John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore

John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore (ca. 1730–1809)

John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, was Virginia's last royal governor. Dunmore, a member of the House of Lords, reluctantly assumed the office in 1771, not wanting to relinquish his position as governor of New York. He won support by asserting Virginia's land claims west of the Allegheny Mountains, but his impulsive nature alienated key politicians, and the lack of instructions from London hindered his ability to govern. Dunmore received a last measure of popularity in October 1774 when he led volunteers in a defeat of Indians at Point Pleasant on the state's western frontier, later known as Dunmore's War. Tensions between the colony and Great Britain increased rapidly, causing him to remove gunpowder from the public magazine in Williamsburg in April 1775. This action caused his authority to unravel, and he fled to Hampton Roads in June. On November 7 Dunmore declared martial law and offered to free any runaway slaves who supported royal authority. His troops lost the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9 and his fleet shelled Norfolk early in 1776. He left for Great Britain later in the year, where he supported the interests of Loyalist Virginians. In 1787 Dunmore became governor of the Bahamas, during which time he fell from royal favor. He died at his home in England in 1809. MORE...

 

Early Years

Murray was born around 1730 probably at Taymount, the estate of his parents, William Murray and Catherine Nairne Murray, in Perthshire, Scotland. He served as a page to Charles Edward Stuart (often called Bonnie Prince Charlie) during the Jacobite rising of 1745–1746, in which his father also took part, but by 1750 he had nevertheless received a commission as an officer in the 3rd Foot Guards, of which his loyal uncle, the second earl of Dunmore, served as colonel. As a captain, Murray took part in raids on the coast of France during the Seven Years' War (1754–1763). He left active military service in 1758 and resigned his commission about two years later. His father succeeded to the earldom in 1752 and died in December 1756, at which time Murray became the fourth earl of Dunmore. On February 21, 1759, he married Lady Charlotte Stewart, daughter of the sixth earl of Galloway. They had five sons and at least five daughters.

Originally connected in politics with William Petty-Fitzmaurice, second earl of Shelburne and later first marquess of Lansdowne, Dunmore sat in the House of Lords as a Scottish representative peer from 1761 to 1774 and again from 1776 to 1790. During the 1760s, his voting record on American affairs was a moderate one. By the end of the decade, family connections had brought Dunmore into the political orbit of Granville Leveson-Gower, second earl Gower, a leader of the group known as the Bedford Whigs, who took a hard line toward colonial protestors. By then, Dunmore had serious financial problems. He may have made some unwise investments, and he purchased an estate in Stirlingshire and erected a singular summerhouse there, called Pineapple, that featured an outsized representation in stone of a pineapple set on a Palladian pavilion. Dunmore sought a royal appointment with a salary to alleviate his difficulties. Gower was probably responsible for his being appointed governor of New York early in 1770.

Dunmore sailed for New York and took office in October of that year. He quickly became involved in an unseemly salary dispute with the lieutenant governor, who had governed before his arrival. Dunmore liked New York and set about securing a large grant of land in the colony, but Gower arranged for him to be promoted to governor of Virginia on January 19, 1771. Dunmore was not pleased and unsuccessfully sought permission to remain in New York because, he argued, Virginia's warmer and less-healthy climate would preclude his family from joining him. He finally moved to Virginia and took office on September 25, 1771. His wife and children, who had remained in Great Britain, arrived in Williamsburg in February 1774. Word of Dunmore's reluctance to serve in Virginia reached Williamsburg before he did and led some influential Virginians to form an unfavorable impression of him and to contrast him harshly with his courtly predecessor as governor, Norborne Berkeley, baron de Botetourt.

Governor of Virginia

Dunmore made an effort to identify himself with the colony. He purchased a plantation in York County and slaves to work it and at the governor's palace. Dunmore named a daughter, born in December 1774, Virginia, and he enrolled three of his sons in the College of William and Mary. He also vigorously pressed the colony's claim to the area around Pittsburgh, which because of uncertainty about the location of the boundary both Virginia and Pennsylvania claimed. Dunmore also joined influential Virginians in the rush for western land. Interpreting his royal instructions very broadly, he made grants to Virginia veterans of the Seven Years' War that lay west of the Proclamation Line of 1763. In March and April 1772 the General Assembly named a new county in the Shenandoah Valley for him and a new county in the southwest for his eldest son, the viscount Fincastle.

