Martha Jefferson Randolph

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Martha Jefferson Randolph
Martha Jefferson Randolph portrait.jpg
First Lady of the United States
In role
March 4, 1801 – March 4, 1809
PresidentThomas Jefferson
Preceded byAbigail Adams
Succeeded byDolley Madison
Personal details
Martha Jefferson

(1772-09-27)September 27, 1772
Monticello, Virginia, British America
DiedOctober 10, 1836(1836-10-10) (aged 64)
Albemarle County, Virginia, U.S.
Thomas Mann Randolph Jr.
(m. 1790; died 1828)
Children12, including Thomas Jefferson Randolph and George W. Randolph
ParentsThomas Jefferson
Martha Wayles Skelton

Martha "Patsy" Randolph (née Jefferson; September 27, 1772 – October 10, 1836) was the eldest daughter of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, and his wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. She was born at Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia.

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), making her the First Lady of Virginia. They had twelve children together. When her widowed father was President, she sometimes lived with him at the White House, serving as his hostess and informal First Lady. Martha was very close to her father in his old age. She was the only one of his acknowledged children to survive past age 25.

Early life[edit]

Martha Jefferson was born on September 27, 1772, at Monticello, her father's estate in Virginia, which was then British America, to Thomas Jefferson and Martha Wayles Skelton. During her parents' ten years of marriage, they had six children: Martha "Patsy" (1772–1836); Jane (1774–1775); a son who lived for only a few weeks in 1777; Mary Wayles "Polly" (1778–1804); Lucy Elizabeth (1780–1781); and another Lucy Elizabeth (1782–1784).[citation needed] Only Martha and Mary survived more than a few years.[1]

Martha was tall and slim with angular features and red hair, and was said to have closely resembled her father. She became devoted to him.[2]


Her paternal grandparents were Peter Jefferson, a planter and surveyor who died when her father was 14, and Jane Randolph.[3][4] Jefferson vaguely knew that his grandfather "had a place on the Fluvanna River which he called Snowden after a mountain in Wales near which the Jeffersons were supposed to have once lived".[3] Her mother was the only child and daughter of John Wayles (1715–1773) and his first wife, Martha Eppes (1712–1748). Wayles was an attorney, slave trader, business agent for Bristol-based merchants Farrell & Jones, and prosperous planter who was born in Lancaster, England and had emigrated alone at the age of 19 to Virginia in 1734, leaving family in England. Her maternal grandfather died in 1773, and her parents inherited 135 slaves, 11,000 acres (4,500 ha; 17 sq mi), and the estate's debts. The debts took her father years to satisfy, contributing to his financial problems.[5]

Death of her mother[edit]

Her mother died on September 6, 1782, four months after the birth of the Jeffersons' last child, at age 33. She later wrote that about this period, stating "in those melancholy rambles I was his constant companion, a solitary witness to many a violent burst of grief."[6] Not until mid-October 1782 did her father, then 39, begin to resume a normal life when he wrote, "emerging from that stupor of mind which had rendered me as dead to the world as was she whose loss occasioned it."[6]

Her mother asked her father to never marry again, and he never did. Her request has been attributed to protective feelings for her children, in view of her mother's own disagreeable relationships with her step-mothers.[7]


From age 12 to 17, after her mother's death, Patsy 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. At this boarding school Patsy learned arithmetic, geography, world history, and Latin, as well as music and drawing.[8] 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.[9] According to her daughter Ellen Randolph Coolidge, Martha Jefferson Randolph "was wont to say in after life, that she looked back to her residence in the Convent as to a period of great happiness & great improvement."[10]

Marriage and family[edit]

Thomas Mann Randolph

In 1790 at the age of 18, Martha married Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., a planter, who was her third cousin.[11] 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.[12]

The couple had thirteen 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), who married Charles Lewis Bankhead (1788-1833).[13]
  • Thomas Jefferson Randolph (1792–1875), who married Jane Hollins Nicholas (1798-1871).[14]
  • Ellen Wayles Randolph (1794–1795), died young
  • Ellen Wayles Randolph (1796–1876), who was named after deceased sister, and was married to Joseph Coolidge (1798-1879)
  • Cornelia Jefferson Randolph (1799–1871).
  • Virginia Jefferson Randolph (1801–1882), who married Nicholas Philip Trist (1800–1874).[15]
  • Mary Jefferson Randolph (1803–1876).
  • James Madison Randolph (1806–1834), who was the first child born in the White House.
  • Benjamin Franklin Randolph (1808–1871), who married Sally Champe Carter.[16]
  • Meriwether Lewis Randolph (1810–1837), who married Elizabeth Martin. After his death, Martin remarried to Andrew Jackson Donelson, a nephew of President Andrew Jackson.
  • Unnamed Child Randolph (1811 - 1811), died young
  • Septimia Anne Randolph (1814–1887), who married Dr. David Scott Meikleham (d. 1849).[17]
  • George Wythe Randolph (1818–1867), who briefly in 1862 was Secretary of War of the Confederate States of America, and who married Mary Elizabeth Adams Pope.[18]

