Virginia Governors, Fairfax Resolves, & Patrick Henry's famous speech

Bill Federer

Sir Walter Raleigh named Virginia after the virgin Queen Elizabeth.

He attempted the Roanoke Colony in 1584, but it failed by 1590, resulting in him personally losing 30,000 pounds sterling.

In 1607, Jamestown, Virginia, was settled, becoming the oldest English colony in America.

Virginia was first a "company" colony run by proprietary governors, such as:

  • Captain John Smith,

  • Lord De La Warr, and

  • Sir George Yeardley, who presided over the first representative legislative assembly in the New World, convening in the church choir.

Due to bitter cold winters, famine, disease, and Indian attacks, the colony saw over 500 die.

Financially bankrupt, Virginia became a "royal crown" colony in 1624, ruled by governors appointed by the King.

In 1649, when King Charles I was beheaded during the English Civil War, Virginia was run by "commonwealth protectorate" governors.

In 1660, England's monarchy was restored and King Charles II took the throne.

Virginia was again run by royal crown governors for over a century.

Virginia's last royal crown governor was Lord Dunmore.

On May 27, 1774, Governor Dunmore dismissed the Virginia's House of Burgesses which met in Williamsburg, Virginia.


Thomas Jefferson had drafted a resolution calling for a Day of Fasting and Prayer, being introduced in the Virginia House of Burgesses 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 the Speaker of the House of Burgesses, 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 the First Virginia 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 was George Washington.

At the First Virginia Convention, August 1-6, 1774, Peyton Randolph was elected the President.

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 First 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, September 6, 1774.

Payton Randolph was chosen as the first President of the First Continental Congress, September 5, 1774 to October 26, 1774, making him the first to have the title "Father of our Country."

The Fairfax Resolves were revised and approved as the Continental Association of October 20th, 1774.

Other colonies also wrote resolves, such as Massachusetts' Suffolk Resolves, which were drafted Dr. Joseph Warren.

British General Thomas Gage was made Military Governor of Massachusetts on May 13, 1774.

Gage considered "town meetings" as a threat to the King's government, so he attempted to disband them in order to silence their "resolutions,"

Back in England, British Statesman Edmund Burke criticized Gage's assignment in an address to Parliament:

"An Englishman is the unfittest person on Earth to argue another Englishman into slavery."

On September 1, 1774, Gage removed the gunpowder from the colony's powder magazine at Charlestown, in what is called The Powder Alarm.

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, September 17, 1774.

Peyton Randolph, was also serving as President of the Second Virginia Convention in Richmond, Virginia, where Patrick Henry gave his famous 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.

The day after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Virginia's Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore, confiscated the gunpowder from Williamsburg's magazine on April 20, 1775, in what is called The Gunpowder Incident.

When his actions were discovered, a threatening mob gathered at the Williamsburg Courthouse.

Peyton Randolph calmed them down and violence was temporarily averted.

Tensions continued to rise, and on May 3, 1775, Patrick Henry led 150 men of the Hanover County militia force to Williamsburg to force the Governor to pay for the gunpowder he had confiscated.

Fearing for his life, Lord Dunmore fled to a British ship at anchor on the York River, which marked the end of Britain's control of Virginia.

The next year, on May 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress was convened. Peyton Randolph was elected President.

In June of 1775, in his other role as Speaker of Virginia's House of Burgesses, Randolph rejected British Prime Minister Lord North's final Conciliatory Resolution.

British General Thomas Gage then received orders to take action.

He had a list of people to arrest and execute. On that list was the name Peyton Randolph.

In late August of 1775, Peyton Randolph left for the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, which met from September 5, 1775 to October 26, 1775.

He was again elected President, but died on October 22, before the Congress ended, being eventually replaced by John Hancock.

Peyton Randolph was buried at the chapel of the College of William and Mary.

One of the first American naval frigates was named in his honor, the USS Randolph, and during World War II, an Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Randolph (CV-15).

Also named for him was Fort Randolph, where the Ohio River and Kanawha River meet, as well as Randolph County, North Carolina; Randolph, Massachusetts; and Randolph County, Indiana.

His home in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, was made a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

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 December 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 January 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.

Virginia's State Seal has a female figure personifying "Virtus" -- the Roman Republic's attribute of virtue, with her foot crushing the neck of a tyrant.

The Seal's Latin motto Sic semper tyrannis, means "Thus always to tyrants."

Patrick Henry, elected five times as Governor of Virginia, stated June 5, 1788:

"Examples are to be found in ancient Greece and ancient Rome ... of the people losing their liberty by their carelessness and the ambition of a few ...

We are told that we need not fear; because those in power, being our Representatives, will not abuse the power we put in their hands:

I am not well versed in history, but I will submit to your recollection, whether liberty has been destroyed ... by the tyranny of rulers? ...

Henry continued:

"Nations ... negligently suffering their liberty to be wrested from them, have groaned under intolerable despotism. Most of the human race are now in this deplorable condition ...

My great objection to this Government is, that it does not leave us the means of defending our rights, or of waging war against tyrants ...

Did you ever read of ... the punishment of those in power, inflicted by those who had no power at all? ...

When the American spirit was in its youth ... liberty, Sir, was then the primary object ...

But now, Sir, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of consolidation, is about to convert this country to a powerful and mighty empire ...

There will be no checks, no real balances, in this government ... "

Henry concluded:

"My great objection to the Constitution (is) ... that the preservation of our liberty depends on the single chance of men being virtuous enough to make laws to punish themselves."

Patrick Henry is credited with the warning:

"It is when a people forget God that tyrants forge their chains."

After Patrick Henry, the second Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia was Thomas Jefferson, who signed a Proclamation of Prayer, November 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."