Dunmore's good intentions did not always bear good fruit. He had an impulsive nature and sometimes overreached, characteristics that may have contributed to his financial difficulties in the 1760s. In Virginia, Dunmore competed with and alienated some influential land speculators, and he annoyed the king's ministers with his acquisitiveness. Rumors of philandering before his wife reached Williamsburg also dampened his political influence, and, after the break with Great Britain became unavoidable, some colonists employed those rumors to discredit his administration and the royal government that had appointed him. That Dunmore had to govern with no explicit instructions from London for several months at a time as the crisis of the American Revolution (1775–1783) approached made his task almost impossible, but he also made matters more difficult for himself.

Dunmore dutifully dissolved the General Assembly in May 1774 after it protested Parliament's Coercive, or Intolerable, Acts, but he was unable to prevent the first of the five Revolutionary Conventions from assembling in August and electing delegates to the First Continental Congress. In the summer of 1774 Dunmore's attention was fixed on the West. He sent an agent, John Connolly, to occupy Fort Pitt, which he renamed Fort Dunmore. Because the colony's militia law had not been renewed before the assembly was dissolved, Dunmore had to ask for volunteers to march to the frontier to protect settlers there from Indian raids. In the resultant conflict, known later as Dunmore's War, Virginians defeated Indians at Point Pleasant in October before the force that Dunmore commanded reached the area. He then negotiated a treaty with Cornstalk, leader of the Shawnee, to protect the western settlers.

When Dunmore returned to Williamsburg in December 1774 he received a shower of congratulations, but his popularity was short-lived. The crisis between the colonies and Great Britain grew more serious, and in March 1775 he was unable to prevent the second of the Revolutionary Conventions from electing delegates to the Second Continental Congress and from voting to put the colony in a posture of defense. Citing rumors of an impending slave rebellion, Dunmore removed gunpowder from the public magazine in Williamsburg in April, an action that triggered a rapid deterioration in his relations with Virginia's other political leaders. He sent his family back to Britain, fled Williamsburg early in June, and tried to gather Loyalist supporters in Hampton Roads. His pleas for reinforcements brought only a small force of British regulars. Dunmore sent Connolly back to Fort Dunmore to recruit western Loyalists and Indians, but Connolly was captured en route, which exposed Dunmore's plans and further discredited him.

On November 7, 1775, Dunmore proclaimed martial law and offered freedom to slaves who escaped from supporters of the resistance and agreed to fight for the king. He recruited the Queen's Own Loyal Virginia Regiment, composed of white Loyalists, and Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment, which had white Loyalist officers. Dunmore did not free his own slaves. His offer of freedom to slaves to fight against white Virginians and his recruitment of a regiment of black soldiers alienated most of the remaining influential planters and political leaders who until then had stayed loyal to the Crown.

Dunmore ordered a strike against a Virginia regiment at Great Bridge, near Norfolk, on December 9, 1775, but his force was decisively defeated. On January 1, 1776, his warships fired on Norfolk. Dunmore ordered his men to set fire to the warehouses on the wharves. Virginia and North Carolina soldiers who had occupied the town burned most of the other buildings, for which Dunmore was blamed. He abandoned his base near Norfolk and in May moved to Gwynn's Island in what later became Mathews County, where smallpox and other diseases ravaged his forces and took a particularly heavy toll on the Ethiopian Regiment. By August 1776 Dunmore had realized that he would not receive reinforcements. He sailed for New York, where he briefly served as a volunteer during military action on Long Island. He returned to Great Britain later in the year but remained Virginia's royal governor and drew his salary until the end of the war. After Dunmore's departure, the General Assembly in 1776 divided Fincastle County into three counties and eliminated its name and in October 1777 renamed Dunmore County as Shanando (later Shenandoah) County.

