Patrick Henry, born 29 May 1736 at Studley, died at "Red Hill" on 6 June 1799, age 63, and buried at “Red Hill,” Charlotte Co., VA; married 1st Sarah Shelton 1754, born at “Rural Plains,” died at "Scotchtown" in Hanover Co., VA in 1775, buried in Hanover Co., VA.
--Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry, p. 402.
American Patriot. He is best remembered for his stirring phrase "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death." That and other speeches (see Parson's Case and Stamp Act speech below) were a pivotal force in the surge toward independence. He also had major responsibility for the adoption of the Bill of Rights as the first amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
1736: Born in Hanover County, Virginia, he attended public school for only a short time, and was taught by his father, who had attended the University of Aberdeen in Aberdeen, Scotland. He began a career as a shopkeeper, but was not a good businessman at age 16 and soon deeply in debt, in large part because he allowed his neighbors to build up debts to him.
1754: At age 18, he married 16-year-old Sarah Shelton, not yet having found his profession. Her dowry, just yards from her parents home of Rural Plains, was a 300-acre farm called Pine Slash, a house, and six slaves. Henry’s first attempt as a planter ended when fire destroyed his house in 1757 and due to poor crops, resulting from his land having been exhausted by tobacco, combined with scant rainfall.
1760: After a second attempt at storekeeping proved unsuccessful, Henry, his wife, Sarah, and their two children moved in with her parents, who now ran Hanover Tavern. Henry worked for his father-in-law, but across the road was the county courthouse, where he became fascinated by the trials he often observed and the discussions among the attorneys, and he began teaching himself the law. After a relative brief period (there is uncertainty in the historical record about how long) he was examined by a three-member committee, which included George Wythe, the pre-eminent attorney in Virginia at the time, and received his attorney's license in April 1760. Another of his examiners, Peyton Randolph, later the first president of the Continental Congress, challenged one of his answers and eventually consulted a law book to prove Henry wrong. It turned out that Henry was right and Randolph was wrong.
1763: The Parsons' Cause was a legal case involving clergy, who had been paid in tobacco, which in most years was worth about two cents per pound. In 1759-60, however, a drought had caused the price of tobacco increased dramatically, so the Virginia General Assembly had passed the "Two Penny Act," paying clergy two pennies for each pound of tobacco, their usual salary. The Privy Council (King George III's advisors in London) overturned the act, resulting in the Rev. James Maury bringing suit to recover lost wages. He won the case. Patrick Henry then represented the defendants, the church vestrymen, in the second trial to determine compensation. Henry argued dramatically that the King was in violation of his compact with the people by overruling a law passed by the House of Burgesses and could and should be disobeyed, the first occasion on which Henry was accused of treasonous speech. The jury, after five minutes of deliberation, awarded the parson one penny. Thus began Henry's position of resistance against royal authority and his fame among the people.
1764: Henry was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he soon became a leader of the frontier people against the old, established plantation aristocracy, the so-called Tidewater elite.
1765: His speech in the House of Burgesses in 1765 against the Stamp Act is considered one of his greatest orations. In it he argued, "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third may profit by their example." As is true of virtually all of his speeches, there are no immediate historical documentation. He did not write out his speeches nor, unlike many of the Founding Fathers, keep copies of his papers. So, we can only surmise what he said by accounts from others. A French observer at this event reported that he apologized if his words gave offense. The more common story is that when shouts of 'treason' rang out, he responded, "If this be treason, make the most of it."
1774: He was elected a delegate to the First Continental Congress, and the following year, to the Second Continental Congress. He left the Congress before the resolution for independence was put to a vote, to become Commander-in-Chief of Virginia's militia.
February 1775: His wife, Sarah Shelton died, having suffered for a number of years from what was likely postpartum depression. The pain of her death and the reminders of her at Scotchtown caused him in 1777 to sell the most dramatic house he ever owned. Patrick and Sarah Henry had six children and 28 grandchildren.
March 23, 1775: "Liberty or Death" speech at St. John's Church in Richmond, two months after Sarah's death. At that point, Virginia, along with Massachusetts, was among the most influential of the colonies and its leaders were not uniformly in favor of war against the most powerful military force in the world. Henry's speech lit a fire that ultimately resulted in the birth of a nation.
