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Lord Dunmore, born John Murray, was the last Royal Governor of Virginia. His innovation of freeing slaves to fight for the British played a major role in Revolutionary War strategy and was the initial spark that led to all of the events described by this site.

Dunmore was born in 1732 in England, a distant but direct descendant of royalty. Murray inherited the title of Earl of Dunmore, and it was as Lord Dunmore that he became universally known. Dunmore was appointed Governor of New York in 1770, just as rebellion was spreading through all the colonies. Soon after, he was transferred to Virginia. His first act was to abolish the Virginia Assembly, which was dominated by Patriots like Thomas Jefferson.

Dunmore had to deal with many problems from the moment he arrived in Virginia. Rebels or various sorts were numerous and powerful. Both the Patriots and the local Shawnee Indians threatened his government. He also feared a slave revolt, commenting that 'whoever promises freedom to the slaves shall have all of them at his disposal'; likely considering the possibility of an Indian attack.

By 1774, he had so many problems with the rebels that peace with the Indians became a necessity. He negotiated a treaty despite the provocation of the Shawnee by British attacks. Several soldiers burned down Shawnee villages during negotiations.

Dunmore's dealings with the Patriots were less successful. Being short of men, Dunmore began enlisting any man who was free and willing to serve, a practice that led him to recruiting blacks of uncertain origins. His easy victory at Kemp's landing helped him see the value of black troops, but also led him into a dangerous overconfidence. After issuing the Proclamation in November of 1783, Dunmore ordered the rash attack at Great Bridge a month later, which destroyed his forces and the Virginian slaves' hope for freedom.

Dunmore fled Virginia, and soon after left America for England. A short time later he was named British Governor of the West Indies in Nassau. Again he embraced the institution of slavery, buying a retinue of personal slaves and paying a bounty to slave ships that brought their cargo to the Bahamas. In a strange twist of fate, his escaped personal slaves jumped a ship traveling to Nova Scotia and met the slaves that Dunmore had once taken the initiative to set free.

Dunmore returned to England and died in 1809.

Painting of Lord Dunmore
James Murray, Earl of Dunmore and last Royal Governor of Virginia.

Story: Revolution

Lord Dunmore's Proclamation

The Royal Ethiopian Regiment

Story: Suffering

Return to Bondage


Lord Dunmore's Proclamation

Virginia Declaration