Author: William C. Lowe


John Murray fourth earl of Dunmore (ca. 1730–1809)

John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, was Virginia’s last royal governor. Dunmore, a member of the House of Lords, reluctantly assumed the office in 1771, not wanting to relinquish his position as governor of New York. He won support by asserting Virginia’s land claims west of the Allegheny Mountains, but his impulsive nature alienated key politicians, and the lack of instructions from London hindered his ability to govern. Dunmore received a last measure of popularity in October 1774 when he led volunteers in a defeat of Indians at Point Pleasant on the state’s western frontier, later known as Dunmore’s War. Tensions between the colony and Great Britain increased rapidly, causing him to remove gunpowder from the public magazine in Williamsburg in April 1775. This action caused his authority to unravel, and he fled to Hampton Roads in June. On November 7 Dunmore declared martial law and offered to free any runaway slaves who supported royal authority. His troops lost the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9 and his fleet shelled Norfolk early in 1776. He left for Great Britain later in the year, where he supported the interests of Loyalist Virginians. In 1787 Dunmore became governor of the Bahamas, during which time he fell from royal favor. He died at his home in England in 1809.