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.
"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here."
"The Bible ... is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed."
--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."
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: Married 16-year-old Sarah Shelton at age eighteen, 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 poor crops, due to land exhausted by tobacco and 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 served as a bartender, 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) 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.
1763: The Parsons' Cause was a legal case involving clergy, who had been paid in tobacco. That year, however, the price of tobacco increased dramatically, so the Virginia General Assembly had passed the "Two Penny Act" which would have paid clergy two pennies for each pound of tobacco, meaning a dramatic decrease in their annual compensation. 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 he 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 lived in. Patrick and Sarah Henry had six children and 22 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.
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 worked 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 19 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-246). 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, leaving behind 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 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 returns to House of Delegates, Henry served in the Virginia delegation to ratify the US Constitution. Although he was initially against ratification of the US Constitution because he believed it lessened the rights of the states and did not contain a bill of rights for citizens, after its ratification, he joined the Federalist Party and supported the document. He was largely responsible for the adoption of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, which we call the Bill of Rights.
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, 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.
1788: As public service had left Henry in debt, he returned to his law practice and soon became a successful criminal lawyer.
1794-1796: Henry declines sixth term as governor of Virginia and appointments as U. S. Senator, Chief Justice, Secretary of State, and ambassador to Spain and France
1794: He retired to his estate near Appomattox, Virginia. In his remaining five years, Henry was offered many public offices, including US Senator, Minister to Spain, Minister to France, Secretary of State in President Washington's cabinet, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, all positions which he refused.
1796: He was elected Virginia Governor for a sixth time, but refused to take office. Finally, his close friend George Washington convinced him to run for representative in the Virginia State Legislature, and after winning the election, he died before he could take office.
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!