Robert Dinwiddie (1692–1770)


Robert Dinwiddie was a member of the governor’s Council from 1742 to 1751 and then lieutenant governor of Virginia from 1751 to 1758. Born into a Scottish merchant family, Dinwiddie began his public career in Bermuda, where he worked as an Admiralty agent and collector of customs before earning a seat on the colony’s governor’s Council. In 1738, the Crown appointed Dinwiddie surveyor general for the southern part of America, and he lived in in Virginia from 1741 until 1745. He returned in 1751, this time as lieutenant governor and immediately shocked the colony by instituting a fee of one pistole for signing and sealing every patent conferring legal title to land. The House of Burgesses loudly objected and sent representatives to London. In 1754, the Crown found a compromise, upholding Dinwiddie’s fee but only on patents of 100 acres or more. Controversy followed Dinwiddie into the French and Indian War (1754–1763). His policy of corporate and imperial advancement led to conflict with the French and the defeat of Virginia forces under George Washington at Fort Necessity in 1754. The politics of the resulting war made governing difficult for Dinwiddie, and he resigned in 1758, soon after defying a British order, handed down by Governor John Campbell, fourth earl of Loudoun, that put an embargo on all colonial exports. Dinwiddie returned to England and died there in 1770.

Early Years

Map of Bermuda

Dinwiddie was born on October 3, 1692, to the merchant family of Robert Dinwiddie and Elizabeth Cumming Dinwiddie at Germiston House, near Glasgow, Scotland. He attended the University of Glasgow, probably pursued a merchant’s life, and became an Admiralty agent in Bermuda in 1721. Despite some questions about the perquisites his commission authorized him to collect, by 1725 he had been appointed deputy collector of customs and in 1727 was appointed collector of customs in Bermuda. Three years later he was named to a seat on the governor’s Council there. On March 30, 1738, Dinwiddie was promoted to surveyor general for the southern part of America, a jurisdiction that included Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, Bahama Islands, and Jamaica. Several times he investigated the collection of customs in the region and in 1743 discovered cases of fraud in his jurisdiction. On further investigation, the English customs commissioners found more misconduct than fraud in the customs officers, chiding Dinwiddie for acting with “more zeal than prudence.”

In Bermuda, Dinwiddie married Rebecca Auchinleck (Affleck in some accounts) by 1738. They had two daughters. Dinwiddie’s commission as surveyor general allowed him to become a member of one of the colonies’ Councils, and he chose Virginia, where he settled probably in Norfolk. He arrived to take his seat in June 1741, but members of the Council raised objections to his appointment and granted him only limited status as an ex officio member. On July 10, 1742, the king confirmed Dinwiddie’s appointment and he took his oath as a member of the Council on April 16, 1745. He attended Council meetings until September of that year, after which he moved his family to London. Although Dinwiddie held his office as surveyor general for life, he consigned the post to the Virginian Peter Randolph in 1749.

Lieutenant Governor of Virginia

William Anne Keppel

Evidently as a reward for Dinwiddie’s long service, the king appointed him lieutenant governor of Virginia on July 4, 1751. Dinwiddie served during the absence of royal governor William Anne Keppel, second earl of Albemarle, until his death in December 1754, and of his successor, John Campbell, fourth earl of Loudoun, thereafter. Dinwiddie arrived in Virginia with his wife and daughters on November 20, 1751. In 1752, in the first session of the General Assembly after his arrival, the legislators named a new county after him. His younger brother, John Dinwiddie, also immigrated to Virginia where he became a merchant.

Dinwiddie shocked the colony two days after the close of the General Assembly session in April 1752 by announcing that he would to collect a fee of one pistole (a Spanish coin worth 15 or 16 shillings or, enough to purchase a cow and a calf) for signing and sealing every patent conferring legal title to land. He also announced that he would not issue a patent on lands for which warrants of survey had been recorded before April 22, until arrears in quitrents had been paid. All in all, Dinwiddie sought to collect quitrents on about 900,000 acres of land. Since he had to pay half of his salary to Albemarle, Dinwiddie undoubtedly believed that he needed to collect fees to cover his costs. After all, eighteenth-century officials viewed public office as a profitable form of personal property. The House of Burgesses hotly denounced the fee as “illegal and arbitrary” and sent Attorney General Peyton Randolph to London to oppose Dinwiddie’s claim. In July 1754 the Board of Trade informed Dinwiddie of the decision reached by the king’s Privy Council that allowed the lieutenant governor to collect the fee but not for patents of less than a hundred acres, not for land west of the mountains, and not for headrights. The Board of Trade also refused to allow Dinwiddie to collect fees on patents made out before April 22, 1752.

The Journal of Major George Washington

The compromise allowed Dinwiddie to focus on the most important element of his tenure—British expansion to the west and the French threat there. As a stockholder in the Ohio Company and as a government official, Dinwiddie pursued a policy of corporate and imperial advancement. In 1753 he convened the assembly to counter French expansion in the West where the French had constructed a fort in territory claimed by Great Britain and sought to build others. Legislators did not share his concern, but Dinwiddie dispatched young George Washington to the French to warn them to remove from territories claimed by Britain. The French denied these claims and on July 3, 1754, defeated the inexperienced Washington at Fort Necessity in what is now western Pennsylvania. The encounter between Washington and the French led to the outbreak of the Seven Years’, or French and Indian, War.