Later Years

At the end of 1776 Dunmore resumed his seat in the House of Lords. He staunchly supported the war and, in one of his rare speeches, in 1777 defended using Indians to fight against the Americans. When British forces returned to Virginia in 1781, Dunmore and a contingent of Loyalist refugees from Virginia tried to go back as well in hopes of restoring the royal government, but the British surrender at Yorktown in October diverted his expedition to Charleston, South Carolina. There, he developed schemes for continuing the war with Loyalist volunteers and advocated raising more black troops. After Dunmore returned again to Great Britain, he pressed for the further prosecution of the war, and he voted against the peace preliminaries in 1783.

After the war, Dunmore devoted himself to the interests of Loyalist Virginians. With former attorney general John Randolph, he pressed Virginians' claims before the American Loyalist Claims Commission, which oversaw the reimbursement of Loyalists for their property losses. Dunmore himself filed a claim for £35,723, £15,000 of which he had already received from the government in 1776 for personal losses.

In 1787 Dunmore became governor of the Bahamas. His controversial tenure lasted until 1796, by which time Gower, his chief patron and by then marquess of Stafford, had resigned from the ministry, and one of Dunmore's daughters had attracted royal disfavor through an illegal morganatic marriage to one of George III's younger sons. Dunmore died on February 25, 1809, at his retirement home in Ramsgate, Kent, England, and was buried at the Church of Saint Laurence, Thanet, there. Later in the nineteenth century his body, along with the remains of his wife and one of their daughters, were deposited in a mausoleum at the church.

