Robert Richard Randall

Randall front

Randall side

Randall profile

An unremarkable life

Randall (1750?-6/5/1801) was so self-effacing that his place and date of birth are unknown: he seems to have lived quietly in the shadow of his more outgoing father Thomas Randall, a Scottish immigrant.

Thomas earned a fortune in shipping, operated three privateers during the French and Indian War, and was one of the citizens who greeted General George Washington when he entered New York after the British decamped (11/25/1783, known for a century as "Evacuation Day"). In 1789, Thomas was coxswain of the ceremonial boat that he had designed to carry Washington from New Jersey to New York City for the presidential inauguration.

Son Robert was a partner in the father’s firm. He inherited his father’s wealth in 1797 and died four years later, never having married. His estate he bequeathed for the creation of a benevolent institution to be called “Sailors’ Snug Harbor,” a home for “aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors.”

Sailors' Snug Harbor

The Randall property included 20-odd acres north of Washington Square, which was considered too high rent for retired sailors: instead, it was rented to New York University. (Since the 1980s, NYU owns the property.) The rent helped purchase a farm on the northwest side of Staten Island.

Sailors’ Snug Harbor opened there in 1833. By 1900, it was home to a thousand or so sailors who lived in magnificent Greek Revival buildings. Randall’s bones, disinterred from St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery, were buried beneath an obelisk on the site.

In 1979, Sailors’Snug Harbor relocated to Sea Level, North Carolina. New York City purchased the site and turned it into a cultural center.

The Randall portrait

Augustus Saint Gaudens was commissioned to do a life-size bronze portrait sculpture of Randall in 1884. No image of the self-effacing Robert Richard Randall had survived, so Saint Gaudens used a studio model dressed in colonial costume. The original bronze was taken to North Carolina; a replica now stands in Staten Island.

Further reading

On Randall, see Barnett Shepherd, "Randall, Robert Richard"; American National Biography Online, accessed Sat Jul 11 2015 12:34:29 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time).