Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times

Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times

Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times

Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times

Synopsis

Though Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph's name is familiar because of her famous president father, Kierner is the first historian to place Patsy at the center of her own story, taking readers into the largely ignored private spaces of the founding era.

Excerpt

One sunny November afternoon in 1824, fifty-two-year-old Martha Jefferson Randolph stood beside her father, Thomas Jefferson, and welcomed the Marquis de Lafayette to Monticello. the aging French hero, who was touring the United States to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of American independence, kissed her hands and offered kind words, while his hostess, according to one report, “received him with a grace peculiarly her own.” Widely regarded as an exemplary woman and an accomplished plantation mistress, Martha Randolph presided over a celebration that showcased the Virginia gentry’s gracious style of living and traditional rites of southern hospitality. After receiving Lafayette on Monticello’s columned portico, twenty “ladies & gentlemen,” including several of her own “white robed” daughters and nieces, enjoyed a pleasant dinner indoors. By all accounts, the food was good and the company was congenial. As the sun set behind the distant Blue Ridge mountains, Martha Jefferson Randolph and her guests basked in the nostalgic glow of the reunion of the old revolutionaries.

Years later, Jane Blair Cary Smith, Martha’s niece and a frequent visitor to Monticello, described Lafayette’s visit in terms that cast her aunt as an exemplar of genteel white womanhood and rural domesticity. When Martha received her famous guest at Monticello, Smith recalled, she exuded “the charm of a perfect temper—the grace of a nature which … possessed the truest dignity.” Her unselfish cheerfulness, she opined, was “the result of an unambitious spirit, and a contentment that lived in a sunshine all its own.” Martha Jefferson Randolph, she wrote admiringly, was “highly cultivated and accomplished … [but] nevertheless happy in the domestic life of Monticello.” This Paris-educated daughter of a president and wife of a governor was “universally popular” in large part because she downplayed her own notable experiences and accomplishments and projected to everyone she encountered an “utmost simplicity of character and the most unaffected humility.”

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.