Time Line

  • 1730 - John Murray is born probably at Taymount, the estate of his parents, William Murray and Catherine Nairne Murray, in Perthshire, Scotland.
  • 1745–1746 - John Murray serves as a page to Charles Edward Stuart (often called Bonnie Prince Charlie) during the Jacobite rising.
  • By 1750 - John Murray receives a commission as an officer in the 3rd Foot Guards, of which his loyal uncle, the second earl of Dunmore, served as a colonel.
  • 1752 - William Murray, father of John Murray, becomes the third earl of Dunmore.
  • 1754–1763 - John Murray serves as a captain in raids on the coast of France during the Seven Years' War.
  • 1758 - John Murray leaves active military service.
  • 1758 - William Murray, third earl of Dunmore, dies, at which time his son John Murray becomes the fourth earl of Dunmore.
  • February 21, 1759 - John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, marries Lady Charlotte Stewart, daughter of the six earl of Galloway. They will have five sons and at least five daughters.
  • 1760 - John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, resigns his commission in the military.
  • 1760s - John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, has a moderate voting record on American affairs while sitting in the House of Lords as a Scottish representative peer in the House of Lords.
  • Late 1760s - Family connections have brought John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, into the political orbit of Granville Leveson-Gower, second earl of Gower, a leader of the group known as the Bedford Whigs, who take a hard line toward colonial protestors.
  • Late 1760s - John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, seeks a royal appointment with a salary to alleviate his financial difficulties, which may have resulted from unwise investments.
  • 1761–1774 - John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, sits in the House of Lords as a Scottish representative peer.
  • Early 1770 - John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, is appointed governor of New York.
  • October 1770 - Governor John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, takes office of governor of New York.
  • January 19, 1771 - After three months as governor of New York, John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, reluctantly becomes governor of Virginia. He will unsuccessfully seek permission to remain in New York.
  • September 25, 1771 - John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, reluctantly moves to Virginia and takes office as governor.
  • Summer 1774 - Governor John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, sends an agent, John Connolly, to occupy Fort Pitt, which he names Fort Dunmore.
  • February 1774 - The family of John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, arrive in Williamsburg where Murray is serving as governor of Virginia.
  • May 1774 - Governor John Murray, earl of Dunmore, dissolves the General Assembly. The House of Burgesses continues to meet on its own.
  • October 1774 - Virginians defeat Indians at Point Pleasant in a conflict later known as Dunmore’s War.
  • December 1774 - After negotiating a treaty with Cornstalk, leader of the Shawnee Indians, following a conflict later known as Dunmore’s War, Governor John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, returns to Williamsburg and receives a shower of congratulations.
  • December 1774 - Governor John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, names a daughter Virginia in an effort to identify himself with the colony.
  • March 1775 - As the crisis between the colonies and Great Britain grows more serious, Governor John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, is unable to prevent the second of the Revolutionary Conventions from electing delegates to the Second Continental Congress and from voting to put the colony in a posture of defense.
  • April 21, 1775 - Governor John Murray, earl of Dunmore, dispatches a company of marines to seize the colony's munitions from the public magazine in Williamsburg.
  • Early June 1775 - Governor John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, flees Williamsburg and tries to gather Loyalist supporters in Hampton Roads, which will only bring a small force of British regulars.
  • November 7, 1775 - Governor John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, issues a proclamation that declares martial law and promises freedom to all slaves and indentured servants willing to fight for the British.
  • December 9, 1775 - Governor John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, orders a strike against a Virginia regiment at Great Bridge, near Norfolk. The strike will be unsuccessful.
  • Late 1776 - John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, returns to Great Britain but remains Virginia’s royal governor and drew his salary until the end of the war.
  • Late 1776 - Following Governor John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore’s departure from Virginia, the General Assembly in 1776 divides Fincastle County into three counties and eliminates its name.
  • Late 1776 - John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore resumes his seat in the House of Lords where he staunchly supports the war.
  • 1776–1790 - John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, sits in the House of Lords as a Scottish representative peer.
  • January 1, 1776 - British forces fire on Norfolk. Governor John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, orders his men to set fire to the warehouses on the wharves.
  • May 1776 - Governor John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, moves British forces from Norfolk to Gwynn’s Island in what later will become Mathews County, where smallpox and other diseases ravage his forces and take a particularly heavy toll on the Ethiopian Regiment.
  • By August 1776 - Governor John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, realizes he will not receive reinforcements and sails for New York, where he will briefly serve as a volunteer during military action on Long Island.
  • 1777 - In a rare speech in the House of Lords, John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, defends using Indians to fight against the Americans.
  • October 1777 - The General Assembly renames Dunmore County as Shanado (later Shenandoah) County.
  • 1781 - British forces return to Virginia. John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, and a contingent of Loyalist refugees from Virginia try to go back as well in hopes of restoring the royal government.
  • October 1781 - The British surrender at Yorktown diverts John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore's expedition of loyalists to Charleston, South Carolina, where he unsuccessfully develops schemes for continuing the war with Loyalist volunteers and advocates raising more black troops.
  • 1783 - In the House of Lords, John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, presses for further prosecution of the war and votes against peace preliminaries.
  • After 1783 - With John Randolph, John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, presses Virginians' claims before the American Loyalist Claims Commission, which oversees the reimbursement of Loyalists for their property losses. Murray himself files a claim for £35,723, £15,000 of which he already received from the government in 1776 for personal losses.
  • 1787–1796 - John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, serves as governor of the Bahamas.
  • February 25, 1809 - John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, dies at his retirement home in Ramsgate, Kent, England, and is buried at the Church of Saint Laurence, Thanet, England.

References

Further Reading
David, James Corbett. Dunmore's New World: The Extraordinary Life of a Royal Governor in Revolutionary America, with Jacobites, Counterfeiters, Land Schemes, Shipwrecks, Scalping, Indian Politics, Runaway Slaves, and Two Illegal Royal Weddings. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013.
Gilbert, Alan. Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.
Holton, Woody. Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
Holton, Woody. "'Rebel against Rebel': Enslaved Virginians and the Coming of the American Revolution." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 105, no. 2 (1997): 157–192.
Lowe, William C. "The Parliamentary Career of Lord Dunmore, 1761–1774." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 96 (1988): 3–30.
Moomaw, W. Hugh. "The British Leave Colonial Virginia." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 66 (1958): 147–160.
Selby, John E. Dunmore. Williamsburg: Virginia Independence Bicentennial Commission, 1977.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Lowe, W. C., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore (ca. 1730–1809). (2016, November 21). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Dunmore_John_Murray_fourth_earl_of_c_1730-1809.

  • MLA Citation:

    Lowe, William C. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore (ca. 1730–1809)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 21 Nov. 2016. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: August 22, 2014 | Last modified: November 21, 2016


Contributed by William C. Lowe and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography