Open main menu

Thomas Jefferson Randolph

Thomas Jefferson Randolph (September 12, 1792 – October 8, 1875) of Albemarle County was a planter and politician who served in the Virginia House of Delegates, was rector of the University of Virginia, and was a colonel in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. He was notable as the oldest grandson of President Thomas Jefferson. He helped manage Monticello near the end of his grandfather's life and was executor of his estate.

Thomas Jefferson Randolph
Portrait of Thomas Jefferson Randolph.jpg
Personal details
Born(1792-09-12)September 12, 1792
Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
DiedOctober 8, 1875(1875-10-08) (aged 83)
Albemarle County, Virginia
Resting placeMonticello
Charlottesville, Virginia
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Jane Hollins Nicholas
ParentsThomas Mann Randolph Jr.
Martha Jefferson Randolph
ProfessionPolitician, planter, lawyer, soldier
Military service
Allegiance Confederate States of America
Branch/service Confederate States Army
RankConfederate States of America Colonel.png Colonel
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War

Since the late 20th century, Randolph has been notable for having been shown to give false information in telling the historian Henry Randall that his uncle Peter Carr (Thomas Jefferson's nephew) was the father of Sally Hemings' children. (His grandfather the president had been rumored to have children with Hemings.) Randolph was likely trying to deflect attention from his grandfather, Thomas Jefferson, as he admitted there were Hemings' children who strongly resembled the president. The Carr story was the basis for historians' denials of Jefferson's relationship from 1868 to 1998. Since the late 20th century and a DNA study disproving any Carr genetic connection to Eston Hemings, the youngest son of Sally Hemings, most historians accept that Jefferson had a long relationship with Sally Hemings and fathered her six children. Most scholars continue to hold that view, although a minority, including the 2001 Report of the Scholars Commission and Andrew Holowchak's 2013 book Framing a Legend, espouse a contrarian view of the Jefferson–Hemings controversy.

Early life and educationEdit

Thomas Jefferson Randolph was the son of Thomas Mann Randolph Jr. and Martha Jefferson Randolph, the oldest son and the second born of their eleven children who survived. His mother was the eldest daughter, and he was the eldest grandson of United States President Thomas Jefferson. Part of the time, he grew up at Monticello and was close to his grandfather, who died when Randolph was 34.

Marriage and familyEdit

In 1815 Randolph married Jane Hollins Nicholas (1798–1871), daughter of Wilson Cary Nicholas. They had thirteen children:

  • Margaret Smith Randolph (1816–1842)
  • Martha Jefferson Randolph (1817–1857)
  • Mary Buchanan Randolph (1818–1821)
  • Careyanne Nicholas Randolph (1820–1857)
  • Mary Buchanan Randolph (1821–1884)
  • Eleanor Wayles Randolph (1823–1896)
  • Maria Jefferson Carr Randolph (1826–1902)
  • Carolina Ramsey Randolph (1828–1902)
  • Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Jr. (1829–1872)
  • Jane Nicholas Randolph (1831–1868)
  • Wilson Cary Nicholas Randolph (1834–1907)
  • Meriwether Lewis Randolph (1837–1871)
  • Sarah Randolph (1839–1892 or 1895)


A planter, Randolph was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and served four years.

He had been close to his grandfather and was appointed executor of his estate in his will of 1826. Randolph had begun to manage Monticello for his mother and grandfather for a short period during Jefferson's last years. Because the estate was heavily encumbered by debt, Randolph ordered the sale of Monticello goods and property, including the 130 slaves. His mother withheld Sally Hemings from the auction and gave her "her time," which informally allowed her to live freely in Charlottesville, Virginia with her two younger sons. Jefferson had formally freed Madison and Eston in his will, after allowing their older sister and their older brother to "run away" in 1822.

In 1829, Randolph published Memoir, Correspondence and Miscellanies: from the Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It was the first collection of Jefferson's writings.

After Nat Turner's slave rebellion of 1831, Randolph introduced a post nati emancipation plan in the Virginia House of Delegates.[1] This would have provided for gradual emancipation of children born into slavery after they served an apprenticeship and came of age. It was defeated.

In 1850, Randolph was elected to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1850. He was one of four delegates elected from the central Piedmont delegate district made up of his home district of Albemarle County, as well as Nelson and Amherst Counties.[2]

From 1857 to 1864, Randolph served as the rector of the University of Virginia, where he succeeded Andrew Stevenson.[3] During the American Civil War, he held a colonel's commission in the Confederate Army. Most planters were excused from active service.

