Thomas Jefferson Randolph

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About Thomas Jefferson Randolph

Thomas Jefferson Randolph (September 12, 1792 – October 8, 1875) of Albemarle County was a planter and politician who served in the Virginia House of Delegates, was rector of the University of Virginia, and was a colonel in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. He was notable as the oldest grandson of President Thomas Jefferson. He helped manage Monticello near the end of his grandfather's life and was executor of his estate.

Early life and education

Thomas Jefferson Randolph was the son of Thomas Mann Randolph Jr. and Martha Jefferson Randolph, the oldest son and the second born of their eleven children who survived. His mother was the eldest daughter, and he was the eldest grandson of United States President Thomas Jefferson. Part of the time, he grew up at Monticello and was close to his grandfather, who died when Randolph was 34.

Marriage and family

In 1815 Randolph married Jane Hollins Nicholas (1798-1871), daughter of Wilson Cary Nicholas. They had thirteen children:

  • Margaret Smith Randolph (1816–1842)
  • Martha Jefferson Randolph (1817–1857)
  • Mary Buchanan Randolph (1818–1821)
  • Careyanne Nicholas Randolph (1820–1857)
  • Mary Buchanan Randolph (1821-1884)
  • Eleanor Wayles Randolph (1823–1896)
  • Maria Jefferson Carr Randolph (1826–1902)
  • Carolina Ramsey Randolph (1828–1902)
  • Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Jr. (1829–1872)
  • Jane Nicholas Randolph (1831–1868)
  • Wilson Cary Nicholas Randolph (1834–1907)
  • Meriwether Lewis Randolph (1837–1871)
  • Sarah Randolph (1839-1892 or 1895)


A planter, Randolph was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and served for years.

He had been close to his grandfather and was appointed executor of his estate in his will of 1826. Randolph had begun to manage Monticello for his mother and grandfather for a short period during Jefferson's last years. Because the estate was heavily encumbered by debt, Randolph ordered the sale of Monticello goods and property, including the 130 slaves. His mother withheld Sally Hemings from the auction and gave her "her time", which informally allowed her to live freely in Charlottesville, Virginia with her two younger sons. Jefferson had formally freed Madison and Eston in his will, after allowing their older brother and sister to "escape" in 1822; the four Hemings were the only complete slave family to go free from Monticello, and Harriet the only female slave Jefferson ever freed.

In 1829, Randolph published Memoir, Correspondence And Miscellanies: From The Papers Of Thomas Jefferson. It was the first collection of Jefferson's writings.

After Nat Turner's slave rebellion of 1831, Randolph introduced a post nati emancipation plan in the Virginia House of Delegates. This would have provided for gradual emancipation of children born into slavery after they served an apprenticeship and came of age. It was defeated.

From 1857 to 1864, Randolph served as the rector of the University of Virginia, where he succeeded Andrew Stevenson. During the Civil War, he held a colonel’s commission in the Confederate Army. Most planters were excused from active service.

Continuing to be active in politics after the war, Randolph served as the temporary chairman of the 1872 Democratic National Convention.

Jefferson-Hemings controversy

The historian Henry S. Randall, in an 1868 letter to James Parton, also a historian, wrote that "The 'Dusky Sally Story'--the story that Mr. Jefferson kept one of his slaves, (Sally Hemings) as his mistress and had children by her, was once extensively believed by respectable men..."[4] According to Randall, after Thomas Jefferson had died, his oldest grandson Randolph talked with the historian and personally noted the strong resemblance of the Hemings' children to his grandfather, their master.

Randall recounted that Randolph had said the following:

   "'she [Hemings] had children which resembled Mr. Jefferson so closely that it was plain that they had his blood in their veins.' ... He said in one instance, a gentleman dining with Mr. Jefferson, looked so startled as he raised his eyes from the latter to the servant behind him, that his discovery of the resemblance was perfectly obvious to all."}}

In the 1850s, Randolph told the biographer Henry Randall that Jefferson's nephew Peter Carr had been the father of Hemings' children. He also said that his mother had told him that Jefferson had been absent for 15 months prior to the birth of one of Sally Hemings' children, so could not have been the father. Randall passed this family history on to James Parton, and suggested his own confirmation of the material. At the request of Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Randall had avoided any discussion of Sally Hemings and her children in his own 1858 biography of Jefferson.

The two elements of family oral history were the basis for Parton's denial of Jefferson's paternity in his 1874 biography of the president, and his position was adopted by the succeeding 20th-century historians Merrill Peterson and Douglass Adair.[5] In addition, Randolph's sister Ellen wrote to her husband identifying Samuel Carr, Peter's brother, as the father of Hemings' children. The 20th-century historian Dumas Malone used this letter to refute Jefferson's paternity, and was the first to publish it in the 1970s in one of his volumes of the lengthy biography.

Later 20th-century historians used Malone's extensive documentation of Jefferson's activities to determine that, contrary to Martha Randolph's account, Jefferson was at Monticello for the conception of each of Hemings' children, and she never conceived when he was not in residence. He recorded the children's births along with those of other slaves in his Farm Book, which was rediscovered and first published in the 1950s.

In 1998, the Carrs were disproved as possible fathers of Eston Hemings, Sally's youngest son, by the results of a Y-DNA study of their male descendants; no genetic link existed between the Carr and Hemings lines. The test results did show a match between the Jefferson male line and the descendant of Hemings.

The historian Andrew Burstein has said, "[T]he white Jefferson descendants who established the family denial in the mid-nineteenth century cast responsibility for paternity on two Jefferson nephews (children of Jefferson’s sister) whose DNA was not a match. So, as far as can be reconstructed, there are no Jeffersons other than the president who had the degree of physical access to Sally Hemings that he did

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Thomas Jefferson Randolph's Timeline

September 12, 1792
EDGE Hill, Albemarle, Virginia, USA
March 2, 1816
Age 23
Edge Hill, Albemarle, Virginia, USA
Age 24
Age 25
August 20, 1820
Age 27
Edgehill, King George County, Virginia, United States
Age 30
Age 33
January 15, 1828
Age 35
August 29, 1829
Age 36
EDGE Hill, Albemarle, Virginia, USA