June 4, 2024
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Peyton Randolph

By Kelley Blake

Things seem to be hurrying to an alarming crisis.”

Peyton Randolph, Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, May 31, 1774

On this very day, 250 years ago . . . 

The Virginia Burgesses were exhausted from a week of hectic deliberation, outright argument, and history-making action in Williamsburg.  They happened to be in session when word of the official British closing of the Port of Boston arrived. Routine legislative matters such as moving tobacco warehouses from Guilford Creek to Finney’s Point or ensuring the property rights of Northampton’s Nathaniel Savage were momentarily set aside as Burgesses looked straight into a political hurricane.  On June 1 British troops would commence a “hostile invasion . . . in our Sister Colony of Massachusetts Bay” and shut down harbor trade. The Burgesses knew the British action could not be ignored.  

Maryland Journal, June 4, 1774

On May 24, 1774, they unanimously resolved that Wednesday, June 1would be their own “Day of Prayer.”  They implored “divine interposition” to avoid civil war and to make them as one in opposing “every injury to American Rights.”  The Burgesses determined to gather that morning at 10:00 AM and together walk with Speaker Peyton Randolph from the capitol to Bruton Parish for prayers and a sermon “suitable to the occasion.”  

Instead, Virginia’s Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore,  demanded Randolph and the Burgesses present themselves in his council chambers.  Lord Dunmore waved their resolution before them and stunningly declared Virginia’s House of Burgesses DISSOLVED.  In one summary command, the governor set aside Virginia’s elected representatives to the Crown.  

Not surprisingly, the Virginia leaders would not be silenced, especially as they considered the effects of Parliament’s Boston Harbor Act on their own communities.  If such injustices were levied against powerful Boston and Virginia’s own august political body, what hope of liberty and justice might Virginians expect? 

 The pace of revolutionary action accelerated. On May 27, Burgesses met in Raleigh Tavern and called for the election of delegates for the First Virginia Convention.  They worked through the week networking news to and from the Committees of Correspondence in other colonies and calling for a continental congress to consider the “united interests of America.”  

NAPA JUNE

Lord Dunmore waited one year before recalling the Virginia House of Burgesses.  By then, the Battles of Lexington and Concord made plain the course of war.  On this day, 250 years ago, though, Virginia defiance catalyzed the revolutionary movement and, as a Philadelphia leader proclaimed, “all America looks up to Virginia to take the lead on the present occasion.”  Virginia would not disappoint.  

Join WESR on the 4th of each month to learn more about Virginia and the Shore’s role in the War for Independence.  Get ready for the Revolutionary Shore!  

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