THE convention which met in July, 1775, found itself faced by the necessity of raising troops and preparing for war. By this time many companies of minute-men existed in Virginia, but the militia expected to serve only in emergencies. To meet the need of a permanent force, the convention passed an ordinance for raising two regiments of regulars and a number of companies of riflemen far border defense. There was no money in the Virginia treasury, however, and regular taxation was in abeyance during the Revolutionary crisis. An untrained assembly might have hesitated in finding ways and means, but this convention of experienced legislators went on to assert its sovereignty by laying a special levy. Carriages, tithables, land, ordinary licenses, marriage licenses, and legal writs were taxed to provide the money for arming, equipping, and paying the troops and paying the delegates in the Continental Congress. As some time must elapse before such taxes would come in, while money was immediately needed, the convention voted an issue of £ 350,000 of treasury notes. These were secured in the first place by the special taxes and finally by the whole property of the colony solemnly pledged by the convention.
The keynote of Revolutionary finance was thus struck at the beginning. The first paper money commanded a good exchange value for some time, but subsequent issues caused rapid depreciation until the nadir was reached in 1782, when Virginia paper was worth about one to one thousand in specie. The English government, probably with wisdom, had opposed colonial paper money, and this issue of 1775 is one of the evidences of open revolution.
The convention met the need for an executive when, on August 17, 1775, it elected a Committee of Safety, endowed with considerable powers. The break with the colonial regime was now complete, for the royal governor, regarded up to this time as head of the state, gave way to another and frankly revolutionary executive. The convention itself was only the House of Burgesses acting in an unprecedented capacity, but the administrative junta called into being had no association with the past. It was born of a necessity completely beyond the scope of constitutional limitations.
The Committee of Safety, in its political complexion, represented the conservative wing of the patriot party as against the progressives led by Henry and Jefferson. As has been stated before, the use of party appellatives in describing the factions existing in Virginia before the rise of definite political organizations is not entirely accurate, but genuine divergencies require the employment of names. In the convention of July, 1775, conservatives and progressives were in strong conflict, - the one side pressing for sweeping measures and open war, the other endeavoring to stave off the inevitable struggle to the last moment. The revolutionary party, which was about equal in strength to its opponents, put forward Patrick Henry for colonel of the First Virginia Regiment, and, as such, ranking officer of the Virginia forces. Although Hugh Mercer, afterwards killed at Princeton, led him on the first ballot, Henry's friends managed to elect him; but his antagonists, foiled in their effort to prevent his election, consistently hampered his action through the administrative power of the Committee of Safety.
This body without exception was composed of men of substance and position. Six members came from the tidewater counties, three from the south side, one from the piedmont, and one from the west. A glance thus shows that the preponderant eastern element secured the success of its policies by electing a majority of the committee from its own ranks. Seven of the eleven members, Pendleton, Bland, John Page, Paul Carrington, Dudley Digges, Carter Braxton, and John Tabb, may be classed as conservatives, leaving as progressive representatives George Mason, Thomas Ludwell Lee, William Cabell, and James Mercer. Mason, probably the foremost member in point of ability, seldom attended meetings and the direction of affairs fell into the hands of Edmund Pendleton, the conservative leader. Bland, who might have disputed the primacy with him, was old and in declining health. Pendleton, as both president of the convention and chairman of the Committee of Safety, occupied a unique position. With Jefferson, Henry, and Richard Henry Lee out of Virginia politics for the time being, he was the most influential man in the government. Because of his ascendancy, the Williamsburg administration held off from war long after hostilities had begun elsewhere; they still hoped against hope for a reconciliation with England. Such an event would have been welcome to Pendleton provided it could be had on terms honorable to America. As this could not be, he bravely played his part in the Revolution. Pendleton is a figure in many ways resembling Disraeli. Like Disraeli he had to make his way from obscure beginnings; like Disraeli he became the ardent defender of the ruling class which accepted him. He was of fine presence and polished manners, an able lawyer, an honorable and capable public man. He believed in government by gentlemen and had no sympathy for the great democratic movement which Henry had first led and which Jefferson was later to guide to a mighty destiny. He spent much of his career in resisting attacks on the crumbling social order of the colonial age and died at the threshold of the nineteenth century just as he was about to deliver a final blow in behalf of that most conservative of institutions, the Anglican Church.
The convention entrusted the Committee of Safety with the powers needed by a vigorous executive in time of war. It was given control of troops in the field and the militia and had authority to secure arms and ammunition wherever they could be found. It might enter into negotiations with other colonies for military support and was to carry on a correspondence with the various county committees. This last-named duty developed into a general supervision of these committees. The convention imposed on loyalists the penalties of imprisonment and seizure of estates at the discretion of the Committee of Safety. Service in the militia was required of all able-bodied men of military age except Britons born, who might remain neutral.
Owing to the influence of Edmund Pendleton, the Committee of Safety used its powers with extreme caution in the summer of 1775. To him Dunmore was still the lawful governor, to be respected as such. Besides taking no steps against Dunmore, the committee largely left the loyalists alone in September, October, and November, 1775. It found abundant employment in organizing, equipping, and feeding the troops raised by the convention and in getting into the field a part of the militia.