Martha Randolph educated her children at home, likely with the help of private tutors, as most planters did. Although she was engrossed with the cares of her large family, she made several extended visits to the White House (then known as the President's 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 1805-06. During her visits she served as his hostess and informal First Lady, since Jefferson was a widower.[11]

After Thomas Jefferson's retirement, Martha devoted much of her life to his declining years. She had separated from her husband, who was said to suffer from alcoholism and mental instability.[19][20] 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."[21]

Martha was estranged from her husband until shortly before his death in 1828. She died at their Edgehill estate in Albemarle County, Virginia. She was the last surviving child of Thomas and Martha Jefferson.


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" (informal emancipation) 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, she considered establishing a school. The state legislatures of South Carolina and Louisiana each donated $10,000 to her for her support.[2] Increasing financial difficulties obliged her to sell Monticello. The property was finally sold to James T. Barclay in 1831.[22] 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.

In popular culture[edit]

Martha Jefferson Randolph is the subject of the historical novel America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, published in March 2016. The novel draws heavily upon Jefferson's letters.[23]

In the 1995 film Jefferson in Paris, Martha Jefferson was portrayed by actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

In the 2000 4-hour CBS miniseries "Sally Hemings An American Scandal" written by Tina Andrews, Martha Jefferson was portrayed by actress Mare Winningham.



  1. ^ White House Archives
  2. ^ a b Wayson, Billy L., Martha Jefferson Randolph: Republican Daughter and Plantation Mistress (2013)
  3. ^ a b Malone, 1948, pp. 5–6.
  4. ^ Brodie, 1974, pp. 33–34.
  5. ^ Tucker, George (1837). The Life of Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States; 2 vol. Carey, Lea & Blanchard.
  6. ^ a b Robert P. Watson and Richard Yon, "The Unknown Presidential Wife: Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson", Jefferson Legacy Foundation, 2003, Quote: "(Wayles never remarried but had five children – Nance, Critta, Thenia, Peter, and Sally – to his slave Elizabeth "Betty" Hemings, the youngest of which would become famous for her relationship with Thomas Jefferson.)" Note: This is incorrect on the number and some of the names; see Note for Monticello website. Accessed 7 January 2012
  7. ^ Hyland Jr., William G. Martha Jefferson: An Intimate Life with Thomas Jefferson. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015; pg. 1
  8. ^ "Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772–1836)," in Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (website), accessed 30 June 2019
  9. ^ Wead, Doug (2004). All the Presidents' Children: Triumph and Tragedy in the Lives of America's First Families. Simon and Schuster. pp. 127–129.
  10. ^ "Ellen W. Randolph Coolidge’s Memories of Martha Jefferson Randolph," in Jefferson Quotes and Family Letters Th. Jefferson's Monticello (website), accessed 30 June 2019
  11. ^ a b "Martha Jefferson Randolph". Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  12. ^ Gordon-Reed, Hemingses of Monticello, p. 424
  13. ^ "Charles Lewis Bankhead," in The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Th. Jefferson's Monticello (website), accessed 16 November 2013
  14. ^ "Jane Hollins Nicholas Randolph," in The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Th. Jefferson's Monticello (website), accessed 16 November 2013
  15. ^ "Nicholas Philip Trist," in The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Th. Jefferson's Monticello (website), accessed 16 November 2013
  16. ^ "Benjamin Franklin Randolph," in The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Th. Jefferson's Monticello (website), accessed 16 November 2013
  17. ^ "Septimia Ann Randolph Meikleham," in The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Th. Jefferson's Monticello (website), accessed 16 November 2013
  18. ^ "George Wythe Randolph," in The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Th. Jefferson's Monticello (website), accessed 16 November 2013
  19. ^ Priscilla Hart, "The Madhouse of Colonial Williamsburg: An Interview With Shomer Zwelling", History News Network, 5 October 2009, George Mason University, accessed 7 March 2011
  20. ^ "Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson", National First Ladies Library, 2009, accessed 7 March 2011
  21. ^ Jefferson by Albert Jay Nock
  22. ^ Dr. James Turner Barclay, Minister and Missionary - Capturing Our Heritage
  23. ^ Dray, Stephanie; Kamoie, Laura (2016). America's First Daughter. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-234726-8.


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