Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Robert A Gross


In 1774 Virginia's last Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore, predicted that the social tensions in Virginia society would end the fomenting rebellion. For a decade the gentry had contended with a series of scandals that diminished their standing as the social, political and moral leaders of the colony. Three scandals, in particular, heightened freeholder scrutiny of Virginia leaders.;Richard Henry Lee quickly stepped to the forefront in 1765 and became the popular leader of the Stamp Act resistance. The revelation that he had applied for the position of Stamp Collector shocked many. He appeared as a self-interested charlatan. Then, in 1766, Speaker of the House of Burgesses and Treasurer of Virginia, John Robinson, died. On settling the Treasury accounts, officials discovered a {dollar}{rcub}100,000 discrepancy. Robinson had handed out the Colony's money as favors to his political allies. Then on the heels of this came a third scandal. Colonel John Chiswell murdered a merchant. For a time it appeared that gentry privilege would prevent the execution of justice. The charlatan, embezzler and murderer provided a focus for challenging the social, political and moral authority of Virginia's ruling class. In the years before 1775, it appeared to many observers that Virginia's gentry teetered on the brink. Threatened from outside Virginia by ever more stringent imperial measures, gentry found themselves under attack at home too as common folk questioned their authority.;What Dunmore did not understand were the measures gentry had taken in the years after 1773 to regain the support of their lessers. Gentry aligned themselves with symbols of the common folk. Gentlemen took up arms as private soldiers and demonstrated their willingness to fight, if need be, for Virginia's liberty. They granted concessions to religious dissenters. Gentlemen aligned themselves with common folk against the merchant class. When the conflict came, Dunmore's "class war" never materialized. What is more, his efforts to spawn it by granting freedom to the slaves of rebels proved futile. Patriot gentlemen had effectively closed ranks with common Virginians against what they now perceived as a common threat: "slavery" imposed by Britain and an insurrection by Virginia's own slaves.



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