John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (1730 – February 25, 1809), was a British peer and colonial governor. He was the son of William Murray, 3rd Earl of Dunmore, and his wife Catherine (née Murray). He is best remembered as the last Royal Governor of the Colony of Virginia before the American Revolutionary War.
Despite growing issues with Great Britain, Lord Botetourt had been a popular governor in Virginia, even though he served only two years. Lacking in diplomatic skills, Dunmore maintained a contentious relationship with the colonists.
During his term as Virginia's colonial governor, he directed a series of campaigns against the Indians known as Lord Dunmore's War. The Shawnee were the main target of these attacks, and his purpose was to strengthen Virginia's claims in the west, particularly in the Ohio Country. However, some have accused him of colluding with the Shawnees and arranging the war to deplete the Virginia militia and help safeguard the Loyalist cause, should there be a colonial rebellion.
When the House of Burgesses of the Colonial Assembly recommended a "committee of correspondence" to communicate their concerns to leaders in Great Britain in March, 1773, he immediately dissolved it. Many of burgesses gathered a short distance away at the Raleigh Tavern and continued discussing their problems with the new taxes and lack of representation in England.
At a time when colonists in Massachusetts were also at sharp odds with the British, and punitive action had been taken. As a gesture of support, the recovened House of Burgesses passed a resolution making June 1, 1774 a day of fasting and prayer in Virginia. In response, Dunmore again dissolved them.
From 1774 on, Dunmore was continually clashing with colonial leaders. Dunmore saw rising unrest in the colony and sought to deprive Virginia militia of supplies needed for insurrection. The Second Virginia Convention had elected delegates to the Continental Congress. Dunmore issued a proclamation against electing delegates to the Congress, but did not take serious action. On March 23, Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" speech at the Second Convention and the accompanying resolution calling for forming an armed resistance made Dunmore "think it prudent to remove some Gunpowder which was in a Magazine in this place. Dunmore gave a key to Lieutenant Henry Colins, commander of H.M.S. Magdalen, and ordered him to remove the powder, provoking what became known as the Gunpowder Incident. On the night of April 20, 1775, royal marines loaded fifteen half barrels of powder into the governor's wagon intent on transporting it down the Quarterpath Road to the James River to be loaded aboard the British ship. This was discovered while underway, and local militia rallied to the scene, and riders spread word of the incident across the colony.
The Hanover militia, led by Patrick Henry arrived outside of Williamsburg on May 3. That day, Dunmore evacuated his family from the Governor's Palace to his hunting lodge, Porto Bello in York County, adjacent to the York River. On May 6, Dunmore issued a proclamation against "a certain Patrick Henry . . . and a Number of deluded Followers" who had organized "an Independent Company . . . and put themselves in a Posture of War."
As hositilities continued, Dunmore left Williamsburg himself on June 8, 1775, retreating to Porto Bello where he joined his family. From there, he took refuge on the British warship Fowey in the York River. He is noted for Lord Dunmore's Proclamation, also known as Lord Dunmore's Offer of Emancipation, on November 7, 1775, whereby he offered freedom to enslaved Africans who joined his Army (the Ethiopian Regiment). This was the first mass emancipation of slaves in North America. However, Dunmore's strategy did not stem from any moral or religious objections to slavery. As governor of Virginia, Dunmore had withheld his signature from a bill against the slave trade. Dunmore did not indiscriminately free the slaves; only those able and willing to bear Arms were invited to join him, not women, children, or those too old or infirm to fight.
He organized these Black Loyalists into the Ethiopian Regiment. However, after the Battle of Kemp's Landing, Dunmore became over-confident, which precipitated his defeat at the Battle of Great Bridge, December 9, 1775. Following the defeat at Great Bridge, he loaded his troops, and many Virginia Loyalists, onto British ships; as there was an outbreak of smallpox at the time, this had disastrous consequences, particularly for the ex-slaves, most of whom had not been inoculated- some 500 of the 800 members of the Ethiopian Regiment died.
On New Year's Day in 1776, Dunmore gave orders to burn waterfront buildings in Norfolk from which patriot troops were firing on his ships. In doing so, he fell into another trap, as this gave the rebels an excuse to burn the entire city. When it became apparent that his supporters were not going to be able to return to Virginia, Dunmore retreated to New York. Some ships of his refugee fleet were sent south, mostly to Florida, but the rumour that their black passengers were resold into slavery appears to be based on propaganda stories circulated by the anti-British forces at the time. When he realized he could not regain control in Virginia, he returned to Britain in July 1776.
From 1787 to 1796, he served as Governor of the Bahamas.