CONNOLLY, JOHN. (c. 1745–c. 1798). Loyalist conspirator. Born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, about 1745, Connolly became a doctor and settled in Pittsburgh, where he made the acquaintance of George Washington. Connolly had been granted land by Virginia, and with a view to making a fortune in land speculation, he sided against his native province to become the agent of Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia. In this capacity he had a large part in instigating Dunmore's War in 1774. In April 1775 he was captain and commandant of the Virginia militia at Pittsburgh, but at the outbreak of the Revolution he was, because of his unconcealed Loyalist convictions, forced by the local Patriots to leave. In August he joined Dunmore aboard a British warship off Portsmouth, Virginia. Two weeks later he carried Dunmore's dispatches to General Thomas Gage in Boston, and after ten days at the latter place, he returned with Gage's approval for an ambitious plan to reclaim Virginia for the king. Dr. Connolly's scheme was for him to return to the frontier, raise a regiment of Loyalists, equip an expedition at Detroit, and launch an offensive that would capture Pittsburgh and Alexandria before joining up with Dunmore for the reconquest of Virginia.
For this mission Connolly was made lieutenant colonel on 5 November. With eighteen sheets of instructions from Dunmore cleverly concealed in hollow sticks used to carry his baggage, Connolly and two fellow conspirators—Allan Cameron and J. F. D. Smyth—were taken prisoner in Frederick County, Maryland, after a servant informed on them. The hidden papers were not found, but another document compromised part of their plan. To save themselves from mob justice, they acknowledged their British commissions. Before they could be sent to Philadelphia, Smyth escaped from their Maryland prison with letters from Connolly. He was recaptured and imprisoned in Philadelphia on 18 January 1776, fifteen days after the other two had reached that city.
Congress rejected Connolly's plea to be treated as a prisoner of war and kept him in prison in Philadelphia until the end of 1776, when he was moved to Baltimore. Finally exchanged in October 1780, he went to New York and then returned to Pittsburgh in a failed effort to organize a Loyalist uprising. In June 1781 General Henry Clinton sent him to serve under Cornwallis in Virginia. Three months later Connolly was recaptured and again imprisoned in Philadelphia. He was released in March 1782 on the promise that he would go to England. Connolly appears to have gone to Nova Scotia instead and moved around the frontier region for the next several years.
SEE ALSO Dunmore's (or Cresap's) War.
revised by Michael Bellesiles