February 1776: He resigned the post of Commander-in-Chief after a subordinate of his was promoted above him, which he experienced as an assault on his honor. However, when his troops threatened to mutiny as a result, he convinced them to dedicate themselves to "the real interests of the United Colonies." As he did years later after losing the vote on the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, he put the best interests of his country above his own personal feelings or preferences. A few months later, he became a member of the committee to write the Virginia Constitution, which was used as an important model for the writing of the U.S. Constitution.
June 29, 1776: Henry elected first governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. As soon as Virginia forced their royal governor, Lord Dunemore, to seek safe refuge on a British ship off the coast and set up a constitution government, Patrick Henry was elected as its first Governor, and moved into the palace in Williamsburg, where the English royal governors had lived. A hard working administrator, Henry strove to solve the many problems caused by the American Revolution. He recruited the state's quota of 6,000 men for the Continental Army, as well as 5,000 men for the Virginia Militia. He obtained and supplied the Continental Army with clothing, shoes, and cattle, as well as lead and gunpowder for ammunition. He was sometimes criticized for being too strong an executive, but he always did so for the sake of what referred to at the time as "the Cause."
May 29, 1777: Henry re-elected to second term as governor. During his second term as Virginia Governor, he supplied the George Rogers Clark Expedition, which conquered the Northwest Territory from the British.
October 1777: Patrick Henry married Dorothea Dandridge (see Dandridge-9), with whom he had 13 children, of whom 11 lived to adulthood, and 49 grandchildren, for a total between his two wives of 17 children and 77 grandchildren.
February 1778: Henry played a significant role in one of the early Revolutionary War intrigues. Washington, having abandoned New York, had recently abandoned Philadelphia, while his subordinate, General Horatio Gates, had won the momentum-changing battle of Saratoga (for a perspective on this battle, see biographical information on Henry's son, John Henry. A group of military leaders led by Major General Thomas Conway moved to replace Washington with Gates (whose later incompetence resulted in a major defeat at Camden, SC, from which battle he fled to safety, deserting his defeated army). The so-called Conway Cabal was supported by Dr. Benjamin Rush, who wrote Henry a letter that assumed he would be supportive. Henry forwarded the letter to Washington, who, alerted to the attempt to replace him, succeeded in retaining his role as Commander-in-Chief, for which he remained forever grateful to and a life-long friend of Patrick Henry.
May 29, 1778: Henry re-elected to third term as governor of Virginia. The Virginia constitution did not allow for a fourth, consecutive term.
June 1, 1779: Jefferson elected governor; Henry briefly retired from politics and moved to his new plantation at Leatherwood in the county named in his honor but was soon re-elected to the House of Delegates, where he served until the end of the war.
June 1781: This was a particularly auspicious month for Virginia during the War for Independence, in both the short and long term. In January, the turncoat general, Benedict Arnold, had captured and burned much of Richmond, the new capital. In late May, under the command of Colonel Banastre Tarleton, who had a reputation for particular brutality, the British attempted to capture Governor Thomas Jefferson and the General Assembly, which was meeting in Charlottesville. Forewarned, the legislators and Jefferson fled literally minutes before Tarleton arrived. The General Assembly retreated to Staunton; Jefferson, at the end of his term, to his second home at Poplar Forest, near Lynchburg. George Nicholas, a legislator whose personal property had been destroyed by Tarleton’s forces, introduced a resolution that initiated an enquiry into the “conduct of the Executive of the State,” intended to prevent further governmental actions that would allow British forces free rein throughout Virginia. Some thought Henry, back in the General Assembly, was behind this resolution. There is no historical documentation that he was. However, what is important is that Jefferson took the resolution very personally, felt deeply wounded, and held Henry primarily responsible. Jefferson carried often-expressed resentment toward Henry, once somewhat in the role of his mentor, until the day he died, some 45 years later.
November 17, 1784: Henry elected to fourth term as governor. One of his goals was to take action to strengthen the powers of the federal government, in particular providing adequate funding for the federal government, on which he worked with James Madison.
