Mary Isham Keith

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Mary Isham Keith (Randolph)

Also Known As: "Polly"
Birthplace: Tuckahoe House, Henrico County, Virginia
Death: after 1772
Elk Run Church, Bristersburg, Fauquier County, Virginia
Place of Burial: under the chancel of the Old Elk Run Church, Fauquier County, Virginia
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Colonel Thomas Randolph, of Tuckahoe and Judith Davies / Randolph
Wife of Rev. James Keith
Mother of Alexander Keith; Capt. James W. Keith; John Keith; Isham Keith; Mary Isham Marshall and 5 others
Sister of Colonel William T. Randolph; Judith Stith; Pricilla Jane Randolph and Mary Isham Keith
Half sister of Henry Landon Davies

Managed by: Carter Castilow
Last Updated:

About Mary Isham Keith

Mary Isham Randolph

  • Born about 1716 in Tuckahoe House, Henrico Co; Virginia, Colonial America
  • Daughter of Thomas Randolph and Judith (Fleming) Davies
  • Wife of James Keith — married about 1736 in Virginia, Colonial America
  • Mother of James W Keith Sr, Alexander Keith, James W. Keith, John Keith, Letticia Keith, Thomas Randolph Keith, Mary Isham Randolph (Keith) Marshall, Judith (Keith) Key, Isham Keith, Elizabeth (Keith) Ford and Alexander Keith
  • Died after 1772 in Fauquier Co; Virginia, Colonial America


  • Joshua Keith is not the son of James and Mary.
  • Margery Howard is not a daughter of James & Mart
  • Mary Randolph's marriage to "Enoch Arden" is a misreading of Beveridge's use of the legal term Enoch Arden marriage, where a wife marries another thinking her husband dead. Enoch Arden is from a poem by Tennyson describing such a sorry state. See Magazine of Virginia Genealogy v.55 (2017) p.274.


Mary Isham Randolph married Rev. James Keith on March 21, 1733. A piece of their wedding cake is still preserved and may be seen in the library at Maysville, Kentucky.

From Keith Doniphan Elston May 2018

In his collection, KEITH, the Collected Genealogies of Keith, Keath & Keeth Families in North America, editor Larry Keith does not list a Margery as one of James and Mary's children, who are, in birth order: James (ca. 1734), John (our shared ancestor)(. 1735), Thomas Randolph (b. 1736), Mary Randolph (b. 1737), Judith (b. 1738), Isham (b. 1739), Elizabeth (b. 1745), and Alexander (b. 1748). pp. 268-286.


Mary Isham Randolph

John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court: Definer of a Nation By Jean Edward Smith

John Marshall's parents were typical of many young couples in colonial America. His paternal ancestors were Welsh artisans who came to Virginia sometime in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century. His father was the son of another John Marshall, a small planter who struggled to make a living on two hundred acres of low, marshy land cut from the wilderness along a minor tributary of the Potomac. That John Marshall was known to his prosperous neighbors as "John of the forest," a pejorative term used by tidewater aristocracy to describe someone less affluent who lived in the woods.(9) In In 1722 he married Elizabeth Markham, the younger daughter of a prosperous merchant from Alexandria, Virginia, and together they had six children, Thomas being the eldest. Nothing definite is known about the parents of "John of the forest," and all efforts to chart the chief justice's paternal heritage beyond the second generation have ended in genealogical quicksand. Marshall himself never traced his parentage beyond his grandfather.

By contrast. the chief justice's maternal ancestors came from the remnants of English gentry and Scottish nobility who settled Virginia's great plantations. "My mother was named Mary Keith," wrote Marshall. "She was the daughter of a clergyman, of the name of Keith, who migrated from Scotland and intermarried with a Miss Randolph of James River." Marshall's summary was as delicate as it was precise. His maternal grandmother, the Miss Randolph of James River," was Mary Isham Randolph, the granddaughter of William Randolph of Turkey Island and Mary Isham of Bermuda Hundred--colonial grandees sometimes referred to as the "Adam and Eve of Virginia." Their descendants include not only Marshall, but Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, and numerous generations of Randolphs.

