Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Ronald Hoffman


Despite his participation in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, eventually became royal governor of New York (1770-1771), Virginia (17711783), and the Bahama Islands (1787-1796). His life in the British Empire exposed him to an extraordinary range of political experience, including border disputes, land speculation, frontier warfare and diplomacy, sexual scandal, slave emancipation, naval combat, loyalist advocacy, Amerindian slavery, and trans-imperial filibusters, to say nothing of his proximity to the Haitian Revolution or his role in the defense of the British West Indies during the French Revolutionary Wars. Quick to break with convention on behalf of the system that ensured his privilege, Dunmore was an usually transgressive imperialist whose career can be used to explore the boundaries of what was possible in the political cultures of the Anglo-Atlantic world at the end of the eighteenth century.;Remarkably, Lord Dunmore has not been the subject of a book-length study in more than seventy years. With a few exceptions (the work of African American historians notable among them), modern scholars have dismissed him as a greedy incompetent. While challenging this characterization, the dissertation makes several arguments about the weakness of royal authority in pre-Revolutionary New York and Virginia, the prominent and problematic role of the land grant as a mechanism of political consent, the importance of Dunmore's proclamation of emancipation, and the endurance of British ambition in North America after 1783. It seeks to make a methodological contribution as well. By positioning Dunmore as the epicenter of a web of interrelations, one reflected in a variety of historical texts and involving people at all levels of the imperial social structure, the dissertation suffuses a host of elements and actors within a single biographical narrative. This integrated approach can serve to counter the excessive compartmentalization that has marked some academic history in recent decades.



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