‘Liberty or death’ rallied colonists to war

Re-enactments of Patrick Henry’s famous speech take place at St. John’s Church on Sundays during the summer, as well as in March, near the anniversary of the speech.

With the possible exception of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, perhaps no historical event stirs the imagination or fires the patriotism of schoolchildren as does Patrick Henry's "Liberty or Death" speech.

But while Revere's ride was important, Henry's speech in 1775 was a genuine turning point in American history, providing the impetus that helped set the colonies on the road to revolution.

Delivered at St. John's Church in what was then Henrico Parish, the speech rallied a crowd that was inclined to delay confrontation with Great Britain and convinced the members to approve Henry's call to arms.

"Henry combined an actor's flair with a preacher's fervor," writes Henry Mayer in his biography of Henry, A Son of Thunder. "[A]nd he evoked a rapport with ordinary folks that changed the face of Virginia's – and later, America's – politics."

Less than a month after the speech, the "shot heard round the world" was fired at Lexington, Mass. Thanks in no small part to Henry, the Virginians had a militia organized and stood ready to lead the colonies in the fight for independence.

Because of Henry's speech, St. John's Church (now located within the City of Richmond) is today a National Historic Landmark and a treasured symbol of the birth of American liberty. And as Henrico Parish – like Henrico County – marks its 400th anniversary this year, St. John's will welcome an estimated 40,000 visitors into the church to view the hallowed site of Henry's address to the Second Virginia Convention.

Guests who are fortunate enough to visit during one of the popular re-enactment programs will have the opportunity to hear the immortal words spoken as Patrick Henry might have spoken them, and to experience for themselves the electrifying effect that Henry had on the crowd in 1775 – an effect that ranks the "Liberty or Death" speech No. 3 on the Henrico Citizen's list of the most significant events in Henrico's 400-year history.


Preaching to the choir
Patrick Henry developed his oratorical skills at a young age, and in an unlikely venue: atop the driver's seat of a carriage.

As a teenager, Henry drove his mother and sisters in the carriage to Polegreen Church, where they heard the preaching of the gifted orator Samuel Davies.

On the long carriage rides back from Polegreen, Henry's mother – a devout follower of Reverend Davies – would demand that young Patrick repeat the substance of his sermons. Henry studied Davies' rhetoric intently and adopted much of his style; years later, he told his biographer that Davies was the greatest speaker he had ever heard and
that Davies had taught him what it was to be an orator.

After he became a lawyer, Henry began earning a reputation not only for oratory, but also for his resistance to British rule. Elected to the House of Burgesses in 1765, he led the opposition to the Stamp Act and proposed Virginia's Stamp Act Resolutions.

Author and scholar Jon Kukla, who is working on a book about Henry and the revolution, points out that Patrick Henry was denouncing the king as a tyrant at least a decade before the likes of Adams, Jefferson or even Thomas Paine had spoken out publicly.

"Without Henry’s leadership in Virginia," says Kukla, "the American colonies would not have united in opposition to the Stamp Act."

‘Let me be buried’
As preparations for the Second Virginia Convention got underway in 1775, tensions between Virginia and Great Britain were worsening, and delegates decided to move the meeting from Williamsburg to the Henrico Parish Church to avoid interference from Governor Dunmore.

Henry presented resolutions to mobilize for military action, but the more cautious House members preferred a wait-and-see attitude. After listening to a number of arguments for delay, Henry took the floor seeking to dispel any notion that the colonists could still achieve peace through submission to the crown.

The war had already begun, Henry told his audience, which included such notables as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Richard Henry Lee.

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” he concluded. "Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

According to accounts of the event, the speech initially met with stunned silence. But William Wirt, who wrote the first biography of Henry, notes that the speech was also followed by cries of, "To arms! To arms!"

It was Wirt who collected oral testimony from convention eyewitnesses and reconstructed the speech as we know it today. But because Wirt's biography was published in 1817, some historians have expressed doubt about the speech's accuracy.