The Ishams and the Randolphs were among the first English settlers to arrive in Virginia. The first Randolph, a merchant by the name of Henry, went to Jamestown in 1635. His business flourished, and in 1659 Henry was named clerk of the House of Burgesses. William Randolph, his nephew, arrived a few years later, and trained as a lawyer. He succeeded his uncle as the burgesses's clerk and eventually became attorney general of the colony. In 1680, he married Mary Isham, the much sought after daughter of Henry Isham. one of tidewater Virginia's largest landowners and the social arbiter of the families living on the south bank of the James River.

The Randolph-Isham union proved remarkably fertile. There were nine children and thirty-seven grandchildren. Each of the children married well, and the family holdings multiplied. One son, Richard of Curles,(*) married Jane Bolling, a great-granddaughter of Pocahontas. Another, Sir John Randolph, a distinguished lawyer and scholar, was knighted by George II in 1737, the only Virginian to be given such a rank in the colonial period. A third son, Isham Randolph, who came into possession of the vast Dungeness plantation, was the grandfather of Thomas Jefferson. The descendants of William, the eldest son, intermarried with the Blands and the Lees, spawning additional dynasties. Thomas, the second son of the original William Randolph and Mary Isham, married the wealthy Judith Fleming of New Kent county,(16) and established one of the James River's most famous plantations at Tuckahoe. It was from the Tuckahoe Randolphs that Marshall was descended.

In the early 1730s Mary Isham Randolph, the eldest daughter of Thomas and Judith of' Tuckahoe, then a young girl of sixteen or seventeen, fell in love and eloped with a slave overseer from her uncle Isham's Dungeness plantation--an Irishman by the name of Enoch Arden. The two were married secretly and had a child. Eventually they were discovered to be living on remote Elk Island in the James River. According to family chroniclers, the enraged Randolphs descended on the island, killed Arden and the baby, and took Mary back to Tuckahoe. The tragic loss of her husband and child shattered Mary's sanity

Under careful family supervision, Mary recovered gradually, only to fall in love with yet another man deemed objectionable by the Randolphs. This time the object of Mary's affection was the Reverend James Keith. Keith was the minister of Henrico parish, one of the largest and most important parishes in Virginia. It included not only Tuckahoe and other Randolph plantations on the James but the rapidly growing town of Richmond as well. A refugee from the abortive 1719 Jacobite uprising in Scotland, the Reverend Keith was particularly effective in the pulpit. He was a bachelor, but he was seventeen years older than Mary and, like much of the Anglican clergy in colonial Virginia, enjoyed a reputation for licentiousness.(20) Mary and James had an affair and appear to have been discovered in flagrante delicto. The Randolphs, who held two seats on the vestry of Henrico parish, forced Keith's resignation and did their utmost to prevent the pair from seeing each other. Keith resigned as minister of the parish on October 12, 1733, and departed for Maryland immediately thereafter.

The episode was handled gingerly by church authorities. Commissary James Blair, the Church of England's representative in Virginia, and a former minister of Henrico parish, wrote to the Bishop of London that "Mr. Keith has privately left this parish and Country, being guilty of fornication with a young Gentlewoman, whose friends did so dislike his character that they would not let her marry him."(24) Blair, however, soon had second thoughts about the precipitate action against Keith. On March 24, 1734, he wrote a follow-up letter to the bishop stating that "I gave your Lordship an account of the misfortune which occasioned [Rev. Keith's resignation] tho' I did not then know what I have learned since that from some of the circumstances in his case, our Governor recommended him to the Governor of Maryland." The circumstances are not mentioned by Blair, but presumably pertained to the tact that James Keith and Mary Randolph were deeply in love. The following year Blair rescinded Keith's exile to Maryland and appointed him minister of the frontier parish of Hamilton in what subsequently became Fauquier county.(*) When Mary came of age, she and James Keith were married, and between them they had eight children, including Marshall's mother.

