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Nancy Randolph and Richard Randolph Trial: 1793

Rumors Began Circulating

Within a short time rumors, apparently originating among the slaves of the Harrison household, began to circulate around southern Virginia. Nancy Randolph, it was said, had given birth during the night of October 1, the baby being the result of an adulterous affair with her sister's husband, Richard Randolph. The baby had been killed and its body disposed of. One of the Harrison slaves took Randolph Harrison to a pile of old shingles and there Harrison saw bloodstains; the slave claimed that this was where the body had been left. But no body was ever found. As the stories spread and were embellished, the honor and reputation of the Randolph family became an issue. Richard Randolph sought the advice of his stepfather, Henry St. George Tucker, a prominent lawyer. His initial advice was to do nothing; these were scurrilous tales spread among the lower classes and should not be dignified with a response. They would soon fade away. However, this did not happen, and it soon became apparent to Richard Randolph that he was suspected by members of his own social class. He, therefore, took the unusual step of issuing a challenge in the form of an open letter, dated March 29, 1793, and subsequently published in the Virginia Gazette. It referred to the circulation of calumnies against him, and declaring that he would present himself at the next session of the Cumberland Court, ready to answer any charges that might be brought against him. True to his word, Richard Randolph came to the Cumberland Court in the third week of April, apparently expecting that this bold defiance would put an end to the rumor mongering. Instead he was arrested by the high sheriff and put in jail, charged with "feloniously murdering a child said to be born of Nancy Randolph."

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1637 to 1832Nancy Randolph and Richard Randolph Trial: 1793 - Rumors Began Circulating, A Skillful Defense, Suggestions For Further Reading