Peyton Randolph


Peyton Randolph was a lawyer, politician, and planter from Virginia who rose to prominence during the American Revolution. Randolph served as Speaker of the House of Burgesses and the first President of the Continental Congress in 1774. His leadership was important to the Patriot Cause, earning him the nickname “The Father of Your Country.”

Peyton Randolph, Founding Father, NYPL

Peyton Randolph. Image Source: NYPL Digital Collections.

Peyton Randolph Facts

These facts provide an overview of the life and career of Peyton Randolph, a key leader of the Patriot Cause during the American Revolution and the first President of the Continental Congress.

Early Life and Education

  • Peyton Randolph was born in Williamsburg, Virginia, on September 10, 1721.
  • Randolph was the second-oldest son of John Randolph, a knighted lawyer and politician, and Susannah Beverley.
  • His father died in 1737 and left his law books to him.
  • Randolph inherited land in and around Williamsburg and two small plantations.
  • He attended William and Mary College but did not graduate, and was admitted to the Middle Temple in London on October 13, 1739, where studied law for nearly five years.
  • Randolph became a member of the London bar on February 10, 1744.
  • His brother, John Randolph, was a lawyer and politician who served as the King’s Attorney in Virginia, from 1766 until the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, when he left for England.
  • One of Randolph’s cousins was Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, 3rd President of the United States, and Founding Father.

Robert Walpole’s Influence

  • Politically, Peyton Randolph was a moderate, similar to Robert Walpole, who is viewed as Great Britain’s first Prime Minister and the architect of Salutary Neglect.
  • Randolph referred to Walpole respectfully as “Sir Robert.”
  • He based his political beliefs on the English Bill of Rights that was established during the Glorious Revolution and helped shape Walpole’s tenure.

Virginia Attorney General

  • Friends in London, like John Hanbury, lobbied for Peyton Randolph to be appointed as Attorney General for Virginia.
  • Randolph received the appointment before finishing his legal studies, despite opposition from Lieutenant Governor William Gooch.
  • He received the appointment from the Duke of Newcastle on May 7, 1744.

Return to Virginia and Early Legal Career

  • Peyton Randolph returned to Virginia and was immediately involved in lawsuits for both the colony and prominent Virginians, including George Washington, William Byrd III, Landon Carter, and Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier.
  • Randolph was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1748.
  • That same year, he was elected to serve as the Recorder for Norfolk.
  • In 1749, Randolph was appointed Justice of the Peace for York County.
  • He was elected to the vestry of Williamsburg’s Bruton Parish Church in 1749.

Marriage and Family

The Pistole Fee Controversy

  • During the 1750s, Peyton Randolph became involved in disputes between Virginia and British officials in London and worked to protect Virginia’s economic and political interests.
  • In 1752, Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie imposed a fee of one Spanish coin, known as a “pistole” for him to seal new land patents.
  • The fee was traditionally set by the House of Burgesses and the members viewed it as Dinwiddie abusing his position and encroaching on their authority.
  • Virginians filed petitions against the new fee with the House of Burgesses, arguing it was a tax levied without their approval.
  • The House of Burgesses appointed Randolph as its representative to London. 
  • Randolph traveled to London in December 1753 and was subsequently removed from his position as Attorney General by Dinwiddie in July 1754.
  • Randolph appeared before the Privy Council and was somewhat successful. The Council imposed limits on Dinwiddie’s tax and forced him to reinstate Randolph as Attorney General.

Stamp Act Crisis

  • Political divisions developed in Virginia in 1765 over the Stamp Act.
  • Patrick Henry rose to prominence with his Stamp Act Resolves.
  • Peyton Randolph opposed Henry’s harsh approach to the Stamp Act Resolves, believing it would do more harm than good.
  • Despite Randolph’s concerns, five of Henry’s resolves were approved by the House of Burgesses on May 31, 1765. However, complete copies of the resolutions were printed in colonial newspapers.
  • Randolph expressed his frustration to Thomas Jefferson, saying, “By God, I would have given one hundred guineas for a single vote.”

Election as Speaker of the House of Burgesses

  • In 1766, a fierce battle took place between Peyton Randolph and Richard Bland for the position of Speaker of the House of Burgesses.
  • Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee supported Bland, while Randolph found support from Landon Carter and others.
  • Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier supported Randolph and told the Board of Trade he was the best candidate for Virginia.
  • Randolph was elected Speaker of the House of Burgesses on November 6, 1766, with a substantial majority.
  • His brother, John Randolph, succeeded him as Attorney General.

Patriot Leader in Virginia

Virginia Convention and First Continental Congress

  • Peyton Randolph was elected President of the three Virginia Conventions and was elected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress.
  • Upon his arrival in Philadelphia in September 1774, John Adams described Randolph as “a large, well looking Man.”
  • Randolph was chosen to preside over the meetings of the First Continental Congress on September 5, 1774.
  • He was forced to resign and return to Virginia, so he could perform his duties as Speaker of the House of Burgesses. Because of this, he did not sign the Articles of Association, which established the Continental Association.
  • Randolph was succeeded by Henry Middleton of South Carolina.

Continued Leadership and Resignation

  • Peyton Randolph continued to preside over the Virginia Conventions and serve as Speaker of the House of Burgesses.
  • In April and May of 1771, he played a role in helping resolve the Virginia Gunpowder Incident.
  • Randolph returned to Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress and was appointed as its President on May 10, 1775.
  • He resigned as President on May 24, due to poor health but remained as a delegate.

Impact of the American Revolutionary War

  • Peyton Randolph and British Commander-in-Chief Thomas Gage communicated about reconciliation in September 1774, leading to accusations that Randolph was a Loyalist.
  • Thomas Jefferson criticized Randolph, saying he “..stopped at the half-way house of John Dickinson who admitted that England had a right to regulate our commerce, and to lay duties on it for the purposes of regulation, but not of raising revenue.”
  • Edmund Randolph, his nephew, regarded him as a leading Patriot who did not hesitate on the American question.
  • Overall, Randolph’s legacy is that of a firm Patriot and opponent of Taxation Without Representation.

Death and Burial

  • Peyton Randolph suffered a stroke and died on October 22, 1775, during dinner in Philadelphia, so he did not live to see the vote for American independence more than seven months later.
  • Randolph’s funeral in Philadelphia was believed to have been the largest held in the city.
  • His body was kept in a vault at Christ Church until November 1776.
  • Edmund Randolph escorted the body to Williamsburg, where it was laid to rest next to his father in the crypt of the Wren Chapel of the College of William and Mary.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Peyton Randolph
  • Date 1721–1775
  • Author
  • Keywords Peyton Randolph, House of Burgesses, First Continental Congress, Second Continental Congress
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 30, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 16, 2024