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Lighting the Fuse of Revolution in Virginia, May 1765: Rereading the “Journal of a French Traveller in the Colonies”

Rhys Isaac
The William and Mary Quarterly
Vol. 68, No. 4 (October 2011), pp. 657-670
DOI: 10.5309/willmaryquar.68.4.0657
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5309/willmaryquar.68.4.0657
Page Count: 14
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Lighting the Fuse of Revolution in Virginia, May 1765: Rereading the “Journal of a French Traveller in the Colonies”
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Abstract

The first decisive response in Britain’s North American colonies to the Stamp Act in the spring of 1765 occurred in Virginia. Patrick Henry famously supported a series of defiant resolutions in the House of Burgesses. The romanticized Henry legend and subsequent histories that have tried to deflate it have obscured the actual events and their consequences. A close reconsideration of what has become known as the “Journal of a French Traveller”—the crucial eyewitness document—has long been overdue. Especially needed has been a critical inquiry into the actual ethnicity of the author so his text and his motivation can be better understood. Alongside that, there has been a need for matching scrutiny of the opposite role taken in the letter written to his superiors by Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier—in league as he was with the old-guard leadership of the Virginia burgesses that had blocked and tried to suppress the most inflammatory resolutions. Reconstructing the drama revealed in these two documents demonstrates how the artfully disseminated “Virginia Resolves” and the persona of a defiant Henry were vitally important in rousing the spirit of armed struggle across the Virginia countryside and beyond.

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