The bold proceedings at the Virginia Convention caused the name of Henry to be presented to the British government in a bill of attainder, with those of Randolph, Jefferson, the two Adams's and Hancock. They excited the official wrath of Governor Dunmore, who stormed in proclamations; and to frighten the Virginians, he caused a rumor to be circulated that he intended to excite an insurrection of the slaves. He extinguished the last spark of respect for himself, when, late in April, he caused marines to come secretly at night from a vessel-of-war in the York River, and carry to her the powder in the magazine at Williamsburg. The movement was discovered. At dawn, the Minute-men assembled, and were, with difficulty, restrained from seizing the governor. The people also assembled, and sent a respectful remonstrance to Dunmore, complaining of the act as specially wrong at that time, when a servile insurrection was apprehended. He replied evasively. The people demanded the immediate return of the powder. Patrick Henry was at his house in Hanover, when he heard of the act. He assembled a corps of volunteers and marched toward the capital, when the frightened governor sent a deputation with the receiver-general to meet him. Sixteen miles from Williamsburg, they had a conference with the patriot. The matter was compromised by the payment by the receiver-general of the full value of the powder. Henry sent the money to the public treasury, and returned home.
In the midst of this excitement, the governor called the House of Burgesses together, to consider a conciliatory proposition from Lord North. They rejected it; and the governor now fulminated proclamations against Henry and the committees of Vigilance which were formed in every county in Virginia. He declared that if one of his officers should be molested, he would raise the royal standard, proclaim freedom to the salves, and arm them against their masters. He surrounded his house--his "place" as he called it--with cannon, and secretly placed powder under the floor of the magazine, with the evident intention of blowing it up, should occasion seem to call for the deed. The discovery of this "gunpowder plot" greatly excited the people. Then came a rumor, on the 7th of June (1775), that armed marines were on their way from the York River to assist Dunmore to enforce the laws. The people flew to arms. The governor, alarmed for his personal safety, withdrew, with his family, that night to Yorktown, and the next morning took refuge on board the British man-of-war Fowey. He was the first royal governor who abdicated government at the beginning of the Revolution.
From the Fowey, Dunmore sent messages, addresses, and letters to the Burgesses in session at Williamsburg, and received communications from them in return. When all necessary bills had been passed, the House invited Dunmore to his capital, to sign them, promising him a safeguard. He declined, and demanded that they should present the papers at his present residence, the ship-of-war. They did not go; but delegating their powers to a permanent committee, they adjourned. So ended royal rule in Virginia. Other royal governors were also compelled to abdicate; and before the close of the summer of 1775, British dominion in the English-American provinces had ceased forever, and the people were preparing for war.
News of the events of the 19th of April reached the city of New York on Sunday, the 23d. Regarding patriotism as a holy thing, the Sons of Liberty there did not refrain from doing its work on the Sabbath. They immediately proceeded to lay an embargo on vessels bound to Boston with supplies for the British troops there. In defiance of the king's collector at that port, they landed the cargo of a vessel which he had refused to admit, demanded and received the keys of the Custom-house, dismissed those employed in it, and closed it. This was done by Sears and Lamb, the chief leaders of the Sons of Liberty: and they boldly avowed this overt act of treason in letters to their political friends in other cities. It was soon imitated elsewhere.
It was at about that time, when society in the colonies was in a ferment, that Dr. Franklin arrived from England, when a poet of the day gave him a welcome in the following words:
Welcome! once more To these fair western plains--thy native shore; Here live belov'd and leave the tools at home To run their length and finish out their doom; Here lend them aid to quench their brutal fires, Or fan the flame which Liberty inspires; Or fix the grand Conductor, that shall guide The tempest back, and 'lectrify their pride. Rewarding Heaven will bless thy cares at last, And future glories glorify the past. Why staid apostate Wedderburn behind, The scum the scorn, the scoundrel of mankind? Whose heart at large to ev'ry vice is known, And every devil claims him for his own; Why came he not to take the large amount Of all we owe him, due on thine account?
Return to Our Country, Vol II