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Life and Times of William Fitzhugh

By John D. Sinks, Fairfax Resolves Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution
26 December 2004


William Fitzhugh was born on 24 August 1741 in King George Co., Va. to Col. Henry Fitzhugh and his wife, Lucy Carter. On his father’s side William was the grandson of William Fitzhugh II and Anne Lee. On his mother’s side he the grandson of Robert “King” Carter and Elizabeth Landon. Willianm’s father, Henry. died when William was just a year old and his mother married Col. Nathaniel Harrison. William Fitzhugh was privately educated by tutors. When he attained manhood, his substantial inheritance made him one of the ten wealthiest men in Virginia. On 2 April 1763 he married Anne Randolph, daughter of Col. Peter Randolph, a former clerk of the House of Burgesses and Treasurer of the Colony, and Lucy Bolling. William and Anne lived at Somerset, but had had another manor house, Chatham, constructed on the banks of the Rappahannock River between 1768 and 1771 in a part of King George County that would become Stafford County. He also held over 10,000 acres of land in Fairfax County that had been part of Ravensworth, granted to his great grandfather, William Fitzhugh I. We will find record of him supporting the Revolution from all three counties: King George, Stafford, and Fairfax.


William Fitzhugh was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1772 and would serve for the remainder of its existence. Unlike many new burgesses, he was placed on important committees immediately. Governor Botetourt had already dissolved the House in 1769 because the were formulating resolutions against British taxation. In early 1773 tensions between the House of Burgesses and Governor Dunmore were high. On 12 March 1773 the House unanimously adopted a number of resolutions, including resolutions to establish a committee to communicate with other colonies, stay abreast of the activities of Parliament, and investigate the principles and authority by which a court of inquiry had been conducted in Rhodes Island. Gov. Dunmore “took no notice” of these. Following passage of the Boston Port Bill by Parliament, on 24 May the House established 1 June as a day of fasting and prayer that there be “divine interposition” in order that “the Minds of his Majesty and his Parliament may be inspired from above with Wisdom, Moderation, and Justice.” The innuendo that the Minds of his Majesty and his Parliament were lacking in these attributes was not lost of on the governor. He dissolved the House of Burgesses. Most of the Burgesses reconvened at the Raleigh Tavern on May 17th, prepared articles of association, and condemned the Boston Port Bill. Dunmore acted hastily, for legislation that enabled county official to charge for services was set to expire and local government would be thrown into a crisis. By May 30th there was further news of British actions against Boston and the 25 remaining Burgesses summoned the “late representatives” to meet at Williamsburg on August 1st to consider the state of the colony.


William Fitzhugh answered the call to the First Virginia Convention of August 1st-6th, 1774. On August 6th the Convention unanimously passed articles resolving not to purchase British goods, non-exportation, and forbidding the consumption of tea. William Fitzhugh was among the signers of the articles of association. The Convention also appointed delegates to the Continental Congress. Governor Dunmore was not in Williamsburg to “take note” or not of the proceedings. The Continental Congress would follow suit with its own Articles of Association on October 20th. From July 10th through December 4th he was campaigning against the Indians in Dunmore’s War.


The Second Virginia Convention met from March 20th to March 27th, 1775. William Fitzhugh again answered the call to duty. Famous for Patrick Henry’s speech to “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death,” the Second Virginia Convention adopted a plan for arming the militia. Governor Dunmore issued a proclamation on March 28th forbidding Virginia Deputies to attend the Continental Congress and had the gunpowder removed from the magazine at Williamsburg. No sooner was this crisis resolved, then news of Lexington and Concord arrived from the North. Gov. Dunmore fled to the HMS Fowey in early may and for all intents and purposes, there was no longer a Royal Government in Virginia.


The Third Virginia Convention became the de facto government of Virginia. This body convened in Richmond from June 17th to August 26th, 1775. The Third Virginia Convention also authorized dissenting ministers to preach to the troops, elected deputies to the Continental Congress, established the Virginia Committee for Safety, and authorized the levying of taxes and issuing of bills of credit. One of the important acts of the Third Virginia Convention was serving on important committees. The Convention resolved to assume responsibility for the militia in Dunmore’s War. Among the loose papers of the Convention is a copy of the resolution in William Fitzhugh’s hand, suggesting that he had a role in drafting it. William Fitzhugh was called upon for additional services. The Third Virginia Convention ordered that an arms factory be established at Fredericksburg under five commissioners. William Fitzhugh was one of the five. The Continental Congress appointed Fitzhugh to a Committee authorized to purchase saltpeter for the manufacture of gunpowder.


The Fourth Virginia Convention met from Dec. 1st, 1775 to January 20th, 1776. This was far longer than the over Virginia Conventions and we find far more information about the activities of William Fitzhugh. William Fitzhugh was appointed to a Committee to address issues of recruiting for the army, organizing the military, and planning for the defense of the Colony (Dec. 13th). He also served on a committee that dealt with claims arising from Dunmore’s War. `On January 3rd, 1776 he was added to a committee responsible for providing ammunition and arms for Virginia. He also served on a committee that dealt with election issues.


After the 4th Virginia Convention William Fitzhugh again performed additional services. On February 13th, 1776 he represented King George County on a Committee for selecting officers for the minute battalion of the Caroline Military district, of which King George County was a part.


William Fitzhugh served in the Fifth Virginia Convention, having been elected in April 1776 to represent King George County to the Virginia Convention for the next 12 months. He was appointed to a committee responsible for examining certificates of election.




*This paper is based on a presentation made at the dedication of S.A.R. Revolutionary Grave Markers by the Fairfax Resolves Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution at the Pohick Episcopal Church, Lorton, Virginia on 12 December 2004.



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