Richard Randolph

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Richard Randolph (May 9, 1770 – June 14, 1796) was a Virginia plantation owner and tobacco planter, the elder brother of Theodorick Randolph, and the better-known John Randolph of Roanoke. Richard was born in 1770 to John Randolph (1742-1775) and Frances Bland (1744-1788), scions of two of the First Families of Virginia. After the senior John Randolph died in 1775, Frances Bland Randolph re-married in 1778 to St. George Tucker, who encouraged his new stepsons' educations.

Richard Randolph's schooling began at Walker Maury's grammar school first in Orange County, Virginia, and then in Williamsburg. He then attended the College of William & Mary, where he studied law under George Wythe in 1786, and again briefly in 1787, before transferring to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University).[1] After college, Randolph chose to return to the family plantation, "Bizarre" (near Farmville, Virginia, in what is now Prince Edward County), which he inherited when he came of age.

Randolph was famously involved in an adultery and infanticide scandal in 1793,[2] in which he was defended by Patrick Henry and John Marshall, and was eventually acquitted of all charges.[3]

In his will, written when he was only 25 years old, Randolph desired to free all slaves upon his death.[4] He died the following year, in 1796. After some delay, the widow Judith Randolph finally granted 350 acres of land to 90 former slaves in the winter of 1810-1811, the settlement of which became know as "Israel Hill."[5] Some historians attribute Randolph's vehement anti-slavery position to the sentiments of his stepfather — who favored gradual emancipation — and the early teachings of Wythe, whom Randolph calls 'the brightest ornament of human nature':

Richard Randolph's Will, 18 February 1795

To All whom it may Concern: I, Richard Randolph, jun'r,[6] of Bozarre, in the County of Cumberland, of sound mind and memory, do make this this writing—written with my own hand and subscribed with my name, this 18th day of February in the 20th year of American Independence, to be my last will and testament, in form and substance as follows:

In the first place—to make retribution, as far as I am able to, to an unfortunate race of bondsmen, over whom my ancestors have usurped and exercised the most lawless and monstrous tyranny, and in whom my countrymen—by their iniquituous laws, in contradiction of their own declaration of Rights, and in violation of every sacred law of Nature; of the inherent, inalienable and imprescriptible rights of man, and of every principal of moral and political honesty, have vested me with absolute property. To express my abhorrence of the theory as well as the infamous practice of usurping the rights of our fellow creatures, equally constituted with ourselves to the enjoyment of liberty and happiness. To exculpate myself to those who may perchance to think or hear of me after death, from the black crime, which might otherwise be imputed to me, of voluntarily holding the above mentioned miserable beings in the same state of abject slavery in which I found them on receiving my patrimony at lawful age. To impress my children with a just horror at a crime so enormous and indelible; to enjure them in the last words of a fond father never to participate in it in any the remotest degree, however sanctioned by laws (formed by the tyrants themselves who oppress them) or supported by false reasoning, and always to soil the sordid views of avarice and the lust of power. To declare to them and to the world that nothing but uncontrollable necessity forced on me by my father (who wrongfully bound over them to satisfy the rapacious creditors of a brother—and who for this purpose, which he falsely believed to be generous—mortgaged all his servants to British harpies for money to gratify pride and pamper sensuality; by which mortgage the said servants being bound, I could not exercise the right of ownership necessary to their emancipation, and being obliged to keep them on my lands, and so driven reluctantly to violate them in a general degree (tho I trust far less than others have done) in order to maintain them—that nothing, I say, short of necessity, should have forced me to an act which my soul abhors. For the aforesaid purposes, and with an indignation too great for utterance at the tyrants of the earth—from the throned despot of a whole Nation to the more despicable to the not less infamous tormentor of a single wretched slave, whose torture constitutes his wealth and enjoyment. I do truly declare that it is my will and desire, nay, most anxious wish, that my negroes—all of them—be liberated and I do declare them, by this writing, free and emancipated to all intents and purposes whatsoever, fully and freely exonerated from all future service to my heirs, executors and assigns, and altogether as free as the illiberal laws will permit them to be. I mean therein to include all and every servant of which I die possessed or to which I have any claim by inheritance or otherwise. I thus yield them up their liberty basely wrested from them by my forefathers and beg, humbly beg, their forgiveness for the manifold injuries I have too often inhumanely, unjustly and mercilessly inflicted on them, and I do further declare, and it is my will that if I should be so unfortunate as to die possessed of a servant (which I will not do if I ever can be enabled to emancipate them legally) and the said servant shall be liable for my fathers debts and to be sold for them, that in that case five hundred pounds be raised from my other estate, real and personal, as my wife shall think best, and in any manner which she shall choose, and applied to the purchase at such sale of such of the miserable slaves. I do hereby declare them free as soon as they are purchased, to all intents and purposes whatsoever, and in case I emancipate the said slaves—which I shall surely do the first moment possible—I do devise and give and bequeath unto them the said slaves four hundred acres of my land, to be laid off as my wife shall direct, and to be given to the heads of families in proportion to the number of their children and the merits of the parties, as my said wife shall judge of for the best. The land's to be laid off where and how my said wife shall direct and to be held by the said slaves when allotted to them in fee. I do likewise conjure my said wife to lend every assistance to the said slaves thro' life in her power, and to rear her children up to the same practices, and impress it on them as her last injunction to do everything directed above relative to the said slaves.

