On this day in 1776, the body of Peyton Randolph is returned to Williamsburg, Virginia, for re-interment at his alma mater, the College of William and Mary. Randolph had died on October 22, 1775, at the age of 54, while in Philadelphia representing Virginia in the second Continental Congress.
Born in 1721 to a prominent and influential Virginia family, Randolph graduated from the College of William and Mary before attending law school in London. Upon his return to the colonies, Randolph took up a private practice and was later named attorney general of Virginia. In 1754, Randolph was elected to the House of Burgesses, Virginia’s official legislative body. As the colonies grew more in favor of independence from Great Britain, Randolph resigned his post as attorney general in 1766 due to a conflict of interest between serving both the British crown and the people of Virginia in the House of Burgesses.
Randolph continued to work in favor of independence from Great Britain by presiding over Virginia’s Committee of Correspondence, which worked to communicate with other colonies to form a united resistance against Britain’s parliament, from May 1773 to August 1774. In September 1774, the first Continental Congress was formed in Philadelphia in response to the British enactment of the Intolerable Acts. It was at that first meeting of the Continental Congress that colonists discussed a united resistance to British rule in America.
On September 5, 1774, Randolph was elected by unanimous vote as the first president of the Continental Congress. He resigned as president in October 1774 to attend a meeting of the Virginia House of Burgesses but remained a powerful and influential figure within Congress. He returned to Congress in May 1775 and was again elected president, but was forced to resign less than one month later due to his failing health.
Randolph did not live to see America achieve independence, a goal toward which he had worked for most of his adult life. He was initially buried at Christ Church in Philadelphia, but was moved to the cemetery at the chapel of the College of William and Mary one year later.