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Peyton Randolph

Member From: 1748 - 1776

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  • Birth Date: September, 1721 Birth Place:Williamsburg
  • Death Date: October 22, 1775
  • Gender: Male Race: Caucasian
  • Spouse:
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  • Religion:
  • Education: College of William and Mary
  • Military Service:
  • Occupation/Profession: Lawyer
  • Bio: PEYTON RANDOLPH was Speaker of the House of Burgesses from 1766 to 1755, presiding officer of the Virginia revolutionary conventions of 1774 and 1775, and president of the Con­tinental Congress. He had represented the College of William and Mary in the assemblies of 1748-1749, 1752-1755, and 1756-1758, and Williamsburg in the assemblies of 1758-1761, 1761-1765, 1766-1768, 1769, 1769-1771, 1772-1774, and 1775-1776.
    Speaker Randolph was born in September 1721 in Williamsburg and followed his father, Sir John Randolph, to a career in law. He attended the College of William and Mary and entered the Middle Temple on 13 October 1739. On 10 February 1744 he was called to the bar, and on 7 May 1744 George II appointed him attorney general of Virginia to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Edward Barradall, who had succeeded Randolph's father. Randolph held the office until 1766. As attorney general in the 1740s he argued the Anglican establishment's case against the New-Light Presbyterian Samuel Davies, who had arrived in 1747 and requested a license to preach in Virginia. Davies successfully upheld his position that the Act of Toleration of 1689 applied in the colonies, however, and according to Randolph's colleagues the attorney general had "met with his match." In 1747 Randolph was named to the vestry of Bruton Parish, in 1752 he was appointed to the York County Court, and about 1758 he joined the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary.
    Of Speaker Randolph's personality and legal career Thomas Jefferson presented a balanced assessment:
    He was well read in the law; and his opinions when consulted, were highly regarded, presenting always a learned and sound view of the subject, but generally, too, a listlessness to go into its thorough development; for being heavy and inert in body, he was rather too indolent and careless for business, which occasioned him to get a smaller proportion of it at the bar than his abilities would otherwise have commanded. Indeed, after his ap­pointment as Attorney General, he did not seem to court, nor scarcely to welcome business. In that office he considered himself equally charged with the rights of the colony as with those of the crown; and in criminal prosecutions exaggerating nothing, he aimed at a candid and just state of the transaction, believing it more a duty to save an innocent than to convict a guilty man. Although not eloquent, his matter was so substantial that no man commanded more attention, which, joined with a sense of his great worth, gave him a weight in the House of Burgesses which few ever attained.
    When Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie attempted to collect a fee of one pistole for signing land grants, the House of Burgesses protested and on 17 December 1753 voted to send Peyton Randolph to England to oppose the lieutenant governor's policy. Dinwiddie suspended the attorney general from office but after Randolph had returned to Virginia with a compromise settlement, the Board of Trade directed that he be reinstated. In August 1754 the House of Burgesses voted Randolph a reward of £2,500 for his work as its agent, an action that led Dinwiddie to prorogue the House.
    In 1759 Randolph was a member of the House committee of correspondence, through which the burgesses communicated with their London agent, and in 1764 Randolph prepared the committee's resolution in opposition to the Stamp Act, which was dispatched to George III by the House of Burgesses. In May 1765 Patrick Henry presented his own, more inflammatory resolutions against the Stamp Act while Randolph was presiding over the House as it met in committee of the whole. Randolph, Speaker John Robinson, and other moderates, unwilling to endorse Henry's radical position while their earlier protest remained unanswered, vigorously opposed Henry's fifth resolution, and after they narrowly were defeated Thomas Jefferson overheard Randolph exclaim that he ''would have given one hundred guineas for a single vote," which would have allowed him to decide the issue.
    Long an intimate friend of Speaker John Robinson, Randolph resigned from the office of attorney general when Robinson died and defeated Richard Bland in the election for Speaker of the House in November 1766. Spurred by the revelations of Robinson's mismanagement of the treasury, the House appointed Robert Carter Nicholas as treasurer. Speaker Randolph was reelected without opposition at subsequent assemblies.
    In 177 3 Speaker Randolph was chairman of the Virginia committee of correspondence, and in August 1774 he presided over the first Virginia revolutionary convention. The Virginia convention elected Randolph to lead the colony's delegation to the First Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia in September 1774. There he was elected president and served until 22 October when illness forced him to resign. Silas Deane, of Connecticut, wrote that Randolph was '' designed by Nature for the Business; of an affable, open, & majestic department, large in size, although not out of Proportion, he commands respect & Esteem by his very aspect, independent of the high Character he sustains." On 24 October, Randolph, Benjamin Harrison, and Richard Bland authorized George Washington to sign their names to congressional proceedings and left Philadelphia to attend the General Assembly that was to have met in Williamsburg on 3 November 1774, but which Governor Dunmore repeatedly prorogued until l June 1775.
    Speaker Randolph convened the second, week-long Virginia convention on 20 March 1775 at Saint John's Church, in Richmond, and was elected to lead Virginia's delegation to the Second Continental Congress. On 29 April readers of Dixon and Hunter's Virginia Gazette learned that Randolph had been declared a rebel and that General Thomas Gage had a "commission to try and execute" Randolph and other colonial leaders. On 10 May Randolph was unanimously elected president of the Second Continental Congress, but on 24 May he vacated the chair to preside at the 1 June 1775 meeting of the Virginia General Assembly.' A detachment of Williamsburg volunteers met Speaker Randolph at the Pamunkey River and escorted him to the capital, where ''there were illuminations in the evening, and the volunteers, with many other respectable Gentlemen, assembled at the Raleigh, spent an hour or two in harmony and cheerfulness, and drank several patriotic toasts.''
    The assembly that met on 1 June refused to do business with Governor Dunmore, who had taken refuge aboard H.M.S. Fowey in the York River; it adjourned on the twenty-fourth, and within two weeks Randolph summoned the third Virginia convention to meet on 17 July at Richmond. He presided until 16 August, and the next day Robert Carter Nicholas was named president pro tempore in order to allow Randolph, who was again elected to Congress, "to retire for the present from the fatigues of the business of this Convention.'' He arrived in Philadelphia on 5 September and found congress in session with John Hancock, of Massachusetts, in the chair. Bay Colony delegate John Adams wrote sharply on 19 September that "Mr. Randolph our former President is here and Sits very humbly in his Seat, while our new one continues in the Chair, without Seeming to feel the Impropriety." On 22 October 1775, Peyton Randolph suffered a stroke of apoplexy at dinner and died at nine o'clock. The next day Congress resolved to attend his funeral and continue in mourning for a month. After the funeral in Philadelphia, Randolph's body was brought to Williamsburg and buried in the chapel of the College of William and Mary beside his father. In the death of Peyton Randolph, the last Speaker of the House of Burgesses and the first president of the Continental Congress, ''American liberty lost a powerful Advocate,'' Richard Henry Lee wrote, ''and human nature a sincere friend.''

