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Extract of a Letter from the Earl of Dunmore to the Earl of Dartmouth



My necessary absence on the occasion of the Indian disturbances, will, I hope, account and excuse me for my not having acknowledged your Lordship' s several letters in due time and order, and for not having regularly communicated accounts of the publick affairs of the Colony, to which some of them refer; and I wish I were now so fortunate as to have it in my power to make a representation of their appearing with a more favourable aspect, than when I last wrote upon those important concerns.

The Associations first in part entered into, recommended by the people of this Colony, and adopted by what is called the Continental Congress, are now enforcing throughout this country with the greatest rigour. A Committee has


been chosen in every County, whose business it is to carry the Association of the Congress into execution, which Committee assumes an authority to inspect the books, invoices, and all other secrets of the trade and correspondence of Merchants; to watch the conduct of every inhabitant, without distinction, and to send for all such as come under their suspicion into their presence; to interrogate them respecting all matters which, at their pleasure, they think fit objects of their inquiry; and to stigmatize, as they term it, such as they find transgressing what they are now hardy enough to call the Laws of the Congress, which stigmatizing is no other than inviting the vengeance of an outrageous and lawless mob to be exercised upon the unhappy victims. Every County, besides, is now arming a Company of men, whom they call an Independent Company, for the avowed purpose of protecting their Committees, and to be employed against Government, if occasion require. The Committee of one County has proceeded so far as to swear the men of their Independent Company, to execute all orders which shall be given them from the Committee of their County.

As to the power of Government, which your Lordship, in your letter of November 11, directs should be exerted to counteract the dangerous measures pursuing here, I can assure your Lordship that it is entirely disregarded, if not wholly overturned. There is not a Justice of the Peace in Virginia that acts, except as a Committee-man. The abolishing the Courts of Justice was the first step taken, in which the men of fortune and pre-eminence joined equally with the lowest and meanest. The General Court of Judicature of the Colony is much in the same predicament; for though there are at least a majority of his Majesty' s Council, who, with myself, are the Judges of that Court, that would steadily perform their duty, yet the Lawyers have absolutely refused to attend, nor indeed would the people allow them to attend, or evidences to appear. The reason commonly assigned for this proceeding, is the want of a Fee Bill, which expired at the last session of Assembly; and it is a popular argument here, that no power but the Legislature can establish Fees; and the Fee Bill not having been renewed, it is attributed to the dissolution. But the true cause of so many persons joining in so opprobrious a measure, was to engage their English creditors, who are numerous, to join in the clamours of this country; and not a few to avoid paying the debts in which many of the principal people here are much involved.

With regard to the encouraging of those, as your Lordship likewise exhorts me, who appeared, in principle, averse to these proceedings, I hope your Lordship will do me the justice to believe I have left no means in my power unessayed to draw all the assistance possible from them to his Majesty' s Government; but I presume your Lordship will not think it very extraordinary, that my persuasions should have been unavailing, against the terrours, which, on the other hand, are held out by the Committee.

Independent Companies, &c˙, so universally supported, who have set themselves up superiour to all other authority, under the auspices of their Congress, the Laws of which they talk of in a style of respect, and treat with marks of reverence, which they never bestowed on their, legal Government, or the Laws proceeding from it. I can assure your Lordship, that I have discovered no instance where the interposition of Government, in the feeble state to which it is reduced, could serve any other purpose than to suffer the disgrace of a disappointment, and thereby afford matter of great exultation to its enemies, and increase their influence over the minds of the people.

But, my Lord, every step which has been taken by these infatuated people, must inevitably defeat its own purpose. Their Non-Importation, Non-Exportation, &c˙, cannot fail in a short time to produce a scarcity, which will ruin thousands of families. The people, indeed, of fortune, may supply themselves and their negroes for two or three years, but the middling and poorer sort, who live from hand to mouth, have not the means of doing so; and the produce of their lands will not purchase those necessaries, (without which themselves and negroes must starve,) of the Merchants who may have goods to dispose of; because the Merchants are prevented from turning such produce to any account. As to manufacturing for themselves, the people of Virginia are very far from being naturally industrious;


and it is not by taking away the principal, if not the only encouragement to industry, that it can be excited; nor is it in times of anarchy and confusion, that the foundation of such improvements can be laid. The lower class of people, too, will discover that they have been duped by the richer sort, who, for their part, elude the whole effects of the Association by which their poor neighbours perish. What, then, is to deter those from taking the shortest mode of supplying themselves? and unrestrained as they are by laws, from taking whatever they want wherever they can find it?

The arbitrary proceedings of these Committees, likewise, cannot fail of producing quarrels and dissensions, which will raise, partisans of Government; and I am firmly persuaded that the Colony, even by their own acts and deeds, must be brought to see the necessity of depending on its mother country, and of embracing its authority.