Unquestionably the Williamsburg junta displayed energy and intelligence, but it also allowed time for Dunmore to get reinforcements and recruits and begin to harass the Chesapeake shores. The committee was forced at length by Dunmore's depredations on property and arrests of patriots to make a demonstration; and, on October 24, 1775, decided to send troops to Norfolk. Dunmore meantime worked energetically to raise a force. He had ample leisure to do this, for so slowly did the colonial troops move that they reached the vicinity of Norfolk only about December 1, 1775; and if the governor had not taken the initiative by attacking the militia at Kempsville and proclaiming freedom to slaves, it is probable that hostilities might have been postponed for a considerably longer period. In fact the Committee of Safety, zealous as it was in purely administrative work, preferred to leave large questions of policy to the convention; it probably felt that it possessed anomalous powers which should not be asserted too vigorously.
When the convention met, on December 1, 1775, a whole host of complaints and appeals awaited it; a widespread feeling existed that the convention was the sole authority able to deal with the novel and confusing circumstances attending the overthrow of the old regime and the beginning of war. Thus the Accomac Committee on November 30 reported that the county delegates could not attend the convention for fear of being taken by English ships cruising in Chesapeake Bay and complained of the exposed situation of the Eastern Shore and the general disinclination of the people for militia service: it asked for a detachment of regulars to take the place of militia for guard duty. The Elizabeth City patriots stated, on December 2, that some of the people of that county had boarded a schooner and brought supplies ashore from her, and that another vessel, laden with provisions, might have been taken if they had had "powder and orders." They accordingly requested directions from the convention or Committee of Safety as to future action in regard to seizing British ships. Warwick complained that it could raise only one hundred militia, a force too small to protect the county from the enemy, who had already begun to ravage it: the committee asked for an additional force of 125 men. War had evidently begun and war measures were necessary, among others the adoption of a definite policy towards the Tories. County committees had mercilessly suppressed these unfortunates by such means as isolated communities are able to employ, but the work of repression could no longer be left to local bodies. Still, the Committee of Safety had refrained, save in a few aggravated cases, from using the license granted to it of imprisoning loyalists and taking possession of their estates. Under these circumstances action by the convention was necessary and unavoidable. Citations of names go to prove that in spite of the extreme disadvantages they were under there were a good many loyalists in Virginia, including men of position and influence: if they had been shown toleration their numbers would have increased with every reverse of the American arms until a genuine party might have come into existence.
The chief men of Tory inclinations in Virginia were John Randolph, attorney-general of the colony and father of Edmund Randolph, Secretary of State in Washington's Cabinet, who resigned his office and went to England; William Byrd, of Westover, perhaps the first gentleman of Virginia, colonel of a regiment in the French-and-Indian War and member of the council, who was approached in regard to accepting a command in the Revolutionary army, but refused to entertain the offer and remained quietly at his fine estate of "Westover" until his death in 17'77; Ralph Wormeley, member of the council and of one of the most prominent colonial families; Richard Corbin, receivergeneral of Virginia, and his sons, Francis and Thomas; Reverend John Agnew, of Suffolk, who became chaplain of the Queen's Rangers and finally settled in New Brunswick; Reverend Jonathan Boucher, rector of Hanover and later of St. Mary's Parish; Bryan Fairfax, of Alexandria, who attended and withdrew from the Fairfax meeting of July 18, 1774, where a county committee was appointed and strong resolutions were adopted; Lord Thomas Fairfax, the friend of Washington and one of the very few noblemen residing in America, the owner of a vast estate in western Virginia on which he continued to live undisturbed all through the Revolution; Reverend John Camm, president of William and Mary College and commissary, who committed no overt act and went unmolested; Andrew Sprowle, of Norfolk, the leading merchant in Virginia, who died in exile in 1776; Archibald Ritchie, of Middlesex, father of the noted editor; Philip Rootes, of "Rosewall"; Jacob Ellegood, held as a prisoner and repeatedly asked for in exchange by the British; Matthew Phripp, of Norfolk, merchant; John Tayloe Corbin, a large landowner's son; and John Grymes, another prominent planter. Many men of less importance shared their opinions and usually suffered a harder fate.
Not only were the loyalists a menace by reason of their numbers and prominence, but Dunmore, through his depredations and finally by his proclamation of martial law, forced the provincial government to proceed vigorously against them as his adherents. After considering Dunmore's proclamation, the convention, on December 13, 1775, issued a counter-declaration framed in the style of Jeffersonian rhetoric. Dunmore's tyranny is arraigned and Virginians are exhorted to show zeal in resisting it. The people of Norfolk receive warning not to be led by the governor into opposing the colony, although the convention admits the practical difficulty of refusing his demands. But neutrality is the least that can be accepted. "If any of our people, in violation of their faith plighted to this colony, and the duty they owe to society, shall be found in arms, or continue to give assistance to our enemies, we shall think ourselves justified, by the necessity we are under, of executing upon them the law of retaliation." On the next day the convention directed Woodford to send to Williamsburg Tories taken in arms against the colony, and, pending orders from the convention or Committee of Safety, to detain other persons appearing unfriendly. The Journal of the Convention of December, 1775, 64. convention further proclaimed the death penalty for slaves engaged in conspiracy or rebellion, and other punishments for slaves seduced into joining Dunmore by his invitation, but offered pardon to those who had already taken arms and were willing to surrender themselves. It also entered on the task of considering the cases of individual loyalists. There was actual treason as well as disaffection. Depositions made concerning John Dew, a shipmaster, recently arrested in the Rappahannock River, showed that he had attempted to corrupt a patriot force at Fredericksburg by picturing the superior comforts enjoyed by troops in the British service. "The Ding," he said, "found his soldiers four new shirts & a good suit of cloaths, paid for their washing, & 3/6 shillings per week day, free Quarters & advised them to goe to the Governor."
