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John Hampden Randolph was born to a wealthy Virginia family in Nottoway County, Virginia on March 24, 1813. The son of Judge Peter Randolph, he lived in Virginia until his father was appointed a federal court judge in Woodville, Mississippi by President Andrew Jackson. The elder Randolph moved the family to Mississippi, and there the family continued to live a life of social and political stature at the Elmwood Plantation. It was there that John Hampton Randolph met his future wife, Emily Jane Liddell who lived in a plantation not far from the Randolph home.
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The couple married on December 14, 1837. Being from a family of wealth also, Emily entered into the marriage with a substantial dowry of $20,000 and 20 slaves. Four years after their marriage, the couple with their two children moved to a cotton plantation in Louisiana known as Forest Home. Here they would have eight more children. Their last child, a daughter, was born at Nottoway. Believing that a fortune could be made in sugar production, Randolph changed his crop from cotton to sugarcane and built the first steam-operated sugar mill in Iberville Parish. Both events proved extremely successful, and within ten years of moving to Louisiana Randolph was well on his way to becoming a successful sugar magnate. He was an astute businessman, and it was his business savvy that fostered his tremendous wealth, and that saved Nottoway during the hard times throughout, and after, the Civil War. He also had a sense of grandeur and love for his family, which made him the social elite in the community. The Randolphs and their children enjoyed status along with wealth. The children were taught at the plantation school until they reached a certain age. The girls also took music and art lessons, and had a governess to teach them the proper ways of the elite. Once in their teens, the children were sent north to proper finishing schools.

By this time Randolph had approximately 500 slaves between his two plantations. The slaves of Nottoway lived in 42 cabins, each having two rooms with a family living in each room. Each cabin was whitewashed and set off the ground, with a vegetable plot behind the structure. The slave quarters also included a bathhouse, hospital, and a meeting house used for daycare during the week and for church on Sundays. Because Randolph was Episcopalian, services of his faith were held there every other Sunday. The slaves were allowed to have their own services on alternating Sundays.

Like most of the wealthy of that time, the Randolphs devoted their time to running the plantation and its massive slave workforce, along with social events, carriage rides, travel and culture of the day. Mr. Randolph also enjoyed hunting and, to his delight, bear and deer abounded on Nottoway's tremendous acreage.

John Hampden Randolph's business successes left him wanting a home and plantation to honor his position and stature. He acquired the land for his future castle in 1855, purchasing 400 acres of highland and 620 acres of swamp. The beautiful property faced the Mississippi River, which was a major transportation waterway of the time. Passing steamboats and showboats made river watching an interesting and exciting pastime.

Randolph made it clear from the beginning that no expense would be spared in the construction of his home. Construction of Nottoway was completed in 1859 with 64 rooms in its three floors, six interior staircases, three modern bathrooms, 22 massive square columns, 165 doors and 200 windows. Designed in the Greek Revival and Italianate style it features 15 1/2 foot high ceilings and 11 foot doors. Nottoway also included a massive entrance hall, the grand white ballroom, a formal dining room, a gentlemen's study, another dining room, music room, numerous bed chambers, master bedroom, wicker room, bowling alley, library, hall of their ancestors, front parlor, sitting rooms, breakfast room, wine room, dairy, laundry and servant rooms, and boys' wing. The kitchen was located in a separate building adjacent to the house so that a fire in the kitchen would not destroy the main home. The most impressive room of the house was the White Ballroom. It  was the site of many Randolph family parties, their daughters' debuts to society, and five of the girls' weddings. The ballroom included exquisite plasterwork, double fireplaces, Corinthian columns and hand-cast archways. Among the most beautiful aspects of the Randolphs' home are the extraordinary plaster frieze works on the second and third floors with meticulously hand carved molds, using a different design for each room.