    1752-1755 Assembly- Journals reflect a Randolph working under Propositions and Grievances, however it is unclear whether it was Peyton or William.
  • Other Notable Service and/or Elected Offices: Speaker of the House - 1766 - 1776, Virginia Attorney General
    Special Agent to England (1753) royal warrant issued May 7, 1744, sworn in midsummer 1744, served until departed Virginia without royal permission sometime shortly before January 29, 1754; Board of Trade declared office forfeit on June 20, 1754; royal warrant issued May 13, 1755, reinstated between January 20 and February 10, 1755, served until shortly after November 22, 1766. Resigned.
Session District District Number Party Leadership Committees
1748-1749 Williamsburg
1752-1755 College of William and Mary Propositions and Grievances
1756-1758 College of William and Mary Privileges and Elections (Chair)
1758-1761 Williamsburg Privileges and Elections (Chair)
Propositions and Grievances
1761-1765 Williamsburg Privileges and Elections (Chair)
Propositions and Greivances (Chair)
1766-1768 Williamsburg Speaker of the House
1769 Williamsburg Speaker of the House
1769-1771 Williamsburg Speaker of the House
1772-1774 Williamsburg Speaker of the House
1775-1776 Williamsburg Speaker of the House

*The information within this interactive and searchable application has been researched extensively by the House Clerk’s Office. As with any historical records of this age and breadth, there may be discrepancies and/or inconsistencies within records obtained from a variety of credible sources. Any feedback is encouraged at history@house.virginia.gov.

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