Review of James Corbett David, 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 Roya

Review of James Corbett David, 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

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  238 ARMY HISTORICAL RESEARCH 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, JAMES CORBETT DAVID. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2013. ISBN 9780813934242, 280 pp., £19.70 Ever since the publication of Stephen Saunders Webb’s  book Governors-General: The English Army and the Definition of Empire , historians have been intrigued, though largely unpersuaded, by its provocative alternate thesis, which proposed that colonization was a military, as well as a commercial, endeavor. According to this view, since the majority of senior administrators appointed to represent the English crown in America held commissions in the British army, their military experiences enabled them to establish “garrison government” over the empire. While James Corbett David makes no attempt to  buttress Webb’s works, which focused largely on the latter seventeenth, and early eighteenth centuries, his biography of John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunmore, still presents a singular example of a governor who assumed a military role during the twilight of the colonial era in America. There is much in David’s book that ou ght to interest historians of the British army, including Dunmore’s service as an officer in Charles Edward Stuart ’s Jacobite forces, his subsequent commission into the Scots Guards, his campaign against Native peoples during the so- called “Dunmore’s War”  in the Ohio Valley, and most especially, his service during the American War of Independence, when he led loyal forces in Virginia and attempted to marshal the colony’s large African American population  —  some 200,000 people  —   by declaring that all slaves whose owners supported the insurrection might flee to British lines and win their freedom by taking up arms. Despite these activities, surprisingly few historians have delved into his career. With the noteworthy exception of some scholars of African American history, most historians have viewed Dunmore, as did Simon Schama, as a quintessential Scottish imperialist of the age, who mishandled and misjudged the formidable challenge posed by the revolution in Virginia. (4) Although David professes that “Whether   Dunmore was ultimately a force for good or ill is a question I have left open,”   and readily catalogs his “many flaws,” readers will likely determine that he generally dissents from Schama’s more critical portrayal. (3-4) The author presents his subject as a product of the Georgian era. At age fifteen, he served the Jacobite cause at the battle of Prestonpans, but family contacts obtained a commission for him in the Hanoverian army following the defeat at Culloden, and he later accompanied several amphibious raids on the French coast during the Seven Years’ War  . In the following decade, Dunmore served in the House of Lords, and even voted to repeal the Stamp Act, yet he owed his appointments as governor of New York and Virginia not only to his peerage, but to his marriage to Charlotte Stewart, whose family possessed excellent social and political associations. Upon his arrival in Virginia, he became entangled in a conflict over western lands, and he directed an unauthorized campaign against Native peoples who resided along the Ohio River in 1774. Recent work by Patrick Griffin casts much of the blame for the conflict, known as Lord Dunmore’s War  , on the governor, who purportedly orchestrated a clash between local settlers and neighboring Delaware, Mingo, and Shawnee peoples in order to profit from the sale of newly acquired western lands. For David, however, Dunmore’s involvement appears more ambiguous. (4, 203n6) Although the governor “played a minor role” in the outbreak of hostilities, the dispute actually emerged out of existing territorial rivalries, which some Virginia settlers successfully fanned into open conflict. In response, the governor summoned the militia, and traveled west in order to oversee operations in person. He even ordered Colonel Andrew Lewis, a veteran Virginia provincial officer of t he Seven Years’ War, to lead a column of 1,100 militia into the theater. At Point Pleasant, a considerable Native force led by Cornstalk surprised Lewis ’  troops, and a bitter fight ensued. Subsequently, the governor oversaw peace negotiations, yet he soon faced a far greater military emergency. Upon his return to Williamsburg, pressure exerted by anti-imperial factions directly threatened Dunmore’s authority within the colony. He responded by assuming command of local British forces, and launched a campaign to hold Virginia for the crown. The crisis mounted in April of 1775, when Dunmore  239 BOOK REVIEWS secretly ordered a detachment of marines and sailors to remove the gunpowder from the colony’s magazine and load it onto the  HMS Fowey , a twenty-four-gun warship moored nearby in the James River. A small band of followers then barricaded themselves inside of the Governor’s Palace , upon hearing of the approach of Patrick Henry and 150 “ Hanover County volunteers, ”  but they reluctantly evacuated the residence in