Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry - Give me Liberty

Patrick Henry - "Give me Liberty..."

This article on the Patrick Henry in Colonial America provides fast facts and information about the aftermath of the Stamp Act of 1765.

  • Who was the Patrick Henry?
  • What was his involvement in the Revolutionary War?
  • Patrick Henry, the great American orator - "If this be treason, make the most of it!" and "Give me liberty or give me death!" speeches
  • Patrick Henry was a famous patriot and one of the Founding Fathers of America
  • Life and Biography of Patrick Henry
Stamp ActTimeline for Patrick Henry
Give me Liberty SpeechGive me Liberty...
Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms
American Colonies IndexFamous Patriots & Colonists

History of the first 13 Colonies and the lives of famous Colonial people

The patriots of America and interesting facts about the life of Patrick Henry, the great American orator

Patrick Henry Short Biography & Fact File

The following Patrick Henry short biography and fact file provides a fast overview of this famous American patriot and his role in the Revolutionary War.

Patrick Henry Facts
Important events in the life of Patrick Henry via this short biography and fact file:

  • Patrick Henry Fact 1: Date of birth - May 29, 1736 in Hanover County, Virginia
  • Patrick Henry Fact 2: Parents - John Henry & Sarah Winston Syme
  • Patrick Henry Fact 3: Career - Storekeeper, Farmer, Lawyer and Politician
  • Patrick Henry Fact 4: First wife with 6 children - Sarah Shelton
  • Patrick Henry Fact 5: Second wife with 11 children - Dorothea Dandridge
  • Patrick Henry Fact 6: In 1765 Patrick Henry delivers his famous 'Caesar-Brutus Speech' - "If this be treason, make the most of it!"
  • Patrick Henry Fact 7: In 1775 Patrick Henry delivered his passionate and  fiery speech "Give me liberty or give me death!"
  • Patrick Henry Fact 8: Inspired the Founding Fathers to declare independence
  • Patrick Henry Fact 9: Elected governor of Virginia five times, Elected to the Continental Congress
  • Patrick Henry Fact 10: Date of death - June 6, 1799

Patrick Henrys Stamps - One Penny Stamp

The Stamp Act of 1765

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - The Parents of Patrick Henry
The father of Patrick Henry was a well educated Scottish gentleman immigrant called John Henry. John Henry emigrated to the Colony of Virginia in the 1720s and settling in Hanover County and became a member of Virginia's landed gentry.  In 1734 John Henry married Sarah Winston Syme who was a wealthy widow from a prominent Hanover County family of Welsh ancestry.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - The Early Life of Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry was born in Hanover County in Virginia. Patrick Henry attended local schools for a few years, and then was tutored by his father. He was not a good student and referred the outdoor life or playing the violin to his academic studies or working on the family farm. He was viewed as 'idle and shiftless'. At the age of 15 years old he worked as a clerk in a small country store. In 1748 Patrick Henry witnessed the preaching of evangelist Samuel Davies, a strong advocate for religious freedom, during the Great Awakening. A year later his father provided the finance for Patrick Henry to open his own store. Patrick Henry was not interested and the business soon failed.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Marriage to Sarah Shelton
Patrick Henry met Sarah Shelton, a young girl who, like his mother, came from a wealthy and prominent Hanover County family. Patrick Henry married Sarah Shelton at the age of 18 years old. The marriage to Sarah came with a dowry to set the young couple up. The young couple were given Pine Slash, a 300 acre tobacco farm in Hanover County, with six slaves. The farm failed and was sold to pay for debts. Patrick Henry returned to working in a store but was never successful.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Career as a Lawyer
At the age of 23 years old Patrick Henry decided to become a lawyer. In 1760 Patrick Henry passed the bar examination in Williamsburg, Virginia and opened a law firm. The law business was successful and within a few years had so much business that prominent people in his part of Virginia began to take notice of Patrick Henry...