On December 16, 1775, the convention reappointed the Committee of Safety, with two changes, Joseph Jones and Thomas Walker replacing George Mason and Carter Braxton. Though the vote for him fell off greatly, Edmund Pendleton remained the head of the committee. At the same time the convention heard Dr. Archibald Campbell, of Norfolk, who complained that he had been charged with aiding Dunmore against the colony, but had done nothing except under compulsion. The convention referred his petition to a special committee and ordered him back to his room in Williamsburg under guard. A few days later Woodford sent to the convention three other suspected loyalists, Matthew Phripp, Edward Hack Moseley, and the latter's son: they were ordered into confinement waiting examination. The Caroline Committee reported that it had seized the effects of another Norfolk Tory, Thomas Hepburn, then in arms against the colony. Yet, in spite of the widespread disaffection in the Norfolk district and the number of Tories sent to Williamsburg for trial, the convention acted with commendable moderation. While county committees crushed British sympathizers without mercy, the convention, like the Committee of Safety, proceeded cautiously in inflicting severe punishments. As has been stated, the greater number of irreconcilable royalists left Virginia before the end of 1775, but a part of this non-native mercantile class was willing neither to submit quietly to the Revolution nor to go into exile; they were hostile to the patriot party and openly in sympathy with Dunmore. Some of these men had gone further at Norfolk in the king's behalf than could be easily explained' on the ground. of constraint; and the convention, in view of this fact, withdrew the consent granted by the July Convention for British-born residents to remain neutral. It charged them with violating the Continental Association, giving intelligence to the enemy and furnishing him with provisions, propagating falsehoods injurious to the patriot cause, inciting slaves to rebellion and leading them in arms against the colony. No citizens were any longer to be exempt from the burdens and dangers of defending the country. Able-bodied men declining so necessary a duty were to be permitted (at the pleasure of the Committee of Safety) to leave: those who had taken arms against the American cause, or otherwise compromised themselves, were denied this privilege. The colony thus laid down the principle that all citizens must range themselves frankly on its side or depart; there was no longer room in Virginia for neutrals. A few individuals of influence, like William Byrd, continued to live unmolested while remaining quiet, but the measure resulted in the expulsion of most of the British merchants and clerks who still lingered.
A special committee investigated the loyalists sent to Williamsburg by Woodford. Archibald Campbell, according to the report, had been opposed to violence in resisting England because he thought that "a strict adherence to the commercial opposition would produce a redress of grievances." His chief offense was in taking Dunmore's oath: he had sent his family to Bermuda, whither he intended to follow shortly. John Willoughby, former county lieutenant of Norfolk and chairman of the local committee, had also been forced to take Dunmore's oath, and had ordered out the Norfolk militia in Dunmore's interest. As for Cary Mitchell, Woodford had been notified to send on the evidence, but had failed to do so. The committee found that "Archibald Campbell does not appear to have been inimical to the rights and liberties of America," that John Willoughby had acted under compulsion, and that Cary Mitchell did not appear to be unfriendly. The three men were then discharged on parole not to give assistance or intelligence to the enemy. The two Moseleys had likewise taken the British oath, but had not aided Dunmore actively, and were discharged. Matthew Phripp was reported to have played an important part in the patriot councils at Norfolk before Dunmore's occupation of that place, at which time he also had been compelled to subscribe to the .oath. "Falling into the power of Lord Dunmore," the report stated, "he had only the alternative of submitting, or exposing his life and fortune to his lordship's resentment; in his extremity he yielded, and took the oath; but as the said Matthew Phripp soon after manifested his willingness to support the common cause, we think, upon the whole, he ought to be restored to the confidence of his countrymen."
The convention, in dealing with these first cases of loyalists, showed mildness, for the war had not as yet progressed far enough to produce much bitterness and, furthermore, the Norfolk patriots had been put in a difficult position by Dunmore. This moderation was so marked that at the beginning of 1776 several Tories who had gone on board the fleet in Norfolk Harbor with their families ventured to ask Woodford and Howe for permission to return home. The commanders replied that they would receive and protect the women and children and hold the men as prisoners. Their action was approved.
At the first of the year the line had not yet been strictly drawn between enemies and friends and the colony was not exactly in a state of war. Practically speaking, war existed, but not legally. Commerce still continued under the restrictions of the Continental Association, which was an embargo and not a war measure; and the convention was somewhat at a loss as to the proper procedure in the case of the vessels that county committees and militia were now seizing in Chesapeake Bay. Open war had put an end to any usefulness the Association might have had as a protest, or means of gaining concessions, but it remained in force because the Revolution was a civil war and not an international conflict begun under proper forms - commerce had not been placed on a war footing. Necessity, however, was righting this artificiality, as is shown in the case of a shipmaster, Stephen Pierce, held for carrying salt from Antigua to Maryland in violation of the Association. He was allowed to proceed on his way because Maryland probably needed the salt.
Captured ships and cargoes were another war feature the convention was forced to deal with. Several vessels had been seized in Hampton Roads on the charge of violating the Association, or being the property of enemies of America. The committee recommended the forfeiture of the sloop Agatha freighted with a quantity of rum,-not because the rum had been improperly imported, but on account of the hostile conduct of the owners. Again, the sloop Swallow, bringing in salt, had not violated the Association, but the attitude of Hector McAllister, the owner, towards the colony required investigation. The brig Corlet, engaged in importing contrary to the Association, should be sold at auction. The convention laid this report on the table and ordered that the cargo of the Agatha, except the rum, be delivered to the owners.
