In late 1606, three ships set sail from England in a joint venture referred to as the Virginia Company. On board the three ships (Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery), were about 100 individuals bound to establish a colony in the New World.
On May 14, 1607, the colonists of the Virginia Company established the settlement of Jamestown. During the first 2 years of the Jamestown colony, the council of Jamestown chose the President of the Council which amounted to the same position as governor of the new Virginia colony.
In 1610, the Virginia Company of London appointed a governor of the colony. The first appointed governor was Sir Thomas Gates.
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In 1624, Sir Frances Wyatt was the last governor appointed by the Virginia Company of London. By this time, the colony of Virginia was already beginning to grow and expand.
From 1624 through 1652, the Governor of Virginia was appointed by the British Crown. In 1624, the crown named Sir Frances Wyatt was the first governor appointed by the Crown.
From 1652 to 1660, Governors of Virginia were elected by the general assembly of the Commonwealth of England. Richard Bennett was the first Governor elected by the assembly.
In 1660 through 1775, governors and lieutenant governors of Virginia were again appointed by the British Crown.
In October 1660, Sir William Berkeley was appointed governor of Virginia by the British Crown.
On September 25, 1771, John Murray, the Earl of Dunmore, was appointed Governor of Virginia by the British Crown. Murray was the Fourth Earl of Dunmore and a member of the British House of Lords, so he was generally referred to as Lord Dunmore. At the time of his appointment as Governor of Virginia, he already serving as the Crown appointed Governor of New York. Being an honorable member of the British House of Lords, Dunmore ruled Virginia as the Crown instructed, which often harsh to the colonists. At the time of his governorship, the capital of the Virginia colony was Williamsburg.
In 1775, word spread through the 13 colonies of the war with Great Britain that started in Massachusetts and soon spread.
In June 1775, Patriot militia had taken control of Williamsburg, forcing Lord Dunmore to move his colonial government to Norfolk which was a Tory stronghold.
On November 7, 1775, Dunmore offered freedom to any slave who left his Patriot master and joined Dunmore’s forces. Many slaves did leave and join the British forces under Dunmore’s command and by the end of November 1775, Dunmore felt he had a large enough force to regain control of Virginia. Patriot General George Washington wrote to the Continental Congress with concerns of Dunmore’s force and ability to regain control of Virginia, using what was referred to as the Ethiopian Regiment.
On November 15, 1775, Dunmore’s forces scored a victory at the Battle of Kemp’s Landing. After suffering the defeat, Patriot militias in Virginia and North Carolina rallied in response and gathered near Great Bridge, an area just south of Chesapeake and only about 10-12 miles south of Norfolk.
On this day, December 9, 1775, Patriot militia from Virginia and North Carolina battled the British forces of British Royal Governor Lord Dunmore at Great Bridge, Virginia. Dunmore had built a stockade at Great Bridge and torn down the main bridge and set cannons to defend the smaller bridge, causing a sense of over-confidence. Dunmore sent a small detachment to stop the Patriot militia.
In a battle that lasted less than 30 minutes, 150 British loyalists were killed and the Patriot militia suffered only one killed. The Patriot victory was enough to cause Lord Dunmore to retreat to his ship in the Chesapeake Bay, the Otter. Along with Dunmore, were about 300 members of his Ethiopian Regiment. However, it wasn’t long before smallpox swept through the ship, killing most of the Ethiopian Regiment.
With the retreat of Lord Dunmore and the first land victory of the Revolutionary War going to the Patriot militia, British rule in Virginia ended.
Sources for the above includes: Patriots Gain Control of Virginia; The Battle of Great Bridge Was The First Land Victory of The Revolutionary War; The Battle of Great Bridge; Great Bridge: The Battle That Ended British Rule in Virginia; Battle of Great Bridge; Governors of Virginia; Governors of Virginia 1607 to 1910; John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore (ca. 1730–1809); Jamestown Settlement Ships; Jamestown Colony