Martha Jefferson Randolph

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This article is about the daughter of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. For the wife of Thomas Jefferson, see Martha Jefferson.
Martha Randolph
Martha Jefferson Randolph portrait.jpg
First Lady of the United States
In role
March 4, 1801 – March 4, 1809
President Thomas Jefferson
Preceded by Abigail Adams
Succeeded by Dolley Madison
Personal details
Born (1772-09-27)September 27, 1772
Monticello, Virginia, British America
Died October 10, 1836(1836-10-10) (aged 64)
Albemarle County, Virginia, U.S.
Spouse(s) Thomas Randolph (1790–1828)
Children Ann
Religion Christianity

Martha Washington Jefferson Randolph (September 27, 1772 – October 10, 1836) was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, and his wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. Born at Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia. Her nickname was Patsy.

She married Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., who served as a politician at the federal and state levels and was elected a governor of Virginia (1819–1822). They had twelve children together. Martha was very close to her father in his old age; she was the only one of his legitimate children to survive past age 25.

Early life[edit]

Tall and slim with angular features and red hair, Martha closely resembled her father. She became devoted to him. From age 12 to 17, after her mother's death, she lived in Paris with her father while he served as U.S. Minister to France. Jefferson enrolled her at the Pentemont Abbey, an exclusive convent school, after receiving assurances that Protestant students were exempt from religious instruction. After Patsy expressed a desire to convert to Catholicism and said she was considering religious orders, Jefferson quickly withdrew her and her younger sister Polly from the school.[1]

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1790 at the age of 18, Martha married Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., a planter. Soon after their marriage, her father, Thomas Jefferson, deeded eight slaves from Monticello as a wedding gift, including Molly Hemings, the eldest daughter of Mary Hemings.[2]

The couple had twelve children. In contrast to her parents and sister, each of whom had most of their children die in childhood, eleven of the Randolphs' children survived to adulthood:

  • Anne Cary Randolph (1791–1826). Married Charles Lewis Bankhead (1788-1833).[3]
  • Thomas Jefferson Randolph (1792–1875). Married Jane Hollins Nicholas (1798-1871).[4]
  • Ellen Wayles Randolph (1794–1795).
  • Ellen Wayles Randolph (1796–1876). Named after deceased sister. Married to Joseph Coolidge (1798-1879)
  • Cornelia Jefferson Randolph (1799–1871).
  • Virginia Jefferson Randolph (1801–1882). Married Nicholas Philip Trist (1800–1874).[5]
  • Mary Jefferson Randolph (1803–1876).
  • James Madison Randolph (1806–1834). First child born in the White House.
  • Benjamin Franklin Randolph (1808–1871). Married Sally Champe Carter.[6]
  • Meriwether Lewis Randolph (1810–1837). His widow Elizabeth Martin remarried to Andrew Jackson Donelson, a nephew of President Andrew Jackson.
  • Septimia Anne Randolph (1814–1887). Married Dr. David Scott Meikleham (d. 1849).[7]
  • George Wythe Randolph (1818–1867), briefly in 1862, he was Secretary of War of the Confederate States of America. Married Mary Elizabeth Adams Pope.[8]

Martha Randolph educated her children at home, likely with the help of private tutors, as most planters did. Being engrossed with the cares of her large family, she passed only a portion of her time in the White House when her father was president. She visited with her husband and children in 1802, with her sister Mary in 1803, and during the winter of 1805/1806.

After Thomas Jefferson's retirement, Martha devoted much of her life to his declining years. She had separated from her husband, said to suffer from alcoholism and mental instability.[9][10] Jefferson describes her as the "cherished companion of his youth and the nurse of his old age". Shortly before his death, he said that the "last pang of life was parting with her."[11]

She inherited Monticello from her father in 1826, as well as his many debts. Her eldest son Thomas Randolph acted as executor of the estate. Except for five slaves freed in her father's will, and "giving her time" to Sally Hemings, they sold the remainder of the 130 slaves at Monticello to try to settle the debts. Within a few years, they sold the plantation as well.

After business reverses and the death of her husband, Martha Randolph considered establishing a school. The state legislatures of South Carolina and Louisiana each donated $10,000 to her for her support.[12] Increasing financial difficulties obliged her to sell Monticello. The property was finally sold to James T. Barclay in 1831.[13] He sold it in 1834 to Uriah P. Levy, a wealthy United States naval officer (later the first Commodore of the Navy) and Jefferson admirer. Although Levy was then based in New York, his Sephardic Jewish ancestors had been resident in the South for five generations. Levy invested his own funds in renovating and preserving Monticello.

Martha was estranged from her husband until shortly before his death in 1828. She died at their Edgehill estate in Albemarle County, Virginia.

Popular Culture[edit]

Martha Jefferson Randolph is the subject of the novel America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, published in March 2016. The novel draws heavily upon Jefferson's letters.


Further reading[edit]

  • Cynthia A. Kerner, Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
  • Billy L. Wayson, Martha Jefferson Randolph: Republican Daughter & Plantation Mistress. Palmyra, VA: Shortwood Press, 2013.
  • Billy L. Wayson, " 'Considerably different for her sex': A Plan of Reading for Martha Jefferson," The Libraries, Leadership, and Legacy of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Robert C. Baron and Conrad Edick Wright, eds. (Fulcrum Publishing and Massachusetts Historical Society, 2010)

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
Abigail Adams
First Lady of the United States

Succeeded by
Dolley Madison