Mary Randolph

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Mary (Randolph) Randolph
Born Mary Randolph
(1762-08-09)August 9, 1762
Tuckahoe Plantation
Died January 23, 1828(1828-01-23) (aged 65)
Washington, D. C.
Occupation Writer
Spouse(s) David Meade Randolph
Children 4

Mary Randolph (1762–1828) was an American author, known for writing The Virginia House-Wife; Or, Methodical Cook (1824),[1] one of the most influential housekeeping and cook books of the nineteenth century.


Mary Randolph was born on August 9, 1762 at Ampthill Plantation in Chesterfield County, Virginia.[2] Her parents were Thomas Mann Randolph Sr. (1741–1794) and Anne Cary Randolph (1745–1789).[3] The extended Randolph family was one of the richest and most political significant families in 18th century Virginia.[4]

Mary's father was orphaned at a young age and raised by Thomas Jefferson's parents who were distant cousins.[3] Her father also served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Revolutionary conventions of 1775 and 1776, and the Virginia state legislature.[3]

Anne Cary Randolph was the daughter of Archibald Cary, an important Virginia planter.[3] Anne's grandmother, Jane Bolling Randolph completed a cookbook manuscript in 1743 which was handed down to her daughter Jane Randolph Walke.[5] Anne Cary Randolph was also a descendant of Pocahontas and John Rolfe through her mother Mary (granddaughter of John Bolling, great-granddaughter of Jane Rolfe).[6][5]

Mary Randolph was the oldest of Thomas and Anne's thirteen children.[2] Her brother, Thomas Mann Randolph Jr. married Martha Jefferson (daughter of Thomas Jefferson) and became a Congressman and Governor of Virginia.[3] Her sister, Virginia Randolph Cary, was a noted essayist.[7]

Randolph grew up at Tuckahoe Plantation in Goochland County, Virginia.[2] The Randolphs were known to hire professional tutors to teach their children.[8] One of these tutors was Peter Jefferson, father of Thomas Jefferson and former guardian of Thomas Mann Randolph.[9] Mary would likely have learned reading, writing, and arithmetic in addition to domestic skills.[8]

In December 1780, eighteen year old Mary Randolph married her first cousin once removed, David Meade Randolph (1760 - 1830), a Revolutionary War officer and tobacco planter.[3] The newlyweds lived at Presquile, a 750-acre plantation that was part of the Randolph family's extensive property in Chesterfield County, Virginia.[9] Over the course of their marriage, Mary and David had eight children, four of whom survived to adulthood.[10]

Around 1795 President George Washington appointed David Randolph the U.S. Marshal of Virginia[3] and by 1798, the family had moved to Richmond, where they built a house called "Moldavia" (a combination of Mary and David).[9] Mary Randolph was a celebrated hostess in Richmond.[3]

David Randolph was a Federalist and an open critic of his second cousin Thomas Jefferson.[2][9] After Jefferson's election to the presidency, he removed David Randolph from office and the family's fortunes declined.[2][9]

in 1807, Mary Randolph opened a boardinghouse in Richmond.[2] In March 1808, an advertisement appeared in The Richmond Virginia Gazette: "Mrs. RANDOLPH Has established a Boarding House in Cary Street, for the accommodation of Ladies and Gentlemen. She has comfortable chambers, and a stable well supplied for a few Horses."[9] Although David was still alive, the 1810 census listed Mary, not David, as the head of a Richmond household that included nine slaves.[8]

In 1815, Harriott Pinckney Horry boarded with the Randolph's and detailed a refrigerator Mary used.[11] Inside a box of 4 by 3 1/2 feet there was another box four inches smaller. The space between the two was acked with charcoal.[11] Mary Randolph filled the refrigerator with ice daily to cool butter, meat and other foods.[11] In the second edition of her cookbook, Randolph included designs for a refrigerator and bathtub.[2] She claimed the refrigerator designer was stolen and patented by a Yankee who stayed in her boardinghouse.[2]

By 1819, the Randolphs had given up their boardinghouse and moved to Washington to live with their son William Beverly Randolph.[9][10] While in Washington, Mary Randolph completed her cookbook and in 1824 The Virginia House-Wife was published.[9]

Randolph spent the last years of her life carrying for her son Burwell Starke Randolph who had been disabled while serving in the Navy.[10] Randolph was buried at what would become Arlington National Cemetery at the home of her cousin George Washington Parke Custis, stepson of George Washington and father of Mary Custis, wife of Robert E. Lee.[3]

The Virginia House-Wife[edit]

Randolph's influential housekeeping book The Virginia House-Wife was first published in 1824 and it was republished at least nineteen times before the outbreak of the Civil War.[3] The book was 225 pages long, included nearly 500 recipes,[12] and resulted from Randolph's "practical experience as keeper of a large establishment, and perhaps in the hope of further augmenting the family income."[13] The Virginia House-Wife is considered the first regional American cookbook.[3]

According to historian Cynthia A. Kierner, "Randolph presented a southern — specifically, a Virginian — model for southern readers. Although her occasional explanations of uniquely southern foods suggests she anticipated an audience beyond her region, [Randolph's work] appealed to the women of the rural South who were the majority of her readers."[14]

