November 7, 1775: Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation is signed. John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore and royal governor of the British Colony of Virginia, was from Scotland and ruled in the colonies from 1771 to 1775. While governor, he worked to extend the borders of the colony past the Appalachian Mountains even though a prior Proclamation singed in 1763 after the French and Indian War stated the British would remain east while the French would claim west of the mountain line. He had his own little war, the Lord Dunmore War which was fought in 1774, in which he defeated the Shawnee and Mingo tribes in response to the natives increasing hostilities. He was, of course, opposed to the colonial attempts to break free of British governance.
On April 20, 1775 he took control of colonial ammunition stores in what became known as the Gunpowder Incident. This was just one day after the Battles of Lexington and Concord which had been colonial victories. The gunpowder in the magazine at Williamsburg was to be taken to a Royal Navy ship. The colonialists contended the gunpowder belonged to them and not the British crown and led a charge to retrieve the valuable commodity. Dunmore threatened to enact martial law and a group of slaves came to offer their services should he need help in defending his position. He sent them away but as things got more violent, he fled the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg and took refuge on a Royal Navy ship on June 8.
For the next several months, Dunmore kept his forces and supplies replenished by conducting raids on shore. He invited some of the willing slaves to help him carry these out. The Virginia House of Burgesses, fed up with Dunmore’s antics, decided fleeing the Palace and living offshore meant he had resigned his position as governor. In response to this, he signed his Proclamation on this day. The document proclaimed the colony to be in rebellion and the revolutionaries were traitors to the crown. He, the official governor, was declaring martial law. What it also declared was “all indentured servants, Negroes, or others…free that are able and willing to bear arms…”
Dunmore’s hope was that the rebelling slaves would hamper the rebelling colonials as well as bolster his own forces which were cut off from the Royal held center at Boston. His own forces numbered just 300. Although this was the first time there was a mass freeing of slaves, it was not done from any moral consideration as to the horrors of slavery, but rather as a practical recourse to circumstances. Virginians were outraged and increased their efforts to rid the colony of British rule. Estimates of the number of slaves so freed remains between 800 and 2,000 and they fought in just one battle which was a British loss. The strategy was unsuccessful and when Dunmore left Virginia in 1776 he took about 300 freed slaves with him. During the course of the Revolutionary War, about 100,000 slaves were freed when they fought with the British, more than any other time until the US Civil War when Abraham Lincoln also signed a document also called the Emancipation Proclamation.
A man is none the less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years. – Lysander Spooner
A slave is one who waits for someone to come and free him. – Ezra Pound
We owe to our Mother-Country the Duty of Subjects but will not pay her the Submission of Slaves. – George Mason
African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing. – Jefferson Davis
Also on this day: Galloping Gertie – In 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed.
Belief – In 1837, Elijah Lovejoy was killed as he tried to protect his printing press.
MoMA – In 1929, the art museum opened.
Carl was Stoked – In 1967, Carl Stokes was elected mayor of Cleveland, Ohio.
Gifts From the Heavens – In 1492, the Ensisheim meteorite hit the town.