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Virginia in the 1770s


Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry

Virginia, together with Massachusetts, led the movement against the unpopular actions of the British government that culminated in the American Revolution (1775-1783). In 1765 the House of Burgesses passed resolutions protesting the Stamp Act recently enacted by Britain. Virginians formed a committee of correspondence in 1773 to coordinate activities of resistance throughout the colonies. In May 1774 the House of Burgesses declared a day of prayer in support of Boston, Massachusetts, where the British had closed the harbor in retaliation for the Boston Tea Party, an incident in which colonials dumped imported tea into the harbor to protest a tea tax. Governor Dunmore thereupon angrily dissolved the legislature. The burgesses nevertheless continued to meet in a series of five state conventions without the governor’s consent.

The first convention resolved that a congress of all the colonies should be held. This first Continental Congress was convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 5, 1774. A Virginia delegate, Peyton Randolph, was elected its president, and Virginia played an important role in that and all subsequent congresses.

At the second Virginia Convention, in March 1775, Burgess Patrick Henry urged the raising of militia to fight the British; he exhorted his audience with a fiery speech that concluded with the famous words “Give me liberty or give me death!” Dunmore, alarmed, seized Virginia’s powder supply. A militia led by Henry forced the governor to pay for the powder. Dunmore then pronounced Henry an outlaw. Several weeks later, after the revolution had begun with the battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, Dunmore fled to a British warship, ending royal government in Virginia.

The General Assembly disbanded itself, leaving the legislative power in Virginia to the Virginia Conventions—to which many of the burgesses were delegates. The Second Continental Congress appointed Virginia delegate George Washington as commander in chief of the combined colonial forces, which were designated the Continental Army. On May 15, 1776, the fifth Virginia Convention voted to instruct its delegates to the Continental Congress to support independence from Great Britain. In June 1776 the state adopted a declaration of rights and a constitution, the first such documents of any American state, and elected Patrick Henry as the first governor. At the Continental Congress in June 1776, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced the motion for independence from Great Britain. Virginia delegate Thomas Jefferson was assigned to write the Declaration of Independence, severing all relations with Britain, which the congress adopted on July 4, 1776.

The early campaigns of the war were fought mainly in the northern colonies, but in 1779 the British took Portsmouth and burned Suffolk. Early in 1781 British forces led by General Benedict Arnold attacked Richmond, the new capital (since 1780) of Virginia, where they destroyed the public buildings and military stores. General Charles Cornwallis, commanding the British forces in America, began a campaign in Virginia in May 1781. The revolutionary cause achieved a crucial victory on Virginia soil when Cornwallis, after a long siege, surrendered his forces on October 19, 1781, at Yorktown to a combined French and American force under Washington. "Virginia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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