Who Was Historic Tuckahoe’s Phantom Bride?

A young Thomas Jefferson spent his boyhood at this central Virginia plantation, but it is not where the ghost of that famous founding father is believed to roam. So who is Historic Tuckahoe’s mysterious phantom?

Partly constructed by William Randolph III in 1733, Tuckahoe in Goochland County, Virginia was completed in 1740. Its name comes from an Algonquian word for an edible root that grew along the nearby creek.

It was there that a young Thomas Jefferson formed an unfavorable opinion of slavery, and today it is among the most well-preserved Virginia plantations from that era.

The house itself, a uniquely ‘H’-shaped Georgian manor, is a National Historic Landmark open for tours, and of course, haunted.

Some have seen the apparition of a woman dressed in gray, but its most famous phantom is a young bride often seen running down a path away from the house.

But who was she?

William Randolph III was the son of Thomas Randolph, a planter and member of the Virginia General Assembly.

William married Maria Judith Page in 1735 and the couple had three children that survived to adulthood: Maria, Mary, and Thomas.

The elder Maria died around 1743 at the age of 30, and William followed two years later, leaving his children orphaned.

It was his wish that his children be cared for by his friend Peter Jefferson, father to Thomas Jefferson, our third president.

The Jefferson family lived at Tuckahoe from 1745 to 1752.

It is among the most well-preserved colonial plantations in Virginia, keeping secrets that echo down to the present.

To discover the origins of Tuckahoe’s phantom bride, however, we must delve deeper into the murky past.

William Randolph’s sister, Mary, was born in 1716.

She fell in love with her uncle’s overseer, Isham, a rough man thought beneath a woman of her station.

According to legend, she eloped with the overseer against the wishes of her family and became pregnant.

The men of the house tracked them to Elk Island in the James River, where they murdered Isham and the newborn child.

To compound their cruelty, they forced Mary to marry Reverend James Keith, who was 19 years her senior.

Years later, Mary received a letter from someone claiming to be Isham, stating that he was alive but that she should forget him and move on.

The letter brought back painful memories that hastened her decent into madness.

Most likely, however, there was no child from her first marriage and Isham was not murdered.

Mary’s relationship with her second husband was not forced, and in fact, her family disapproved of him as well.

William Randolph disinherited Mary shortly before his death.

Centuries have obscured the truth, but eyewitnesses testify to seeing the specter of a young woman wearing a bridal gown fleeing down the path through Tuckahoe’s garden.

They speculate it is Mary, doomed for eternity to reenact the fateful night she ran off with her first love.

But we will never know for certain.

Tuckahoe’s boxwood maze and garden still survives, as does the small plantation village, including slave quarters, kitchen, storehouse, and stable. It is among the most well-preserved colonial plantations in Virginia, keeping secrets that echo down to the present.