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Peyton Randolph
American Patriot
Founding Father

Peyton Randolph First President
of the Continental Congress

September 5, 1774 to October 22, 1774
 and May 20 to May 24, 1775 

Peyton Randolph was born in Tazewell Hall, Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1721; died October 22, 1775 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  After graduation at William and Mary College, he studied law at the Inner Temple, London, and was appointed king's attorney for Virginia in 1748, Sir William Gooch being governor. He was also chosen representative of Williamsburg in the house of burgesses in the same year.

At the opening of his career as law officer he was brought in opposition to the apostle of Presbyterianism, the Reverend Samuel Davies (q. v.). The attorney having questioned whether the toleration act extended to Virginia, Davies replied that if not neither did the act of uniformity, which position was sustained by the attorney-general in England. in 1751 the newly appointed governor, Dinwiddie, and his family, were guests of Peyton Randolph, but the latter presently resisted the royal demand of a pistole fee on every land-patent.

In 1754 the burgesses commissioned the king's attorney to repair to London to impress on the English ministry the unconstitutionality of the exaction. He there encountered the crown lawyers, Campbell and Murray (afterward Lord Mansfield), with marked ability. The pistole fee was removed from all lands less in extent than one hundred acres, and presently ceased altogether. Governor Dinwiddie was naturally angry that the king's attorney should have left the colony without his consent, and on a mission hostile to his demand. A petition of the burgesses that the office of attorney should remain open until Peyton Randolph's return pointed the governor to his revenge ; he suspended the absent attorney, and in his place appointed George Wythe. Wythe accepted the place, only to retain it until his friend's return. R.andolph's promised compensation for the London mission, 2,500, caused a long struggle between the governor and the burgesses, who made the sum a rider to one of 20,000 voted for the Indian war. The conflict led to a prorogation of the house. Meanwhile the lords of trade ordered reduction of the pistole fee, and requested the reinstatement of Randolph. " You must think y't some w't absurd," answered Dinwiddie (23 October, 1754), "from the bad Treatm't I have met with. However, if he answers properly w't I have to say to him, I am not inflexible; and he must confess, before this happened he had greater share of my Favs, and Counten'ce than any other in the Gov't."

The attorney acknowledged the irregularities and was reinstated. There was a compromise with the new house about the money. When tidings of Braddock's defeat reached Williamsburg, an association of lawyers was formed by the king's attorney, which was joined by other gentlemen, altogether one hundred, who marched under Randolph to the front and placed themselves under command of Colonel William Byrd. They were led against the Indians, who retreated to Fort Duquesne. During the next few years Peyton Randolph was occupied with a revision of the laws, being chairman of a committee for that purpose. He also gave attention to the affairs of William and Mary college, of which he was appointed a visitor in 1758. In 1760 he and his brother John. being law-examiners, signed the license of Patrick Henry, Wythe and Pendleton having refused. "The two Randolphs," says Jefferson, " acknowledged he was very ignorant of law, but that they perceived that he was a man of genius, and did not doubt he would soon qualify himself."

Peyton Randolph was one of the few intimate friends of Washington. Jefferson, in a letter to his grandson, declares that in early life, amid difficulties and temptations, he used to ask himself how Peyton Randolph would act in such situation, and what course would meet with his approbation. Randolph drew up the remonstrance of the burgesses against the threatened stamp-act in 1764, but when it was passed, and Patrick Henry, then a burgess, had carried, by the smallest majority, his" treasonable" resolutions, the attorney was alarmed; Jefferson heard him say in going out, " By God, I would have given five hundred guineas for a single vote !"  When he was appointed speaker in 1766, Randolph resigned his office as king's attorney and devoted his attention to the increasing troubles of the court-try. The burgesses recognized in his legal knowledge and judicial calmness ballast for the sometimes tempestuous patriotism of Patrick Henry, and he was placed at the head of all important committees.

He was chairman of the committee of correspondence between the colonies in May, 1773, presided over the Virginia convention of 1 August, 1774, and was first of the seven deputies appointed by it to the proposed congress at Philadelphia. On 10 August he summoned the citizens of Williamsburg to assemble at their court-house, where the proceedings of the State convention were ratified, instructions to their delegates given, declaring the unconstitutionality of binding American colonies by British statutes, and aid subscribed for the Boston sufferers. For his presidency at this meeting his name was placed on the roll of those to be attainted by parliament, but the bill was never passed. He was unanimously elected first president of congress, 5 September, 1774.

He was but fifty-three years of age, but is described by a fellow-member as "a venerable man," to which is added "an honest man ; has knowledge, temper, experience, judgment, above all, integrity--a true Roman spirit." His noble presence, gracious manners, and imperturbable self-possession won the confidence of all. He was constantly relied on for his parliamentary experience and judicial wisdom. On 20 January, 1775, he issued a call to the counties and corporations of Virginia, requesting them to elect delegates to a convention to be held at Richmond, 21 March, the call being signed " Peyton Randolph, moderator."

He was elected to that convention on 4 February On the night of 20 April, 1775, the gunpowder was clandestinely removed from the public magazine at Williamsburg" by order of Lord Dunmore, governor of Virginia. Randolph persuaded the enraged citizens not to assault the governor's residence. To 700 armed men assembled at Fredericksburg, who offered their services, he wrote a reply assuring them that the wrong would be redressed if menace did not compel Dunmore to obstinacy. Through his negotiations with Lord Dunmore, assisted by the approach of Henry's men, 300 were paid for the powder, and hostilities were delayed. Randolph resumed his duties as speaker of the burgesses in May, 1775, and after their adjournment he returned to the congress at Philadelphia, where he died of apoplexy. His death is alluded to with sorrow in one of Washington's despatches to congress.

He married a sister of Benjamin Harrison, governor of Virginia, but left no issue. His body was conveyed from Philadelphia in the following year by his nephew, Edmund Randolph, and buried in the chapel of William and Mary college.

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