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Martha (Patsy) Jefferson Randolph 1772 ~ 1836


Martha (Patsy) Jefferson Randolph

Perhaps no better reason why the biography of Martha Jefferson is important can be given than the following estimate of her, found in a history of our young Republic: "As a child, she was her father's only comforter in the great sorrows of his life, in matured years she was his intimate friend and companion; her presence lent to his home its greatest charm, and her love and sympathy were his greatest solace in the troubles which clouded the evening of his life."

Thomas Jefferson, going, a lonely widower, on his first mission to France, took with him his little girl, "Patsy," as he lovingly called her, and while she was placed in a convent his regular and constant visits to her there brought all the comfort and happiness of life to both of them. She was only ten years old at the time of her mother's death in 1782, but her own sorrow was almost forgotten in the contemplation which was constantly before her of that greater sorrow of her father. She understood it when, one night, she entered her father's room, and found him giving away to a paroxysm of weeping.

But her father would not allow her young life to be shrouded in gloom, and later on, when she was sixteen, she entered with him the world of Paris, and was introduced into the brilliant court of Louis XVI. In spite of her youth and her modest, retiring disposition, she was considered a remarkable young woman. She did credit to the excellent education she had received. She was found to be a good elocutionist, an accomplished musician, and one well versed in matters historical. She was not beautiful (and perhaps it is a relief to learn that she was not, after hearing about so many dames and daughters of a bygone day whose wondrous fairness is forever being told in story and rehearsed in song), but she is reputed to have been "tall and stately" and to have had an interesting rather than a pretty face.

Hints of Miss Patsy's good times and of the interesting people whom she met when she was a debutante in the Paris world have come down to us. We read of her acquaintance with the gay and gallant Marquis de La Fayette, who never chanced to meet the daughter of Thomas Jefferson without pausing to exchange a few merry words with her; and of her enthusiastic admiration for Madame de Stael, whom she saw very often in society, and to whose wonderful conversation she invariably listened attentively. But Martha Jefferson loved her country and her father too truly to think of deserting them for the sake of any gallant of King Louis' court. Moreover, she knew that in her own country there was waiting for her someone infinitely superior to anyone she might meet abroad.

When, in 1789, she and her father and her sister returned to their beloved Virginia home, Monticello, she met again this second cousin, Thomas Mann Randolph, who had been her childhood sweetheart, and on the 23rd of February, 1790, "Miss Patsy," as she was called, and her cousin Tom were married. She was happy in her husband a man, so Jefferson tells us, "of science, sense, virtue, and competence." With him she led an ideal family life. Her home, at Edgehill, the Randolph estate, from which, in the winter, when the trees were bare, she could see the glimmer of the white columns of the portico of Monticello, became filled with a host of little people. There were twelve in all, five sons and seven daughters, all equally lovable and interesting in their mother's eyes. But the most enjoyable times of Mrs. Randolph's life were the July vacation months when, with the coming of summer. President Jefferson, tired of Washington and the affairs of state, retired to Virginia and, stopping enroute at Edgehill, picked up the whole Randolph family, and carried them off with him to Monticello.

When Thomas Jefferson became President, Mrs. Randolph and her sister came from the obscurity of their Virginia homes, and began their reign in the White House. The two sisters took by storm the Capital of the nation. For the first time since their girlhood days in Paris at the court of Louis XVI they became a part of the gay world. During that winter at the President's home Mrs. Randolph was very happy entertaining her father's distinguished guests and taking part in all the gayeties of the Capital. She was everywhere admired. The Marquis de Yrcijo, who was then Spanish Ambassador in Washington, declared that she was fitted to grace any court in Europe, and John Randolph, of Roanoke, was so impressed with the beauty of her mind and character that years after, when her health was proposed at a gentleman's table in Virginia, at a time when "Crusty John" himself was one of her father's bitterest political foes, seconded the toast with the exclamation, "Yes, gentlemen, let us drink to the noblest woman in Virginia."

In the spring that followed this winter of memorable pleasures and excitements Mrs. Randolph, with her young family, withdrew from Washington society, and returned to live in the utmost simplicity at her home at Edgehill. It was a glorious time for Mrs. Randolph when, at last, the adored father returned to her, not as President of the United States, on a hurried visit to his home and family, but as a simple country gentleman, who was never again to be deprived of that domestic peace and harmony for which he had sighed so many years. When he came this time the removal to Monticello was permanent. For the remainder of his life Jefferson and his daughter and his daughter's children lived happily on the summit of the little mountain, in the home that was so dear to them all.

Her father's death and the loss also of his home, which came of the too generous hospitality which always existed at Monticello, broke Martha Jefferson's heart. The troubles that followed her husband's death, and the worries and vexations of poverty found her resigned, almost unmoved. She passed her last days in visiting among her children. It was at Edgehill, the home of her eldest son, Jefferson, that she was best contented, because of the proximity to Monticello. From a window of the room that was always reserved for her she could look up through the trees and across the meadow to Monticello. Here, in sight of the loved home, she lived over again in memory the associations and happiness she had once enjoyed.

Martha Wayles Jefferson

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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