Who was Randolph Jefferson?

The original manuscript of Charles W. Campbell, of the University of Virginia, records Isaac’s Recollections of Monticello (1847), Petersburg, Virginia, where Isaac was living in quiet retirement after his many years of service to Thomas Jefferson. In Isaac’s candid words, we read his own account of Randolph Jefferson:

“Old Master’s brother, Mass Randall, was a mighty simple man: used to come out among black people, play the fiddle and dance half the night; hadn’t much more sense than Isaac.”

However, Isaac’s description of Thomas Jefferson is in glowing terms of admiration, appreciation and praise:

Mr. Jefferson bowed to everybody he meet; talked wid his arms folded. Gave the boys in the nail factory a pound of meat a week, a dozen herrings, a quart of molasses, and peck of meal. Give them that wukked the best a suit of red or blue; encouraged them mightily. Isaac calls him a mighty good master.” 1

Following is one of 28 known letters exchanged (1807-18l5) between Thomas Jefferson and his little-known brother Randolph, 12 years his junior: Randolph Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson:

“July 9, 1807:

Mr. Thomas Jefferson, pr son Lewis Monticello
To the Care of mr. Dinsmore.

Dear Brother
I should of wrote to you on this business before but wished to be certain in seeing whether I could procure the quantity of seed that I agreed with the nigroes for which was a bushel of Green soard and as much of White Clover they are now delivering that quantity at Eight shillings pr Gallon I think the price high at that but I asure you that it was not in My power to git it cheaper if Convenient be please to inclose to Me as Much Money as will pay them of for there seed and send the letter on to warren Where I Can receive it in any short time and you Will Very Much oblige your. – Most affectionately, –

Rh; Jefferson July 9th 07.

P S Be so good as to let Mr. Randolph know if he Wants to perchase either of those kinds of seed it Will be in My power to oblige him if he will write me immidiatily. –” 2

The above recorded description of Randolph Jefferson given by Isaac, Thomas Jefferson’s faithful servant for many years; together with the above-quoted letter from Randolph Jefferson to his illustrious and brilliant brother, give a fairly accurate picture of the “Squire of Snowden,” (situated 20 miles from Monticello), “who played the fiddle and danced half the night with the slaves at Monticello,” whose interests, tastes, grammar and spelling were decidedly those of an earth-bound farmer; and Thomas Jefferson – the “Sage of Monticello” who authored the immortal Declaration of Independence, procuring America’s freedoms; who liberated the Protestant Churches in Virginia from state-control, and who founded and designed the University of Virginia.

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Campbell, Charles W., University of Virginia. Isaac’s Recollections of Monticello (1847), Petersburg, Virginia. Library of Congress, Rare Book Collection.


Mayo, Bernard. Thomas Jefferson and His Unknown Brother, Randolph. University of Virginia, 1922. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

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