Dunmore's New World: The Extraordinary Life of a Royal Governor in Revolutionary America-With Jacobites, Counterfeiters, Land Schemes, Shipwrecks, Scalping Indian Politics, Runaway Slaves, and Two Illegal Royal Weddings

By Ferrari, Mary | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, October 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Dunmore's New World: The Extraordinary Life of a Royal Governor in Revolutionary America-With Jacobites, Counterfeiters, Land Schemes, Shipwrecks, Scalping Indian Politics, Runaway Slaves, and Two Illegal Royal Weddings


Ferrari, Mary, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Dunmore's New World: The Extraordinary Life of a Royal Governor in Revolutionary America-with Jacobites, Counterfeiters, Land Schemes, Shipwrecks, Scalping Indian Politics, Runaway Slaves, and Two Illegal Royal Weddings * James Corbett David * Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2013 * x, 270 pp. * $29.95

Reviewed by Mary Ferrari, professor of history at Radford University. Her latest research is on the life and legend of Mary Draper Ingles, a pioneer and early settler of western Virginia.

To his peers, John Murray, earl of Dunmore, was incompetent, selfish, a drunk, and an unscrupulous villain. Up until now, historians have not studied him in any depth. This biography, the first fulllength one to appear in seventy years, reveals a complex man whose life parallels and enlightens the interconnected nature of the Atlantic world. David's work is a fair biography; Dunmore is not a villain or hero but a human being full of contradictions ambitiously trying to get ahead. David described him as a "man of average ability and extraordinary confidence, he had many flaws" (p. 4). Dunmore's life as told in this well-written and well-researched book provides a valuable lesson on the power struggles and politics in the United Kingdom, the North American colonies, and the Caribbean.

Early chapters show the complexity of getting and keeping power in a kingdom based on heredity. John Murray's father supported the wrong side in a Scottish rebellion against George II of England, thus jeopardizing the family prospects. Yet his loyal uncle managed to save the family title, which John Murray inherited in 1752. The title, earl of Dunmore, did not come with an income, so Dunmore, after a frustrating military career and a stint in Parliament, pursued colonial positions, of which he secured three governorships, New York, Virginia, and the Bahamas. He is best known for his actions against the Shawnee and his famous proclamation freeing the slaves while governor of Virginia. But in all his positions, Dunmore displayed arrogance and engaged in the pursuit of grand objectives often without permission. David discusses all three of Dunmore's appointments in detail, capturing the power bases and political issues in each region. …

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