Friday, November 15, 2013

Young Fellows upon Wrong Pursuits

In her Family Tree of the Descendants of Rev. James Keith of Virginia, Annie Keith Somerville reported (1947) part of a wedding dress worn by Mary Isham Randolph “is still preserved and may be seen in the library at Maysville, Ky.[See pg. 7, HERE.] Mary likely wore this gown at her marriage to ‘Parson James.’ While family historians draw stature in descent from the noble Randolph family, accounts of an earlier marriage are so horrific as to be largely overlooked.

Image of Tuckahoe Marker, posted by Veronica Randolph Batterson.Mary Isham Randolph (c1718-1753) was born on her father’s Tuckahoe Plantation, the first large estate above the James River falls in Virginia. She was the eldest surviving daughter born to Col. Thomas Randolph (1683-1729) and wife Judith Fleming (c1689-1743). Mary’s first cousin Jane - three years younger - was born to Thomas’ brother Isham Randolph, Master of nearby Dungeness. Jane would marry Peter Jefferson in 1739. One of Thomas Jefferson’s earliest memories was being placed by slaves in a saddle … as his parents moved to Tuckahoe, so that the future President’s father Peter could fulfill his role as guardian for Mary’s nephew and nieces. Both Mary’s brother William, who had inherited Tuckahoe, and his wife Maria Judith Page were dead by 1742.

Long after her marriage to Rev. James Keith (1696-1754), Mary Isham Randoph would become grandmother to John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. It is my 5th great-grandmother Mary who ties me to the illustrious Randolph family: her grandparents are sometimes styled the ‘Adam and Eve of Virginia.’

William McClung Paxton made reference to a diary kept by Col. William Byrd when revealing ‘The Legend of the Randolphs’ in his 1885 book, The Marshall Family. [See pg. 25, HERE.] Byrd had employed ‘Tom’ Randolph as an estate manager as the young man prepared to build Tuckahoe. The Westover Manuscripts (published 1841) include Byrd’s journal entry for 20 September 1732. Byrd has “pursued my journey to Mr. Randolph's, at Tuckahoe, without meeting with any adventure by the way. Here I found Mrs. Fleming*, who was packing up her baggage with design to follow her husband the next day, who was gone to a new settlement in Goochland.”

“Here I learnt all the tragical Story of her Daughter's humble Marriage with her Uncle's Overseer. Besides the meanness of this mortal's Aspect, the Man has not one visible Qualification, except Impudence, to recommend him to a Female's Inclinations. But there is sometimes such a Charm in that Hibernian Endowment, that frail Woman cant withstand it, tho' it stand alone without any other Recommendation. Had she run away with a Gentleman or a pretty Fellow, there might have been some excuse for her, tho' he were of inferior fortune: but to stoop to a dirty Plebeian, without any kind of merit, is the lowest Prostitution.

I found the Family justly enraged at it …”

[Punctuation as per Virginia Magazineof History and Biography (1924). See pp. 392-393.]

Mary’s father had, by most accounts, died three years earlier (in 1729): the ‘enraged family’ undoubtedly included Mary’s only brother, the above William, then perhaps twenty years old. “He is a pretty young man,” allowed Byrd, “but had the misfortune to become his own master too soon. This puts young fellows upon wrong pursuits, before they have sense to judge rightly for themselves. Though at the same time they have a strange conceit of their own sufficiency, when they grow near twenty years old, especially if they happen to have a small smattering of learning. It is then they fancy themselves wiser than all their tutors and governors, which makes them headstrong to all advice, and above all reproof and admonition.” 

Paxton described a subsequent tragedy of serious proportions. “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.” It is unlikely Mary was more than a middle teenager.

Given the Randolph family’s pervasive presence in the highest ranks of the colony, it is difficult to imagine anyone would officiate at the couple’s secret marriage. Goochland County, in which Tuckahoe is located, was created in 1728: Mary’s father had become the presiding justice and the Lieutenant of the new county. [HERE.] It was terrible folly to abscond with the young daughter of Goochland’s former chief militia officer, particularly when her Uncle Isham would assume that role.

 “There was great excitement among the family and neighbors, and threats were freely made by the brothers,” announced Paxton. Mary had but one brother. However, besides her father Thomas and Uncle Isham, their parents - the august Col. William Randolph (1650-1711) and wife Mary Isham (1660-1735) - had five other sons who survived into 1732; they and William and Mary’s two daughters had all born sons that would have likely gone to great lengths to avenge family honor.

Albert J. Beveridge stirred the pot in his 1916 biography of John Marshall. [See pp. 18-19, HERE.] Citing Paxton, he observes of Mary Isham Randolph: “With this lady the tradition deals most unkindly and in highly colored pictures. An elopement, the deadly revenge of outraged brothers, a broken heart and resulting insanity ... such are some of the incidents with which this story clothes Marshall's maternal grandmother.” He names the interloper: Enoch Arden (c1710-1733).

Jean Edward Smith, in his 1998 John Marshall:Definer of a Nation, reported Mary’s Uncle Isham Randolph had employed Arden to oversee his slaves on his Dungeness Plantation.

Enoch and Mary eluded their pursuers for months. “The search for the fugitives for a time was fruitless. At length their retreat was discovered on Elk Island in James River,” declares Paxton.

By then Mary had borne a child.

Mary’s maternal grandfather, Charles Fleming (1659-1717) had begun buying thousands of acres on both sides of Elk Island in 1714. [See pp. 45-46, HERE.] Paxton, in his ‘Legend of the Randolphs’ says, “The angry brothers came upon them by night, murdered the bailiff and the child, and brought their sister home.” Michael Knox Beran, in a footnote to Jefferson's Demons gives motive: “Mad with rage at Arden’s presumption at marrying into the gentry, Mary’s kinsmen fell upon the young couple in their abode at Elk Island …” [See pg. 210.]

Beveridge says Mary suffered a broken heart. Paxton declares, “The deed of blood and cruelty so affected the wife and mother that she became deranged.”

In my next post, I’ll detail the ministrations of Parson Keith.


Elizabeth Keith (1745-1821) was the youngest daughter born to Rev. James and Mary Isham (Randolph) Keith. In 1776 she would marry Edward Ford, Sr. (1738-1814). Ford was the son of Thomas Ford and Jane Milstead, mentioned in my post Good Luck if it Hits.

* Mr. Randolph and Mrs. Fleming in Byrd’s 1732 account:
Mary’s mother’s maiden name was Fleming. Judith Fleming’s mother, Susanah (Tarleton) Fleming (c1663-1717), having died, storytellers assume Byrd is referring to Judith (Fleming) Randolph (1689-bef 1843). Judith’s brother, Col. John Fleming (1697-1756), had married Mary Elizabeth Bolling (1711-1744) by 1732: his wife qualifies as Mrs. Fleming, but had just begun bearing children.

Many researchers give 1729-1730 as the date range for Thomas Randolph’s death. Judith would have been a widow in 1732, as she did not marry (second) Nicholas Davies until around Christmas Eve 1733.