Captain Richard Barron, in April, 1776, seized two vessels at Fredericksburg and one at Port Royal under the resolutions of Congress making all British property on the water liable to capture. Two of the ships belonged to British firms having agents on the Rappahannock; half of the third was claimed by an agent as his personal property and so not subject to confiscation. This awkward question of divided ownership - which meant that the government could only claim a part of a property - repeatedly came up in connection with estates belonging to business firms composed both of citizens and alien enemies. Seizures under Congressional recommendation, which were limited at first to effects captured at sea, later included every form of property.
Before adjournment the convention's attitude towards loyalists changed greatly. When it met the body had no very definite mode of punishment in mind; when it adjourned it had passed severely repressive measures. This transformation resulted largely from the obnoxious activity of the loyalists around Norfolk during their brief season of ascendancy. Norfolk and Princess Anne patriots, in their bitterness, requested that the British sympathizers of the neighborhood be moved to a distant part of the colony to prevent further mischief. They declared that the Tories had raided their plantations, robbed them of plate, money, and other valuables, stripped their wives and daughters almost to nakedness, burned their houses, and ended by dragging some of them into captivity. These various alleged misdoings led to the passage of an ordinance "for establishing a mode of punishment for the enemies to America in this colony." All white men who had been in arms against the colony and who should refuse to surrender themselves within two months, or who might thereafter aid the enemy, were to be imprisoned at the discretion of the Committee of Safety, which should also seize their estates and apply the revenues to the use of the colony. The committee, now wielding the power of imprisoning and pardoning Tories, became an extra-judicial court. This ordinance, however, did not prove sufficiently definite; it left the treatment of loyalists still a matter rather of policy than of law. The May, 1776, Convention accordingly increased the penalties for disaffection to forfeiture of estates and imprisonment, although such part of the property of imprisoned loyalists as was judged proper should be applied to the support of their families. Commissioners appointed by the county courts were to administer the forfeited estates for the benefit of the public. To settle the question of allegiance, the convention adopted a test oath. The arms and ammunition of all persons refusing it were to be taken for the state. A good many nonjurors in various parts of the colony were disarmed under this provision, yet not without compensation, at least ordinarily. Thus Philip Rootes was allowed six pounds for a rifle seized at his house.3
Many Norfolk cases came before the convention in the last days of the session. Alexander Gordon, who had borne arms against the colony and had been active in Dunmore's behalf; Joshua Whitehurst, who had attempted to raise recruits for him; Dr. Thomas Hall, ensign in Dunmore's army; a dozen Tories who had fought at Great Bridge; the commander of one of Dunmore's tenders; nine others who had been pressed into military service by the British were held as prisoners. Five men who had "in some measure aided Lord Dunmore," but had not taken arms or shown especial zeal, were released on parole to do nothing unfriendly in the future. Forty negroes, most of them captured at Great Bridge, were condemned to sale in the West Indies or restored to owners.
The convention also examined the man who - inexplicably enough - seems to have been the most dreaded Tory produced by Virginia in the Revolution. John Goodrich, a Nansemond planter and shipowner, had rendered the colony conspicuous service in the early stages of the struggle by bringing in from the West Indies a quantity of that sorely-needed article, powder. This performance drew down Dunmore's resentment and he was arrested and put on a sort of parole, being required to visit the governor's ship once every ten days. Apparently Goodrich was a subject of intimidation - an art in which Dunmore excelled. At all events, after a little while he began to act definitely on the British side. In command of an armed sloop he captured a ship in Ocracoke Inlet, North Carolina, and is said to have taken another in Chesapeake Bay. His career as a privateer was cut short when his sloop was boarded in Ocracoke Inlet by North Carolina patriots, who sent him a prisoner to Williamsburg. The government there signified its belief that he was a dangerous character by putting him in close confinement. After a careful examination the convention found him guilty of bearing arms against the colony and aiding the enemy; he was ordered to be sent to the interior and his estate was seized and administered by commissioners. Other charges against loyalists came to the convention from zealous county committees. The Dinwiddie Committee, informing the convention that Thomas Irving, a deputy postmaster in that county, was also agent for Neil Jameson, a Tory, asked for advice in regard to removing him. "The committee would not chuse to be officious in acting without authority from the Convention-but are clearly of opinion it is highly improper and may be of great prejudice to suffer the said Irving to continue post-master - which may give him an opportunity of opening letters - of conveying intelligence of the most dangerous nature to the welfare of this colony, . . . yet we are anxious not to exceed the line of our duty and therefore beg, Sir. you would be pleased to point it out to us." This letter is a fair sample of the spirit of obedience and desire for guidance inspiring the local committees in their dealings with the convention. Recommendations and orders from the latter body usually received prompt obedience, even when contrary to the wishes of committees. Thus, Wilson Curle, chairman of the Elizabeth City Committee, reported to Pendleton that that body had delivered a ship it had seized to the owner according to the orders of the convention. The Northampton Committee, which had sent several loyalist prisoners to Williamsburg, was highly gratified because the convention approved its conduct towards "those deluded people." In general the relations of the convention and Committee of Safety with the county committees were strikingly harmonious.
