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  • Rebecca Drew

Happy Birthday to John Randolph of Roanoke!


John Randolph of Roanoke Portrait
John Randolph of Roanoke, courtesy of Wikipedia

Happy Birthday to John Randolph of Roanoke, born on June 2, 1773. This gentleman of Virginia was unique among his peers for numerous reasons, but most historical accounts focus on his achievements as a member of the United States House of Representatives and later Senator. Then there are the embellishments about his ever-changing personality and penchant for duels. He also stands out for his commitment to freeing the slaves he inherited from his father's estate. Upon his death, his will ordered that his hundreds of slaves should be freed, and he set aside money for them to make their way to land he purchased for them in Ohio, hoping they would have a better future in a new location. There is a long story associated with that incident, but suffice it to say, this was not a common practice during his era. Today, I would like to share another side of Mr. Randolph, the one connected to nature.


One day, Mr. Randolph was visiting his friend, Mrs. Joseph M. Daniel. During the visit, her little daughter went to the garden to pick flowers. She decided to make a bouquet for Mr. Randolph. As Mrs. Daniel said, "She had chosen the old man for her valentine." Evidently charmed by the sweet gesture, he later gave the girl a basket of delicious fruit and declared, "Flowers produce fruit."


Some time later, a friend of the family visited Mr. Randolph at his rather solitary home on Roanoke Plantation. The friend noticed the same flowers were on the center-table, lovingly preserved in water. For fans of John Randolph of Roanoke, this sentiment strikes a chord. Sure, there are many stories about his witty insults and disregard for social niceties when it suited him, but there was an empathetic side to the man. He made many enemies, and it was often due to his strict adherence to preserving democracy in a young nation. He did not change his behavior based on how the public would perceive his actions, or whether or not a certain action would bring more votes. He stayed true to the course he thought best at the time. He had the courage of his convictions.


I could keep going, but perhaps I am biased for numerous reasons. There are many examples of his excellent stewardship of his farm, and he was devoted to properly maintaining forests throughout his vast holdings. His reverence for nature would make him one of today's top conservationists. This article is already getting a bit long for today's short attention spans, so perhaps we will visit Mr. Randolph again on another day!


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