Richard Lane: Ancestor of Thomas Jefferson!

Yes, that’s right.  Maybe you’ve heard of him?  Our 3rd President and author of the Declaration of Independence?  I knew Richard Lane’s sister married a man named “Randolph”, and that some of their sons had helped found early Virginia, but I didn’t expect this…

Funny story, this one – uncanny too.  I often listen to audio books while I commute – its a great way to learn or to be entertained while driving.  I had just finished a Dean Koontz book (entertainment) and plugged in one of the three new books I quickly grabbed from the library shelves earlier this week.  This new book was a biography of Thomas Jefferson (learning).   Somewhere in track 3, the narrator began describing Thomas Jefferson’s family line, and the life of his father, Peter Jefferson.

Soon, flowing from the speakers was one mention after another of the name “Randolph”.  At first, I just smiled with amusement at the possibility it was the same Randolph family I have done genealogy research into.  As the narrator continued, I pulled over.  I was experiencing that ever more familiar “stepping through the looking glass” feeling that has become the hallmark of this project…  I knew these names, and I knew these places!  The strangeness I felt lay in hearing these events and relationships described from the perspective of the life of one of America’s most important founding fathers.

With a little checking, I was able to confirm it.  Thomas Jefferson’s “larger than life” Father, Peter Jefferson, married Jane Randolph, the daughter of Isham Randolph.  The couple lived in London before moving to join the growing family presence in Virginia.  Among that family was her grandfather, William Randolph.  William had earlier in his life also come from England, apparently with his uncle, Henry Randolph as he returned to Virginia from a trip there in 1669.

Henry Randolph was born near Northampton in 1623 where his mother, Dorothy Lane Randolph lived with her husband William Randolph (a popular name in the family, as you will see).  Henry grew up with a brother, Richard Randolph, who in adulthood would marry and have a son, William, in 1650. It was this nephew, William, who would later travel back with Henry Randolph to America.

As a young man of 19, Henry was the first of the Randolphs to settle in Virginia (in 1642).  Interestingly, this is the year the long-brewing tension between parliament and King Charles boiled over into the start of the English Civil War. Perhaps the unfolding chaos motivated Henry to leave his family home to seek his fortune in America.

And young Henry did find his fortune in the colonies.  He built the first grist mill in the new world, and with his new life, he laid the foundations for one of the most prominent and prolific founding families of Virginia.

The timing of the 46 year old Henry’s trip back to England in 1669 is quite interesting.  This is the year the mother of his young nephew, William, died in Ireland. But William was referenced at least once to have been an “orphan”, raising questions about whether he was actually living with his mother and father (who had moved to Ireland in the late 1650s or early 1660s) at the time of his mother’s death. Is it possible that young William had stayed behind to live in Northampton with his extended family?

Dorothy Lane Randolph (who had died in 1656) was Henry’s mother and young William’s grandmother. There is evidence of a warm relationship among the children and grandchildren of Dorothy Lane Randolph with their aunt Margaret, who lived in nearby Northamptonshire. Another of her sons, Thomas Randolph, was a famous poet of that time (and ours), who had dedicated several poems to his aunt Margaret and her husband.

Could it be that Henry Randolph’s 1669 trip to England was in response to the death of his aunt Margaret, who had survived the death of Dorothy Lane Randolph 13 years before?  And now for the connection: Henry’s aunt Margaret was Lady Margaret Lane, the widow of Sir Richard Lane. 

By the time of her death, the Restoration had long since placed King Charles II in the throne, and with it, the Lane family home had years before been returned to Lady Margaret. Although little is known of their other children, Lady Margaret’s eldest son, Richard, was a Groom of the Bedchamber to the king his father had served.  Richard Lane (the son) would serve Charles II in that role until the King’s death years later in 1685.  The last decade of Lady Margaret Lane’s life had been lived free of the previous long years of persecution Sir Richard Lane’s family had endured for the sake of his steadfast loyalty to the now triumphant crown.

Almost certainly Henry and William Randolph paid their respects at the recently laid tomb of Lady Margaret Lane  in the floor of what is now St. John the Baptist church in Kingsthorpe.

After this, the legacy of the family of Richard Lane seems to burn most brightly in the colonies gathering strength across the Atlantic. Young William Randolph would build a grand life in the new world, later becoming Colonel William Randolph of Virginia. He would also become the great-grandfather of Thomas Jefferson – our third president, and the author of the Declaration of Independence.

It is a grand irony that the progeny of his sister would define the soul of a country based upon principles first fought for not in the American Revolution – but in the English Civil War that defined the later life of Sir Richard Lane.

Jane Randolph Jefferson, mother of Thomas Jefferson

What’s next?

  • Confirm the connections I have found, and potentially update the publicly available genealogy records.
  • Investigate whether Henry Randolph’s 1669 trip can be definitively tied to the funeral of Lady Margaret Lane.
  • Is it possible that William Randolph may have been raised by Margaret Lane after the death of his grandmother when he was 6 years old?  Was that part of the connection that brought Henry Randolph back for a visit from the Colonies?


Your comments and corrections are gladly welcomed.  I admire great writing, but have little choice but to approach this task as one of grinding a workable edge onto a rough blade – with my thanks for your generosity of spirit and firm critique in the meantime! 

-Greg Sherwood

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