Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times

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Though Patsy's name is familiar because of her famous father, this book places Patsy at the center of her own story, taking readers into the largely ignored private spaces of the founding era. Randolph's li Randolph's life story reveals the privileges and limits of celebrity, and shows that women were able to venture beyond their domestic roles in surprising ways.


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Following her mother's death, Patsy lived in Paris with her father, and later served as hostess at the President's House and at Monticello. Her marriage to Thomas Mann Randolph, a member of Congress and governor of Virginia, was often troubled. Patsy and her eleven children lived mostly at Monticello, greeting famous guests and debating issues ranging from a woman's place to slavery, religion, and democracy.

And later, after her family's financial ruin, she became a fixture in Washington society during Andrew Jackson's presidency. This biography offers a look at American history from the perspective of this intelligent, tactfully assertive woman. Keywords: favorite daughter , president , founding era , aristocrats , Thomas Jefferson , private spaces , privileges , limits of celebrity , Monticello , Thomas Mann Randolph. Forgot password?

Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello

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University Press Scholarship Online. Sign in. Not registered? Sign up. North Carolina Scholarship Online. Publications Pages Publications Pages. Search my Subject Specializations: Select She, along with her son Thomas Jefferson Randolph and her daughters Cornelia Jefferson Randolph and Mary Jefferson Randolph, compiled and edited the first collection of Jefferson's writings for publication, taking special care to select the manuscripts that presented him in the most flattering light.

Randolph also defended her father against criticism regarding his poor finances and rumors that Jefferson was the father of Hemings's light-skinned children. The oft-repeated argument that Jefferson was not at Monticello when at least one of Hemings's children was conceived originated with Randolph, though subsequent research has proven that claim untrue. Her efforts to construct and burnish her father's reputation were unique, but overall her political activities, like those of the best-informed Virginia women of her era, were intermittent and circumspect.

When Jefferson retired from politics in March , Randolph and her family moved to Monticello. Although the vastness of the house and its fine library probably influenced the Randolphs' choice of residence, her utter devotion to her father proved decisive. At Monticello, she oversaw various household and plantation operations, including the production of cloth during the stoppage of trade with Britain preceding the War of Randolph also offered hospitality to a steady stream of familiar and sometimes famous guests, increasingly mediating visitors' access to her aging father.

Approaching middle age in a hectic and crowded household, Randolph also worried about her family's deteriorating finances. Both her father and her husband were debt-ridden planters whose failed crops, needy relatives, risky investments, and declining land values thwarted their efforts to regain solvency. Though she supported war with Britain in , she fretted that her husband's acceptance of a military commission would worsen their financial situation, so she persuaded President James Madison to give him a temporary tax collectorship, a safer and more lucrative post.

When Tom Randolph served three years as governor — , she remained in Albemarle, in part to save money, with the exception of one brief visit to Richmond, where she was popular in society and relished appearing "fashionably drest and looking like a lady. Financial ruin was imminent, however, with profound consequences for Randolph and her children.

Forced to liquidate his estate and resentful of the solvency of his oldest son, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, who purchased Edgehill at auction in , a penniless Tom Randolph became estranged from his family at Monticello. After Jefferson died in July , most of his property, too, was sold for debt. While the loss of her father was emotionally devastating, a broken marriage and the expected sale of Monticello forced Randolph to assess her options. In October Randolph and her two youngest children visited her daughter Ellen Coolidge and her husband, Joseph Coolidge, a Boston merchant.

Although Randolph and her two elder unmarried daughters, Cornelia Randolph and Mary Randolph, planned to open a school in Albemarle to generate income, she delayed her return until May She was at Tom Randolph's bedside when he died that June and stayed with her son's family at Edgehill until November , when she joined her daughter Virginia Trist and son-in-law Nicholas Philip Trist in Washington. Essentially homeless, Randolph would spend her remaining years living with her married children in Washington, Boston, and Albemarle.

In Washington, Randolph benefited from her connection to President Andrew Jackson, who valued the friendship of Jefferson's daughter for the legitimacy it conferred on his newly installed Democratic administration. Her willingness to attend official dinners with Margaret O'Neal Timberlake Eaton a cabinet wife whose allegedly sordid past caused the ladies of Washington to shun any functions she attended earned her the gratitude of both Jackson and Martin Van Buren, his secretary of state.

Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times

Nicholas Trist, who obtained his initial government clerkship from Secretary of State Henry Clay, retained his post under Van Buren and eventually became consul to Havana and, under James K. Polk, the commissioner charged with negotiating an end to the Mexcian-American War. Randolph's youngest child, George Wythe Randolph , received a naval berth.

Another son became secretary to the governor of the Arkansas Territory. Randolph received modest stipends from her father's estate and from bank stock donated by the states of South Carolina and Louisiana in tribute to Jefferson, but her most valuable assets were her remaining slaves, whom she hired out to generate income.

