Peyton Randolph held so many leadership roles in Colonial America that his name appeared on a list obtained from the British of people to be captured and hung until dead! This was war after all, and Peyton Randolph was an outspoken leader! It has been said he was the real “Father of our country” and /or “the Father of the Revolution.” When you study his life and accomplishments, you can’t help but be impressed and realize how blessed we were to have such intelligent, proactive men in the colonies.
Peyton Randolph was born about 1721 in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was the second son of John and Susannah Beverly Randolph. This placed him in one of the wealthiest, most powerful planter families in Virginia! His father died when he was only 16, but he was already focused on attending William and Mary College and becoming a lawyer. He went back to England for law school, and upon returning to Virginia in 1744, was asked by Governor William Gooch to be the attorney general for the colony. By 1746 he had married Elizabeth Harrison and by 1749, Peyton had served as a vestryman for Bruton Parish Church, a representative in the House of Burgesses, and a Justice of the Peace–I wonder if he realized he was just beginning his life’s work!
In 1753, when Peyton was only 32 years old, he was hired as an attorney to represent the House of Burgesses! He was sent to England to basically ask the King to veto the Governor of Virginia–Gov. Robert Dinwiddie ‘s new practice of charging a “tax”- a fee for certifying land patents. Going over the governor’s head was unheard of! However, London officials supported Peyton and the Gov. rescinded his tax and reinstated Peyton to his office from which he’d been fired! Talk about fireworks! Do you think those English officials were really mad they had supported Peyton Randolph as he moved on to support the revolutionary movement?!
Always active in colony leadership, things really heated up in 1764. As colonists learned more, they became infuriated by The Stamp Act and conflict with England and the crown itself became more overt. Peyton was directed by the Virginia House of Burgesses to draft a set of protests to the King and Parliament! In 1766, Peyton was elected Speaker of the House of Burgesses. In 1769, Peyton and Patrick Henry, who had disagreed before, came together to work on passing resolves against the Towshend Duties. The Governor –Gov. Botetourt, however, disagreed with them, and dissolved the House of Burgesses! According to an article written in the online resources of Colonial Williamsburg re. Peyton Randolph, “The “former representatives of the people,” as they called themselves, met the next day at the Raleigh Tavern with Speaker Peyton Randolph in the chair. They adopted a compact drafted by George Mason and introduced by George Washington against the importation of British goods. Speaker Randolph was the first to sign.” Obviously the House of Burgesses was reconvened in the next few months, and the Townshend Duties were repealed except for that on tea! By 1773, the colonists were all upset with England again over the Boston Tea Party and its continuing conflicts. In 1774 the House of Burgesses passed a resolution written by Thomas Jefferson that said,
“This House, being deeply impressed with apprehension of the great dangers, to be derived to British America, from the hostile Invasion of the City of Boston, in our Sister Colony of Massachusetts bay, whose commerce and harbour are, on the first Day of June next, to be stopped by an Armed force, deem it highly necessary that the said first day of June be set apart, by the Members of this House, as a day of Fasting, Humiliation and Prayer, devoutly to implore the divine interposition for averting the heavy Calamity which threatens destruction to our Civil Rights, and the Evils of civil War; to give us one heart and one Mind to firmly oppose, by all just and proper means, every injury to American Rights; and that the Minds of his Majesty and his parliament, may be inspired from above with Wisdom, Moderation, and Justice, to remove from the loyal People of America, all cause of danger, from a continued pursuit of Measure, pregnant with their ruin.” (Colonial Williamsburg ref. cited previously)
In response, “Governor Dunmore summoned the House on May 26, 1774 and told them: “Mr. Speaker and Gentlemen of the House of Burgesses, I have in my hand a paper published by order of your House, conceived in such terms as reflect highly upon His Majesty and the Parliament of Great Britain, which makes it necessary for me to dissolve you; and you are accordingly dissolved.”
Again, the burgesses gathered at Raleigh Tavern and the very next day at Peyton Randolph’s house. They planned a Virginia Convention that would take place prior to the Continental Congress which their group had proposed just the day before! (If you’d like, you can see a newspaper article written about one of the meetings of the Virginia Conventions in my blog post on William Langhorne, my 5th great-grandfather who took part.) On September 5, 1774, Peyton Randolph was unanimously elected Chairman of the First Continental Congress in the colonies! From then on he was accompanied everywhere he went by voluntary armed militia! They had learned that there was a list for the execution of “rebel leaders” which included Peyton Randolph. In the Continental Congress meetings, the leaders of the thirteen colonies, with Georgia not participating until late in the second congress, It became increasingly clear that the colonies needed to make a “Declaration of Independence” and form their own government! The United States Declaration of Independence was formally approved on July 4, 1776, a date we continue to celebrate today! The Articles of Confederation weren’t passed until November 1777. The Revolutionary War is generally considered lasting from 1775-1783. The defeat of the British at Yorktown, Virginia, with the French helping the Americans capture over 7000 British soldiers, effectively ended the war. The Treaty of Paris officially ended the war and recognized the sovereignty of the United States of America in 1783! (Another blog post re. Yorktown is: Nicholas Martiau, Ancestor of George Washington and My 9th Great Grandfather — 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks)
Peyton Randolph continued to lead and inspire in the third Virginia convention! Unfortunately, on October 23, 1775 on a Sunday evening, Peyton had a stroke and died immediately. While he was first buried at Christ’s Church in Philadelphia, in 1776 he was brought home to Williamsburg and his “remains interred in the family crypt in the Chapel at the College of William and Mary.” ibid. How sad that he died before Independence was gained after working so hard for it. However, he has truly gone down in history for his leadership and contributions.
Peyton Randolph was my second cousin! Since learning about him , and researching so man y illustrious ancestors in our family’s past, I have looked at current family members with different interest, analysis, and respect perhaps. The characteristics of strong opinions, leadership, activism, and outspokenness can be interpreted many ways. Historically, we look back and usually admire the men and women who were our leaders, especially the ones who took us in brave new directions. But in the midst of making history, many hard feelings are often created. Peyton’s brother John was a loyalist to the crown, so he ended up leaving his brother and moving back to England, disgusted with what he saw as his brother’s treasonous behavior–the results of which we are celebrating today! Currently in our country, we have a huge split between conservatives and liberals about how to run our country. The anger and rhetoric are not unlike that expressed by the citizens of our country at the time of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the time of Civil Rights–especially the 1960’s. Maybe there comes a point where people must take a stand, where there is no room to compromise. I don’t like to think that, but we all have different ideas about what is “right”. Peyton Randolph had his ideas, and he was willing to put his life on the line, and he did, to support his beliefs. What a wonderful week to remember this ancestor–the week of July 4th, 2014!