Virginia and the American Revolution

Virginia presents an interesting paradox in the years leading up to the War for Independence. The colony produced some of the most effective revolutionary writers and orators, such as Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, but the general populace was not radical in the manner of Massachusetts.

Tension between opposing sides in Virginia was clearly evident in the response the assembly made to the Boston port closure in 1774. The burgesses declared a day of fasting and prayer, an action that offended the governor, Lord Dunmore. He reacted by dissolving the assembly, but the legislators defied his order by holding sessions in other locations. This illegal Virginia and the American RevolutionVirginia Convention later elected delegates to the First Continental Congress. After receiving word of the fighting at Lexington and Concord, Dunmore took the precaution of moving the colony’s stockpile of gunpowder to a British warship. Public outrage over the governor’s action forced him to seek protection aboard the same vessel. Dunmore continued to exercise his executive function from offshore, recruiting loyalist military forces and initiating action against patriot positions. A loyalist army was defeat at Great Bridge in December 1775 and Norfolk was bombarded the following January.

Virginia played a prominent role in the War, both by supplying leadership and as the arena of important military events.

  • George Washington — appointed commander of the Continental Army in June 1775
  • Thomas Jefferson — chief author of the Declaration of Independence, governor of Virginia and holder of one of the most extensive political resumés in American history
  • Daniel Morgan — a close ally of Washington who made major contributions at Saratoga, Cowpens, and Guilford Court House
  • "Light Horse" Harry Lee — provided distinguished service at Paulus Hook, New Jersey, and later in the Carolinas and Georgia
  • George Rogers Clark — led successful operations against the British and their Native American associates in the West
  • Portsmouth and Suffolk — British naval assaults on the Virginia coast
  • Richmond — British forces under Benedict Arnold attacked the new capital of Virginia
  • Yorktown — the final significant battle of the War, leading to the surrender of Lord Cornwallis' army

See chronologies of the American Revolution and the War of Independence.

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