The First Emancipation Proclamation in America, courtesy Lord Dunmore

ForeverFree

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The first Emancipation Proclamation in America that offered freedom to slaves and their enrollment as soldiers was not made by Abraham Lincoln. It was made by Lord Dunmore, the British governor of Virginia, during the Revolutionary War. As noted at the website Study the Past.com,

John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore had been the British Governor of New York from 1770 until 1771. In September of 1771 he served as governor of the Virginia colony until just before the Revolutionary War began in June of 1775.

In April 1775, Dunmore had threatened to free Virginia's slaves in order to utilize them in the royal forces. There were scores of them that had already joined the Loyalist cause. Many in the colonies believed that Dunmore had formed some sort of secret alliance with the enslaved population and were enraged. Eventually Dunmore felt threatened by the growing resentment and civil unrest in the colonies and fled to safety in Williamsburg where he took refuge on the HMS Fowey on June 8, 1775.

In November 1775, Lord Dunmore issued a proclamation which officially offered freedom to the colonists' slaves. Those that were able to cross British lines would be liberated in return for military service in the royal army. Most of the colonists were troubled by the announcement. In many communities the whites were outnumbered by the slaves and there was fear of an insurrection. Dunmore not only planned for civil unrest, but anticipated that many colonists would abandon the Continental Army and return home to protect their property.

Dunmore did not issue what could be called a general emancipation order. Rather, it was more of a manumission proclamation, offering freedom to slaves who joined the British army. This is the text:

By His Excellency the Right Honorable JOHN Earl of DUNMORE, His Majesty's Lieutenant and Governor General of the Colony and Dominion of VIRGINIA, and Vice Admiral of the same.

A PROCLAMATION
As I have ever entertained Hopes, that an Accommodation might have taken Place between GREAT-BRITAIN and this Colony, without being compelled by my Duty to this most disagreeable but now absolutely necessary Step, rendered so by a Body of armed Men unlawfully assembled, firing on His MAJESTY'S Tenders, and the formation of an Army, and that Army now on their March to attack his MAJESTY'S Troops and destroy the well disposed subjects of the Colony.

To defeat such treasonable Purposes, and that all such Traitors, and their Abettors, may be brought to Justice, and that the Peace, and good Order of this Colony may be again restored, which the ordinary Course of the Civil Law is unable to effect; I have thought fit to issue this my Proclamation, hereby declaring, that until the aforesaid good Purpose can be obtained, I do in Virtue of the Power and Authority to ME given, by His MAJESTY, determine to execute Martial Law, and cause the same to be executed throughout this Colony: and to end that

the Peace and good Order may the sooner be restored, I do require every Person capable of bearing Arms, to resort to His MAJESTY'S STANDARD, or be looked upon as Traitors to His MAJESTY'S Crown and Government, and thereby become liable to the Penalty the Law inflicts upon such Offenses; such as forfeiture of Life, confiscation of Lands, &. &. And I do hereby further declare all indented Servants, Negroes, or others, (appertaining to Rebels,) free that are able and willing to bear Arms, they joining His MAJESTY'S Troops as soon as may be, foe the more speedily reducing this Colony to a proper Sense of their Duty, to His MAJESTY'S Crown and Dignity.

I do further order, and require, all His MAJESTY'S Liege Subjects, to retain their Quitrents, or any other Taxes due or that may become due, in their own Custody, till such a Time as Peace may be again restored to this at present most unhappy Country, or demanded of them for their former salutary Purposes, by Officers properly authorized to receive the same.

GIVEN under my Hand on board the Ship WILLIAM by Norfolk, the 7th Day of November in the SIXTEENTH Year of His MAJESTY'S Reign.
DUNMORE
(GOD save the KING.)

****

This was the response from Virginians:

Text of Virginia Congress Declaration

Virginia, Dec. 14, 1775.