The Entrance Hall was the grand entrance into Nottoway, up steep winding stairs to the expansive front balcony and into a massive entrance hall with its 11-foot doors. The entrance hall is the common area adjoining a number of much-used rooms.  The Gentlemen's Study was Mr. Randolph's private domain where he would attend to plantation matters.  The Dining Room was a reflection of Mrs. Randolph, with a camellia design in the plaster work to reflect her favorite flower. On display is a valued set of French porcelain called Sevres. The design was made for King Luis Phillippe of France in 1830 and each piece is hand painted with a different romantic motif. The connecting rooms are the Butler's Pantry and Warming Kitchen, where food would be brought from the kitchen prior to being served.

Cornelia wa the oldest of the Randolph daughters. Her room includes a tall bed made in New Orleans around 1840. The height of the bed compliments the high ceiling, and also accommodates a small bed underneath. The small bed was often intended for a servant. Sarah Virginia was the fifth Randolph daughter. The bed in her room is a hand-carved mahogany half-tester bed.
The Music Room was regularly used by the Randolph family, both for entertainment and also for the children's music lessons. According to Cornelia's diary, the girls took piano from a German instructor and dancing lessons. The room now includes many valuable instruments of that period.

The Randolphs were very proud of the Ancestral Hall. The portrait of John Hampden Randolph hanging there today is an original oil painting. It was donated to Nottoway by one of Randolph's great grandsons. One of the most used windows in the home is located at the front of the Ancestral Hall. It opens to the third floor gallery and its spectacular view of the Mississippi River.

The Master Bedroom was the couple's private room. Today, it is also a guest room featuring a hand carved rosewood poster bed with mosquito netting. Hollow posts in the bed may have been used to hide valuables during the Civil War. The small room adjoining the bedroom now used as a sitting and bathroom area was originally Mrs. Randolph's private dressing room.
The Randolph boys were housed separately once they reached age 14 because they were considered adults and lived with their servants and tutors. This section of the home, including two stories, now houses guest rooms and a Bridal Suite. The suite has a private walled garden with a swimming pool.

The home also features ornamental iron railings capped with molded wooden handrails, 12 hand-carved Italian marble fireplaces that used coal for fuel, hand painted Dresden porcelain doorknobs and matching keyhole covers from Germany, hand-carved exquisite and intricate plasterwork throughout the home, brass and crystal chandeliers, flushing toilets and hot and cold running water in all bathrooms, all unheard of at that time. The home also had gas lighting which was also unique at the time. 
Massive columns three stories high support the immense house. Its exterior includes spacious balconies from the second and third floors which provided wonderful viewing arenas for the activity on the Mississippi River. Gracious curved granite steps lead to a grand entranceway at the front of Nottoway.

Since the bottom floor was susceptible to flooding from the Mississippi River, it was not as detailed as the rest of the home. It did, however, include a bowling alley for the Randolph children. The wooden planks of the alley are gone today, and the area is now used as a museum and banquet area.

Outside the home, the plantation included several buildings. The Carriage House still exists today. At one time the structure had a second wing and a 40-foot high observation tower, but the tower was lost in a hurricane. Nottoway Plantation also included acres of prime farmland, a variety of other buildings including slave quarters, a schoolhouse, greenhouse, stable, steam-powered sugar house, wood cisterns, and other necessary buildings for an agricultural operation. After the family moved into Nottoway, Randolph continued to own Forest Home Plantation, with its additional 1,500 acres of farmland and substantial acreage. Randolph's last major improvement to Nottoway's grounds was the erection of a sugar house in 1861. The 360 square foot brick building cost $1,000. The remains of the two-brick-thick walls are located in the fields behind the plantation.

