas, were appointed to draw these papers. that to the king was by Peyton Randolph, and the Memorial to the Commons was by George Wythe. it was on the ground of these papers that those gentlemen opposed the famous resolutions of mr Henry in 1765. to wit, that the principles of these resolutions had been asserted and maintained in the Address & Memorials of the year before, to which an answer was yet to be expected.

On the death of the Speaker Robinson in 1766. Peyton Randolph was elected Speaker. he resigned his office of Attorney General, in which he was succeeded by his brother John Randolph, father of the late Edmund Randolph, and retired from the bar. he now devoted himself solely to his duties as a legislator, & altho’ sound in his principles, and going steadily with us in opposition to the British usurpations, he, with the other older members, yielded the lead to the younger, only tempering their ardour, and so far moderating their pace as to prevent their going too far in advance of the public sentiment.

On the establishment of a Committee, by our legislature, to correspond with the other colonies, he was named their Chairman,3 and their first proposition to the other colonies was to appoint similar committees, who might consider the expediency of calling a general Congress of deputies in order to procure a harmony of proceedure among the whole. this produced the call of the first Congress, to which he was chosen a delegate, by the House of burgesses, and of which he was appointed, by that Congress, it’s President.

On the receipt of what was called Ld North’s conciliatory proposition, in 1775. Ld Dunmore called the General Assembly, & laid it before them. Peyton Randolph quitted the chair of Congress, in which he was succeeded by mr Hancock,4 and repaired to that of the house which had deputed him. anxious about the tone and spirit of the answer which should be given (because being the first it might have effect on those of the other colonies) and supposing that a younger pen would be more likely to come up to the feelings of the body he had left, he requested me to draw the answer, and steadily supported and carried5 it thro’ the House, with a few softenings only from the more timid members.

After the adjournment of the House of burgesses he returned to Congress and died there of an Apoplexy on the 22d of October following, aged, as I should conjecture, about 50. years.

He was indeed a most excellent man; and none was ever more beloved and respected by his friends: somewhat cold and coy towards strangers, but of the sweetest affability when ripened into acquaintance. of Attic pleasantry in conversation, always good-humored and conciliatory. with a sound and logical head, he was well-read in the law; and his opinions, when consulted, were highly regarded, presenting always a learned and sound view of the subject, but generally too a listlessness to go into it’s thoro’ developement: for being heavy and inert in body, he was rather too indolent and careless for business, which occasioned him to get a smaller proportion of it at the bar than his abilities would otherwise have commanded. indeed, after his appointment as Attorney General, he did not seem to court, nor scarcely to welcome business. in that office he considered himself equally charged with the rights of the colony, as with those of the crown; and in criminal prosecutions, exaggerating nothing, he aimed at a candid and just state of the transaction, believing it more a duty to save an innocent than to convict a guilty man. altho’ not eloquent, his matter was so substantial that no man commanded more attention; which, joined with a sense of his great worth, gave him a weight in the House of Burgesses which few ever attained. he was liberal in his expences, but correct also; so as not to be involved in pecuniary embarrasments. and, with a heart always open to the amiable sensibilities of our nature, he did as many good acts as could have been done with his fortune, without injuriously impairing his means of continuing them. he left no issue; and gave his fortune to his widow and nephew, the late Edmund Randolph.

MS (LNT: George H. and Katherine M. Davis Collection); entirely in TJ’s hand; undated; corner damaged, with missing text supplied from PoC. PoC (DLC: TJ Papers, 207:36974–5).