I now proceed to direct the manner in which my property is to be disposed of (having fulfilled this first and greatest duty, a most anxious and zealous wish to befriend the miserable and persecuted of whatsoever nation, color or degree) by my will, as is seen written on this and another sheet of paper, each signed by my own hand and with my own name and connected together by wafers.


In the second place I give and bequeath to my said wife all my real estate whatsoever, of which I die possessed and also all to which I have any claim or title whatsoever, to her and her heirs forever confidence that she will do the most ample justice to our children— by making them independent as soon as they come of age, if she remain single, or by securing a comfortable support by settlements on them before any marriage into which she may hereafter resolve to enter (which if she do money will be the only certain mode of providing for them), and to educate them as well as her opportunity will enable her. The only anxiety I feel on their account arises from a fear of her maternal tenderness leading her to too great indulgence of them, against which I beg leave thus to caution her. I now consign them to her affectionate love—desiring that they be educated in some profession, or trade, if they be incapable of a liberal profession, and that they be instructed in virtue and in the most zealous principles of liberty and manly independence. I dedicate them to that virtue and that liberty which I trust will protect every unfortunate and of which I conjure them to be indefatigable and incorruptible supporters thro' life. I request my wife to frequently read this my last will to my beloved children that they may know something of their father's heart when they have forgotten his presence. Let them be virtuous and free—the rest is vain.

Finally, I entreat my wife to consider the above confidence as the strongest proof of the estimation and ardent love which I have always uniformly felt for her, and which must be the latest active impulse of my heart.

I hereby appoint my said wife sole executrix of this my last will and testament but in case I should be so unfortunate as to be left by her single and die without any other will than this executed by me, I appoint in that case as my executors—requesting their attention to every injunction on my wife above mentioned, and relying on them to execute them and the directions in my said will, (as she would otherwise do), to-wit: the following named esteemed friends: My father-in-law, St. Geo. Tucker, my brother, John Randolph, my friends Ryland Randolph, Brett Randolph, Creed Taylor, John Thompson, Alex. Campbell, Daniel Call and the most virtuous and incorruptible of mankind and (next to my father in law) my greatest benefactor, George Wythe, Chancellor of Virginia, the brightest ornament of human nature, and I rely on the aforementioned virtuous friends for the punctual execution of my will, the care and guardianship of my children, in case of the death of my wife either before or after me (to whom if she live I have entrusted them solely) and to those of them most nearly connected with me by friendship I look for assistance to my family after my death in all cases of difficulty. If any among them do not choose to undertake the task imposed on them by me, I beg them not to do so from motives of generosity or delicacy, and to excuse the liberty which (it may appear to some of them least intimately acquainted with me) I have taken in thus calling on them.

In witness of all the above directions which I again declare to be my last will and testament drawn by me from calm reflection, I have hereunto subscribed my name and affixed my seal the day and year aforesaid.


Signed and sealed in the presence of the following persons and declared to be the last will of the above mentioned Richard Randolph, junr.


At a District Court held at Prince Edward C. H., April 8th, 1797.

This last will and testament of Rd. Randolph jun'r, deceased, was presented in Court by Judith Randolph, executrix therein named, there being but one witness to said will, and he not being in court, Miller Woodson and Peter Johnson being sworn, severally deposed that they are well acquainted with the testators handwriting, and verily believe that the said will and name thereto subscribed are all in the testator's proper handwriting. Whereupon the said will is ordered to be recorded. And on motion of the executrix, therein named, who gave bond with John Randolph, Brett Randolph, and Creed Taylor, her securities, in the penalty of twelve thousand pounds and took the oath required by law, certificate for attaining the probate thereof in due form is granted her.

A Copy—Teste
C'lk Prince Edward Circ. Sup'r Court.

See also


  1. For Richard Randolph's schooling, see his letters to Frances Bland Randolph Tucker: 19 May 1786; 29 June 1786; 18 August 1786; 4 October 1786; 8 March 1787; 12 April 1787; 25 June 1787, Tucker-Coleman Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, College of William and Mary. See also John Randolph to Theodorick Tudor Randolph, 13 December 1813, Grinnan Family Papers, Mss1 G8855 d90, Virginia Historical Society.
  2. Cynthia A. Kierner, Scandal at Bizarre: Rumor and Reputation in Jefferson's America (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
  3. Thomas Hunter, "The Teaching of George Wythe," in The History of Legal Education in the United States: Commentaries and Primary Sources, ed. Lee Sheppard (Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 2007), 153.
  4. Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, Centennial Anniversary of the Pennsylvania Society, for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, the Relief of Free Negroes, Unlawfully Held in Bondage: And for Improving the Condition of the African Race (Philadelphia: Grant, Faires & Rodgers, 1875), 79-82; see also William Macfarlane Jones, "Will of Richard Randolph, Jr., of 'Bizarre'," 34 Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, no. 1 (January 1926), 72-76, recorded in the Prince Edward County District Will Book No. 1, 4.
  5. Melvin Ely, Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s through the Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), 44-50.
  6. Richard is called Junior in deference to his grandfather, Richard Randolph of Curles (c.1691-1749).

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