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - The Parson's Cause
In 1763 Patrick Henry became involved in fighting the Parson's Cause. The Virginian colonists had made a law regulating the salaries of clergymen in the colony. The king vetoed the law. The Virginians ignored the veto. The clergymen appealed to the courts and the case of one of them was selected for trial. Patrick Henry stated the opinions of the Virginians in a speech which made his reputation as a passionate orator. The king, he said, had no right to veto a Virginia law that was for the good of the people. For the King to do so was an act of tyranny, and the people owed no obedience to a tyrant. The case was won by the clergyman. The jury gave the clergyman only one farthing damages, and no more clergymen brought cases into the court. The king's veto was openly disobeyed. Patrick Henry first gained local attention in this case which was dubbed the "Parson's Cause".

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Speaks at the House of Burgesses
In 1764 Patrick Henry and his family moved to Louisa county, Virginia. As a lawyer he was becoming involved in the grievances of the colonists.  As a lawyer, he argued in defence of broad voting rights (suffrage) for the colonists before the House of Burgesses. This was a bold step by Patrick Henry and was seen as an extremely radical point of view in the days of strict property qualifications.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - The Stamp Act
On March 22, 1765 the Stamp Act was passed quickly followed two days later by the Quartering Act.  and greeted in the American colonies by an outburst of protest and denunciation. The 1765 Stamp Act was imposed on the colonists by the British to raise revenue by a duty (tax), in the form of various stamps, of different denominations, on all newspapers and legal or commercial documents. The Stamp Act effected everyone in the colonies and for the first time the New England colonies, Middle Colonies and Southern colonies were united in opposition to the actions of Great Britain. Arguments against the the Stamp Act were distributed from assembly to assembly in the form of "circulars".

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses
In May 1765 Patrick Henry was elected a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and entered the political arena. The House of Burgesses was the colonial assembly that was created by colonists in Virginia and was similar to the existing State Legislature. Many of the leaders in the Virginia House of Burgesses were wealthy, aristocratic land owners who lived on great estates. The majority were supporters of the king and loyal to the mother country.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Opposition to the Stamp Act
These men  counselled a slow and cautious approach to opposing the Stamp Act. They suggested a petition to the King to modify the laws which appear to be unjust If the king refused to listen, it would then be time to disobey the law. Patrick Henry, a new member of the House of Burgesses, listened politely to these conservative views but completely disagreed with them. Patrick Henry was eager for prompt, decisive action.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Seven Resolutions against the Stamp Act
Tearing a blank leaf from a law-book, he quickly wrote some resolutions and read them to the assembly. Patrick Henry was passionate in his delivery of his seven resolutions against the Stamp Tax.

The First and Last Resolutions written by Patrick Henry

The First and Last Resolutions written by Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry argued with remarkable eloquence, courage and fervor for prompt, decisive action. The 'old guard' saw Patrick Henry as a jumped-up upstart and argued against the resolutions. But Patrick Henry was more than a match for these distinguished men and the resolutions are passed by the assembly.

The Patrick Henry Caesar-Brutus Speech - "If this be treason, make the most of it!"

 Patrick Henry before the Virginia House of Burgesses

Patrick Henry before the Virginia House of Burgesses

The exact words of his speech, unlike the resolutions, were not documented but were passed verbally by witnesses to his speech.

His speech of May 29 1765 at Williamsburg would be referred to as the 'Caesar-Brutus Speech' and famous for the words "If this be treason, make the most of it!". The essence of the 'Caesar-Brutus Speech' is as follows:

"Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third ...may he profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it!" 

When Patrick Henry compared King George III to the tyrants Julius Caesar and King Charles I, he was accused of treason.