November 25, 1785: Henry re-elected to fifth term as governor. It was during this term that John Jay, on instruction from Congress, attempted to negotiate a treaty with Spain, which was adamant about its control of the Mississippi River. Jay gained support from New England industrialists for a compromise that gave up use of the Mississippi for 25 years, which Henry and other Virginians, with economic and personal interests in "western" Virginia (which was understood to border on the Mississippi), perceived as a betrayal of their interests. This experience likely played an important role in Henry's later distrust of the strong federal government created by the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
1786: During his final term as governor, Henry, recognizing the inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation in providing adequate national leadership (during the Continental Congress, the proud Virginian had declared, "I am not a Virginian but an American), invited the other twelve states to send delegates to a convention at Annapolis to consider changes to the Articles. That convention did not attract sufficient representation from the states, so another meeting in Philadelphia was planned, which became what is referred to as the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Henry declined to attend that meeting because he guessed a move to replace the Articles, which he opposed. He is reported to have said, "I smelt a rat." It was during this term that Jefferson's Statute for Religious Freedom was passed.
Although strongly supportive of religious freedom and a committed Christian, Henry opposed Jefferson's plan of total separation of church and state, favoring instead the continuation of public taxation for the support of all recognized religious groups, which was a major change from previous support of only the established (Anglican) church.
1788: As public service had left Henry in debt and he was committed to providing financial stability to his large family, he returned to his law practice and soon became a successful criminal lawyer. One of his most politically important cases was the "British debt case," on which he worked closely with future Supreme Court chief justice John Marshall. Virginian planters and businessmen had borrowed money from English creditors before the war started. The 1783 peace treaty had permitted recovery of those debts. But, the British had not paid for theft of property or wartime destruction, nor had they honored other parts of the treaty of 1783. Henry argued in a legally very complex case that the Americans should not have to pay past debts. The attorney for the British side had argued that the debts were due, because the debtors were citizens of Britain until 1783, so they had no authority to refuse to pay debts incurred prior to that time. Henry's response, typical of his dramatic oratory, was that America was a sovereign nation "when her sons stepped forth to resist the unjust hand of oppression … long before the monarch of that little island in the Atlantic Ocean gave his puny assent to it."
June 1788: Following the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia, the document was sent to the states for ratification. Nine affirmative votes were required for adoption. Henry was the leading "anti-federalist" in Virginia and, perhaps, in the country, arguing, often for hours at a time, that the proposed Constitution lessened the rights of the states, giving too much power to the new national government, and did not contain a bill of rights for citizens, endangering the liberty they had fought against Britain to achieve. The entire country was looking to Virginia to see how it would vote. The motion to adopt was approved by only ten votes. After its ratification, Henry declined George Mason's suggestion that he lead a rebellion against the Constitution. He fought hard, however, for the inclusion of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, which were adopted largely due to his strong advocacy and the political influence he had.
1790-1796: President Washington repeatedly tried to lure Henry out of retirement, offering him the positions of Minister to Spain, Minister to France, Secretary of State, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, all positions which he refused. In addition, he declined to be appointed to the United States Senate twice. Upon Washington's retirement, there was a concerted effort to draft Henry as a candidate for the presidency, which he declined. Many thought he would likely have won against the other two major candidates, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
1799: Finally, his close friend George Washington convinced him to run as a Federalist for representative in the Virginia State Legislature. A major issue was what has come to be called "nullification," the position, first advocated by Jefferson and Madison, that states had the right to "nullify" any law passed by Congress with which the state disagreed. Washington and Henry believed that that would destroy the federal government as it then existed. Not surprisingly, given his continued popularity, Henry won the election, but he died before he could take office.
June 1799: He died at Redhill Plantation in Charlotte County, near Brookneal, VA. The Virginia Gazette announced the death of Patrick Henry. “As long as our rivers flow, or mountains stand,” said the Gazette, “ Virginia . . . will say to rising generations, imitate my Henry.” His written message to posterity, discovered posthumously, states,
"Whether America's independence will prove a Blessing or a Curse will depend on the Use our people make of the Blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary Character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a Nation. Reader! whoever thou art, remember this, and in thy Sphere, practice Virtue thyself, and encourage it in others. P. HENRY"
It may be possible to confirm family relationships with Patrick by comparing test results with other carriers of his Y-chromosome or his mother's mitochondrial DNA.
However, there are no known yDNA or mtDNA test-takers in his direct paternal or maternal line.
It is likely that these autosomal DNA test-takers will share DNA with Patrick:
Patrick Henry's mom is featured in today's Extreme Monday Makeover. In putting together the information for that announcement, I noticed that Patrick's profile could use some TLC. Unless y'all object, I'll feature him in Wednesday's Primp this Profile. Let me know by Tuesday night (U.S. Eastern Time) of any objections or caveats. Thanks!