Like many white Virginians, Randolph claimed to hate slavery but consistently placed her family's financial interests ahead of the happiness of her bondspeople, separating black families as needed to make profits. After Nat Turner's Rebellion in , she and her family considered moving to a free state, and she applauded the efforts of her son Thomas Jefferson Randolph to promote a statewide plan to abolish slavery gradually and colonize former slaves in Africa, though he was ultimately unsuccessful.

She emancipated several enslaved people in both of her wills , but for her entire life she depended on and profited from slave labor. In May , Randolph left Boston, bound for Virginia, with many stops along the way, arriving at Edgehill two months later. On October 10, , she died suddenly at Edgehill, surrounded by her family.

Martha Jefferson Randolph Republican Daughter & Plantation Mistress

She was buried two days later in the Jefferson graveyard at Monticello. A two-sentence obituary in the Charlottesville Jeffersonian Republican reported the death of "Mrs. Martha Randolph, the widow of the late Thomas Mann Randolph, and the daughter of Thomas Jefferson," declaring simply, "The character of this distinguished lady must be drawn by an abler hand than ours. Kierner, C. Martha Jefferson Randolph — In Encyclopedia Virginia.

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Thomas M. Randolph, Martha Jefferson. June 1, - Thomas Jefferson is elected governor of Virginia. He moves his family to Williamsburg, the capital, and then to Richmond when the government is moved there in September 6, - Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson dies at Monticello from complications related to the birth of her daughter Lucy. She studies music, drawing, dancing, and French. Her younger sister Mary later known as Maria joins her there in July December 23, - Thomas Jefferson, his daughters Martha and Mary now known as Maria , and the enslaved servants and siblings James and Sally Hemings arrive at Monticello.

January 23, - Anne Cary Randolph is born at Monticello.

April 22, - Martha Jefferson Randolph is a witness in the case of Commonwealth v. Richard Randolph. The defendant, the husband of Thomas Mann Randolph's sister Judith Randolph, is charged with helping his sister-in-law, Nancy Randolph, murder an infant that many believed he fathered. Their infant daughter, Ellen, dies suddenly en route.

January - After spending their first decade of married life at Monticello and Varina their plantation in Henrico County , Martha Jefferson Randolph and Thomas Mann Randolph, along with their children, move into a newly built, modest frame house at Edgehill, near Monticello. Martha Randolph bears the brunt of this responsibility during her husband's two terms of service in Washington in the House of Representatives between and A second son, James Madison Randolph, is born there on January March 15, - Thomas Jefferson, the newly retired president, arrives at Monticello.

Martha Randolph takes charge of her father's household. Thomas Mann Randolph maintains his plantation at Edgehill, but he and his family reside mostly at Monticello.

September - Martha Jefferson Randolph successfully presses President James Madison to find a government post for her husband, Thomas Mann Randolph, who had accepted a military commission after the United States declared war on Britain in His wife and children remain in Albemarle, with the exception of an extended visit from Martha Jefferson Randolph from December to January January - Martha Jefferson Randolph learns the extent of her husband Thomas Mann Randolph's financial problems, which precipitates their estrangement, especially after the sale of Edgehill to the Randolphs' oldest son, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, in January July - Thomas Jefferson's will bequeaths to his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph in trust for Martha Jefferson Randolph the scant remains of his estate after the payment of his debts.

She and her unmarried daughters Cornelia Randolph and Mary Randolph plan to open a school at Edgehill. January - To satisfy Thomas Jefferson's creditors, his heirs hold an auction of Jefferson's household goods, furnishings, and enslaved people. September - Martha Jefferson Randolph, who lives at Edgehill, visits Monticello for the last time. August - James Turner Barclay, a Charlottesville apothecary, purchases the Monticello house and grounds except the family graveyard. He hopes to turn a profit by cultivating silkworms on the plantation.

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Interview: Cynthia Kierner discusses Martha Jefferson Randolph

August 22, - Nat Turner's insurrection, in Southampton County, leads the Randolph family to consider moving to a free state. Martha Jefferson Randolph supports gradual emancipation in Virginia and the subsequent colonization of former slaves, a plan that Thomas Jefferson Randolph unsuccessfully champions in the General Assembly. November —July - Martha Randolph returns to Washington after spending six months at Edgehill, where she taught music at the family school. When the house proves to be too expensive for the family, she sells two slaves, finds a tenant for the house, and returns to Edgehill.

She emancipates two slaves and gives three others, including Sally Hemings, their de facto freedom. She also insists that Thomas Jefferson was not the father of Sally Hemings's light-skinned children. June - Martha Randolph travels to Boston, Massachusetts, to stay with the Coolidges after Nicholas Philip Trist's appointment as consul at Havana results in the liquidation of the family's Washington household. January 24, - Martha Randolph writes a second will as she suffers through a harsh New England winter.