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Essex County History
1776-1789
Goodrich Raids
Essex Resolutions
Meriwether Smith


With the repealing of the Stamp Act in 1766, tensions between England and the American Colonies eased for a short time. England's authority over the colonies would soon be tested again by the Declaratory Act (1766), Townshend Act (1767), Revenue Act (1767), Tea Act (1773) and Coercive Acts (1774). In Virginia, the House of Burgesses was temporarily dissolved in 1769 and again in 1774 by the Royal Governor for resistance to British authority. By 1774, Virginians began to show signs of autonomy including joint declarations and successful non-importation pacts; active patriotic groups like the Sons of Liberty; and organized meetings of representatives at the Raleigh Tavern after the dissolving of the House of Burgesses. By the summer of 1774, citizens of Essex County were ready for action.

Veteran politician John Upshaw presided over a meeting of Essex citizens on 9 July to decide Essex' position on relations with England. What resulted was a brave but loyal declaration of rights of Virginians as British citizens. 17 resolutions were established that first of all pledged allegiance to the crown; stated the power to tax and judge could only be exercised by elected representatives from Virginia; expressed support for the people of Boston; and initiated a non-importation pact on England goods. These Essex Resolutions and the earlier Leedstown Resolution represent two of the finest local revolutionary documents of their time.

By the summer of 1775, British rule in Virginia was unraveling. In June, Governor Dunmore ordered Royal Marines to remove gunpowder from the state magazine in Williamsburg. An angry group of patriots forced him from office and he retreated with his forces and loyalists to Norfolk. Battles with Virginia forces at Kemp's Landing and Great Bridge in December forced Dunmore onto British warships. Dunmore's fleet then commenced a campaign of plunder and destruction on Tidewater plantations. One of Dunmore's loyalist supporters, Bartlett Goodrich, decided to try his luck on the Rappahannock River in April of 1776. Goodrich captured a vessel of corn offshore of Tappahannock without any resistance. Local militia from surrounding counties was now alerted, however, and they caught up with Goodrich several miles down river recovering the vessel and forcing Goodrich to flee. Men from Essex and Middlesex formed the 4th Company of the 7th Virginia Regiment and joined Washington's army in January of 1777.

Essex County also made notable contributions on the political front. Meriwether Smith. Smith was elected to represent Essex at the Virginia Convention of 1776 to determine the question of independence from England. Smith represented conservative Tidewater gentlemen with a proposal that dissolved current relations but did not fully declare independence. Edmund Pendleton, chairman of the convention, used much of Smith's proposal but called for united colonies free and independent states in the statement that was adopted. Smith was again called on to help George Mason draft the Virginia Declaration of Rights that would later form much of the Bill of Rights in the United States Constitution. Smith went on to serve in the Continental Congress in 1778 - 1780.












Sources:

1. Settlers, Southerners and Americans: The History of Essex County, Va.. 1985. by James B. Slaughter (available at the Essex County Museum and Historical Society)

2. Essex County Historical Society Bulletin, Volume 21. Col. Meriwether Smith and His Time, 1730-1794, by Emory Carlton. November 1982

3. Essex County Historical Society Bulletin, Volume 9. Essex Resolutions, July 1774 Exemplifies Revolution, by Charles W. H. Warner. November 1975.
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