Patrick Henry apologized after being accused of uttering treasonable words, and assured the House of Burgesses that he was loyal to the king.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - The Rise of Patrick Henry
The passing of the resolutions was a great triumph for Patrick Henry and he gained the approval and support of the colonists of Virginia. Patrick Henry had suddenly become a leader in the affairs of the colony. News of his speech and his words spread to the other colonies. His name became synonymous with the cause of justice and freedom. A few days after the Patrick Henry speech, and the passing of the seven resolutions, Massachusetts called a congress to consider what steps the colonists should take against the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act Congress, or First Congress of the American Colonies, was a meeting held between October 7 and 25, 1765 in New York City. The Stamp Act Congress drew up a "Declaration of the Rights and Grievances of the Colonists." This set of resolutions were much more moderate than those passed in Virginia but they still maintained that only the colonies could tax themselves.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - The Road to Revolution
The Stamp Act is repealed in 1766 but other British Laws are imposed on the colonies, fuelling the flame of revolution. Patrick Henry witnesses the passing of the Townshend Acts, a series of Laws placing duties on items imported by the colonists and a boycott of British goods. In 1770 the Boston Massacre occurs when 5 civilians are killed by British soldiers. Patrick Henry meanwhile continues his work as a lawyer and in 1771 Patrick Henry, always an advocate of religious tolerance, defends persecuted Baptist ministers Jeremiah Walker, John Waller, and John Williams.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - The Committees of Correspondence
The political life of Patrick Henry moves on in 1773 when he helps create the Virginia Committee of Correspondence. The Committees of Correspondence were shadow governments organized by the Patriot leaders of the 13 Colonies. The objectives of the Committees of Correspondence were to provide colonial leadership and aid inter-colonial cooperation. Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry are among the 11 members of the the Virginia Committee of Correspondence. The committees eventually call for the First Continental Congress.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - 'Intolerable' Taxes and Tensions mount
Tensions in the colonies continue to grow leading to the Boston Massacre in 1770. On May 10, 1773 the Tea Act was passed. The Tea Act was a law allowing the British East India Company to sell its low-cost tea directly to the colonies, undermining colonial tea merchants. The law provoked the Boston Tea Party on December 16 1773 in which Massachusetts patriots, dressed as Mohawk Indians, protested against the British Tea Act. During 1774 the 'Intolerable Acts' or 'Coercive Acts' were passed by the British government as a  reprisal to the Boston Tea party rebellion. The 'Intolerable Acts' were a package of five laws aimed at restoring British authority in its colonies. The 'Intolerable Acts' consisted of the Quartering Act of 1774, the Administration of Justice Act, the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act and the Quebec Act. Less than a year following the Quartering Act of 1774 the American Revolution erupted.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Elected to First Continental Congress
In 1774 Patrick Henry was elected to the First Continental Congress. The First Continental Congress was a meeting of representatives from the colonies in 1774 to plan a response to the Coercive / Intolerable Acts. The First Continental Congress was held from September 5 - October 26 1774. The delegates consisted of 56 men from 12 colonies. Georgia elected not to send representatives as it was hoping for British assistance with Indian problems on its frontier. Patrick Henry was by this time a prominent Virginian lawyer, famous as the creator of the 'Virginian Stamp Act Resolves'. Other delegates to the First Continental Congress included Samuel Adams, Stephen Hopkins, Joseph Galloway and George Washington. The members of the First Continental Congress agreed to a boycott of British goods beginning on December 1, 1774. It was to become effective at the end of the year unless the Intolerable Acts were repealed. They then set a date for a Second Continental Congress to meet on May 10, 1775.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Give me Liberty Speech
In 1775 Patrick Henry and the colonists of Virginia are again greatly angered. British soldiers had been sent to Boston to subdue the unruly people of Massachusetts. Virginia has stood by the Massachusetts colony, and as a reprisal the royal governor of Virginia prevented the House of Burgesses from meeting at Williamsburg. Patrick Henry and some other notable Virginians meet in Richmond at old St. John’s Church. The Virginians had already begun to make ready to fight but many still hoped that disagreements might be settled peaceably. Patrick Henry believed that the time has come when talking should give place to action and that war cannot be avoided. Patrick Henry makes his passionate speech on March 23, 1775. The most famous words of the speech include the following:

