A participant in virtually every aspect of the founding of America, Patrick Henry leveraged his eloquence as a Patriot and became the Revolution’s most renowned orator.
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A VIRGINIA MAN
Patrick Henry (1736-1799) was born on May 29 in Hanover County, Virginia, to a prosperous Scottish-born planter.
After trying his hand at a number of livelihoods, Henry turned to educating himself in British and colonial law. In April 1760, the Virginia bar admitted Henry and he quickly became known for his oratory, arguing 1,000 cases in his first three years. Henry was a 29-year old freshman, just days into his service in the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, when his fiery attack on the Stamp Act first lit the fuse of revolution. His Stamp Act Resolves and rhetoric against British tyranny soon became legendary.
“Distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders, are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American.”
KNOWN PASSION, UNKNOWN WORDS
Although his March 1775 Second Virginia Convention was said to be memorable, historians debate whether or not he actually used the words “give me liberty or give me death” as his speeches are all reconstructed from memory. He never wrote them down in advance.
Henry served in the Continental Congress and took up residence in the Governor’s Palace after being elected Virginia’s first governor, serving from 1776-79 and 1784-86. Like George Mason, he refused to support the Constitution because it lacked a bill of rights.
Henry married twice, first to Sarah Shelton, and then to Dorothea Dandridge. He fathered 17 children. He died on June 6, 1799.
Meet a Nation Builder
Performance: Revolutionary Acts
This series of museum theater programs relate to the experience and meaning of the Revolution for the 18th-century Williamsburg community.
Art Museums Admission
Performance: Visit with Thomas Jefferson
Step into the past with Thomas Jefferson, The Rebellious Philosophe.
Performance: Visit with James Madison
Step into the past with James Madison, Scholar Statesman.