Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment

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Virginia Tech

Most observers consider that Lord Dunmore was the driving force behind the creation of the Ethiopian Regiment. This paper demonstrates that the slaves themselves provided the necessary impetus for bringing about Dunmore's Proclamation of Emancipation, and that the governor simply responded to slaves’ willingness to take up arms in pursuit of liberty. This paper also considers the role played by nonslave actors in the exploits of the Regiment. These actors included the British Parliament; various British military and government officials; the Virginia Convention of 1775; the various Virginia military units, both regular and volunteer; and the white population of Virginia as a whole. However, primary emphasis is placed upon the efforts and actions of the Ethiopians themselves. The first chapter investigates the events which led up to Dunmore's Declaration of Emancipation, and clarifies the degree to which the servile uprisings in the preceding century influenced Dunmore's decision to free and arm Virginia's slaves. The second chapter details the Ethiopians' involvement in the military actions associated with the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9, 1775. The third chapter describes the Regiment's other engagements, including its defense of the Portsmouth enclave and the British sanctuary on Gwynn's Island, and the skirmishes at St. George's Island, Maryland, and Aquia Creek, Virginia. The fourth chapter evaluates the importance of the Ethiopian Regiment both as an instrument of Dunmore's policy and as a means for slaves to gain their freedom. An appendix includes the names of over two hundred confirmed or suspected Ethiopians.

military action, slavery