The Keiths flourished in Fauquier county, but Mary's troubles were not over. Years later she received a letter purporting to come from the Irishman Enoch Arden, triggering a final bout of insanity from which she never recovered. Despite the passage of time, Mary cherished the memory of Arden, and the possibility that he might still be alive filled her with despair--a despair compounded by fears that as a consequence her marriage to the Reverend Keith might be invalid. Were that to be the case, their children would be illegitimate. The question was never resolved conclusively, and for whatever reason Chief Justice Marshall rarely mentioned his tie to the Randolphs.

Marshall was less reluctant to discuss his Keith heritage. James Keith, born in 1697, was the son of a professor at Marischal College in Aberdeen. Most of the Keiths, however, were soldiers: a military family whose lineal descendants bore the title Earl Marischal and who traced their roots to ancient Scottish and Saxon kings. Their soldierly exploits won wide renown and were celebrated in song and legend. Robert Keith, the first Earl Marischal, led the decisive cavalry charge at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, culminating Scotland's struggle for independence. George Keith (1553-1623), the fifth Earl Marischal, founded Marischal College. His grandson, the seventh Earl Marischal, supported the restoration of Charles II and was keeper of the privy seal of Scotland. Another grandson, John, first Earl of Kintore, held the family castle Dunnottar against Cromwell during the civil wars and preserved the regalia of Scotland, keeping it from falling into the hands of the Puritans.

Legend of Mary Isham Randolph Keith: about 1724? , near Richmond VA Legend of Mary Isham Randolph Keith (1706-1772) Quoted from: The Marshall Family by William M. Paxton (Cincinatti, Robert Clarke & Co, 1885), page 26-27. Found online through Google Books, 2007. The story is told that when Mary Isham Randolph was blooming into womanhood, she was induced by the bailiff upon the estate of Tuckahoe to elope with him. There was great excitement among the family and neighbors, and threats were freely made by the brothers. Some years ago, the Diary of Col. Byrd, who lived at about the period referred to, was published in the Southern Literary Messenger, and he records the excitement in the family of the Randolphs, on the occasion of the elopement of one of the daughters. The search for the fugitives for a time was fruitless. At length their retreat was discovered on Elk Island, in James River. The angry brothers came upon them by night, murdered the bailiff and the child, and brought their sister home. The deed of blood and cruelty so affected the wife and mother that she became deranged. But care was taken that no allusion should be made to the harrowing scenes she had witnessed, and her reason was at length restored. Years passed. Mary Randolph married Parson James Keith. A family of children had grown up around them. The tragedy at Elk Island had been forgotten. The bailiff was supposed to be dead. But, one day Mrs. Keith received a letter and, on opening it, found that it purported to be from the bailiff. It stated that he still lived; that he had been left for dead, had revived, had changed his name, and had fled to foreign countries; after years of wandering had returned to look upon his lawful wife; had found her married and happy; that he would not afflict her by claiming her as his own, but advised her to be happy and forget him, who had more than died for her love, for she should hear no more from him. This letter was perhaps written by some evil-disposed person, or may have been only a practical joke,. However that may be, it unhinged the mind of Mrs. Keith. She vainly sought for him, and throughout the remnant of her days her insanity manifested itself by a quiet melancholy, varied by some sudden freak of folly. Mrs Colston lived with her for many years, and she, and all who met her in her widowhood, testify that she was a lunatic. KeithFort53added this on 1 Apr 2008Story of Mary Isham Randolph's first marriage (elopement) and the murder of her husband & child by her brothers.

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Mary Isham Keith's Timeline

Henrico County, Virginia
Age 15
Fauquier County, Virginia, United States
Age 16
Prince William County, Virginia
Age 17
Fauquier County, Virginia
Age 17
Prince William County, Virginia
Age 17
Fauquier County, Virginia
March 14, 1736
Age 18
Fauquier County, Virginia
April 28, 1737
Age 19
Hamilton Parish, Fauquier County, Province of Virginia
Age 27
Fauquier County, Province of Virginia