You are the owner of this article.
editor's pick topical
Historically Speaking

COLUMN: Sowing seeds of discontent

  • 3 min to read
Blame it on Winky Dink

David Christy

Sometimes I find little nuggets of history I either didn’t learn in school, or I was gone that day in history class, or my mind was wandering somewhere outside on an early spring day, like the minds of every student I’ve ever known.

It’s what we did when the first signs of spring were in the air, kinda like this week for me.

Anyway, I was rewatching the AMC original series “Turn,” a really nicely done historical drama about George Washington and his spy network during the early days of the American Revolution.

Now, Washington’s spy network really was a stroke of genius on Gen. George’s part, even if he never really gets much credit for winning on the battlefield. It was, for lack of a better term, inspired.

I always rewatch historical movies and shows at least three times because I tend to miss little things. And, just when I thought that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was the first idea/document of its kind in America, I was clearly wrong. History, and its constant study, rooting and finding by myriad historians, always seems to have a way of amending my views.

Kind of like archaeologists when they keep updating history and what we know about our planet and our fooooooorefathers. That’s right, that’s not a typo, I mean waaaaaay back in history.

Going back to Abe Lincoln, the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in 1863, but not across this nation, only the states of the Confederacy that had seceded from the Union

That was more an expediency for the president than a moral issue. He didn’t want slaves going into the ranks of the Confederate Army, and he wanted to sow discord and remove a significant means of the South to grow crops and feed itself — to hurt the Confederacy economically, and to put an end to the Civil War.

Economic pain, after all, sometimes is more powerful than soldiers dying in the field. When you can’t eat, it tends to turn the mind in a different direction from slavery and secession from the Union. Control their bellies and their minds will follow, after all. Or, in today’s society, it’s the economy stupid.

It was November of 1775, nearly six months after “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” opened the American Revolution with England. The Colony of Virginia’s royal governor, John Murray, the fourth earl of Dunmore, issued a proclamation in response to information colonists were forming armies and attacking British troops. News traveled slowly in those days, after all.

Called the “Dunmore Proclamation,” Gov. Murray created a tremendous backlash among Virginians, since his aim was to put a quick end to any fighting and activities he — and the Crown — considered traitorous acts by people living in the 13 Colonies.

The proclamation declared Virginia was in a state of rebellion and immediately placed the colony under martial — military — law.

While martial law was an eye-opener for Virginians in 1775, it didn’t hold a candle to the section of the proclamation that offered freedom to slaves and bonded servants of Patriot sympathizers or any militia or Army units formed, if those same slaves were willing to bear arms and fight for the British.

Remember, it’s the economy stupid? Well, it was back in 1775 as well.

You see, the Virginia governor’s strategy, not dissimilar from that of Lincoln some 88 years later, was in his belief that slaves would rise up in large numbers across the Colonies, where slavery had been an institution since Africans were brought to these shores in 1619.

Unlike Lincoln, here is where Lord Dunmore made a critical miscalculation. He felt slaves would want to avenge themselves on their former masters, and fight for the British. After all, loyalty to the British Crown was first and foremost among British citizens of the day. After that, little else held a candle to that sentiment. He didn’t realize, not being a slave taken from your African homeland, or born to those taken, wouldn’t necessarily desire revenge. What they wanted, as any slave would, was their freedom.

Now, a number of slaves did join the British Army and took up arms against colonists and the Rebels as they were called. We call them Patriots today; the British called colonists who fought Rebels. Debate over numbers is academic, because what his proclamation did was sow tremendous discord between slaves and owners, and everyday colonists. Some former slaves fought with the Crown, many others stayed and fought with colonists against the British, including notables like Salem Poor, Oliver Cromwell and Peter Salem, who whole-heartedly supported the Revolution.

The first man to die in the Boston Massacre was a free black, Crispus Attucks, long-revered for losing his life for liberty.

But whose liberty?

Historically speaking, that still is much open to debate.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Visit his column blog at

React to this story: