The first emancipation proclamation in America was issued by Lord Dunmore in 1775 to acquire needed troops and incite race war among the American colonists and African slaves. The second emancipation proclamation in America was issued by Vice-Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane on 2 April, 1814 for the same purpose. The third came from Abraham Lincoln who was probably aware of the first two.
Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865
The First Emancipation Proclamation in America
“John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia . . . In April, 1775, when a patriot throng was threatening to seize a store of ammunition in Williamsburg . . . suggested that slaves who rose up against their patriot masters and bore arms for the king might gain their freedom. “By the living God, if an insult is offered to me or those who have obeyed my orders,” the governor warned, “I will declare freedom to the slaves and lay the town in ashes.”
A recurring fear among wealthy landowners of the South was that a ferocious slave rebellion would explode across the region. Janet Schaw commented in the summer of 1775 that the Whigs were insisting that the British had promised “every Negro that would murder his Master and family that he should have his Master’s plantation.” In June of that year the Wilmington Committee of Safety sent out “Patroles to search for & take from Negroes all kinds of Arms whatsoever.”
On November 7, 1775, safely aboard ship in Norfolk Harbor, the governor issued a proclamation announcing that all able-bodied, male slaves in Virginia who abandoned their Whig masters and took up arms for the king would be free . . . ”Negroes and others (appertaining to Rebels) free, that are able 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 duty to His Majesty’s crown and dignity . . . ” “Hell itself could not have vomited anything more black than this design of emancipating our slaves,” wrote a patriot newspaper correspondent.
In May 1775 . . . South Carolina [Whigs] reported that word had arrived from friendly sources in London that the British were concocting a slave uprising and an Indian assault against the colonists. “Words, I am told, cannot express the flame that this occasioned amongst all ranks and degrees; the cruelty and savage barbarity of the scheme was the conversation of all companies,” proclaimed William Bull, Royal governor of South Carolina.
Moderates such as Robert Carter Nicholas in Virginia, who had been most reluctant to sever his ties with Great Britain, became convinced of the need for separation because of Lord Dunmore’s disregard for the right of property . . . Even the yeoman farmers of Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, most of who had no expectation of owning slaves, were now more likely to accept characterizations of the Virginia governor as a sneering, leering tyrant who epitomized the insolent, uncaring British bureaucrat.”
(Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, Dan L. Morrill, N&A Publishing, 1993, pp. 31-33)