Peyton Randolph was the son of Sir John Randolph, the only native colonial Virginian ever knighted by a king of England, and Susanna Beverley Randolph, a member of a wealthy Virginia family. He attended the College of William and Mary and spent nearly five years in London studying law at the Middle Temple. Randolph returned to Williamsburg, where he was a successful attorney, member of the House of Burgesses, and from 1744 to 1754 and again from 1755 to 1766 attorney general of the colony. He was elected Speaker of the House of Burgesses in 1766 and served until the final meeting of the General Assembly of the colony in June 1775. Randolph was one of the men who promoted the early legislative career of his kinsman Thomas Jefferson.
Randolph presided over the Virginia Conventions of August 1774 and March 1775 and part of the third Convention in the summer of 1775. As senior member of the Virginia delegation to the First Continental Congress from the largest and most populous colony, Randolph was elected president. He returned to the Second Continental Congress in May 1775 and was reelected, but he resigned shortly thereafter to return to Virginia and preside over the House of Burgesses. Elected to Congress again by the third Virginia Convention later that summer, Randolph resumed his seat as a member of Congress in September, but he died in Philadelphia of a stroke on October 22, 1775. Randolph's body was interred in the yard of Christ Episcopal Church in Philadelphia but returned to Williamsburg in November 1776 for burial in the chapel of the College of William and Mary.
Randolph's family was divided over the imperial crisis that led to independence. His younger brother, John Randolph, was attorney general of Virginia from 1767 until he left in 1775 to spend the remainder of his life in London, where he was the most prominent native Virginia Loyalist. Edmund Randolph, son of John Randolph and nephew of Peyton Randolph, served on the staff of George Washington in 1775, was elected the first attorney general of the independent Commonwealth of Virginia in 1776, and was governor of Virginia from 1786 to 1788. He chaired the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, was a member of the Virginia Ratification Convention of 1788, and later served as the first attorney general of the United States and the second secretary of state.
Reardon, John J. Peyton Randolph, 1721–1775: One Who Presided. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 1982.