Lord Dunmore

John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore had been the British Governor of New York from 1770 until 1771. In September of 1771 he served as governor of the Virginia colony until just before the Revolutionary War began in June of 1775.1


In April 1775, Dunmore had threatened to free Virginia's slaves in order to utilize them in the royal forces. There were scores of them that had already joined the Loyalist cause. Many in the colonies believed that Dunmore had formed some sort of secret alliance with the enslaved population and were enraged. Eventually Dunmore felt threatened by the growing resentment and civil unrest in the colonies and fled to safety in Williamsburg where he took refuge on the HMS Fowey on June 8, 1775.2

In November 1775, Lord Dunmore issued a proclamation which officially offered freedom to the colonists' slaves. Those that were able to cross British lines would be liberated in return for military service in the royal army. Most of the colonists were troubled by the announcement. In many communities the whites were outnumbered by the slaves and there was fear of an insurrection. Dunmore not only planned for civil unrest, but anticipated that many colonists would abandon the Continental Army and return home to protect their property.3

Portrait of Lord Dunmore.


Lord Dunmore's Proclamation in November 1775 prompted over 800 runaway slaves to join the British in the fight against the Americans. Dunmore formed the group into the Ethiopian Regiment. The regiment participated in conflicts at Kemp's Landing and the Battle of Great Bridge. 4

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1 Woody Holton, Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, & the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 133-136, 152.

2 Ibid.

3 Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, 1961), 19-22. Quarles, “Lord Dunmore as Liberator”, The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 15, No. 4. (Oct., 1958), 494-507.

4 Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution, 28.



Image Source: PBS: Africans in America http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part2/2h47.html


  Sam Houston State University | History Department