4th Earl of Dunmore

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4th Earl of Dunmore

John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (1732-1809), was the British colonial governor of Virginia during the dramatic years preceding the American Revolution.

John Murray, descended from the French line of Stuarts, succeeded to his father's title in 1765. He also held the titles of Viscount Fincastle, Baron of Blair, Baron of Moulin, and Baron of Tillymount. In 1768 he married Lady Charlotte Stewart, daughter of the Earl of Galloway. Elected in 1761 as one of the 16 Scottish peers to sit in the British Parliament, he was reelected in 1768.

Lord Dunmore was appointed governor of New York in 1770 by Lord Hillsborough, British secretary of state for the Colonies. In 1771 he was promoted to governor of Virginia. He was well liked there, as he had been in New York. His newborn daughter was adopted by the Virginia colony, and two new counties, Fincastle and Dunmore, were named for him. His popularity began to wane in 1773, when he dissolved the House of Burgesses, which had proposed a procolonial committee of correspondence; he repeated that action the following year when the legislature proposed a day of fasting and prayer because of the new Boston Port Bill.

While visiting Virginia's northwest frontier, Dunmore constructed Ft. Dunmore at the forks of the Ohio. In 1774 he led the Virginians in what is often called Dunmore's War. When the Shawnee Indians went on the warpath, the southwest Virginia militia, under Col. Andrew Lewis, advanced down the Kanawha River, while Dunmore himself led another force from Ft. Dunmore. After Lewis defeated Chief Cornstalk, Dunmore negotiated a treaty with the Native Americans at Scioto. Generally applauded at the time, the governor was later accused of inciting the Native Americans to warfare and attempting to lead the militia into a trap.

As the colonial revolutionary movement gathered momentum, Dunmore lost what remained of his popularity. To forestall rebels, he removed the powder from the Williamsburg magazine in April 1774, but this action incited so much antagonism that he paid for the powder. In June threats on his life forced him to retreat to the frigate Fowey. In November he declared martial law and called upon slaves to desert their masters and join his "Royal Ethiopian" Regiment in return for their freedom.

On Dec. 9, 1775, Dunmore's loyalist troops were defeated by the colonials at Great Bridge. Retiring to his ships, Dunmore bombarded and burned Norfolk. In July 1776, after a conflict on Gwynn's Island, he returned to England.

Once again Dunmore was returned to Parliament as a Scottish representative. From 1787 to 1796 he served as governor of the Bahamas. He died on March 5, 1809, at Ramsgate, England.

Further Reading

R. G. Thwaites and L. P. Kellog, Documentary History of Dunmore's War (1905), contains a good biographical sketch of Dunmore. Dunmore's American career is well covered in Thomas J. Wertenbaker, Give Me Liberty: The Struggle for Self-government in Virginia (1958), and Clifford Dowdey, The Golden Age: A Climate for Greatness—Virginia, 1732-1775 (1970).

Additional Sources

Hagemann, James A., Lord Dunmore: last Royal Governor of Virginia, 1771-177, Hampton, Va., Wayfarer Enterprises 1974.

Selby, John E., Dunmore, Williamsburg, Va.: Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission, 1977. □