Harry Washington: "Joining His Majesty's Troops"

A Revolutionary War Experience Primary Source
This is a drawing of a blank, open journal and a quill.

In November 1775, Virginia’s colonial governor Lord Dunmore issued this proclamation offering freedom to able-bodied men enslaved by rebellious colonists. Harry—an enslaved man at Mount Vernon (George Washington's home)—was one of many self-emancipated enslaved men who joined Dunmore’s military unit called the Ethiopian Regiment. Harry fled to Dunmore sometime around 1776, and from then on, Harry appears in British documents as “Harry Washington,” having adopted the surname of his former enslaver.


By His Excellency the Right Honorable John Earl of Dunmore, His Majesty's Lieutenant and Governor General of the Colony and Dominion of Virginia, and Vice Admiral of the same.


As I have ever entertained Hopes that an Accommodation might have taken Place between Great-Britain and this Colony, without being compelled by my Duty to this most disagreeable but now absolutely necessary Step, rendered so by a Body of armed Men unlawfully assembled, firing on His Majesty's Tenders, and the formation of an Army, and that Army now on their March to attack His Majesty's Troops and destroy the well disposed Subjects of this Colony. To defeat such treasonable Purposes, and that all such Traitors, and their Abettors, may be brought to Justice, and that the Peace, and good Order of the Colony may be again restored, which the ordinary Course of the Civil Law is unable to effect; I have thought fit to issue this my Proclamation, hereby declaring, that until the aforesaid good Purposes can be obtained, I do in Virtue of the Power and Authority to Me given, by His Majesty, determine to execute Martial Law, and cause the same to be executed throughout this Colony: and to the end that Peace and good Order may the sooner be restored, I do require every Person capable of bearing Arms, to resort to His Majesty's Standard or be looked upon as Traitors to His Majesty's Crown and Government, and thereby become liable to the Penalty the Law inflicts upon such Offences; such as forfeiture of Life, confiscation of Lands, &c. &c. And I do hereby further declare all indentured Servants, Negroes, or others, (appertaining to Rebels,) free that are able and willing to bear Arms, they joining His Majesty's Troops as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing this Colony to a proper Sense of their Duty, to His Majesty's Crown and Dignity. I do further order, and require, all His Majesty's Leige Subjects, to retain their Quitrents, or any other taxes due or that may become due, in their own Custody, till such Time as Peace may again be restored to this at present most unhappy Country, or demanded of them for their former salutary Purposes, by Officers properly authorised to receive the same.

Given under my Hand on board the ship William, off Norfolk, the 7th Day of November, in the Sixteenth Year of His Majesty's Reign.


(GOD save the KING)



"By his Excellency the Right Honorable John Earl of Dunmore . . . A Proclamation, 1775," Broadside 1775 .V852 FF, Special Collections, Library of Virginia.