June, once their position in the capital appeared untenable. By November, Dunmore found himself at the head of a modest contingent of regulars and loyal provincial volunteers near Norfolk. At Kemp’s Landing, his command drove off a larger rebel force, affording the British sufficient time to fortify the approaches to the port, and they accordingly erected a small palisade, known euphemistically as Fort Murray, near Great Bridge. By December, the arrival of 900 additional rebel troops, led by Colonel William Woodford, posed a daunting new challenge to the still tenuous British defenses. The governor responded aggressively, ordering a preemptive frontal assault, which David characterizes as audacious, but ultimately, premature. Troops of the 14 th  Foot, supported by sizeable numbers of Black and White volunteers, fought hard, but they eventually retreated after sustaining heavy losses. Following the reversal at the Battle of Great Bridge, the governor, his remaining troops, and their loyalist supporters fled to a “Floating Town , ” composed of approximately 180 ships of all types, which plied the waters just outside of Norfolk. The flotilla defiantly sculled about the Chesapeake Bay until July of 1776, when rebels launched a surprise cannonade on the fleet as it anchored near the Rappahannock River, damaging several vessels, and finally compelling the survivors to abandon the colony. (95)  Notwithstanding the significant military role he assumed in attempting to quell the uprising in Virginia, the governor remains best remembered for his proclamation asserting that slaves who fled rebellious owners could earn their freedom by fighting for the British. Yet, as David shows, the initial idea of emancipating and arming African Americans actually sprang from the concerted actions of slaves themselves, who convinced the Scottish aristocrat and army veteran that they would make effective soldiers, a proposition that he steadfastly defended in conversations with colleagues for the remainder of his life. From the beginning of the crisis, the governor received direct assistance from slaves, who risked their lives to warn him of an approaching file of pro-revolutionary volunteers near Porto Bello, Virginia. Dunmore also discovered that African Americans constituted a ready source of intelligence on the movements of rebel forces. An encounter with a single enslaved resident of Williamsburg made an especially profound impression, however, after the man offered to defend the Governor’s Palace upon hearing that Patrick Henry’s volunteers  planned to enter the town. Dunmore refused this initial entreaty,  but the fleeting encounter left a vivid impression. As royal fortunes in Virginia gradually ebbed during the summer of 1775, the governor informed some local magistrates of his initial plans to “arm all my own  Negroes, ”  in order to protect his residence, but his ideas expanded once he found himself compelled to withdraw from the capital. (106) A precedent for creating units of enslaved troops certainly existed in the British empire, especially in some West Indian colonies, yet David demonstrates that Dunmore’s Proclamation went considerably further than ever before,  by “explicitly and unconditionally” connecting “freedom to military service.” (107) Several hundred African Americans subsequently joined the British forces in Virginia, and the governor promptly formed “Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment,” which supplied two companies who fought with some distinction at Great Bridge. (110-112) Although his book focuses on the life of a notable historical figure, David describes his work as microhistory, for it attempts to encompass important historical themes of an era while avoiding the “subject - centric” narrative  approach frequently embraced by biographers. (185) As such, he aims to place Dunmore at “the epicenter of a web of interrelations , ” which includes encounters with the colonial militia,  Native adversaries, army officers, naval personnel, and slaves recruited to fight for the empire. (186) In the process, David provides scholars of the British army with a view of the intersections between military and civil administration in America. Although commerce continued to define the British colonial system into the early 1770s, military and strategic matters remained key secondary concerns for policy makers.  Nevertheless, the disruption of lucrative imperial trade networks, which accompanied the onset of revolution in America, along with the outbreak of actual hostilities, compelled royal governors to reevaluate traditional priorities, for the conflict that ensued posed unprecedented challenges to their administration. As David’s splendid s tudy makes clear, Dunmore ’s experiences as an army officer  240 ARMY HISTORICAL RESEARCH  proved invaluable as Virginia descended into rebellion, but his creative, and no less revolutionary responses to the end of colonial rule, which included his attempt to subvert the uprising by raising an “Ethiopian” regiment of f  reed slaves, highlights a key military innovation instituted by a British governor and army veteran during the American War of Independence.    —  Thomas Agostini South Dakota State University
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