In the interval between the March and May Conventions of 1776, the Committee of Safety once more became the central power in the colony. Now that the die was cast, and open war was being waged in Virginia, and the convention itself had decided the treatment of loyalists, the junta acted more vigorously and definitely than in its earlier career. The committee's former wide discretionary powers were outlined in positive ordinances. Besides, the conservatives in the early months of 1776 had begun to lose hope of a reconciliation with England and anticipated an independent government.
Norfolk continued to be the chief internal problem of the Revolutionary administration. The destruction of this center of disaffection in January, 1776, somewhat simplified the question, but the country people of the region had been considerably tainted by Tory associations and Dunmore still found sympathizers and intelligence-givers ready to serve him. All this section lay open to raids by the British naval force, which continued to depredate with increasing severity. So constant were these raids and of such benefit to the raiders that the Committee of Safety as early as March, 1776, pondered the question of advising the people of the lower country to remove into the interior and leave their lands uncultivated, in order to cut off supplies from the British. This policy naturally failed to meet the approval of the population affected by the proposal, which urged, with obvious reason, that the removal of more than five thousand people in spring weather over bad roads would involve much suffering.
The committee hesitated to go so far as to enforce a general depopulation of the country, but, nevertheless, on April 10, 1776, ordered all persons in Norfolk and Princess Anne Counties, who had joined Dunmore and taken his oath, to move into the interior at least thirty miles from the enemy. To insure the enforcement of this order, the slaves of the evicted loyalists were to be carried inland and returned to their owners only when these had settled themselves as directed. A thousand pounds was voted for the relief of poor people unable to bear the expense of moving. The committee had been induced to take this action by an exaggerated letter from General Charles Lee, then commanding at Norfolk, as well as by the general belief that Norfolk Tories were engaged in supplying Dunmore with provisions and information. The Princess Anne Committee, in its perturbation over this sweeping order of banishment, declared to the Committee of Safety that, while the Norfolk people were much given to communicating with the enemy, the Princess Anne population was free from that iniquity. "As to the inimical dispositions of many of the Inhabitants of this County," the committee pathetically continued, "we beg leave to assure you that we, who have lived and been bred up with them, and have heard their Sentiments on this unhappy Dispute, and have been Witnesses of their conduct, think there are as few in this County as in any part of the Colony, and are as willing to join in any Measure for the advancement of the American cause; but such is our unhappy Fate that from the Manoeuvres of Lord Dunmore in this County when it was almost in a defenceless state, that we have been thought in general Inimical and has been a great means of our being grossly misrepresented." The committee asked that nothing more be done than to put the live stock out of Dunmore's way. The government agreed to allow friends and neutrals to remain on their estates on this condition: the inimical were to be forced to remove with their families and effects. The Norfolk people had also protested against the removal order; and since Dunmore had now left that vicinity the convention rescinded the resolution except in so far as it applied to the inimical.
As above stated, the Committee of Safety succeeded to the convention's function of court of appeals from the counties. Appellants felt that this tribunal would treat them with less prejudice than local committees, and, in fact, the committee acted with great lenity in these appeals. The cases of Joshua Whitehurst and Walter Hatton, of Accomac, have been mentioned. In the case of Archibald Ritchie, accused by the Essex Committee of violating the Association by importing, the committee recommended the prosecutors to pass over the offense with a warning. The imported goods were not condemned, because brought in before the passage of the confiscatory ordinance. The convention, however, in the spring meeting condemned goods seized before the passage of the ordinance, and left it to the option of local committees to confiscate goods or go on publishing offenders as before.
The committee was as anxious to avoid usurping the power of the local organizations as the latter were to refer cases to it for decision. When Thomas Mann Randolph and Thomas Underwood demanded to know whether the Goochland Committee had authority to investigate charges against Randolph, mentioned in a summons to Underwood, the committee ruled that it had no power to interfere with the Goochland authorities in an examination, but expressed a wish that they would not act on mere slanders and would confine themselves to actual Toryism. It frequently sent offenders back to the local courts for trial rather than seem to stretch its authority. The committee, about the first of March, 1776, adopted the policy of confining loyalists on parole within certain limits. They were perhaps led to take this action by appeals like that of Jacob Ellegood, the noted Tory, who had been thrown into jail and petitioned to be allowed to return to his plantation and live there quietly. The committee refused his request, but ordered his removal to Page Warehouse, Hanover, to remain on parole not to go out of the town limits or hold any correspondence on political subjects. Ellegood's conduct proved so obnoxious to the patriotic people of Hanovertown that the committee, on June 1, 1776, transferred him to Winchester. Later, after a tedious detention, he was exchanged as a prisoner of war. Mary Ellegood, his wife, appealed to the convention for relief in June, 1776, complaining that she and her three children had been deprived of the necessities of life since the seizure of her husband's estate. The committee, indeed, used loyalist property for the public service before the policy of actual confiscation began. Slaves of loyalists were frequently put to work for the government, as in the case of six of them confined in the public jail, who were used around the prison. The horses of George Logan, who had joined Dunmore, were sold and his slaves hired out for the benefit of the treasury.
Ralph Wormeley, Jr., one of the few men of high standing in the planter class openly identified with the British cause, came before the Committee of Safety, on April 22, 1776. The occasion of his summons was an indiscreet letter written to John Grymes, which happened to fall into the hands of the patriots and was forwarded to Williamsburg. The committee decided that nothing in Wormeley's conduct, or even in the letter, came within the scope of the ordinance establishing penalties for disaffection, but that the letter clearly proved an inimical disposition and a readiness to join the enemy on occasion. Wormeley was accordingly ordered to be discharged on giving bond for £ 10,000, not to correspond with the British or aid them, or to leave the colony without the consent of the government. The unfortunate correspondent had graphically described the difficulties under which Tories labored in tidewater Virginia in 1776, pressed as they were on one side by Dunmore and on the other by the Williamsburg government, sympathizing with the British but unable to aid them. Wormeley protested in utter irritation against Dunmore's demand for an unequivocal stand on his side, when such a course could only bring ruin to the impotent loyalist without benefiting the governor. But the ruin of his friends meant nothing to Dunmore, who was catching at every straw in the vain hope of securing some elements of strength.
