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History of the St Andrew's Society of the State of New York
Biographies: The Earl of Dunmore


Ninth President
1770-1771.

John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore, was the eldest son of William Murray, the third Earl, and Catherine Nairn, third daughter of his uncle, Lord William Murray, who became Lord Nairn by marrying the heiress of that family. The family of Murray is a branch of the ancient house of Atholl and boasted many and wide relationships with the greater noble families of Scotland, while Lord Dunmore, the Saint Andrew’s Society President, also claimed descent in the female line from the House of Stewart. He was born at Taymouth, Perthshire, in 1732, and died at Ramsgate, England, in May, 1809.

He was educated at Eton, 1742-1744, and was Page of Honour to Prince Charles Edward Stuart at Holvrood Palace in 1745. He accompanied his father, the third Earl, who was out in the Jacobite rising of 1745. His father was taken prisoner at the Battle of Culloden, tried for high treason and imprisoned for life, dying in prison in 1756. John, the fourth Earl, was appointed an ensign in the Scots Guards in 1750.

He succeeded to the Peerage in 1756 and sat in the House of Lords as one of the representative peers in the 12th and the first two sessions of the 13th Parliaments, from 1761-1774. In 1770 he was appointed Governor of the Province of New York, where he arrived in October, and it was during this year that he was elected and served as President of Saint Andrew’s Society. In July, 1771, he was appointed Governor of the Colony of Virginia. For some months after this latter appointment Lord Dunmore delayed in New York, and this aroused the suspicion and dislike of the best Virginian families.

On his arrival at Williamsburg in the Spring of 1772 he incurred the hostility of the colonists by dissolving the Virginia Assembly, and when it once more convoked in March, 1773, he again dissolved the body in May, 1773, because of its adoption of the resolution on the twelfth day of March, to appoint a committee of correspondence to unite with the other colonies for action against English aggression. In May, 1774, Lord Dunmore once more dissolved the Assembly because it resolved to keep the first day of June, the day the Port of Boston was closed, as a “day of fasting, humiliation and prayer,” and during the Autumn he further aggravated the colonists by making an injudicious peace with the Ohio Indians.

On the night of the 20th April, 1775, Lord Dunmore removed the powder from the Williamsburg Magazine to on board the Magdalen man-of-war, then anchored in the James River. The people forthwith rose in arms under the leadership of Patrick Henry, and peace was only restored by paying for the value of the powder. A colonial convention was then appointed to meet in May, 1775, but Lord Dunmore forbade its gathering by proclamation. On the 1st June, 1775, he convened the Assembly to consider the conciliatory propositions made by Lord North, the then Prime Minister, but while these were being discussed, a riot took place on the 5th June. Alarmed at this second uprising, however, Lord Dunmore called together the council, but to no effect. He then sent Lady Dunmore on board the Fowey man-of-war for safety, and issued a proclamation against “a certain Patrick Henry” and his “deluded followers.” He himself soon joined his wife on the Fcnvey which was then lying off Yorktown, about twelve miles away, while the Assembly continued to sit, and forwarded to him the bills passed—which he in turn refused to sign without the attendance upon him of the burgesses aboard ship. Thereafter, the burgesses decided that their privileges had been attacked and that the Governor had abdicated. They then constituted themselves a convention and vested all executive power in a Committee of Safety.

When the news of the Battle of Lexington arrived, he sent his wife to New York and he himself sought refuge in Fort Johnson. The British Army soon arrived in New York, and forthwith a number of Royalists joined Lord Dunmore and aided him in warring against the inhabitants on the James and York Rivers, destroying their plantations and carrying off their goods and slaves. He attacked Hampton on the 25th October, but was repulsed with some loss. On the 7th November he proclaimed freedom to all negroes who should rally to his standard.

On the 9th December, 1776, his small armv was decisively defeated at Great Bridge (a small hamlet about twenty miles from Norfolk) and on January 1st, 1776, Lord Dunmore burned the City of Norfolk, the most flourishing town of Virginia. Soon after this exploit he was forced to flee on board of his fleet, and after being driven from one position to another finally anchored at the mouth of the Potomac.

During June, 1777, he made his headquarters on Gwynn Island, in the Chesapeake, but was routed from this shelter on the 8th July by the Virginians, under the leadership of Andrew Lewis, after being wounded in the leg. Washington wrote concerning him in December, 1775: “I do not think that forcing his Lordship on shipboard is sufficient. Nothing less than depriving him of life and liberty will secure peace to Virginia, as motives of resentment actuate his conduct to a degree equal to the total destruction of that colony.”

Lord Dunmore remained along the coast of Virginia during a part of 1776, undergoing great hardship and many minor defeats until he finally burned his smaller vessels and sailed with the remainder of his fleet to the West Indies.

He shortly afterward returned to England, as he had been elected in January, 1776, to a vacant seat in the House of Lords, to which he was again returned at the general elections of October, 1780, and May, 1784. His name appears in the Confiscation Act of New York in 1779. He was appointed and acted as Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Bahama Islands from 1787 to 1796, and after the expiration of his term once more returned to England, where he died.

He married 011 the 21st February, 1759, Lady Charlotte Stewart, daughter of Alexander, Sixth Earl of Gallawav, and Catherine, youngest daughter of John, Fourth Earl of Dundonald, by whom he had issue: (1) George, Viscount Fincastle; (2) Alexander, born 12th October, 1764; (3) John, born 1765; (4) Leveson Grenville Keith, born 16th December, 1770; (5) Catherine; (6) Augusta de Ameland, who married at Rome, 4th April, 1793, Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, 6th son of George III, and was remarried to His Royal Highness on 5th December, 1793 at St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, London; (7) Susan; (8) Virginia.

The portrait of Lord Dunmore is reproduced from an oil painting now in the possession of the present Peer, who' most courteously forwarded a photograph of the picture to the Society.


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