1797 - Richard Randolph to Sundry Slaves

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1797 - Richard Randolph to Sundry Slaves


Richard Randolph freed 90 slaves through his will


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Text of Freedom Document

To all whom it may concern, I Richard Randolph Junior of Bozarre in the County of Cumberland, of sound mind and memory, do declare this writing, written with my own hand, and subscribed with my name, this eighteenth day of February in the twentieth year of American Independence, to be my last will and testament in form & substance as follows.

In the first place – to make retribution, as far as I am able, to an unfortunate race of bondmen, over whom my ancestors have usurped and exercised the most lawless and monstrous tyranny, and in whom my countrymen—by their iniquitous laws, in contradiction of their own declaration of Rights, and in violation of every sacred law of Nature; of the inherent, inalienable and imprescriptible rights of man, and of every principal of moral and political honesty, have vested me with absolute property. To express my abhorrence of the theory as well as the infamous practice of usurping the rights of our fellow creatures, equally constituted with ourselves to the enjoyment of liberty and happiness.

To exculpate myself to those who may perchance to think or hear of me after death, from the black crime, which might otherwise be imputed to me, of voluntarily holding the above mentioned miserable beings in the same state of abject slavery in which I found them on receiving my patrimony at lawful age. To impress my children with a just horror at a crime so enormous and indelible; to injure them in the last words of a fond father never to participate in it in any the remotest degree, however sanctioned by laws (formed by the tyrants themselves who oppress them) or supported by false reasoning, and always to soil the sordid views of avarice and the lust of power.

To declare to them and to the world that nothing but uncontrollable necessity forced on me by my father (who wrongfully bound over them to satisfy the rapacious creditors of a brother—and who for this purpose, which he falsely believed to be generous—mortgaged all his servants to British harpies for money to gratify pride and pamper sensuality; by which mortgage the said servants being bound, I could not exercise the right of ownership necessary to their emancipation, and being obliged to keep them on my lands, and so driven reluctantly to violate them in a general degree (tho I trust far less than others have done) in order to maintain them—that nothing, I say, short of necessity, should have forced me to an act which my soul abhors.

For the aforesaid purposes, and with an indignation too great for utterance at the tyrants of the earth—from the throned despot of a whole Nation to the more despicable to the not less infamous tormentor of a single wretched slave, whose torture constitutes his wealth and enjoyment. I do truly declare that it is my will and desire, nay, most anxious wish, that my negroes—all of them—be liberated and I do declare them, by this writing, free and emancipated to all intents and purposes whatsoever, fully and freely exonerated from all future service to my heirs, executors and assigns, and altogether as free as the illiberal laws will permit them to be. I mean therein to include all and every servant of which I die possessed or to which I have any claim by inheritance or otherwise. I thus yield them up their liberty basely wrested from them by my forefathers and beg, humbly beg, their forgiveness for the manifold injuries I have too often inhumanely, unjustly and mercilessly inflicted on them, and I do further declare, and it is my will that if I should be so unfortunate as to die possessed of a servant (which I will not do if I ever can be enabled to emancipate them legally) and the said servant shall be liable for my fathers debts and to be sold for them, that in that case five hundred pounds be raised from my other estate, real and personal, as my wife (Judith Randolph) shall think best, and in any manner which she shall choose, and applied to the purchase at such sale of such of the miserable slaves. I do hereby declare them free as soon as they are purchased, to all intents and purposes whatsoever, and in case I emancipate the said slaves—which I shall surely do the first moment possible—I do devise and give and bequeath unto them the said slaves four hundred acres of my land, to be laid off as my wife shall direct, and to be given to the heads of families in proportion to the number of their children and the merits of the parties, as my said wife shall judge of for the best. The land's to be laid off where and how my said wife shall direct and to be held by the said slaves when allotted to them in fee. I do likewise conjure my said wife to lend every assistance to the said slaves thro' life in her power, and to rear her children up to the same practices, and impress it on them as her last injunction to do everything directed above relative to the said slaves.

I now proceed to direct the manner in which my property is to be disposed of (having fulfilled this first and greatest duty, a most anxious and zealous wish to befriend the miserable and persecuted of whatsoever nation, color or degree) by my will, as is seen written on this and another sheet of paper, each signed by my own hand and with my own name and connected together by wafers.