Randolph's recipes exhibited a uniquely Virginian style, using Virginia produce for dishes influenced by African, Native American, and European foods.[15] The book included recipes for Southern classics such as okra, sweet potatoes, biscuits, fried chicken, barbecue shote (young pig), and lemonade.[12] European influenced recipes included gazpacho, ropa vieja, polenta, and macaroni.[16] Six curry recipes were included in The Virginia House-Wife, these were the first curry recipes published in the United States and suggest curry was already a popular seasoning in the region.[17] Specialties from other parts of the US included a recipe entitled "Dough Nuts - A Yankee Cake."[18] The Virginia House-Wife also included the first ice cream recipe published by an American author.[17]

Conventional wisdom has claimed that early Americans ate few vegetables and overcooked the few they did eat.[16] The Virginia House-Wife gives recipes for forty some vegetables and seventeen aromatic herbs.[16] This dietary diversity can be confirmed with Thomas Jefferson's notes on the produce for sale in Washington's markets.[16] Randolph specifically recommended short cooking times for asparagus and spinach, Karen Hess points out that overcooking didn't become common until canning became a popular method of preservation the mid-ninetieth century.[16]

Although Randolph was a knowledgeable cook, the majority of the labor in her kitchen was done by black women.[16] While it is impossible to speculate on Randolph's relationship to these women, Melissa Blank of Colonial Williamsburg sees "evidence that enslaved cooks had a significant influence on how Mary prepared food."[8] Karen Hess's introduction to the 1984 edition of the Virginia housewife notes "The black presence was infinitely more subtle in Virginia cookery than in that of New Orleans or the West Indies, but ... the culture was sufficiently imbued with it to condition the palette of the entire community."[16] Hess cites gumbo, eggplant, field peas, yams and possibly tomatoes as crops black cooks brought with them to the Americas.[16] Hess also notes the West Indies forged a connection between Spanish, French, Creole, and Southern cooking.[16]

The Virginia House-Wife was an overall household guide and in addition to recipes it also explained how to make soap, starch, blacking and cologne.[10][16]


Southern cookbooks similar to The Virginia House-Wife were published in the years that followed. Two of the most important were The Kentucky Housewife by Lettice Bryan (1839) and The Carolina Housewife by Sarah Rutledge (1847).[12]

In 1982, James Beard praised Mary as "a far-seeing culinary genius" in The Richmond News Leader.[2] He was particularly impressed by her use of tomatoes, writing "At a time when few people though of tomatoes at all, she provided food recipes for tomato ketchup, tomato marmalade and tomato soy."[2] According to culinary historian Andrew F. Smith, Randolph's wide range of tomato recipes "set the standard for tomato cookery over the next three decades."[19]

In a 2014 essay for National Geographic, restaurant Jose Andres cited Mary Randolph as an influence. Andres serves Randolph's gazpacho at his America Eats Tavern and believes that Randolph's "Gazpacho recipe demonstrates just how far back the notion of this country as a cultural melting pot goes."[20]


Grave of Mary Randolph at Arlington National Cemetery.

In 2009 Randolph was posthumously honored as one of the Library of Virginia's "Virginia Women in History".[15] In 1999, the state of Virginia erected a historical marker in her honor near the site of her birth in Chesterfield County.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Egan, Maureen; Winiecki, Susan (2017-10-30). Richmond's Culinary History: Seeds of Change. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9781439663141. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Mary Randolph at Feeding America". 
  4. ^ "Randolph family of Virginia". Wikipedia. 2017-11-11. 
  5. ^ a b Harbury, Katharine E. (2004). Colonial Virginia's Cooking Dynasty. Univ of South Carolina Press. ISBN 9781570035135. 
  6. ^ "Anne (Cary) Randolph (1745–1789) | WikiTree FREE Family Tree". Retrieved 2017-11-12. 
  7. ^ "Dictionary of Virginia Biography - Virginia Randolph Cary (30 January 1786-2 May 1852) Biography". Retrieved 2017-11-12. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Mary Randolph and African Culinary Connections". Making History. Retrieved 2017-11-12. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h "County of Chesterfield, VA | Historic Chesterfield - Mary Randolph - History". Retrieved 2017-11-12. 
  10. ^ a b c d Jr, Harry Kollatz (2007-07-31). True Richmond Stories: Historic Tales from Virginia's Capital. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 9781625844019. 
  11. ^ a b c Horry, Harriott Pinckney (1984). A Colonial Plantation Cookbook: The Receipt Book of Harriott Pinckney Horry, 1770. Univ of South Carolina Press. ISBN 9780872494374. 
  12. ^ a b c Egerton, John (1987). Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History. UNC Press Books. ISBN 9780807844175. 
  13. ^ Rutledge, Anna Wells (1974). "Randolph, Mary Randolph". Notable American Women (1607–1950). 3. Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 117–118. 
  14. ^ Kierner, Cynthia A. (1998). Beyond the Household: Women's Place in the Early South, 1700-1835. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801484626. 
  15. ^ a b "Virginia Women in History: Mary Randolph (1762–1828)". Library of Virginia. Retrieved 4 March 2015. 
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Randolph, Mary (1824). The Virginia House-wife. Univ of South Carolina Press. ISBN 9780872494237. 
  17. ^ a b Lohman, Sarah (2016-12-06). Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781476753980. 
  18. ^ "Feeding America". Retrieved 2017-11-12. 
  19. ^ Smith, Andrew F. (1994). The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery. Univ of South Carolina Press. ISBN 9781570030000. 
  20. ^ "José Andrés: What It Means to "Cook American" Food". The Plate. 2014-07-24. Retrieved 2017-11-12. 
  21. ^ "Mary Randolph, Chesterfield County". Retrieved 2016-07-06. 

External links[edit]