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Mary Randolph

Mary Randolph

Born on August 9, 1762 into the elite of Virginia, Mary (or Molly as she was called) was the eldest of the thirteen children born to Anne Cary and Thomas Mann Randolph. The Randolph family was closly tied to Southern aristocracy. Mary's father, orphaned in infancy, was raised by Thomas Jefferson's parents and was a distant cousin. Her maternal grandfather was a plantation owner and statesman. And her brother, Thomas Mann Randolph, became a Congressman, governor of Virginia, and married Martha Jefferson, Thomas' daughter. Mary's education was typical of her age and class, consisting of reading, writing, arithmetic, dancing, music, drawing and the household arts. At the age of eighteen, she married her first cousin once removed, David Meade Randolph. They settled at Randolph's Chesterfield County plantation "Presqu'lle" and had eight children, four of who survived to adulthood. Around 1795, David Randolph was appointed U.S. Marshal of Virgina by President Washington and the family moved to Richmond. While there, they built their elegant home, Moldavia. Mary became celebrated within Richmond society as a cook and as a hostess, known for her elegant social gatherings. In 1801, David Randolph, an open proponant of Federalism and a critic of Thomas Jefferson, was removed from his post and the Randolph's fortunes declined. Mary, in 1807, opened a boardinghouse in Richmond to aid the family income. Known as "The Queen," after the nickname given to her by her boarders, Mary's boardinghouse became one of the most popular places in Richmond. The boardinghouse closed in 1820 and the Randolphs moved to Washington, D.C. in 1824. Mary used her experiences entertaining both the social elite and in her boardinghouse as the springboard for her one published work, The Virginia Housewife. Widely recieved as the first regional cookbook and seen by many to be the first truly American cookbook, Randolph's volume was received warmly and saw at least nineteen printed editions prior to the Civil War. After her death on January 23, 1828, Mary was buried at Arlington, the home of her cousin George Washington Parke Custis, stepson of George Washington and father of Mary Custis (Mrs. Robert E.) Lee. As such, she became the first person to be buried in what is now Arlington National Cemetary.