By the Representatives of the People of the Colony and Dominion of VIRGINIA, assembled in GENERAL CONVENTION

A DECLARATION

WHEREAS lord Dunmore, by his proclamation, dated on board the ship William, off Norfolk, the 7th day of November 1775, hath offered freedom to such able-bodied slaves as are willing to join him, and take up arms, against the good people of this colony, giving thereby encouragement to a general insurrection, which may induce a necessity of inflicting the severest punishments upon those unhappy people, already deluded by his base and insidious arts; and whereas, by an act of the General Assembly now in force in this colony, it is enacted, that all negro or other slaves, conspiring to rebel or make insurrection, shall suffer death, and be excluded all benefit of clergy :

We think it proper to declare, that all slaves who have been, or shall be seduced, by his lordship's proclamation, or other arts, to desert their masters' service, and take up arms against the inhabitants of this colony, shall be liable to such punishment as shall hereafter be directed by the General Convention. And to that end all such, who have taken this unlawful and wicked step, may return in safety to their duty, and escape the punishment due to their crimes, we hereby promise pardon to them, they surrendering themselves to Col. William Woodford, or any other commander of our troops, and not appearing in arms after the publication hereof. And we do farther earnestly recommend it to all humane and benevolent persons in this colony to explain and make known this our offer of mercy to those unfortunate people.

EDMUND PENDLETON, president.
 

FourLeafClover

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Very informative ForeverFree, Wickipedia lists approx.100,000 escaped slaves as crossing the lines. Some 20,000 taking up arms, the remainder employed in non-combatant roles. It doesn't say how many took advantage of the amnesty to return to the merciful whips and shackles of their former masters!
 

jpeter

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The first Emancipation Proclamation in America that offered freedom to slaves and their enrollment as soldiers was not made by Abraham Lincoln. It was made by Lord Dunmore, the British governor of Virginia, during the Revolutionary War. As noted at the website Study the Past.com,

Of course Dumnore didn't quite live up to the promise.

Many of the ones fighting for the British never got to see a British ship and remained stranded.... and forced back into slavery.

And like Lincoln's EP.... Dunmore's EP was a military decision
 

ForeverFree

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Of course Dumnore didn't quite live up to the promise.

Many of the ones fighting for the British never got to see a British ship and remained stranded.... and forced back into slavery.

I'm trying to get more info on this subject. While some blacks did fight for the British, it seems like many - perhaps even most - did not have combatant roles.

Many blacks were forced back into slavery after the war, but some number of them were taken by the British to Canada or England, despite protests from the Americans. Hard numbers are hard to come by... if only they computers back then. :smile:
 

jpeter

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I'm trying to get more info on this subject. While some blacks did fight for the British, it seems like many - perhaps even most - did not have combatant roles.

I'm sure that's absolutely true.

Many blacks were forced back into slavery after the war, but some number of them were taken by the British to Canada or England, despite protests from the Americans. Hard numbers are hard to come by... if only they computers back then. :smile:
I actually have seen general numbers, but I cannot refer you to the source just yet. Also prroh may have some information on this if I recall. Maybe he'll post.

The other thing is that maybe less than 1000 actually understood Dunmore's promise and got across enemy lines based on the proclamation. However, many thousands more just heard rumors and stories and were hoping to be on the winning side. As you said, many were eventually relocated successfully. But when Dunmore left, there was no more authority. He could not send ships back to America to the many who had expected to leave.

When the war was over, the Emancipation essentially ended.
 

K Hale

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That seems like less of an emancipation proclamation and more like offering an enlistment bounty. I see it also applied to indentured servants.
 

rpkennedy

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Any connection between this and the Declaration's complaint that "He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us"?

It's certainly possible that this is what they were referring to but I'm not positive since that clause goes on to talk about England using Native Americans to attack the colonists along the frontier and that might be the domestic insurrections discussed.

R
 

ForeverFree

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That seems like less of an emancipation proclamation and more like offering an enlistment bounty. I see it also applied to indentured servants.

I guess that's one way to look at it. I think of what Dunmore did as being a "Manumission Proclamation" - if you serve, you're freed.

Here's something interesting: in Kevin Philip's book The Cousins' Wars: Religion, Politics, and The Triumph Of Anglo-America, it is mentioned that Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia offered slaves as bounties to encourage white enlistment. Unfortunately, there is very little in the way of details about this in the book.
 

brass napoleon

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Any connection between this and the Declaration's complaint that "He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us"?

Yes, that's exactly what Jefferson was talking about. Jefferson wrote a lot more about the subject of slavery in his original draft, but Congress removed almost all of it, except for this passage. I believe there was a thread about that here not too long back.
 

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