Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry (May 29, 1736 – June 6, 1799) was a politician, an attorney and a planter. His parents were John and Sara Winston Henry. He became known as an orator in the 1770s, in the time of the movement for independence in Virginia State. Patrick Henry was famous for his influential and passionate speech. In fact, even as a young man, he had great influence in the American colonies. This influence was so forceful and intelligent that, he managed to persuade people to act upon, and believe in his beliefs.

Early Life and Marriage

Patrick Henry, who was the second son, received his education from his father and uncle. Initially, he failed an attempt to become a storekeeper. After this, he married Sarah Shelton and started practicing farming on a piece of land (300 acres, which was given by his father in-law as a wedding gift. In addition to this gift, Henry was also given six slaves by his father in-law. The farming practice was cut short soon afterwards by a fire which also destroyed his home. Henry and his growing family were therefore forced to live above a tavern which was owned by his father in-law. Henry and his family moved to Louisa County in 1764, where he started working as an attorney.

In 1771, the Henrys, moved to Scotchtown Plantation in Hanover County. Later on, Sarah was diagnosed with mental illness and died in 1775. On October 1777, Henry married his second spouse, Dorothea Dandridge. The couple moved to Williamsburg in 1778 after Henry got elected as a governor. Here, he stayed though his two terms. Henry and Dorothea had 11 children together.


By 1760, Patrick Henry had decided to start practicing law. He educated himself for one year and then got admitted to the bar association for lawyers. Henry, became famous to the locals in a case which was dubbed the “Parson’s Cause” in 1763. In this case Henry argued on whether the tobacco price setting that was being paid to clergy should be done by the Crown or the colonial government. Henry won this case and became a famous lawyer, initiating a new era.

Patrick Henry (1736-1799), started his new career as a politician in 1765 when he got selected into the House of Burgesses. This House was the lawmaking body of Virginia colony. Henry’s election was done to fill a vacant assembly seat. At the time of he arrived in Williamsburg, the legislature sessions had started. However, Henry become notable soon afterwards when he introduced the Virginia Resolutions. Henry proposed this Act nine days after being sworn in. He immediately started deliberating and convincing the House members to pass the Act. He also became influential in opposing conservative House members.

Political Role and Career during the American Revolution

In 1773, Henry along with Richard Henry Lee and Thomas Jefferson moved the Virginia House of Burgesses to make resolutions so as to make a standing committee of correspondents. Committees were immediately set up by each colony, leading to the formation of First Continental Congress in 1774. Patrick Henry was nominated in this congress. He got chosen as the colonel of the first Virginia Regiment on August 1775. During this period, the American war of Independence had begun with Henry leading a band of soldiers to battle the Royal Governor Lord Dunmore’s armed forces. This was a fight to fix a quarrel over gunpowder. The event was a big one during the Revolution and is known as Gunpowder Incident.

Henry also led his militia to fight against Cherokee Indians, allied with British forces. This was after he took office as the first post-colonial Governor of Virginia. In November 1775, Henry along with James Madison became nominated as founding trustees of Hampden-Sydney College. This college was officially open for classes on November 10, 1775. Patrick Henry played a major role on getting passage for the college’s Charter in 1783.

Henry’s Post American Revolution Role

When the revolution ended, Henry was elected again as Virginia’s governor from 1784 to 1786. Henry opposed anything that was against common people and state’s rights. In fact, in 1786 he declined to go to the Constitutional Convention; since he felt that some people were still supporting the British realm. Henry became a famous Anti-federalist and bulldozed the implementation of the Bill of Rights to be incorporated in the new and revised constitution. In the convention of 1788, Henry represented Virginia and became a part of the U.S Constitution sanction. During the 1789 election, Patrick Henry was elected as the elector of Campbell District.

In 1795, the then American President, George Washington requested Henry to take up the position of Secretary of State. Henry rejected the offer, since he opposed Washington’s Federalist policies. Afterwards, on realizing the drastic nature of the French Revolution which was declining at the moment, Henry started to change his ideas and views gradually. He worried that the same fate would happen to America. In the late 1790’s, Henry was in support of the Federalist strategies of Washington. He even denounced the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, which called for the rights of a state to invalidate a federal law it considered unconstitutional.

Late Life and Death

John Adams elected Patrick Henry as a special envoy to France in 1798. However, Henry’s health was failing and halted the process. Henry strongly supported John Marshall and was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates as a Federalist. Three months before taking his position in the state legislature, Henry died after he suffered from stomach cancer. He died on June 6, 1799 at the age of 63 years.

Honors and Monuments

Patrick Henry (1736-1799), is among the few people in early American History who were honored on U.S postage stamps. In addition to that, Henry has been honored in several sites. There are monuments which are located at his grave site and also at his retirement site. Scotchtown Plantation was made a National Historic Landmark. Several places were named in honor of Patrick Henry. They include: Henry Counties in Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Alabama, Missouri, Illinois, Georgia and Kentucky. Others include: Patrick county in Virginia and Patrick Henry Village in Heidelberg, Germany. Many schools, institutions and even ships were also named to honor Patrick Henry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *