Editor's Note: This is the second in a series about Virginia's last royal governor, John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore, who tried to establish a base of operations in Hampton Roads in an attempt to retain power during the early months of the Revolutionary War.
Reenactors portraying British forces peer out from the palisades of "Fort Murray," Lord Dunmore's redoubt south of Norfolk, Virginia, during recent commemorations of the Battle of Great Bridge. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)
Dunmore’s force now consisted of the Otter (20 guns and 170 men), Mercury (20 guns and 170 men), William (14 guns), Eilbeck (unarmed), four schooners, three sloops, and three pilot boats (four guns each). However, the British were not so cavalier in their raid in Princess Anne County on November 15. Dunmore’s ships landed over 100 men, who marched several miles to Kemp’s Landing and scattered the Princess Anne militia like chaff in the wind, raised the British colors (a naval jack), and seized supplies. Dunmore appeared in person this time and gave a rousing speech, entreating civilians to return their allegiance to the crown. Then in traditional English fashion, he held a celebratory ball, sure that he had cowed locals into submission.
Clearly, Lord Dunmore had not given up on Virginia. Yet, he was worried that locals no longer feared him. Therefore, he “determined to run all risques [sic] for their support” and issued a proclamation he had written aboard the HMS William on November 7. In it, he acknowledged a state of rebellion, declared martial law, and stated, “And I do hereby farther declare all indented [indentured] Servants, Negroes, or others (appertaining to Rebels) free, that are able and willing to bear Arms, they joining his Majesty’s Troops.” Perhaps this was an olive branch from Dunmore to the rustics who chafed under the rule of Virginia’s gentry. However, most Virginians sensed an attack on their social hierarchy and therefore received Dunmore’s Proclamation with a mixture of anger and dread.
Reenactors (the 76th, 64th and 14th Regiments of Foote in this case) portraying British regulars under the command of Lord Dunmore confidently cross "Great Bridge" against Virginia and North Carolina militiamen. (Photograph by M.C. Farrington)