While Kukla acknowledges that there was no stenographer present to transcribe the speech, he points out that the ideas expressed are clearly in line with thoughts and opinions that Henry had voiced before.

What's more, says Kukla, "People in that time had a much better capacity to memorize and retain speeches like that." Listeners were deeply affected by the speech as well, and therefore more likely to take the words to heart or commit them to memory.

"On the whole," says Kukla, "I'm one of the historians inclined to regard it as a good approximation. That's as close as you're going to get in an era that didn't have tape recorders."

Among the deeply affected listeners was a young delegate named Edward Carrington, who was unable to get a seat inside the church due to the multitudes that flocked to St. John's and surrounded the building hoping to hear the debate. Carrington maneuvered his way to an open window, however, and was able to hear Henry's declaration.

As the closing words rang out, Carrington was so overcome with emotion that he exclaimed, "Let me be buried at this spot!"

After his death in 1810, Carrington's family adhered to his wish.

"That tells us," Kukla says, "how much impact the speech had."

The first American?
Centuries before the advent of television, "liberty or death" quickly became the sound bite of its era. The phrase was immensely popular, says Kukla, and even was adopted as a motto by militiamen in Culpeper, who inscribed it on their flag along with the "Don't Tread on Me" rattlesnake.

In modern times, the phrase has served as a mantra for revolutionary movements in countries around the globe; in 1989, for example, it was displayed by Chinese students on a bed sheet in Tiananmen Square.

In the immediate aftermath of the speech, Henry's remarks predicting that the "next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms" turned out to be remarkably prescient. Within the month, Great Britain moved to disarm the rebellious colonists, conducting raids on powder magazines in Massachusetts and, three days later, in Virginia.

Kukla does not find it at all surprising that Henry predicted the conflict in Lexington. "He very frequently, at these critical times, had his finger on the pulse of events," says Kukla, citing the Stamp Act speech and Henry's earlier Parson's Cause speech.

When Henry responded to Lord Dunmore's raid on the Williamsburg magazine by leading a force of 500 militia to reclaim the powder, Lord Dunmore issued a proclamation declaring that “Patrick Henry . . . and his deluded Followers” were outlaws and rebels.

While Patrick Henry enjoyed many distinctions, Kukla likes to point out that Dunmore's proclamation conferred an honor that often goes unrecognized: Henry was the first American formally accused of rebellion. In other words, says Kukla, we can in one sense consider Henry the first American.

It would be another year, notes Kukla, before the Second Continental Congress would reach a unanimous vote for independence. But the war actually began that summer of 1775, with the uprisings at Bunker Hill. And the resistance, says Kukla, had begun well before that – with Patrick Henry and Virginia at the thrust of it.

If not for the support of leaders such as Henry, beginning with the Stamp Act in 1765, the northern colonies could not have held on during the pre-revolution decade, says Kukla. The British could have easily isolated New England, he believes, and stopped the revolution in its tracks.

"Patrick Henry stood at the heart of the American resistance to king and parliament that gave birth to the American Revolution," says Kukla.

And Henry's speech, which Kukla calls "a pivotal moment in the transition from peaceful resistance to the Revolutionary War," did not merely inspire a single revolution or war for independence. As indicated on the St. John's Church Foundation website, the "liberty or death" legacy continues to inspire revolutionary movements in far-flung places and modern times.

"[Henry's] phrase," the website notes, "remains as recognizable today as 'I have a dream' or 'Four score and seven years ago.'"
Bail Bonds Chesterfield VA

HCPS wins national honor for overhaul of Code of Student Conduct, supports


Henrico County Public Schools recently was recognized by the National School Boards Association for a sweeping overhaul of the school division’s approach to student supports. HCPS was one of five large U.S. school systems recognized with a first-place honor in the 2017 Magna Awards, presented Saturday in Denver at the organization’s annual conference. The awards recognize school divisions and leaders “for taking bold and innovative steps to improve the lives of students and their communities,” according to the group.

