Saturday, April 20, 2019

A Survivor's Story.......Part Two, The Trial of the Century

Go HERE to read the rest of the backstory first.

In this chapter, just for fun, I am inserting how each of these people involved are related to me because I can. 8-)

So Judith and "Nancy" Randolph were sisters, Judith born in 1772 and Nancy in 1774, making them close in age(and my 8th cousins 6 x removed)
In 1789 their mother, Anne Cary Randolph(7th cousin 7 x removed)died at about the age of 44.
Judith and Nancy were 17 and 15 years old, respectively when their mother passed.
At the end of December of that year Judith married her cousin, Richard Randolph(my 5th cousin 5 x removed).

Richard was the son of John Randolph and Frances "Fanny" Bland of Matoax(a plantation in what is now Chesterfield County VA).
John and Fanny had three sons in quick succession before John Randolph died in 1775.
This meant that when Richard was 5 years old his father was dead and his mother was a widow of 23 years of age and in control of a large plantation in Virginia.

Fanny Bland Randolph didn't stay single for long. In September of 1778 Fanny married St. George Tucker(my 3rd cousin 8 x removed), a young lawyer born in Bermuda but sent to Colonial Virginia to attend "William and Mary" for schooling.
St. George Tucker was the son of Henry Tucker and a descendant of Royalist ancestors who had fled England for Bermuda when King Charles I was executed by Oliver Cromwell and the Roundheads at the end of the English Civil War.
Richard Randolph got along well with his new stepfather and St. George Tucker became a role model to him.
Richard was eventually sent to Williamsburg VA to study law at William and Mary College under George Wythe(husband of 1st cousin 1 x removed of husband of 4th cousin 8 x removed)one of the preeminent legal minds of that time.  Richard Randolph eventually transferred to the College of New Jersey(the forerunner of what is now Princeton University)and earned his degree.
He went back to Virginia after his schooling was complete to return to the family plantation known as "Bizarre" near present day Farmville, VA.  Soon after, Richard became of age and inherited "Bizarre" and in 1789 married Judith Randolph his first cousin and moved Judith and her sister "Nancy" in with him.

"Nancy" was young and lovely as it is told and men flocked to her like bees to honey.  But she had her heart set on Richard's younger brother, Theodorick.  It is said that all three Randolph brothers, Richard, Theodorick and John, were in love with their young cousin Nancy.  Theodorick died young after a brief illness in February of 1792.

Nancy seemed to be a very affectionate soul(a teenager and a bit naive perhaps)and was often seen cuddling with her sister's husband Richard, who seemed to welcome the attention.  At any rate, as the months went on, it became apparent that Nancy was "in the family way" and all eyes turned to her brother in-law as the culprit of her predicament.

The whispers and rumors came to a head on October 1st of 1792, on a visit by the trio of Judith, Richard and Nancy to a cousin's estate named "Glenlyvar" for a house party given by the Randolph Harrison(5th cousin 9 x removed)and his wife, Mary Randolph Harrison(5th cousin 9 x removed)
Nancy arrived in a poorly state and hardly was able to climb the stairs to her guest room.
Everyone in the house was awoken later that night by screaming and commotion coming from Nancy's room.  She was given Laudanum for the "hysterical fits" she was prone to have and Richard refused to leave her bedside.
Some time afterwards someone was seen leaving the house with a bundle and returned later in the night. Mary Harrison reported that when she entered Nancy's room later on she saw blood on the pillowcase and on the stairs leading from her room.

"Old Esau"(not related as far as I know), one of Glenlyvar's slaves, said he had seen Richard Randolph leave the plantation house with a baby and left it on a woodpile a distance from the house.

Word speak quickly throughout the region and then the state that Nancy had given birth to her sister's husband's baby and he had killed it or left it to die to cover up their shame and the scandal it would cause.  No fetus or baby's body was ever found.

After some months of gossip and innuendo among people of the region, Richard Randolph wanting to clear all their names asked his cousin, John Marshall,(long before he became Supreme Court John Marshall)for advise.  He instructed Richard to send an open letter to his stepfather, St. George Tucker, now a Virginia Judge, for him to have published in the newspaper, The Virginia Gazette and Chronicle.  Taking this step Richard hoped would call out the authorities to either charge him or put an end to the character assassination and vindicate his good name.

Here is Richard's letter in it's entirety.........

