Mary Randolph Gets It Done!

“The prosperity and happiness of a family depends greatly on the order and regularity established in it.”

-Mary Randolph

Usually, I don’t make resolutions for New Year’s Day since I have a habit of breaking them as soon as January 1 comes around. This year however, I vowed to “get things done.” For me, that meant sitting down, planning my daily activities, writing out my short and long-term goals, and scheduling out time for them. That never happened, in spite of my good intentions. Life, somehow, always gets in the way.

I began to wonder how in days of old, anyone accomplished anything. With no electricity, no phones, no computers, no modern appliances, how did my Appalachian great-grandmothers get it done? I figured it out. Because they had to.

My mother can watch any movie or television program set in the past century and recall how her mother washed clothes by hand, used a coal burning stove, slaughtered chickens for Sunday supper, and hung clothes out on the line. Today we have more items promising a simpler life and all we really own is more frustration and stress.

In my efforts to streamline my recipe collection, I came across a small article about Mary Randolph, the author of, “The American Housewife; or The Methodical Cook.” The book is considered America’s first cookbook focused on regional cuisine, and guide to housekeeping. She was the Martha Stewart of her day, though Mary Randolph’s advice is more practical and probably more sound.

Engraving of Mary Randolph

Mary Randolph was born to one of the wealthiest and most politically important families in American history. Her father, Thomas Mann Randolph Sr., was raised by Thomas Jefferson’s parents who were distant cousins and the ever growing tensions with England made for social and political stirrings within the Randolph household. From a young age, Mary would have learned the importance of keeping and running an efficient household.

“Management is an art that may be required by every woman of good sense and tolerable memory.”

-Mary Randolph

After marrying her cousin, David Meade Randolph, they moved from Chesterfield County, Virginia, to Richmond. Their home, called Moldavia, a combination of their names, became a central gathering place for the Federalist Party and Mary would have been required to meet the demands of a heavy social scene. It has been suggested by some in the articles I have read about her, that Mary would not have been very “hands-on,” in her duties, as the actual physical labor would have been delegated to the slaves in the household. However, I am sure, if she needed to, Mary Randolph would have been more than capable of getting her hands dirty in order to “get it done,” as the Randolph’s financial status changed considerably after Thomas Jefferson won the presidency in 1801. The Randolphs and Jeffersons may have been family, but blood was definitely not thicker than water when it came to their opposing political views. David Randolph was removed from his office as United States Marshall, and as tobacco prices fell, the Randolphs were forced to sell their beloved home. They rented a house and Mary turned it into a boarding house to make ends meet. This was a risky venture and had Mary not the training and determination, the family would have floundered even further.

“The government of a family bears a Lilliputian resemblance to the government of a nation. The contents of the Treasury must be know, and great care taken to keep the expenditures from being equal to the receipts.”

-Mary Randolph

It was around this time when Mary began compiling the various items of recipes and household hints handed down to her from family, and organizing them into book form. It was in hopes of publishing her cookbook that would support more income to the family. Mary’s cookbook included uses for various vegetables and quickly became a staple for the Southern housewife. Turnips, roasted ham, bacon and cornbread along with batter breads and advice for making soap and cleaning silverware and making starch and blacking were just samples of the many recipes used in the cookbook. She emphasized the importance of making good use of the household resources and making due with what one had. As always, order in the home was of the utmost importance.

Recent update of “The Virgina House-Wife”


“Let everything be done at the proper time, keep everything in its proper place, and put everything to its proper use.”

-Mary Randolph

It must have been a revelation for many women as they left the comforts of their family and friends and began making families of their own, to find a guide in running their own households. I can’t imagine marrying in my teen years and being expected to keep a house and run the daily activities of a family at a time when many children were orphaned at a young age and had often no proper guidance in managing a home.

The American Housewife; or The Methodical Cook, was published in 1824 and reprinted 19 times before the outbreak of The Civil War. 

In her declining years, Mary nursed her son who had been injured while in the Navy. She was much loved and was the first person to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Her epitaph reads: 

“In the memory of Mrs. Mary Randolph,

Her intrinsic worth needs no eulogium.

The deceased was born

The 9th of August, 1762

at Amphill near Richmond, Virginia

And died the 23rd of January 1828

In Washington City a victim to maternal love and duty.”

We owe much to this great lady who worked so diligently in the face of such changing fortunes, who never gave up and believed in the value of home and the family. God Bless.


Author: Sissy1Pip

Born in Georgia and raised in North Carolina, I inherited the baking bug like so many of us; through childhood memories and standing by my mother's side as she prepared our family meal. I began this blog as a way of sharing my love of Southern baking and its treasured heritage.

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