Dismayed by Virginians’ lack of financial support for military intervention in the west, Dinwiddie was gladdened in 1755 by the arrival of Major General Edward Braddock and regular troops at royal expense. The initial optimism was rudely dashed by Braddock’s military disaster on the Monongahela River on July 9, 1755. The end result left only a few hundred militiamen, about 200 provincial troops, and three to six companies of rangers to guard Virginia’s long western frontier, fewer troops than those defeated under Braddock’s command. Although the assembly authorized the recruitment of 1,200 volunteers for the Virginia Regiment, only about half that many served during 1756 and 1757. Dinwiddie’s efforts to wage war were also hampered by British policy that reduced the standing of provincial officers relative to their British counterparts.

Later Years

Life of George Washington: The Soldier

Four months after Braddock’s defeat, Dinwiddie found his capacity for governing reduced in November 1755 by Britain’s relocation to Virginia of approximately 1,100 supposedly neutral French from Nova Scotia, all in the midst of a world war with France. With no good place to settle the Acadians, Dinwiddie was unprepared politically and physically to cope with the problems that arose. Fortunately for him, the General Assembly passed an act authorizing their transportation to Great Britain.

In the spring of 1757, Governor Loudoun, who was then commander in chief of all British forces in North America, imposed an embargo on all colonial exports. Concurring with complaints by Virginians about commercial hardship, Dinwiddie acted unilaterally and ended his superior’s embargo in Virginia. Loudoun was outraged. By this time Dinwiddie had begun to emphasize his declining health as a reason for resigning his post earlier than he had anticipated. He informed the Council of his decision by December 1757. Departing Virginia on January 12, 1758, the portly but once energetic governor who had worked tirelessly for British interests was weary, aggravated, and aging. As a Crown official, Dinwiddie was of uneven abilities. Nevertheless he was a man of integrity, one of those without whom the British Empire could not function.

Bookplate Belonging to Robert Dinwiddie

Residing in London, he continued to profit from his post as surveyor general. He suffered from a recurring paralysis of some sort and often visited spas at Bath and at Clifton, near Bristol, for his health. Dinwiddie died on July 27, 1770, at Clifton and he was buried at Saint Andrew’s, the parish church there. He left a very sizeable estate that included several properties and his many bequests included £10,000 to each of his two daughters and an annual income of £350 to his wife.

October 3, 1692
Robert Dinwiddie is born near Glasgow, Scotland.
Robert Dinwiddie becomes an admiralty agent in Bermuda.
By this year Robert Dinwiddie has been appointed deputy collector of customs in Bermuda.
Robert Dinwiddie is appointed collector customs in Bermuda.
Robert Dinwiddie is named to a seat on the governor's Council of Bermuda.
By this year Robert Dinwiddie and Rebecca Auchinleck (sometimes Affleck) are married. They will have two daughters.
March 30, 1738
Robert Dinwiddie is promoted to surveyor general for the southern part of America.
June 1741
Robert Dinwiddie arrives in Virginia, probably settling in Norfolk. He has been appointed to the governor's Council, but he is granted only limited membership.
July 10, 1742
The king confirms Robert Dinwiddie's appointment to the governor's Council.
April 16, 1745
Robert Dinwiddie takes his oath as a member of the governor's Council.
September 1745
Robert Dinwiddie and his family move from Virginia to London.
Robert Dinwiddie, surveyor general for life of Virginia, consigns his post to Peter Randolph.
July 4, 1751
Robert Dinwiddie is appointed lieutenant governor of Virginia. He will administer the government in Williamsburg in the place of William Anne Keppel, second earl of Albemarle and governor of Virginia.
November 20, 1751
Robert Dinwiddie arrives in Virginia with his wife and daughters.
The General Assembly names a new county for Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie.
April 1752
Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie secures the consent of the governor's Council to charge a fee of one pistole (about 18 shillings) for sealing land patents.
October 31, 1753
Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie dispatches George Washington, with only six frontiersmen at his side, to demand the departure of a French military force in the Ohio country, a region claimed by Britain.
June 24, 1754
The Privy Council hands down its decision in the case against the pistole fee. The Council approves Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie's conduct and upholds his right to collect the fee, with some restrictions, and does not address the larger question of whether colonial legislatures have the right to defeat local taxes proposed by the British.
July 3—4, 1754
French forces under Louis Coulon de Villiers and their Indian allies defeat Virginia militia under George Washington and British regulars under James Mackay at the Battle of Fort Necessity in present-day Fayette County, Pennsylvania.
July 9, 1755
At the Battle of Monongahela in Pennsylvania during the French and Indian War, French forces decisively rout the British, killing their commander, General Edward Braddock.
November 1755
Great Britain relocates to Virginia about 1,100 supposedly neutral French people from Nova Scotia, even as Britain is at war with France.
Spring 1757
Governor John Campbell, fourth earl of Loudoun, the commander in chief of all British forces in North America, imposes an embargo on all colonial exports.
December 1757
Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie informs the governor's Council of his resignation.
January 12, 1758
Robert Dinwiddie, the former lieutenant governor, departs Virginia.
July 27, 1770
Robert Dinwiddie dies at Clifton, near Bristol, England, and is buried at Saint Andrew's, the parish church there.
  • Alden, John Richard. Robert Dinwiddie, Servant of the Crown. Williamsburg, Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1973.
  • Koontz, Louis Knott. Robert Dinwiddie, His Career in American Colonial Government and Westward Expansion.Glendale, California: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1941.
APA Citation:
Shrock, Randall & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Robert Dinwiddie (1692–1770). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/dinwiddie-robert-1692-1770.
MLA Citation:
Shrock, Randall, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Robert Dinwiddie (1692–1770)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 21 May. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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