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A Family Disrupted -- The Randolph Family and the Coming American Revolution


In the early 1760s, when Parliament began to tighten its control over Britain's North American colonies, most colonists could not imagine separating from Great Britain. As English policies and taxes became increasingly burdensome, however, many colonists began to support independence from Great Britain. Individuals made difficult choices concerning whether they would choose to join the cause of the patriots or to remain loyal to England. In some cases, the choices they made divided families irreparably. In this lesson, students will examine biographical information on several members of the Randolph family to determine the choices each member made regarding the coming American Revolution. Students will also determine the effects of those choices on the Randolph family.


As a result of this lesson, students will be able to:

  1. Analyze and interpret primary documents
  2. Use biographical information to explore the effects of the coming American Revolution on one eighteenth-century family



  1. Review the material from prior lessons (Colonial Reaction to the Stamp Act and Eighteenth-Century and Twentieth-Century Forms of Resistance). What was the outcome of the vote on Patrick Henry's Stamp Act Resolutions? Were all the members of the House of Burgesses in agreement over the issue?
  2. Explain to the students that this lesson takes place in 1775. Ten years have passed and many important events have happened since the Stamp Act/Stamp Act Crisis of 1765. Using the "Virginia Time Line, 1760-1776," discuss the events that have taken place since the 1765 Stamp Act.
  3. Several members of the Virginia House of Burgesses, including John and Peyton Randolph, struggled with the issues of the Stamp Act Resolutions and England's "right" to tax the colonies. Relations with Great Britain have grown much worse, and the two brothers and the members of their families are facing some difficult decisions.
  4. Divide the students into five groups. Distribute the Randolph family member biographical material to the groups as follows: 1) Peyton Randolph; 2) John Randolph; 3) Betty Randolph and Ariana Randolph; 4) Edmund and Susannah Randolph; and 5) Aggy and Charlotte.
  5. Instruct the students to read the biographies for details that may reveal the opinions and choices of each of the Randolph family members. Ask the students to be prepared to defend all inferences by citing specific information from the biographies. Based on the biographical information, which side did the person favor–patriot or loyalist? What did his or her choice (to side with the patriots or the loyalists) mean to the rest of the family? What did that choice mean to the person's wife, husband, son, daughter, brother, or slave? Did he or she stay in Williamsburg? If not, where did he or she go? How do you know this?
  6. As the students discuss each member of the Randolph family, make a list on the board or overhead projector of which people sided with the patriots and which with the loyalists.