R'd. Randolph, Jun'r.

In the second place I give and bequeath to my said wife Judith Randolph all my personal estate remaining of whatsoever nature animate, or inanimate in possession or in action, claimed or to be claimed by an right or title whatsoever, where sole [illegible] and disposal forever, that is exclusive of slaves.

I likewise divise, give and bequeath to my said wife, all my real estate whatsoever of which I die possessed and also all to which I have any claim or title whatsoever, to her and her heirs forever confidence that she will do the most ample justice to our children— by making them independent as soon as they come of age, if she remain single, or by securing a comfortable support by settlements on them before any marriage into which she may hereafter resolve to enter (which if she do money will be the only certain mode of providing for them), and to educate them as well as her opportunity will enable her.

The only anxiety I feel on their account arises from a fear of her maternal tenderness leading her to too great indulgence of them, against which I beg leave thus to caution her. I now consign them to her affectionate love—desiring that they be educated in some profession, or trade, if they be incapable of a liberal profession, and that they be instructed in virtue and in the most zealous principles of liberty and manly independence. I dedicate them to that virtue and that liberty which I trust will protect every unfortunate and of which I conjure them to be indefatigable and incorruptible supporters thro' life. I request my wife to frequently read this my last will to my beloved children that they may know something of their father's heart when they have forgotten his presence. Let them be virtuous and free—the rest is vain. Finally, I entreat my wife to consider the above confidence as the strongest proof of the estimation and ardent love which I have always uniformly felt for her, and which must be the latest active impulse of my heart.

I hereby appoint my said wife sole executrix of this my last will and testament but in case I should be so unfortunate as to be left by her single and die without any other will than this executed by me, I appoint in that case as my executors—requesting their attention to every injunction on my wife above mentioned, and relying on them to execute them and the directions in my said will, (as she would otherwise do), to-wit: the following named esteemed friends: My father-in-law, St. Geo. Tucker, my brother, John Randolph, my friends Ryland Randolph, Brett Randolph, Creed Taylor, John Thompson, Alex. Campbell, Daniel Call and the most virtuous and incorruptible of mankind and (next to my father in law) my greatest benefactor, George Wythe, Chancellor of Virginia, the brightest ornament of human nature;

I rely on the aforementioned virtuous friends for the punctual execution of my will, the care and guardianship of my children, in case of the death of my wife either before or after me (to whom if she live I have entrusted them solely) and to those of them most nearly connected with me by friendship I look for assistance to my family after my death in all cases of difficulty. If any among them do not choose to undertake the task imposed on them by me, I beg them not to do so from motives of generosity or delicacy, and to excuse the liberty which (it may appear to some of them least intimately acquainted with me) I have taken in thus calling on them.

In witness of all the above directions which I again declare to be my last will and testament drawn by me from calm reflection, I have hereunto subscribed my name and affixed my seal the day and year aforesaid.

R'd. Randolph Jun’r (seal)
Signed and sealed in the
presence of the following
persons and declared to be the
last will of the above named
Richard Randolph, junr.
Ryland Randolph
At a District Court held at Prince Edward Courthouse, April 8th, 1797.
This last will and testament of Rd. Randolph jun'r, deceased, was presented in Court by Judith Randolph, executrix therein named, there being but one witness to said will, and he not being in court, Miller Woodson and Peter Johnson being sworn, severally deposed that they are well acquainted with the testators handwriting, and verily believe that the said will and name thereto subscribed are all in the testator's proper handwriting. Whereupon the said will is ordered to be recorded. And on motion of the executrix, therein named, who gave bond with John Randolph, Brett Randolph, and Creed Taylor, her securities, in the penalty of twelve thousand pounds and took the oath required by law, certificate for attaining the probate thereof in due form is granted her.
Teste, F. Watkins, C.D.C.

Record Location

Prince Edward District Court, Will Book 1, pg 4-7

Document Type

Last Will & Testament


An excellent book on Richard Randolph Jr., the freeing of his slaves, and the local community of freeman they built is "Israel on the Appomattox" by Ely (2005).


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“1797 - Richard Randolph to Sundry Slaves,” Manumission Project, accessed July 14, 2024, https://manumissionproject.omeka.net/items/show/887.