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

In this meeting Patrick Henry submits a resolution that Virginia should at once prepare to defend herself. On March 25, 1775 Patrick Henry was elected to Second Continental Congress. Patrick Henry's belief that war was inevitable is quite prophetic.  In less than four weeks the first gun of the Revolution was fired in the quiet town of Lexington, Massachusetts. Refer to the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Concord.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Death of Sarah Shelton
In 1775 Patrick Henry was suffering  great anxiety regarding the mental health of his wife. She need full time care but in April 1775 his wife, Sarah Shelton Henry, died at Scotchtown leaving their six children in his care.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Edict against Patrick Henry
To add to his tragic personal problems there were serious political problems. Virginia's royal governor, John Murray, earl of Dunmore had dispatched a company of marines to seize Virginia's munitions from the public magazine in Williamsburg. Patrick Henry led his militia to demand compensation for the stolen powder. On May 6, 1775 Governor Dunmore issued an edict against Patrick Henry.

Patrick Henry Edict

Patrick Henry Edict

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775 with Patrick Henry in attendance. Patrick Henry prepared the colonies' final petition to the king but it was deemed too radical. A more conservative petition was drafted by  Pennsylvania's John Dickinson - the Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. On June 15 1775 George Washington was appointed general and commander-in-chief of the new Continental Army.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Taking up Arms
On July 6 1775 the 'Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms' was a document issued by the Second Continental Congress. The document stated that Americans are "resolved to die free men rather than live as slaves." It explained why the 13 Colonies had taken up arms in what had become the American Revolutionary War.

Patrick Henry - The Virginia Constitution & the Declaration of Independence
Patrick Henry was elected commander-in-chief of Virginia's military forces on August 5 1775. Patrick Henry resigned his military command on February 28, 1776. He attends the Fifth Revolutionary Convention and on June 29, 1776 Patrick Henry was elected the first governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia and helps to write the Virginia Constitution. Patrick Henry went on to help in the composition of the Virginia Declaration of Rights which influenced a number of later documents, including the United States Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson presented the United States Declaration of Independence July 4 1776.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Marriage to Dorothea Dandridge
1777 was an eventful year for America and for Patrick Henry. On May 29, 1777 Patrick Henry was re-elected to second term as governor of Virginia. And on October 9 1777 Patrick Henry married his second wife Dorothea Dandridge. Dorothea Dandridge was born on 25 September 1757, to Nathaniel West Dandridge and his wife, Dorothea Spotswood in Hanover County, Virginia. Dorothea Dandridge was the cousin of Martha Dandridge Washington, the wife of George Washington. They had eleven children together.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - End of the Revolutionary War
On January 14 1784 The
Peace Treaty of Paris 1783 is ratified by Congress and the American Revolutionary War officially ends. Patrick Henry is re-elected and serves five terms as the governor of Virginia. Patrick Henry declines further re-election as governor and resumes his law practice. Patrick Henry declines appointments as U. S. Senator, Chief Justice, Secretary of State, and ambassador to Spain and France due to his failing health.

Life & Biography of Patrick Henry - Retirement
Patrick Henry retired at the age of fifty-eight (1794), to an estate in Charlotte County called “Red Hill,” where he lived a simple life with his family. On March 4, 1799 Patrick Henry made his final speech at Charlotte Courthouse.

The Death of Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry died of stomach cancer at Red Hill on June 6, 1799.  His body was buried in the cemetery at Red Hill. The inscription on Patrick Henry’s tomb reads, “His fame his best epitaph.” With his will, Patrick Henry left a copy of his Stamp Act resolutions and a note advising future generations:

 "Reader, whoever thou art, remember this; and in thy sphere practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others."

Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence

Patrick Henry

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