Betty Wood on controlling slaves after Dunmore's Proclamation
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Q: What measures did the colonists use to keep their slaves in check after Dunmore issued his proclamation?
A: The Virginia colonists reacted to Dunmore's Proclamation with a proclamation of their own, to their slaves, which pointed out that Dunmore's Proclamation applied only to the slaves of Patriot owners; that this proclamation applied to men; that enslaved men would have to make a choice between their families and leaving those families and fighting for the British. They also provided a rather harsher reminder that the penalty for insurrection was death -- was capital punishment.
In a more practical sense though, perhaps, the Virginia colonists reacted in a way that Dunmore hoped that they would. The idea that if enslaved people were running away to join the British, were beginning to be militarily active, Dunmore reckoned that the colonists would keep as many of their militia at home, in their counties, to guard against slave insurrection, thereby of course diminishing the number of Patriot soldiers who could take the field against the British army. And to some degree, that policy did succeed.
Professor of History
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