GLR September-October 2022

ass your superior.” A descendent of Pocahontas, Randolph reveled in his mixed-raced ancestry, crediting his Indian blood for the “wild ness” in his nature. He felt that it was this untamed Native American spirit alone that allowed him to construct a mascu line identity, despite his very feminine appearance. “Indeed I have remarked in myself, from my earliest recollection, a deli cacy or effeminacy of complexion, that, but for a spice of the devil in my temper, would have consigned me to the distaff or the needle.”

disks under the effect of frequent drunkenness, and, later in life, as he depended more and more on opium to dull his misery, they would contract into tiny black pinpoints set in a field of eerily glowing hazel. Nor was Randolph’s behavior in Congress what the dele gates had come to expect from their colleagues. He would sweep into the chamber wearing knee-high riding boots, leather breeches, and an ankle-length frocked coat that swirled around him like a cape as he sashayed, smacking his riding crop against his gloved palm. Carefully setting aside his hat and

whip, he would (“very deliberately and very coolly—provokingly so,” as one con temporary described it) untie the bandana from his throat and wrap it around his head to hold back his long raven hair, and then he would strike a dramatic pose and pause until the Speaker of the House prodded him to get on with it.

Like many plantation owners of the pe riod, Randolph inherited a problem he de tested but did not have the moral gumption to put right. Matoax, Bizarre, and Roanoke, the three plantations that he inhabited at var ious times, all depended on the labor of en slaved African Americans, and manumitting his workers would have left Randolph im

John Randolph was first elected to the House in 1798. His androgynous appearance bewildered his contemporaries.

This was clearly gender performance, and Randolph was aware that it repulsed some of his colleagues in the House, but he felt that he had little choice. He was unable to present him self as a traditionally masculine figure and did not wish to be a woman, so he enacted a middle sex and mocked his fellows for their brutish manliness. When one representative made a snide comment on the floor of the House about Randolph’s apparent lack of virility, the honorable member from the 7th District of Virginia clapped back: “You pride yourself on your animal faculty, in which the negro is your equal and the jack

poverished—and on the same footing as thousands of other white American men who had only grit, talent, and opportunity with which to raise themselves in the world. Randolph excused his continued use of enslaved workers with the specious argu ment that he needed to operate his plantations at a profit in order to earn enough money to house, clothe, and feed the people he was enslaving. Still, it should be noted that Randolph never bought or sold enslaved people. Throughout his life he referred to himself as an ami des noirs —at a time when his neighbors would have employed a blunter English term—and in his final

September–October 2022


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