Peyton Randolph (ca. 1723–75), attorney and public official, was probably born at Tazewell Hall, his father’s estate in Williamsburg. After attending the College of William and Mary, he went to London, where he was admitted to the Middle Temple in 1739. Randolph was called to the bar in London in 1744, and later that year he was appointed attorney general of Virginia, a post he held, with one brief interlude, until 1766. He became a member of the House of Burgesses, representing Williamsburg, 1748–52 and 1758–75, and the College of William and Mary, 1752–58. The burgesses voted late in 1753 to send Randolph as their agent to England in an unsuccessful bid for repeal of a fee that the royal lieutenant governor had begun to impose for affixing the colony’s seal to official documents. In 1756 Randolph led the “Patriot Blues,” a volunteer unit of attorneys and other gentlemen that rode to Winchester to assist George Washington in the defense of Virginia’s frontier. He was Speaker of the House of Burgesses, 1766–75, chairman of the Virginia Committee of Correspondence in 1773, and presiding officer of the first three Virginia revolutionary conventions, 1774–75. As part of the Virginia delegation in 1774, Randolph was chosen president of the First Continental Congress. He was also elected president on 10 May 1775 when the Second Continental Congress convened, but he resigned in June and returned to Virginia later that month in order to preside over what turned out to be the last meeting of the House of Burgesses. Randolph resumed his seat in Congress in September and died in Philadelphia the following month (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, 20 vols. description ends ; ODNB description begins H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, 60 vols. description ends ; William and Mary Provisional List description begins A Provisional List of Alumni, Grammar School Students, Members of the Faculty, and Members of the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. From 1693 to 1888, 1941 description ends , 33; The Journal of the House of Burgesses [Williamsburg, 1753], 85; Washington, Papers, Colonial Ser., 3:86, 87; Henry Timberlake, The Memoirs of Lieut. Henry Timberlake [London, 1765], 2; Philadelphia Story & Humphreys’s Pennsylvania Mercury, and Universal Advertiser, 27 Oct. 1775).

The biography of Randolph that appeared in Delaplaine’s Repository description begins Joseph Delaplaine, Delaplaine’s Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished Americans, Philadelphia, 1816–18, 2 vols.; Poor, Jefferson’s Library, 4 (no. 139) description ends , 1:106–23, draws on TJ’s essay and in places adopts his wording, with especially heavy use of the concluding paragraph.

For the response of the House of Burgesses to the stamp-act of 1765 and its later reaction to Lord North’s conciliatory proposition of 27 Feb. 1775, see TJ to William Wirt, 14 Aug. 1814, 5 Aug. 1815, and notes. For TJ’s answer to the latter, see PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 39 vols. description ends , 1:170–4.

1Remainder of sentence interlined.

2Word interlined in place of “take.”

3Reworked from “the first member.”

4Preceding eight words interlined.

5Preceding two words interlined.

Index Entries

  • Braddock, Edward; 1755defeat of search
  • Byrd, William (1728–77); military service of search
  • Continental Congress, U.S.; president of search
  • Delaplaine, Joseph; Delaplaine’s Repository search
  • Dinwiddie, Robert; as lieutenant governor of Va. search
  • Dunmore, John Murray, 4th Earl of; colonial governor of Va. search
  • Hancock, John; as president of Continental Congress search
  • Harrison, Benjamin (d.1791); family of search
  • Henry, Patrick (1736–99); and Stamp Act Resolves search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Biography of Peyton Randolph (ca.1723–75) search
  • Nicholas, Robert Carter (1729–80); and Stamp Act resolutions search
  • North, Lord Frederick (later 2d Earl of Guilford); conciliatory propositions of search
  • Randolph, Edmund; family of search
  • Randolph, Elizabeth Harrison (wife of Peyton Randolph [ca.1723–75]; sister of Benjamin Harrison [d.1791]) search
  • Randolph, John (ca.1727–84); as Va. attorney general search
  • Randolph, John (ca.1727–84); family of search
  • Randolph, Peyton (ca.1723–75); family of search
  • Randolph, Peyton (ca.1723–75); identified search
  • Randolph, Peyton (ca.1723–75); TJ’s biography of search
  • Randolph, Sir John (1693–1737); family of search
  • Repository of the Lives and Portraits of Distinguished Americans (J. Delaplaine) search
  • Robinson, John (1704–66); as Speaker of Va. House of Burgesses search
  • Seven Years’ War; TJ’s recollections of search
  • Stamp Act (1765); resolutions opposing search
  • Stamp Act Crisis; memorials and petitions in response to search
  • Virginia; and Stamp Act (1765) search
  • Virginia; Committee of Correspondence search
  • Virginia; House of Burgesses search
  • Virginia; land grants in search
  • Virginia Blues (regiment); TJ describes search
  • Washington, George; and Seven Years’ War search
  • Wythe, George; and Stamp Act resolutions search