Wormeley's complaint was as follows:
When you and John Nelson returned from Norfolk, you informed me that Lord Dunmore, wished or expected or thought it my duty, that I should immediately in person repair to his Lordship; that some such ostensible mark of my attachment to government, and Loyalty to my King was looked for from me, and that notwithstanding my inequivocal steady and invariable conduct, if I still continue at home, I may be exposed to the indiscriminating ravages of war, without any Chance of reparation. Whether this opinion is founded on the last proclamation of the King's on the late advice of the minister or from his Lordship's conjecture I do not know: as to the proclamation and the late advices from the Minister, I have an easy answer.
1st. I have never seen the proclamation; never heard it read or repeated, it cannot then be expected of me to pay respect to any instrument of that sort, whose contents I can have no cognizance of: before they are submitted to my senses. 2nd. as to the advice of the Minister which may lead his Lordship to conclude it to be the duty of every man, now, when the friends of government are in such a state of impotency, or rather are under such compleat dominion, to repair to his Lordship without probability of advancing any practical scheme of utility, of concerting any effectual plan of operations, and without any regard to circumstances, I say Sir, such advices are repugnant to the words and meaning of the King. In the true Knowledge of our present situation, his Majesty thus expresses himself, "and although many of those unhappy people may still retain their loyalty and may be too wise not to see the fatal consequences of this usurpation and wish to resist, yet the torrent of violence has been strong enough to compel their acquiescence till a sufficient force shall appear to support them." A few observations in the above quoted passage will prove the repugnancy, "unhappy people" in what? being overpowered 'by these usurpers, so overpowered that they cannot even hope they can only wish to resist it: this being the case, what are these unhappy people to do? What does his Majesty expect? not their fruitless vain endeavors which prejudice every cause: he knows that the torrent of violence is strong enough to retain them in their compulsive acquiescence "till a sufficient force shall appear to support them." He expects then they will wait the event; they will have, they have a right to protection. Every effort and endeavor now on their part would only issue in ruin to themselves and ruin to their cause. No man bears the accursed Tyranny with more impatient mortification than I do, and if there was a corner on the face of the earth, that I could support myself in and enjoy that freedom that I am now violently deprived of, I would for the gratification of my happiness fly to it. I have too much feeling not to be exquisitely sensible of my slavish condition .... But after all what beneficial consequences could my personal attendance operate in favor of that cause, whose success I have at heart? My example is not efficacious enough to influence others to follow it. What exertions of mine could now avail? and are not ineffectual exertions Capitally erroneous in policy? would not, or might not the departure of a person of my insignificance quicken the jealousy of the present rulers, give fresh vigor to prosecutions, and make them lash our few party friends, not with the rod of iron, which we have experienced, severe enough for the most criminal atrocity, but with a red hot one, fresh from the infernal forge of Tyranny.
If tho' the Governor should think my presence necessary and that I can in any degree be assistant to his Lordship, government or my country, will give me an official Summons, and afford me proper facilities to reach him, I will at the hazard of that precarious negative quiet that is now indulged to me, I will to the prejudice of my health, which you know is at present interrupted by a most inveterate disorder . . . at the risk of my life, of everything, obey it.
Wormeley did not give the required bond and remained in custody. It is probable that his political separation from almost the entire planter class oppressed him with a sense of isolation and finally weakened his fervent devotion to the royal side. At any rate, on May 11, 1776, he addressed the convention and, expressing regret for his unfortunate letter, declared his attachment for the American cause. The only point in which he differed from public opinion, he asserted, was in the means to be adopted for obtaining relief from Parliamentary taxation. He had never opposed public measures or violated the Association and the ordinances of the convention. The committee that examined his case reported that the letter showed an unfriendly and dangerous spirit and recommended his confinement to his father's estate in Frederick and Berkeley under bond of £16910,000 not to leave without permission. Wormeley then gave bond and entered upon exile.
As the year 1776 advanced, Virginia began to settle down into a more regular status: the Revolution, in its primary and immediate character, was over. An unfailing sign of this, county committees began to be superseded as tribunals by courts of inquiry appointed from members of committees or militia officers and juries were summoned as in ordinary courts of law. The large, unwieldy committees gave place to these small commissions. The courts of inquiry were later succeeded, upon the establishment of a permanent government, by the old-style county-court system. The courts of inquiry conducted themselves much as the committees had done and retained the same connection with the Committee of Safety, sending offenders on to Williamsburg as before. The Gloucester commissioners' court, on April 4, 1776, tried John Wilkie on the charge of communicating with the enemy. The jury brought in a verdict of "guilty of giving intelligence to our Enemies and going on board the man of war intentionally," and sent Wilkie to the Committee of Safety. The committee ordered an inventory to be taken of his estate and appointed Sir John Peyton commissioner to sell it. The Norfolk court of inquiry, on April 30, 1776, examined Thomas Talbott charged with being inimical. As three witnesses testified in his behalf, he was discharged. But at the same session the court ironed John Scott, convicted of supplying the enemy with provisions, and sent William Creamer to Williamsburg for the same offense. Another court of inquiry consisting of four officers, held in May, 1776, considered cases of furnishing supplies to the enemy, desertion, and drunkenness; and also tried the loyalist John Willoughby, ordered to remove inland from the coast but disobedient. The chief evidence against Willoughby was a statement he had made that the proceedings of the patriot party would force the people to become Tories or form a third party. As Willoughby pleaded drunkenness for an excuse he was treated leniently, intoxication being regarded by the Fathers as a palliating circumstance in almost every crime from failure to attend church to treason. The case of George Oldener was more serious. Oldener, among other things, had aided one of the witnesses against him under the impression that he was a deserter from the American army and had called a prisoner held by Dunmore a "damned rebel." He was judged to be unfriendly to the patriot cause, but as he had committed no overt act to bring him within the ordinance prescribing imprisonment for "enemies of America" he was sent into exile in the interior.
