Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry was one of the founders of the United States. His talents covered many areas, including being an excellent speaker known to inspire those that listened to him. In one of his speeches for freedom, he said: “Give me liberty, or give me death.” Although an attorney by trade, Patrick Henry is one of the notable individuals in American history.

Patrick was the son of a judge and tobacco farmer and shared his home with ten brothers and sisters. Patrick went to a one-room schoolhouse and was mostly educated by his father. Patrick was only 16 when he and his brother William opened a local store. While the store failed, it gave him some good lessons.

Patrick married a young lady named Sarah Shelton, and they started a farm. Unfortunately, Patrick wasn’t good at farming, and later their home burned down. It was then that Patrick and Sarah were forced to move to live with her parents.

One of Patrick’s real talents was in his ability to talk about law and politics. He tapped into that interest and studied law. In 1760 he became a lawyer and had a successful business with many clients.

The colonies were still under the control of the British Crown, and everything that was done had to be approved. His local town passed a law that one of their ministers objected to and complained to the King of England. The King sided with the minister and overturned the law. Patrick took on the legal case against the Crown in the “Parson’s Case,” with Henry acting as attorney for the colony of Virginia. Although he won the case, he did make a name for himself by calling the King, a tyrant in court.

In 1765 the British enacted the Stamp Act, which added extra taxes on almost everything. Henry was put in the position of being a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and played a critical role in helping to get passed the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions against the Stamp Act.


Where did they live?

In 1774 Henry was elected to the First Continental Congress. This was a group of representatives from each of the colonies that were gathering to talk and plan how they would remove themselves from the control of the British. It was during this time that Henry gave his famous speech, “Give me liberty, or give me death.”

It wasn’t long before the colonies were involved in the Revolutionary War. Henry was appointed as a Colonel for the 1st Virginia Regiment. He led his group of militia in a fight against Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia. Dunmore was fighting against the militia and made an attempt at taking some supplies and gunpowder from Williamsburg. Henry bravely led a group of militia against Dunmore to stop him. This move was called the Gunpowder Incident.

His success as a leader allowed him to be elected in 1776 as Virginia’s governor. At the time, there were only one-year terms, and Henry served quite a few of them as well as on the Virginia state legislature.

Once the war was over, there was a lot of work to be done for the new country. Henry returned to being Virginia’s governor as well as working on the state legislature. Henry was against the first version of the Constitution that the founders came up with because he didn’t want to see it pass without including the Bill of Rights. It is because of Henry’s arguments that the Bill of Rights was amended to the Constitution.

Henry eventually retired and lived at his Red Hill plantation, where he died in 1799 of stomach cancer.

What did you learn?

What two types of work did Henry try and fail at?

opening a store and farming

What case did Henry represent the colony of Virginia and win against the British Crown?

Parson’s Case

What group did Henry join with all of the other colonies to decide on how to fight the British Crown?

First Continental Congress

What is the name of the situation that Henry and his militia stopped Lord Dunmore from succeeding at?

Gunpowder Incident

Due to Patrick Henry’s argument, what critical piece of legislation was added as a Constitutional Amendment?

Bill of Rights

What two political positions did Henry hold for Virginia?

governor and state legislature