Guest Author - Vance Rowe
Nancy Randolph had always been spirited and “quite fetching”. In fact, by the time she had turned 16 years old, she had many men seeking to court her. One of those men was named Theodorick Randolph and Theodorick was the son of Richard Randolph. Richard was married to Nancy’s sister Judith, and he was also their cousin.
She had moved to the plantation called Bizarre where her sister and her husband lived because after Nancy’s mother died, her father remarried and the stepmother did not get along with Nancy, probably because they were close in age. She moved there in 1790 and in February 1792, Theodorick had died. Nancy had said later on that the two of them were engaged but there was never a formal announcement.
In October of 1792, Richard Randolph, his wife, Judith and Nancy went to visit a cousin named Randolph Harrison and his wife Nancy at their Glenlyvar estate or Glentivar, depending on which source is used. One night, Randolph and Nancy were awoken from a scream coming from the bedroom right above them; Nancy Randolph’s bedroom. When Mary Harrison went to Judith’s bedroom, she saw Judith Randolph sitting up on her bed as she had to go through their bedroom to get to Nancy’s room. She found the door bolted shut from the inside and Richard Randolph was in there with Nancy. He would not allow anyone in there for the time being and would definitely not allow any candles to be lit in there. When Mary was finally let in, she sat with Nancy for a little while and gave her some laudanum and then went back to her bedroom when Nancy had calmed down. Mary and Randolph said they heard someone going down the stairs later and returning shortly. They assumed it was Richard.
The next morning, Mary Harrison went up to see Nancy as she had stayed in her room all day. Mary noticed blood on the stairs, Nancy’s bedclothes, and the pillowcase. Her bed linens and quilt were gone.
A couple of days later, when Nancy was feeling better she was asked if she had a baby and Nancy had said that she hadn’t. When the Randolph’s left their cousin’s estate, one of the slaves brought Randolph Harrison to a pile of old shingles where they had said they had seen Richard Randolph put the baby. There was no baby there then but there was a lot of blood on the shingles. Rumors had started flying that Nancy and Richard had killed a baby that they illicitly procreated. The Randolph name was quickly becoming tarnished in Virginia society and it had been an important, noble name for years in Virginia.
In January 1793 Richard Randolph sought the advice of his stepfather, Henry St. George Tucker, a judge and a law professor at William and Mary college. The stepfather told him to ignore the talk because it was just scurrilous gossip and would soon end. It didn’t however. The rumors continued around the Williamsburg elite that Richard Randolph and Nancy Randolph had a baby together and killed it.
There was an eventual trial but Richard Randolph had future chief justice of the US Supreme court, John Marshall and Patrick Henry as his defense counsel. After a trial in which Virginia law prohibited Richard Randolph and Nancy Randolph from testifying as well as prohibited slaves from testifying, it was found there was not enough evidence to prove a baby was born, let alone one being killed and he was found not guilty. However, that did not stop the rumors and would haunt the Randolph name for generations to come. Luckily for Richard, he had only to endure the scandal for three more years when he passed away in 1796. Nancy stayed at the Bizarre plantation until 1805 when she was asked to leave.
She spent the next few years staying with friends and finally went to New York where she worked for a man named Governeur Morrison, a New York Statesman that she had known. It was 1809 and she became his housekeeper until he surprised everyone by marrying Nancy, that Christmas, a woman who was twenty years his junior. It was a happy marriage and four years later Governeur Morris, Jr. was born.
Then in 1814, old wounds were reopened when the younger son of Richard and Theodorick Randolph, John, then a powerful politician became acerbated and wrote a letter about Nancy and the baby murder plus said that she had poisoned Richard Randolph because he died under suspicious circumstances.
Nancy Randolph fired back in a letter admitting that a baby was born but it was stillborn and not murdered. She also said the baby was Theodorick’s and not Richard’s and had been conceived a few days before Theodorick had died.
Governuer Morris, a very vocal opponent to the War of 1812 and also spoke out against the Democrats and Republicans, had died at the age of 64 on November 16, 1816, at Morrisania, his home in New York City. Nancy Randolph stayed at Morrisania to take care of their child and she died at the age of 62 in 1837.