Virginia’s royal governor, Lord Dunmore, dismissed Virginia’s House of Burgesses on May 27, 1774. Why?
Thomas Jefferson had drafted a resolution calling for a day of fasting and prayer, being introduced by Robert Carter Nicholas and passing unanimously. It was to be observed the same day Britain’s navy planned to blockade Boston’s harbor as punishment for the Boston Tea Party. Lord Dunmore considered it a protest against the king.
After being dismissed, the delegates reconvened down the street at Raleigh Tavern. Then, on the night of May 30, 1774, they met at the home of Speaker of the House, Peyton Randolph, the older cousin of Thomas Jefferson. At Peyton Randolph’s home, the decision was made to invite delegates from all of Virginia’s counties to a convention.
Citizens of Fairfax County met in Alexandria’s court house on July 18, 1774, where they approved George Mason’s Fairfax Resolves identifying American rights and resolving to defend them. The delegate chosen to carry the Fairfax Resolves to the First Virginia Convention in Williamsburg, Aug. 1, 1774, was George Washington.
The Fairfax Resolves stated: “Resolved that the most important…part of the British Constitution … is the fundamental Principle of the People’s being governed by no Laws, to which they have not given their Consent … for if this Part of the Constitution was taken away … the Government must degenerate … into an absolute and despotic Monarchy … and the freedom of the people be annihilated. …”
The Fairfax Resolves continued: “The British … extort from us our money without our consent … diametrically contrary to the first principles of the Constitution … totally incompatible with the privileges of a free people and the natural rights of mankind … calculated to reduce us … to slavery and misery. … We will use every means which Heaven hath given us to prevent our becoming its slaves.”
The Virginia Convention sent their Resolves with delegates Peyton Randolph, Patrick Henry and George Washington to the First Continental Congress, which began meeting in Carpenters’ Hall, Philadelphia, Sept. 6, 1774.
Payton Randolph was chosen as the first president of the First Continental Congress, making him the first to have the title “Father of our Country.” The Fairfax Resolves were revised and approved as the Continental Association of Oct. 20, 1774.
Other colonies also wrote resolves, such as Massachusetts’ Suffolk Resolves, which were drafted Dr. Joseph Warren. The Suffolk Resolves were adopted at a convention meeting at Woodward Tavern in Dedham, Massachusetts, then delivered by Paul Revere to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where they were endorsed Sept. 17, 1774.
The next year, Peyton Randolph was president of the Second Continental Congress which met in Richmond, Virginia. This is where Patrick Henry gave his speech, March 23, 1775: “I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. … Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. … If we wish to be free … we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us! … We are not weak, if we make a proper use of the means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. …”
Patrick Henry continued: “Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. … There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! … The war is inevitable – and let it come! … Gentlemen may cry, ‘Peace! Peace!’ – but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”
Less than a month late were the Battles of Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775. Virginia’s Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore, confiscated the arms and gunpowder from Williamsburg’s magazine in what is called the Gunpowder Incident. A mob formed at the courthouse threatening violence, but Peyton Randolph calmed them down and persuaded them to avert violence.
In May of 1775, the British General Thomas Gage arrived in America with an execution list, which included Peyton Randolph’s name. In late August of 1775, Peyton Randolph left to meet with the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He died on Oct. 23, 1775.
When Peyton Randolph’s widow died, his estate was auctioned in 1783. Randolph’s cousin, Thomas Jefferson, bought his library. Jefferson later sold it to the federal government to help begin the Library of Congress.
On Dec. 13,1775, after the Battle of Great Bridge, Robert Carter Nicholas introduced a motion in the Virginia House of Burgesses to denounce Lord Dunmore for proclaiming martial law, calling him a monster, inimical and cruel, and a champion of “tyranny.”
Two days later, Robert Carter Nicholas made a motion to grant pardons to slaves who had been deluded into joining the British forces. On Jan. 1, 1776, the British burned the city of Norfolk, Virginia, prompting Lord Dunmore to flee to New York, and then to Britain. He was Britain’s last royal governor of Virginia.
The newly independent Commonwealth of Virginia elected Patrick Henry as its first governor. The second governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia was Thomas Jefferson, who signed a proclamation of prayer, Nov. 11, 1779: “Congress … hath thought proper … to recommend to the several States … a day of public and solemn Thanksgiving to Almighty God. … That He would … crown our arms with victory; That He would grant to His church, the plentiful effusions of Divine Grace, and pour out His Holy Spirit on all Ministers of the Gospel; That He would bless and prosper the means of education, and spread the light of Christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth. … I do therefore … issue this proclamation … appointing … a day of public and solemn thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God. … Given under by hand … this 11th day of November, in the year of our Lord, 1779. – Thomas Jefferson.”
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