On this day in 1775, Patrick Henry, at the head of a company of volunteer militiamen, marched on Williamsburg demanding the return of gunpowder taken from the magazine there. It had been taken—Henry and his boys preferred “stolen”—under the authority of Virginia’s royal governor, John Murray, earl of Dunmore, back on April 21. Out his window at the governor’s palace Lord Dunmore had been observing the beginnings of a revolution, and understandably it made him nervous. The last thing these folks needed was gunpowder, right? Of course, the governor’s not going to admit that, so when confronted by his constituents he naturally blamed the Negroes. “I removed the Powder lest the Negroes might have seized upon it,” he said, causing Patrick Henry to roll his eyes and ready up a militia that was aching for some action.
On May 3 Henry and the Hanover Independent Company marched on Williamsburg. Well, they marched toward Williamsburg, anyway, and were about sixteen miles out, at a place called Duncastle’s Ordinary, when Carter Braxton showed up. A grandson of Robert “King” Carter and, like Henry, a member of the Continental Congress, Braxton nevertheless was not the itchy trigger finger that Henry was. For a mere £330, to be paid by his deep-pocketed father-in-law, Braxton convinced Henry to stop it already.
Still, if Lord Dunmore had been nervous before … Writes one historian: “Commotions had been raised and armed bodies massed, but the governor could choose to overlook these as only slightly treasonable if he wished. Henry, though, had extracted payment for the powder under the threat of armed conflict and such a defiance of royal authority could not be ignored.”
IMAGE: The old Colonial Powder Magazine at Williamsburg, Virginia (1875)