Just as the family was established at Nottoway, rumors began of war among the states. Randolph was opposed to secession from the Union because he did not think the South could win a war against the industrialized North. Once the war began, he gave money to the Southern cause, and saw three of his sons go off to war with the Confederates. Algernon Sidney, 23 years old at the time, was the oldest son and the only one lost in battle. He fell at Vicksburg in 1863. Moses Liddell, 19, contracted malaria and was sent home without seeing combat, but he suffered debilitating medical problems from the disease for the rest of his life. John, Jr., then 17 years old, survived some of the war's deadliest battles, but he never spoke of them for the rest of his life.
When Randolph heard the enemy troops were headed down the Mississippi he sent hogsheads of sugar overland to Mississippi, where he sold it at a profit. He then took approximately 200 slaves and some of the family's most prized furniture and china to two adjacent cotton plantations in Texas, which he leased for the duration of the war. The move proved another brilliant business maneuver, allowing him to sell the valuable cotton crop to hungry markets.

Mrs. Randolph remained at Nottoway with only her youngest children and a handful of slaves. The elder girls were also sent away to safety at an uncle's plantation in another region of Louisiana. The grounds of Nottoway were occupied by both Union and Confederate troops during the war, and the home was fired upon several times by Northern gunboats. Nottoway was actually saved from one attack by a young Northern officer on board a gunboat. He had been graciously entertained at the plantation's garden parties and balls prior to the war, and recognized the home from the Mississippi River. He called for a cease-fire, sparing the home from damage in that battle. But, the plantation grounds were not immune to shelling and cannons during the war, forcing Mrs. Randolph, her children and slaves to the basement for protection.

Mrs. Randolph endured the war with little communication from her husband or family, and the constant threat of attack by both enemy forces and thieves. By the time the war ended, Nottoway had been stripped of many of its animals, firearms, and other items, but was left intact. The crop had been reduced to 43 acres of corn, and she had little help in maintaining the tremendous grounds under her command.

Randolph's daughter, Cornelia, wrote in her diary that her father had the chance to sell his slaves to a man from Cuba just before the 13th Amendment was enacted. He set the slaves free in compliance with the emancipation decree and hired 53 of the now freedmen to stay with him in Texas and bring in the cotton crop. According to her diary, most of the salves chose to return to Nottoway where they became sharecroppers.

By 1863, Mrs. Randolph had to give the Oath of Loyalty to the Union in order to keep Nottoway. The Randolphs' son, Moses, had gone to Texas to help his father with the cotton crop, and after the war ended, the elder Randolph returned to Nottoway, leaving Moses in charge of the Texas properties.

Randolph felt the wrath of the president just after the war, when a proclamation was issued against the Confederacy's supporters. Randolph was among those required to travel to President Andrew Johnson to personally apologize and request a pardon. Those who refused were stripped of their citizenship and their assets were confiscated by the government. Based on the value of his estate, Randolph sought the pardon, which was granted to him on February 14, 1867. A copy of his pardon hangs in Nottoway's museum today.

Though never again as wealthy as just before the Civil War, the ever-ambitious Randolph started buying up more plantations from less solvent neighbors who could not pay their taxes. By 1871, Randolph owned nearly 10,000 acres. He continued to grow sugarcane, but the abolition of slavery and a depressed economy took its toll. Randolph even tried the use of Chinese laborers in the fields after the war, but the effort proved futile and was short-lived. In 1875, Nottoway was reduced to 400 acres of highland and 620 acres of swampland, and Randolph's nearby plantation, Forest Home, included 2,468 acres. By the late 1870s, Randolph's holdings were reduced to 800 acres at Nottoway and 1,725 acres of swampland.

When Randolph died in 1883, he left everything to his wife, Emily Jane. But, by 1889, Emily was 71 years old and she decided it was time to give up her beloved home. Nottoway was sold to V.B. Dugas and Desire' P. Landry. She divided the money equally among the surviving children and herself. It is said that on the last day in her cherished home, Mrs. Randolph, clad in black, mournfully walked around the empty house personally closing the shutters on each of the elegant windows. She died in 1904 at the home of her son, John Jr., in nearby Baton Rouge. The Randolph's were laid to rest at the Blythewood cemetery along with other relatives, but the family remains were returned to a private cemetery on the grounds of Nottoway in 2003.

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