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The Adam & Eve of Virginia - Wilton House Museum

The Adam & Eve of Virginia

“One must be fatigued with hearing the name of Randolph mentioned in travelling in Virginia, (for it is one of the most ancient families in the country…)”

-Marquis de Chastellux, 1781

Wilton House is an old home, with construction starting in 1753, but the history of the Randolph family in Virginia is even older.  The story of Wilton begins with William Randolph, born in Warwickshire, England in 1650.  He was the fourth child of eight, and not the oldest male.  According to the English practice of primogeniture, he would not inherit much from his father.  Younger sons in the past pursued careers in law, the clergy, or perhaps a trade.  To make matters worse, families that had been loyal to the King of England, known as Cavaliers, suffered loss of money and position during the Interregnum, which lasted from 1648-1660; historians define this period as a time in English history after Charles I was executed, and when there was no king. 

With the colonization of the Americas, younger sons had new opportunities.  William came to the colonies after his uncle, Henry Randolph, and began life in the tobacco trade.  He also began the process of acquiring large swaths of land, including near what would become the city of Richmond, Tuckahoe Creek, and the land around Curles which Nathaniel Bacon lost after his unsuccessful rebellion in 1676. Much of this land was amassed in the form of patents for importation- between 1674 and 1697, Randolph received 7,000 acres for importing 72 indentured servants and 69 slaves to the colony of Virginia. On Turkey Island, William Randolph built his own estate.

 The precise year William Randolph married Mary Isham is unknown, but probably occurred between 1672 and 1678.  Her father was Captain Henry Isham, who featured in the Samuel Pepys diary.  A great-uncle, Sir Edward Brett, left Mary and her sister an estate in England, and was well-off in her own right.  Together William and Mary had nine living children, most of whom went on to have a large number of children in their respective marriages.  These children and grandchildren went on to marry into other powerful Virginia families, giving the Randolphs connections with many of the influential colonial families. The Randolph descendants would go on to be among the largest land and slaveholders in the state of Virginia, building an immense empire on land speculation, credit, and slave labor.

 Because of these heirs and connections, history gave this couple the nickname, “the Adam and Eve of Virginia”.  William and Mary grew in influence in Virginia, while King William and Queen Mary came to power in England, and the Virginian became one of the first trustees of the College of William and Mary.  At the age of sixty, William Randolph died, and Mary ran the plantation at Turkey Island alone: an arrangement that would become something of pattern amongst the Randolph clan.

William and Mary left a legacy in the Virginia colony, intertwining itself with the economy of slavery, power, money, and politics- the effects of which can still be seen today.

Want to learn more? Check out these sources!

The Randolphs of Turkey Island: A Prosopography of the First Three Generations, 1650-1806 by Dr. Gerald Cowden

The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Some Colonial Mansions: and Those who Lived in Them by Thomas Allen Glenn

The Randolph Family of England, Scotland, and Virginia by William Randolph McCreight