The son of a Virginia planter in Hanover County and speaker of the immortal words “Give me liberty, or give me death!” PATRICK HENRY served as the first governor of Virginia after independence from England was declared. Though viewed by history as an oratorical genius, Henry was not an avid scholar in his youth nor was he considered to be a success in early adulthood. It was not until he was in his late twenties that his study of law enabled him to argue the Parsons’ Cause (a case between the clergy and the state legislature over the question of an annual stipend claimed by the clergy)-an argument whose eloquence caught the public’s attention and propelled him upward in the legal profession. In 1764 he defended the right of suffrage before the House of Burgesses, and it was one year later-after being elected to the House himself-that he made a now-famous speech against the Stamp Act. He was a member of the first Continental Congress in 1774, and it was in March, 1775 that he called Virginians to arms, saying “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Henry was elected governor of Virginia in 1776 and reelected to serve two additional years, after which he was succeeded by Thomas Jefferson. He was again chosen governor in 1784 and 1785. An advocate of state rights, Henry opposed ratification of the federal Constitution but ultimately acquiesced when it became the nation’s supreme law. Henry declined George Washington’s nomination for Secretary of State in 1795 and John Adams’s appointment as envoy to France in 1799. He died at Red Hill in Charlotte County. Henry County, Virginia, formed in 1776, and Patrick County, Virginia, formed 1790, were named after Patrick Henry.
Library of Virginia, Virginia Governor, Executive Papers (1776-1779: Henry). Accession 29604. Biographical/Historical Note. State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA 23219.
Library of Virginia, Virginia Governor, Executive Papers (1784-1786: Henry). Accession 39700. Biographical/Historical Note. State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA 23219.
McIlwaine, H.R., ed. Official Letters of the Governors of the State of Virginia. Vol. I: The Letters of Patrick Henry. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1926.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 12. New York: James T. White & Company.