MY character has lately been the subject of much conversation, blackened with the imputation of crimes at which humanity revolts, and which the laws of society have pronounced worthy of condign punishment. The charge against me was spread far and wide before I received the smallest notice of it—and whilst I have been endeavouring to trace it to its origin, has daily acquired strength in the minds of my fellow-citizens.
To refute the calumnies which have been circulated by a legal prosecution of the authors of them, must require a length of time, during which the weight of public odium would rest on the party accused, however innocent—I have, therefore, resolved on this method of presenting myself before the bar of the public.
Calumny to be obviated must be confronted—If the crimes imputed to me are true, my life is the just forfeit to the laws of my country—To meet and not to shrink from such an enquiry as would put that life in hazard (were the charges against me supportable) is the object of which I am now in pursuit.
I do therefore give notice, that I will on the first day of the next April Cumberland court appear there and render myself a prisoner before that court, or any magistrate of the county there present, to answer in the due course of law, any charge or crime which any person or persons whatsoever shall then and there think proper to alledge against me.—Let not my accusers pretend an unwillingness to appear as prosecutors against me in a criminal court. The only favour I can ever receive at their hands is, for them to stand forth and exert themselves in order to my conviction.
Let not a pretended tenderness towards the supposed accomplice in the imputed guilt shelter me. That person will meet the accusation with a fortitude of which innocence alone is capable.
If my accusers decline this invitation, there yet remains another mode of procedure which I am equally ready to meet. Let them state, with precision and clearness the facts which they lay to my charge and the evidence whether direct or circumstantial by which I am to be proved guilty, in any of the public papers.—Let no circumstance of time or place nor the names of any witnesses against me, be omitted. The public shall then judge between me and them, according to other rules than the strict rules of legal evidence.
If neither of these methods be adopted in order to fix the stigma which has been imposed on me, let candor and impartiality acquit me of crimes which my soul abhors, or suspend their opinions of my guilt until a decision thereon can be obtained in some other satisfactory mode.


Richard did indeed present himself to the authorities at the next court session and John Marshall advised Richard to hire a lawyer for the hearing the following week. 
Richard and Nancy were held without bail on April 29th 1793 for the murder of a child said to be Nancy Randolph's.

Richard engaged none other than Patrick Henry(yes, that Patrick Henry, the step great-grandson of my 2nd cousin 10 x removed)for the princely sum of 500 guineas.  Henry was semi-retired and elderly at that point but he agreed to try the case along with John Marshall(6th cousin 8 x removed).
Patrick Henry examined the witnesses, or rather the few that could be called as witnesses.  Nancy did not testify and slaves were not allowed to testify in a court of law even though they were mostly the ones who had any first hand accounts of that night in question.
Witnesses mostly were family relatives-Major Carter Page(the husband of my 7th cousin 7 x removed)who was Richard's uncle testified to Richard's and Nancy's closeness but denied any impropriety.  Mary Cary Page(my 7th cousin 7 x removed), Carter Page's wife and Nancy's aunt testified that she knew Nancy was pregnant and that the father of her baby had to be Richard as she had eavesdropped conversations and had stooped to spying on Nancy and her maid through the  keyhole to Nancy's bedroom door and had seen Nancy's naked pregnant body.

Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph(Thomas Jefferson's daughter, and is my 6th cousin 8 x removed)who was Nancy's sister in-law was called to testify.  Patsy had married Judith and Nancy's brother, Thomas Mann Randolph Jr..

Judith has asked Patsy for a potion for Nancy's "colic" and Patsy had said to use  gum guaiacum and sent Judith the potion a few days later.  The question of whether Judith gave Nancy this potion in order to bring on a spontaneous abortion came into question, as was well know that taking too much of this substance could result in one.  Patsy proved unflappable on the stand.

But Judith's testimony sealed the verdict on this inquest.  Patrick Henry opened with, "Mrs. Randolph, common gossip brought charges to this Court that your husband committed murder that night.  A new-born child, his child, delivered of your sister in that inner room, was carried by Mr. Randolph, scandalmongers say, out into the hoary night and cast cruelly on a pile of shingles.  I ask you, Mrs. Randolph, if you saw anything to indicate so heinous a crime was perpetrated."
Judith answered, "I saw nothing."

Judith went on to perjury herself that Richard never left her side that evening and that she had been awake all evening.  Even under cross examination Judith stuck to her story, not for any great love of her sister it turns out later but to keep this shameful incident from besmirching the family name.

The 16 judge panel dismissed the case and dropped the charges.  In John Marshall's note he wrote, "The friends of Miss Randolph cannot deny that there is some foundation on which suspicion may build; nor can it be denied by her enemies that  every circumstance may be accounted for without imputing guilt on her.  In this situation, candor will not condemn, or exclude from society a person who may be only unfortunate."
It seems evident that the panel came to the conclusion that Nancy was indeed with child out of wedlock(and by all accounts pregnant with her brother in-law's child)but that she had a miscarriage and no "baby" was ever found.

Nancy recounted in her later life that she and Theodorick Randolph(Richard's younger brother)were engaged to be married but that happy news was known only between themselves and the families hadn't been told of their plans when Theodorick took suddenly ill in mid 1791 with what was most probably consumption.  He died within 8 months in February 1792 and Nancy gave birth in October 1792.  Nancy stated in her old age that the pregnancy/baby she lost in 1792 had been her betrothed, Theodorick Randolph's child.

This meant that there had been probably no adultery with Richard back in 1792 and Richard had probably been just trying to help and protect poor unfortunate Nancy.
There is no way to know for sure but if you delve into the character of the players in this drama you can draw fairly accurate conclusions.

Part THREE next time.



  1. This is fascinating, like reading a novel! Why didn’t Nancy say at the outset that it was Theodorick’s child? Would it have still been a scandal because they weren’t married?
    Also, there seems to have been a lot of intermarriage among the folks in Colonial Virginia.

  2. Wow I have some stories like that in my old family.


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