Declaring Independence John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore

John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore.
Miniature Portrait. Artist Unknown.
1809-1830. Watercolor on ivory.

John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore


Born at Taymouth, Scotland, in 1730, John Murray was the eldest son of William and Catherine Murray and nephew of John Murray, second Earl of Dunmore. In 1745 William Murray and his young son joined the ill-fated campaign of Charles Edward Stuart, "Bonnie Prince Charlie". The second Earl was loyal to the Hanoverian government. After Charles was defeated at Culloden, the Murray family was put under house arrest, and William was imprisoned in the Tower. By 1750, William had received a conditional pardon. His son John, now twenty years old, joined the British Army. In 1756, after the deaths of his uncle and father, John became the fourth Earl of Dunmore.

Having left the Army, the young Earl became active in politics and was rewarded with the governorship of New York. Soon, however, in 1770, Virginia's governor died, and Dunmore was named to replace him. In his new post, he promoted the opening of western lands and led a successful military expedition against the Shawnee Indians.

Back in Scotland, Lord Dunmore and his wife Charlotte Stewart had had seven children. In 1774 Charlotte and six of the children made the crossing to America to join their husband and father in Williamsburg. Within the year, another child, Virginia, was born. The Governor's Palace was the family's official residence, but Dunmore had earlier purchased a private plantation, Porto Bello, not far outside Williamsburg.

The Gunpowder Incident of April 1775 marked a dramatic change in Lord Dunmore's political fortunes. His unpopularity forced him to abandon the Palace and seek safety with his family on a British ship. The family soon returned to Scotland, while Lord Dunmore gathered naval and loyalist forces to fight the rebellious colonists.

On November 7, 1775, he issued a proclamation that shocked Virginians, offering freedom to slaves and indentured servants who would leave their masters to fight with the British. But soon the governor without a domain returned to England and to his seat in the House of Lords. Among the items he took with him was a pair of pistols, now owned by Colonial Williamsburg.

Lord Dunmore continued to be active in politics, serving as Governor of the Bahama Islands from 1786 until 1795. He died February 25, 1809, and was buried at the Church of St. Lawrence in Ramsgate, Kent.

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