Appeals came to the Committee of Safety from the new courts of inquiry just as from the former committees. The Committee of Safety, on June 8, 1776, tried a case appealed from Middlesex, that of Charles Neilson, who was ordered to remain within the limits of Fauquier County and to be kept in custody until he gave a bond of £ 100 not to leave the county. He was released from confinement on giving bond and went away to Fauquier, while five commissioners took possession of his Middlesex estate and his other property in Gloucester.
The Committee of Safety, on June 21, 1776, sat on John Goodrich, Jr., son of the noted Goodrich, who had created such a stir in the colony. John Goodrich, the younger, with his brother Bartlett, in assisting his father to bring in the powder, had imported forbidden goods and falsified the invoices, changing the nationality of articles from Scotch and Irish to Dutch, - a not infrequent transformation in those days of the Continental Association. They had ingeniously pleaded in defense that they were forced to take other British goods in order to get the powder, but the convention confiscated the goods and branded the importers as inimical. John Goodrich, Jr., further found himself in the custody of William Harwood, bound not to correspond with Dunmore or go more than three miles from Harwood's place without permission. When no witnesses appeared against him at the date set for his regular trial before the Committee of Safety, he was discharged on giving bond of £ 2000 for good behavior, which William Harwood furnished. Goodrich refused, however, to take the oath prescribed for suspects and suffered disarming proof positive of a hostile spirit. Both he and Bartlett Goodrich received rather lenient treatment, which the authorities no doubt often regretted later. For the Goodrich sons became a thorn in the side of Virginia before the war ended. Managing to get away to New York, they fitted out privateers and waged warfare on Virginia commerce with energy and luck; they dashed in through the Capes and cut out ships time and again. Of all the British privateers swarming in these waters they were the most noted.
The Revolutionary Convention met for the last session on May 6, 1776. Edmund Pendleton, chairman of the Committee of Safety and president of the December, 1775, Convention, was again elected president. Pendleton, on assuming the gavel, made a brief speech in which he called the attention of the convention to the necessities of the situation: he reminded the delegates that the courts had been closed for two years and that many criminals were waiting trial, and that the ordinance "prescribing a mode of punishment for the enemies of America" required amendment.
The speech was the keynote of a sterner policy towards loyalists. Two days later Pendleton laid before the convention a letter from John Tayloe Corbin to the Tory, Charles Neilson, "containing sentiments inimical to America," together with the proceedings of the King and Queen Committee upon the same. Corbin was committed to custody and his letter referred to a committee, which reported that it showed "a disposition unfriendly and dangerous to the rights of his country" and recommended his confinement on parole. Corbin had quite a tale of hardship to tell in his behalf. He stated that he had written the letter in October, 1775, to Neilson, who was about to go to Norfolk with a passport from the Middlesex Committee, but that he had not violated the colonial regulations in any way. In spite of this, the commander of the local minute-men had arrested him, taken him from his family, and, after keeping him a prisoner for four days, finally brought him before the county committee, which had discharged him as not coming within its jurisdiction. Anxious for a vindication, he had come to Williamsburg with the suspected letter, when, on his arrival, he had been again arrested under a military warrant and confined in the common guardhouse. No open act was charged against Corbin, but nevertheless the convention demanded a bond of £16910,000 and paroled him to stay in Caroline County. His case, like Wormeley's, attracted great attention, as he was one of the wealthiest and most prominent men in the colony and one of the few rash enough to protest, even in a private letter, against the Revolution.
In spite of such occasional severity, the convention conducted its investigations with strict justice and dismissed a number of suspects. The public temper, however, was gradually hardening under the stress of war. Not only was disaffection becoming a more serious offense as the gap between the colonies and England widened, but property rights were less carefully guarded. The convention directed the Caroline and Spotsylvania Committees to determine the ownership of four vessels seized as British property by the colonial naval commander in the Rappahannock. Significantly enough, the convention placed the burden of proving ownership on the claimants. It was not now for the colony to prove that suspected ships were British property, but for the owners to prove that they were not. The convention continued the policy of the Committee of Safety in sending prisoners for trial to the commissioners' courts in the counties where the offenses had been committed, except in appeals or cases of exceptional difficulty. Joshua Hopkins, held on the charge of carrying provisions to Dunmore, was sent to Princess Anne for trial. It had required some trouble to secure proof against this cunning fellow, but he was caught at last coming from Dunmore's ship by a party that had lain in wait for him two days. Likewise, Thomas Mitchell, arrested on suspicion of being inimical, was sent to the York court. A very sad appeal came to the convention from eighteen ruined merchants and clerks who wished to leave the country. They had been given permission to leave on finding themselves unable to go on doing business, and actually boarded a vessel, but it had been seized for the use of the colony. As they had canceled their contracts and sold their effects before leaving, they were now homeless and destitute. The convention granted them permission to go away - a permission seldom withheld from British-born merchants seeking to leave Virginia. It was a solution of the difficulty much more palatable to the government than confinement. Finally, Britons who were so lacking in tact as to wish to remain in an impossible position were forcibly expelled; yet such measures were never adopted during the administration of the Committee of Safety, which always treated these unfortunates with consideration.
