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On this day in 1775, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore and royal governor of Virginia signed a proclamation offering freedom to any black slave who joined British forces and took up arms against American revolutionaries.

The proclamation reads:

As I have ever entertained Hopes that an Accommodation might have / taken Place between GREAT-BRITAIN and this colony, without being / compelled by my Duty to this most disagreeable but now absolutely necessary / Step, rendered so by a Body of armed Men unlawfully assembled, bring on His / MAJESTY’S Tenders, and the formation of an Army, and that Army now on / their March to attack His MAJESTY’S troops and destroy the well disposed Sub- / jects of this Colony. To defeat such unreasonable Purposes, and that all such / Traitors, and their Abetters, may be brought to Justice, and that the Peace, and / good Order of this Colony may be again restored, which the ordinary Course / of the Civil Law is unable to effect; I have thought fit to issue this my Pro- / clamation, hereby declaring, that until the aforesaid good Purposes can be ob- / tained, I do in Virtue of the Power and Authority to ME given, by His MAJE- / STY, determine to execute Martial Law, and cause the same to be executed / throughout this Colony: and to the end that Peace and good Order may the / sooner be restored, I do require every Person capable of bearing Arms, to resort / to His MAJESTY’S STANDARD, or be looked upon as Traitors to His / MAJESTY’S Crown and Government, and thereby become liable to the Penalty / the Law inflicts upon such Offences; such as forfeiture of Life, confiscation of / Lands, &c. &c. And I do hereby further declare all indentured Servants, Negroes, / or others, (appertaining to Rebels,) free that are able and willing to bear Arms, / they joining His MAJESTY’S Troops as soon as may be, for the more speedily / reducing this Colony to a proper Sense of their Duty, to His MAJESTY’S / Crown and Dignity. I do further order, and require, all His MAJESTY’S Leige / Subjects, to retain their Quitrents, or any other Taxes due or that may become / due, in their own Custody, till such Time as Peace may be again restored to this / at present most unhappy Country, or demanded of them for their former salu- / tary Purposes, by Officers properly authorised to receive the same.

GIVEN under my Hand on board the ship WILLIAM, off NORFOLK, / the 7th Day of NOVEMBER, in the SIXTEENTH Year of His MAJESTY’S Reign.


(GOD save the KING.)