Meet Patrick Henry orator, statesman, first elected (non-royal) governor in Virginia. lawyer, patriot and founder of American independence.
He had a lot to say about his past. The Interpreter was great. He spoke with enthusiasm and humor, especially for a man nearing the end of his life. (Patrick Henry would die the following year). The Interpreter effectively conveyed Henry’s life story in an interesting manner but the political history was too much information and not enough detail for me until I looked it up. After the presentation, he answered questions knowledgeably and agreeably. Then he stepped down from the stage to meet and greet people wanting to take pictures, shake his hand and discuss his impact on modern day politics.
My pictures didn’t come out so well because I was too far away. I kept moving closer as people left to try to capture his face. The zoom lens can only reach so far, unfortunately.
Colorful character Patrick Henry tells his life story. A self-starter, Henry studied law on his own. He first became famous in 1763 for calling the King a tyrant who would be disposed because the far away King refused to pass a law made by the representatives of the American people. Two years later he spoke out against the Stamp Act in the Virginia House of Burgesses. He compared King George III with dictators like Caeser and Charles I of England. On May 29, 1765, he introduced seven radical resolutions in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Five of the seven resolutions were adopted on May 30, though one was reconsidered the next day (after Henry’s departure) and removed.
He was a very passionate speaker and got the Burgesses (representatives) all riled up because they thought his words were treason. Henry managed to win the men to his side and led every protest for American rights and independence.
Henry was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774. On March 23, 1775, he gave his infamous speech arguing the Congress should put together an army to fight against the British. He gave a dramatic speech, holding his wrists together like they were chained. Henry raised his wrists towards the heavens and stated dramatically “Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty” (imagine Henry bursting from his imaginary chains and grabbing an ivory letter opener) “Or give me death!” (picture Henry pretending to stab himself.” No one spoke for a few minutes. History will credit this speech with tipping the scales towards independence. (Listen to his speech given by Richard Schumann who interprets Patrick Henry for Colonial Williamsburg)
The interpreter was really into his speech, he was spitting a bit as his voice rose.
Henry led the militia against Lord Dunmore and called for Lord Dunmore’s removal after the Governor tried to steal the town’s gunpowder. On May 2, Henry collected the militia of Hanover County and marched toward Williamsburg. He sent a message to the governor demanding that the gunpowder be returned to representatives of the colony. Governor Dunmore wrote the Virginians a bill of exchange for value of the powder, then issued a proclamation outlawing “a certain Patrick Henry” for disturbing the peace of the colony.
Henry served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, was a member of the Virginia committee of Correspondence, a delegate to the Virginia Convention, and a delegate to the Virginia Constitution Ratification Convention. Henry was commissioned as Colonel of the First Virginia regiment on Saturday, August 26, 1775, by the third Virginia Convention. Henry was a delegate to the Continental Congress buy resigned his position to return to Virginia to begin organizing his regiment.
On June 29 was elected the first governor of the Commonwealth under its new constitution, adopted the same day. Patrick Henry served five terms as the first and sixth governor of Virginia.
Henry was succeeded as governor by Thomas Jefferson but the two were not particularly friendly. There was some animosity between them during the war years when the British advanced on the capital of Virginia. In January 1781, British forces under Benedict Arnold, sailed up the James River and captured Richmond, the capital at the time. The government fled to Staunton, minus Governor Jefferson, whose term had expired. Jefferson took refuge at his farm in Bedford County, and because Virginia had not had another election, the Commonwealth had no governor for ten days. Several legislators, including Patrick Henry complained of Jefferson’s actions and called for an inquiry into the conduct of the executive. Patrick Henry explains how he thought Jefferson should have been impeached. (That will NEVER happen again… he adds). The Battle of Yorktown effectively ended the war before an inquiry could be held. The Virginia legislature decided against holding the inquiry and congratulated Jefferson on winning the war. Patrick Henry did not seem to thrilled by this.
Patrick Henry served as governor again from 1784-1786. He was the longest serving governor of Virginia and will always be on the record as such due to term limits.
Henry explained his feelings towards the Constitution. He opposed ratification because he felt it put too much power in the hands of the federal government without a bill of rights. He feared the absence of a bill of rights was a power grab by a few (as in Jefferson and Madison). Virginia agreed to ratify the Constitution when the Bill of Rights was added but Henry felt they did not adequately safeguard the rights of the people. He emphasized the rights of the people -rights NO ONE can take away from us. Fortunately the audience didn’t get into a political debate while I was busy trying to take notes.
I asked about his first wife, Sarah, who was mentally ill. He explained that after the birth of her 6th child she became disoriented and confused, not speaking and she stopped recognizing her children. Whether this was postpartum depression or not there is no way of knowing given the lack of medical knowledge at the time but modern scholars feel there is a connection. She continued to decline, becoming violent, and the family physician recommended taking her to Williamsburg to the hospital there. After touring the hospital, Patrick Henry decided it was too cruel to allow his wife to be imprisoned there. He had a “commodious establishment” made for her in the basement. It wasn’t the dank, dark, dungeon his enemies would have you think but actually sunny and comfortable. There she had light, food and water, was attended by a nurse and visited by her family. Sadly, Sarah never recovered after died after 4 1/2 years. I had read a novel, in my younger days, Or Give Me Death by Ann Rinaldi. In the novel Sarah Henry throws herself out the window crying “Give me liberty, or give me death!” thus inspiring her husband’s speech. (and my question) However, historians don’t know the truth and this seems to have been a fun piece of fiction for young adults. It seems like the truth is that her family loved her and tried their best to care for her with the limited medical treatment available at that time. It breaks my heart for her and the family who watched her suffer. I asked because I felt it was important to Sarah Henry to have her story told. I realized when I asked that this must be a frequently asked question. A tougher question would have been “Did you cover up your wife’s illness because of your political ambitions?” No doubt there would have been a great answer to that question too.
Patrick Henry married again after a suitable period of mourning in 1777. His second wife bore him another 11 children and survived. He will die next year in 1799 at his home on Red Hill Plantation in Campbell County. (How he knows this, he didn’t say!)
You too can have the pleasure of an audience with Patrick Henry thanks you YouTubers. I wish I had been close enough to take a video but I got there too late for a good seat.
This is a great program and I recommend visiting with as many nation builders as you can. Thomas Jefferson is still my favorite but Patrick Henry is wonderful too.