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Peyton Randolph - One of America's Founding Fathers

Posted on Wednesday, January 22, 2020

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Birth: September 10, 1721
Death: October 22, 1775 (age 54)
Colony: Virginia
Occupation: Plantation Owner, Lawyer, Politician
Significance: Served as the First and Third President of the Continental Congresses (1774-1775)

Portrait of Peyton Randolph hanging in the Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery

Peyton Randolph was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Born in Virginia to a wealthy family, Peyton was well educated and attended the College of William Mary before he went abroad and studied law in England at Middle Temple. Randolph was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses for the first time in 1748, and he served for many years, eventually becoming the Speaker the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1766, a role he held until his death.

In 1774, Randolph was chosen to be one Virginia's representatives to the First Continental Congress. Attitudes in the Colonies were inflamed regarding British Parliament's passage of taxes upon the American Colonies and other acts that were considered government overreach. Randolph was respected for his even handed approach in dealing with these difficulties and in turn, he was elected President of the First Continental Congress. Randolph however fell ill toward the end of the Congress, and he was forced to resign on October 22, 1774. Randolph returned to Virginia and was replaced by Henry Middleton who served as President for the rest of the First Continental Congress.

In 1775, Randolph was again selected to serve in the Second Continental Congress. Randolph was once again elected President of the Continental Congress, but he served for only two weeks before he again had to resign due to failing health and was replaced by John Hancock. Deemed to ill to return to Virginia, Randolph struggled for months in Philadelphia before dying on October 22, 1775 at just 54 years old.

Despite dying nearly a year before the signing of The Declaration of Independence, some consider Peyton Randolph to have been the first "President" of the United States. The reason for this is that Randolph served as the First President of the Continental Congress which was the governmental body which would govern the United States after Independence was declared. Considering the immense respect his fellow patriots had for him, it seems clear that Randolph would have been an enormous figure in American history had poor health not robbed him of the chance.

Peyton Randolph in Philadelphia

Randolph arrived in Philadelphia in 1774 as a Delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774, during which time he worked at Carpenters' Hall. The following year Randolph returned to Philadelphia and served in the Second Continental Congress. While serving as a member of the Second Continental Congress, Randolph worked at Independence Hall for just two weeks before he resigned due to poor health. Randolph then spent the next few months fighting for his life in Philadelphia before dying in Philadelphia in October of 1775.

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