On this day in 1776, Patrick Henry becomes colonel of the First Virginia battalion in defense of the state’s supply of gunpowder.
A Virginia lawyer, Henry gained fame as a member of the House of Burgesses with his passionate speeches against British rule and what he saw as their unfair taxation policy. First elected in 1765, he promptly proposed five resolutions opposing the Stamp Act that became models for other colonies. Henry’s was the first, and often the loudest and most articulate, voice raised against taxation without representation.
Henry was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774 and quickly became the group’s most outspoken member. As a member of the Second Continental Congress, Henry attended the Second Virginia Convention to show solidarity with Bostonians suffering under British military occupation in March 1775. On March 23, 1775, at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, Henry gave his most famous speech, in which he urged Virginians to ally themselves with besieged Boston with the words give me liberty or give me death!
Less than a month later, on April 20, Virginia’s Royal Governor Lord Dunmore attempted to take the gunpowder from the Williamsburg magazine as part of his attempt to hold on to power in the colony. In response, Henry led the Patriot militia in a standoff with Dunmore’s troops until fellow Virginian Patriot Carter Braxton negotiated a settlement. The incident is known as the Gunpowder Affair.
From 1776 to 1779, Henry served as the first governor of the state of Virginia. He held the post again from 1784 to 1786. After serving as governor, Henry continued to influence American politics. Among his most important work was his fight for the addition of the first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantee basic freedoms, such as the freedoms of speech and religion, to American citizens.