The award recognizes Henrico Schools’ efforts of the past several years, from re-examining its policies to implementing more support systems. After a two-year conversation with the community through public hearings and other feedback, HCPS adopted a revised Code of Student Conduct for the 2015-16 school year. > Read more.

Environmentalists say budget hurts efforts to protect bay

Environmental groups are outraged at the Trump administration’s proposed funding cuts for Chesapeake Bay cleanup programs.

President Donald Trump’s budget plan, released last week, reduces the budget for the federal Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent. That includes a $427 million in funding to address regional pollution, such as the Chesapeake Bay protection efforts. The proposed budget would eliminate funding for the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program, which received $73 million from the federal government in 2016. > Read more.

Glen Allen ES principal receives REB Award


Melissa Halquist-Pruden, principal of Henrico County’s Glen Allen Elementary School, earned the 2016-17 REB Award for Distinguished Educational Leadership. The Community Foundation presents the award to four principals annually – one each from the school systems of Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties and one from the city of Richmond schools.

The award recognizes principals who go beyond the day-to-day demands of their jobs to create an exceptional educational environment. The award stresses management and communication skills, and the ability to inspire, encourage and advocate for the school. > Read more.

Grant to help Hermitage H.S. upgrade CTE program equipment


Governor Terry McAuliffe announced recently that Henrico County’s Hermitage H.S. will be among 16 high schools and technical centers statewide to receive a grant to upgrade equipment for career and technical education (CTE) programs.

The program gives priority to challenged schools, Governor's STEM Academies and Governor's Health Science Academies. Each school or center will receive $37,500 to purchase new equipment and make other necessary improvements. At Hermitage, the funds will be used for precision machining equipment. > Read more.

Virginia raises a toast to George Washington’s whiskey


George Washington is recognized as the father of our country, but with a bill signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Washington also will be recognized under another title – distiller of Virginia’s official liquor.

SB 1261, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria, adds a “state spirit” to the list of the commonwealth’s official emblems and designations and crowns George Washington’s rye whiskey with the title.

The bill, which McAuliffe signed last week, highlights George Washington’s contributions to the culture of Virginia as “a native son of Virginia born on February 22, 1732, in Pope’s Creek”; “the first American president, commander of the Continental Army, and president of the Constitutional Convention”; and “a model statesman ... universally acknowledged as the father of our nation.” > Read more.
Community

Villa’s Flagler Housing wins national NAEH award


St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.

Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.

RIR’s Christmas tree lighting rescheduled for Dec. 12


Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.

Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.
Entertainment

Metro Diner to open second Henrico location


Metro Diner, a comfort food concept, will open its second Henrico location next month. The company is accepting job applications for its Libbie Place location at 5626 West Broad Street. The diner concept, known for its fried chicken and waffles, meatloaf, and shrimp and grits, will bring 100 new jobs to the region as it plans to open its doors in April.

The 3,500-square-foot diner located in the Libbie Place Shopping Center will seat more than 100 and serve classic comfort food staples with a twist, such as fried chicken and waffles topped with strawberry butter and a stuffed challah bread French toast with strawberry and blueberry compote. > Read more.

 

March 2017
S M T W T F S
·
·
·
·

Calendar page

Classifieds

Place an Ad | More Classifieds

Calendar

Henrico-based Virginia Institute of Pastoral Care will host a lecture by Marjorie Thompson at 5:30 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 6000 Grove Ave. Noted author of “Soul Feast,” Thompson will speak on “Grounded in Compassion: Fostering Spiritual Practice in an Age of Terror and Twitter.” A Q&A with Thompson and a reception will follow. This 50th Anniversary event is free and open to the public. For details, call 282-8332 or visit http://www.vipcare.org or Virginia Institute of Pastoral Care on Facebook. Full text

Your weather just got better.

Henricopedia

Henrico's Top Teachers

The Plate