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Official correspondence and military letters of Virginia Colony Lt. Governor Robert Dinwiddie

Identifier: MSS 0341

Scope and Content Note

The “Official correspondence and military Letters of Virginia Colony Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie, 1754–1756,” were collected here in two bound volumes of holograph copies. According to a note in the front of one of the volumes, the correspondence was originally transcribed in 1820 for Jared Sparks, who was one of the earliest archivists/collectors in the United States. Sparks was an advocate for the collection, preservation, and publication of manuscripts which documented early American history.

Copied from Dinwiddie’s original letters, which are deposited in the Virginia Historical Society, the letters were probably part of Sparks’s research for his twelve-volume Writings of George Washington (1834–1838). A significant number of Dinwiddie’s letters are addressed to George Washington, first in his role as an adjutant in the Virginia militia, and later as a Lt. Colonel during the French and Indian War.

Dating between 1754 and 1756, the correspondence in these volumes chronicles three significant years of Dinwiddie’s administration as the acting Governor of the Virginia Colony. During these years Dinwiddie, in his zeal to maintain the authority of the British on the Ohio River and surrounding territory, contributed to the initiation of the Seven Years War. The dissension created in the colony over his pistole tax and request for funding for military expeditions made his administration highly unpopular among the colonists.

Each of the bound volumes contains letters arranged in chronological order, totaling over 450 pages of text. Although the volume titles -- “Official Correspondence” and “Military Letters” -- suggest a segregation of the correspondence related to military operations, in reality both volumes contain letters regarding the military campaigns. The letters reflect Dinwiddie’s difficulties in raising funds for defense of the Ohio, his overtures to Britain’s Indian allies, his appeals to the Earls of Halifax and Albemarle for political and financial support, and his justification of the pistole tax.

His letters to military officers include commissions for officers, suggested quotas for raising militia, reprimands in response to demands for more substantial pay and provisions, orders for specific military objectives, and general encouragement. Dinwiddie sought to gain the allegiance of the Six Nations of Native America to the colonies. His letters to the chiefs of the Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Catawbas reflect his efforts to raise their support against the French. With varying success, he also sought to rally the colonies of Pennsylvania, South and North Carolina, New York, Maryland, New Jersey, and Massachusetts to the cause. His letters to governors of those colonies reveal his frustrations with their slow and inadequate responses to the financial and recruitment needs of the Ohio campaign.

The letters confirm Dinwiddie’s absolute devotion to British interests in the colonies and document his efforts to protect those interests. In them readers also glimpse some of the early colonial dissatisfaction with British administration, and are introduced to a portion of George Washington’s early military career.


  • Creation: 1754–1756


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

Robert Dinwiddie, Lieutenant Governor of the Virginia Colony from 1751 to 1758, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on October 3, 1692. Educated at the University of Glasgow, he graduated in 1710 or 1711. Although the years following his graduation are undocumented, it is assumed that he entered a trade, probably in the counting house of his father. By the age of 30, Dinwiddie had become a successful trader and one of the richest men in St. George’s Parish, Bermuda. In 1738 Horatio Walpole (brother of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole) appointed Dinwiddie as Surveyor General of the Southern Part of the Continent of North America, making him the overseer of customs services in South and North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, the Bahama Islands, and Jamaica. He was also a member of the Council of Bermuda.

As Surveyor General, Dinwiddie was required to reside within the district he oversaw. In June 1741, Dinwiddie arrived in Virginia, taking up residence near Norfolk, where he and his family remained until 1746. In that year Dinwiddie consigned the Surveyor General post to Peter Randolph of Virginia and returned to London, where he invested in the shipping business. During these years Dinwiddie won the good will of John Carteret, Earl of Granville, and George Dunk, Earl of Halifax.

These gentlemen, as well as Horatio Walpole, were influential in obtaining Dinwiddie’s appointment as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia on July 4, 1751. Although he performed the duties of governor and coveted the title, Dinwiddie was never titular governor of Virginia. William Anne Keppel, Earl of Albemarle, held the title and shared the salary assigned to the governor’s position.

During the seven years of Dinwiddie’s term he was a staunch advocate of the authority of Great Britain over the colonies. He has been called the “Grandfather of the American Revolution” because of his patronage of George Washington, but he was not and never became a supporter of colonial rights. In fact his pistole tax, which colonists were required to pay to the Governor each time his seal was affixed to a document, was a source of great dissension in Virginia.

Dinwiddie was indirectly involved in the initiation of the Seven Years War, because of his direct participation in the French and Indian War in the colonies. Although France and England would not make formal declaration of war until May, 1756, the conflict began in the colonies in 1753. Following reports of French establishment of forts on the Ohio River, Lt. Governor Dinwiddie dispatched Virginia Militia Major George Washington to assert British sovereignty over that territory and to demand immediate French withdrawal. The French refused and Dinwiddie sent Colonel Trent to build and defend a fort at a strategic position on the Ohio River. The fort was later named Fort Necessity.

On May 28, 1754, Washington, who had been dispatched to reinforce Fort Necessity, attacked and defeated a French detachment lead by Ensign Joseph Coulon, sieur de Jumonville. Outraged, the French responded by attacking and forcing Washington’s surrender of the fort on July 3, 1754. The war escalated in the colonies in 1755, with the French dominating. The French defeat of General Edward Braddock and his regiments of British regulars at the Monongahela River on July 7, 1755, was a tremendous blow to the colonies and to Robert Dinwiddie.

In March 1756, the Earl of Loudoun was appointed the Governor of Virginia and Commander-in-Chief of all North American military forces. By the fall of 1757, Robert Dinwiddie and his family left Virginia for England, where he resided for the remainder of his life. In poor health, Dinwiddie made frequent visits to Bath for therapeutic treatments. On July 27, 1770, Robert Dinwiddie died at Clifton, near Bath.

Alden, John Richard. Robert Dinwiddie: Servant of the Crown. Williamsburg: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1973. Baker-Crothers, Hayes. Virginia and The French and Indian War. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1928.


.3 linear foot (2 volumes)


The “Official Correspondence and Military Letters of Virginia Colony Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie, 1754–1756,” were collected here in two bound volumes of holograph copies, originally transcribed in 1820 for nineteenth century American collector and archivist Jared Sparks.


Purchase, 1958.

Related Materials in other Repositories

Dinwiddie’s original letters are deposited in the Virginia Historical Society

Shelving Summary

  1. Box 1: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes


Processed by Anita A. Wellner, April 1997. Encoded by Natalie Baur, March 2010. Further encoding by Lauren Connolly, January 2016, and Tiffany Saulter, May 2016.

Finding aid for official correspondence and military letters of Virginia Colony Lt. Governor Robert Dinwiddie
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2010 March 10
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

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