Randolph's "History of Virginia"

From Wythepedia: The George Wythe Encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Edmund Randolph (1753 – 1813) was a Virginia attorney and statesman. He attended the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, and studied law in his father's law offices. A member of the Virginia Convention of 1776, Randolph would become the first attorney general of Virginia (1776-1786). He was governor of Virginia from (1787-1788), the first attorney general of the United States (1789), and secretary of state (1794).

Following his retirement from politics, Randolph announced in 1809 a plan to publish "A New History of Virginia" he was writing, beginning with the charter of the colony in 1578, through the ratification of the United States constitution in 1789. After his death in 1813, the manuscript for Randolph's history passed down to his children and grandchildren, and was feared lost during the Civil War until a transcribed copy of the original was discovered at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, in 1876.[1] The entirety of Randolph's manuscript was not published until 1970, although it was quoted extensively by Moncure D. Conway in his Omitted Chapters of History Disclosed in the Life and Papers of Edmund Randolph (1888), and the portions covering the revolution appeared in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, between 1935 and 1937.[2]

Aside from a mention of Wythe's brief appointment as the King's attorney general in 1754, Randolph wrote a short sketch of Wythe for a chapter including biographies of the leading figures of the Revolution:

Excerpt from Chapter V

George Wythe is said to have been indebted to his mother, for the literary distinction which he attained. But it is more probable, that she was by chance capable of assisting him in the rudiments of the Latin tongue, and that he became a scholar by the indispensable progress of his own industry in his closet. Preceptors lay the corner stone; but the edifice can be finished only by the pupil himself, under the auspices of good taste. Mr. Wythe not only laboured through an apprenticeship, but almost through a life in the dead languages. In his pleadings at the bar, it was a foible to intersperse such frequent citations from the classics. But he argued ably and profoundly. The temptations of the law never raised a doubt on his purity; and though long habituated to the patronage and friendship of royal governors; in every conflict with them he adhered to his country. He acted upon the maxim, that genuine riches consisted in having few wants. A natural instability he held with a tight rein. On an alarm of hostility from the last British governor, he sallied forth with his hunting shirt and musket, at an age, when his patriotism would have sustained no shock, had he remained at home. But his character, rather than his actions rendered him a valuable resource to the infant revolution. Upon the death of Peyton Randolph he was called, as the most beloved citizen to represent the city of Williamsburg.

See also


  1. John Melville Jennings, "The Manuscript," in History of Virginia, by Edmund Randolph, ed. Arthur H. Shaffer (Charlottesville, VA: University of Press of Virginia, 1970), xxxvii-xliv.
  2. "Edmund Randolph's Essay on the Revolutionary History of Virginia 1774-1782," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 43, no. 2 (April 1935), 113, 115-138; 43, no. 3 (July 1935), 209-232; 43, no. 4 (October 1935), 294-315; 44, no. 1 (January 1936), 35-50; 44, no. 2 (April 1936), 105-115; 44, no. 3 (July 1936), 223-231; 44, no. 4 (October 1936), 312-322; 45, no. 1 (January 1937), 46-47.