When the May, 1776, Convention adjourned, after providing a constitution, the Revolution proper was at an end. It was carried through in Virginia with far less effort than in most of the other colonies. Little blood was shed even in battle; no Tories had been put to death, legally or by mobs, and few had been tarred and feathered. At the same time the Revolution in Virginia, as elsewhere, had only been accomplished at the price of great loss and suffering, and hundreds of exiles had fled forth from the once easy-going and hospitable province into an unfamiliar world.
By far the greater number of loyalists went quietly abroad and little record is left of them. Those remaining behind fared hard. In May, 1776, at the time of the meeting of the convention, a dozen Tories lay in the public jail in Williamsburg, together with several prisoners of war and a number of negroes belonging to the former. These wretches, confined in the unspeakable eighteenth-century jail and obliged for the most part to provide their own food, suffered terribly. Under the impulse of distress one or another of the prisoners from time to time would plead for trial, sometimes in vain. Robert Shedden, in a letter to John Page, declared that he had done nothing hostile to America and asked for an opportunity to clear himself. John Carmont stated that he had been arrested four months before for boarding a vessel in Norfolk Harbor and sent to Williamsburg without a hearing before the local committee. Three months later he had been brought before the Committee of Safety and ordered back to Norfolk for trial; but, nevertheless, had continued in prison in Williamsburg without a change of linen, money, or other necessaries. What the condition of the prisoner in the public jail at Williamsburg was may be seen by the report of a committee appointed by the convention to investigate. This jail, it should be borne in mind, was no worse than other prisons of that period in which men starved, died of infectious diseases, or froze to death for lack of fire and clothing; in fact, it was far better than the prisons provided by the British for the American soldiers in New York.
The said jail [the committee reported], being badly planned and situated for the purpose of admitting a free air, all the prisoners are more or less distressed on that account; this inconvenience is greatly increased, as well by a large number of persons being under confinement in the same small apartment as the heat of the weather; altho' most of the rooms seem to have been properly attended to, and kept in tolerable decency, an offensive smell, which they think would be injurious to the most robust health, prevails in them all, but which they think might be in a great measure removed by burning tar in and frequently purifying the rooms with vinegar. The rooms in which the negroes are confined abound with filth, a circumstance, as they are informed, owing to the want of necessary hands to assist in providing for so large and unusual a number of prisoners; several windows may, with safety, be cut in the walls of the jail; ventilators, if properly fixed, would be of infinite service: Some complaints were made by the prisoners against the unwholesomeness of their diet, which, upon inquiry, were found to be groundless. John Goodrich, the elder, is at present, and hath been for three days past, indisposed with a slight fever, proceeding, as they imagine, from a restlessness and peevishness under his chain; two gentlemen of the faculty have advised his removal to some other place, lest that disorder, which at present is but slight, might in a short time, for want of fresh air, terminate in a putrid fever.
It is pleasing to note that the convention ordered the ameliorations recommended to be immediately carried into effect and directed the removal of John Goodrich, minus his chain but under a strong guard, to some place where he might recover his health.
As the spirit of this report goes to show, the Revolution in Virginia was accomplished without any unnecessary cruelty and, so far as possible, under forms approaching those of law. Local committees suppressed the disaffected, but in a struggle which was, in effect, a civil war, selfpreservation demanded the sacrifice. Many hard things were done, many men suffered imprisonment, and many more were ruined, but suffering and loss are the inevitable accompaniments of revolution. County committees, indeed, sometimes showed a small intolerance, an inquisitorial, and perhaps tyrannical, spirit,! but small men will not work with enthusiasm otherwise. The central authority, the convention and the Committee of Safety, with the succeeding council, were always broad-minded and inclined towards tolerance. Mob violence, as has been noted, was rare.
Nothing is more characteristic of the elevated ideals of the convention than its release, on June 12, 1776, of two criminals in the public jail on the ground that no legitimate court existed to try them. Whereas [it declared], Samuel Flanagan and Manasses McGahey have been severally committed to the public jail in the city of Williamsburg, charged with capital offenses, for which they ought, in the regular course, to have been brought to trial, at a court of Oyer and terminer and jail delivery, on the Second Tuesday in this month, which could not be held by reason of the present convulsions, and for want of a commission from the late executive power; and whereas no method is yet adopted for the trial of criminals, and it might be thought inconsistent with the liberty we are endeavoring to secure, in the most permanent manner, to keep men charged with criminal offenses in long confinement without bringing them to their trials, the Committee thinks it best to grant a pardon to the said criminals respectively, hoping that this lenity, together with the imprisonment they have undergone, will produce a sincere contrition and reformation of their manners, and that they may hereafter prove useful members to society.
So it will be seen that the Revolution had begun to show its humanitarian side, that side of social progress and development destined to be of great importance, and of far-reaching influence on the present age.