Continuing to be active in politics after the war, Randolph served as the temporary chairman of the 1872 Democratic National Convention.[4]

Jefferson–Hemings controversyEdit

The historian Henry S. Randall, in an 1868 letter to James Parton, also a historian, wrote that "The 'Dusky Sally Story'--the story that Mr. Jefferson kept one of his slaves, (Sally Hemings) as his mistress and had children by her, was once extensively believed by respectable men..."[5] According to Randall, after Thomas Jefferson had died, his oldest grandson Randolph talked with the historian and personally noted the strong resemblance of the Hemings' children to his grandfather, their master.

Randall recounted that Randolph had said the following:

she [Hemings] had children which resembled Mr. Jefferson so closely that it was plain that they had his blood in their veins. ... He said in one instance, a gentleman dining with Mr. Jefferson, looked so startled as he raised his eyes from the latter to the servant behind him, that his discovery of the resemblance was perfectly obvious to all.[5]

In the 1850s, Randolph told the biographer Henry Randall that Jefferson's nephew Peter Carr had been the father of Hemings' children. He also said that his mother had told him that Jefferson had been absent for 15 months prior to the birth of one of Sally Hemings' children, so could not have been the father. Randall passed this family history on to James Parton, and suggested his own confirmation of the material. At the request of Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Randall had avoided any discussion of Sally Hemings and her children in his own 1858 biography of Jefferson.[5]

The two elements of family oral history were the basis for Parton's denial of Jefferson's paternity in his 1874 biography of the president, and his position was adopted by the succeeding 20th-century historians Merrill Peterson and Douglass Adair.[6] In addition, Randolph's sister Ellen wrote to her husband identifying Samuel Carr, Peter's brother, as the father of Hemings' children. The 20th-century historian Dumas Malone used this letter to refute Jefferson's paternity, and was the first to publish it in the 1970s in one of his volumes of the lengthy biography.[6]

Later 20th-century historians used Malone's extensive documentation of Jefferson's activities to determine that Jefferson was at Monticello for the conception of some of Hemings's children (he was absent for several days of the conception periods for Madison and Eston, and for half the conception period for Beverly; we have no records of Sally's residence during these periods). He recorded the children's births along with those of other slaves in his Farm Book, which was rediscovered and first published in the 1950s.[7][8]

In 1998, the Carrs were disproved as possible fathers of Eston Hemings, Sally's youngest son, by the results of a Y-DNA study of their male descendants; no genetic link existed between the Carr and Hemings lines for the descendants of Eston Hemings. The test results did show a match between the Jefferson male line and the descendant of Hemings, though it showed nothing about the descendants of Sally Hemings's other children.[9]

The historian Andrew Burstein has said, "[T]he white Jefferson descendants who established the family denial in the mid-nineteenth century cast responsibility for paternity on two Jefferson nephews (children of Jefferson's sister) whose DNA was not a match. So, as far as can be reconstructed, there are no Jeffersons other than the president who had the degree of physical access to Sally Hemings that he did."[10]


  1. ^ Speech of Thomas J. Randolph in the House of Delegates of Virginia, on the abolition of slavery. Retrieved on 2006-12-06.
  2. ^ Pulliam, David Loyd (1901). The Constitutional Conventions of Virginia from the foundation of the Commonwealth to the present time. John T. West, Richmond. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-2879-2059-5.
  3. ^ Manual of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia (PDF). Retrieved on 2006-12-05.
  4. ^ Official Proceedings of the National Democratic Convention, Held at Baltimore, July 9, 1872. Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, Printers. 1872.
  5. ^ a b c "Letter from Henry Randall to James Parton, June 1, 1868". Jefferson's Blood. PBS Frontline. 2000. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
  6. ^ a b Annette Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, University of Virginia Press, 1998 edition, preface addresses 1998 DNA results
  7. ^ Winthrop Jordan, White over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968
  8. ^ Fawn McKay Brodie, Thomas Jefferson, An Intimate History (1974), p. 287
  9. ^ Foster, EA; Jobling, MA; Taylor, PG; Donnelly, P; De Knijff, P; Mieremet, R; Zerjal, T; Tyler-Smith, C; et al. (1998). "Jefferson fathered slave's last child" (PDF). Nature. 396 (6706): 27–28. doi:10.1038/23835. PMID 9817200.
  10. ^ Richard Shenkman, "The Unknown Jefferson: An Interview with Andrew Burstein", History News Network, 25 July 2005, accessed 14 March 2011.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit