Life at Arlington: Mary Randolph


 In 1929 Washington journalist, Margaret Husted, working for the old Washington Star newspaper wrote that  workers at Arlington National Cemetery took note of a grave they found one hundred feet north of the Custis mansion, was noticed as renovation to the house began. The marking on the grave were  "Mrs. Mary Randolph". And that gravestone she was born on August 9, 1762, at Ampthill (near Richmond, Virginia) and she died on January 23, 1828 in Washington and  "Her intrinsic worth needs no eulogium. The deceased was a victim to maternal love and duty. As a tribute of filial gratitude this monument is dedicated to her exhaulted virtue by her youngest son". (Her youngest son, Burwell, had suffered a crippling fall while in the Navy. He later said that she had sacrificed her life in the care of his.)
After the story ran Randolph's descendants identified her to the government.

Mary Randolph ( August 9 1762- January 23 1828) wrote The Virginia House-Wife (1824), one of the most influential housekeeping and cook books of the nineteenth century. She was also the first recorded person to be buried at what became Arlington National Cemetery. Mary was a cousin of Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, wife to George Washington Parke Custis, Arlington's builder. Her paternal ancestors included Pocahontas, the youngest daughter of Chief Powhatan and her English-born husband, John Rolfe.

Mary was born at Ampthill, the plantation of her maternal grandparents in Chesterfield County. The house was dismantled and moved to Richmond in 1929, the eldest of thirteen children born to a wealthy plantation owner, Thomas Mann Randolph a member of the Virginia Convention of 1776, and his first wife, Anne Cary Randolph. Her twelve siblings included Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr. (1768–1828), son-in-law of Thomas Jefferson, who served in the House of Representatives from 1803 until 1807 and as governor of Virginia from 1819 through 1822; and Virginia Randolph Cary (1786-1852), who wrote Letters on Female Character, Addressed to a Young Lady, on the Death of Her Mother (1828).
Mary  married her cousin, David Meade Randolph, of Chesterfield County, Virginia, in December 1780. David Meade Randolph served as a captain in the Revolutionary War and was later appointed as a United States Marshal (a federal court official) for Virginia by President Washington. (Randolph's cousin, Thomas Jefferson,  may have endorsed the appointment.) The couple had eight children and four survived to adulthood.

 Since Presque Isle plantation that belonged to Randolph was mostly swamp land the family moved to a brick home  called Moldavia, at Fifth and Main Streets in Richmond. Moldavia, their Richmond City home, became a center of Federalist Party social activity.

Mary’s influential housekeeping book The Virginia House-Wife (1824) went through many editions until the 1860s. Randolph tried to improve women's lives by limiting the time they had to spend in their kitchens. The Virginia House-Wife included many inexpensive ingredients that anyone could purchase to make impressive meals. Besides popularizing the use of more than 40 vegetables, Randolph's book also introduced to the southern public dishes from abroad, such as gazpacho.

However, in 1802, President Thomas Jefferson removed David Randolph from office as a United States Marshall due to his outspoken Federalist ideals. After that the Randolph business declined as did the Randolph's fortune.  They listed Moldavia for sale between 1802 and 1805 and moved into a rented house. Mary Randolph opened a boarding house to save the family from complete ruin.

In 1819, the family moved to Washington, D. C. to live with their son, William Beverley Randolph. It was here that Mary published her cookbook in 1824 which became and remained a best seller for decades.