Robert Dinwiddie Biography

Robert Dinwiddie was a British colonial administrator who helped precipitate the French and Indian War while lieutenant governor of Virginia.


Robert Dinwiddie was born in 1693 in Germiston, Glasgow, Scotland. Dinwiddie served as a British colonial administrator who, as lieutenant governor of Virginia, helped precipitate the French and Indian War. His administration was marked by frequent conflict and controversy with the assembly over taxation policies. He retired to England in 1758, and died in Bristol, England, on July 27, 1770.

Early Life and Career

Robert Dinwiddie was born in the Germiston district of Glasgow, Scotland, in 1693. He worked as a merchant before his 1727 government appointment to serve as customs collector for the colony of Bermuda.

In 1738, Dinwiddie was appointed surveyor-general for England's colonies in North and Central America. His role in this position was to enforce trade laws and oversee tax collection. He established a residence in Virginia and became a member of the colony's legislature.

In 1751, Dinwiddie was appointed lieutenant governor of Virginia. Since colonial governors were mostly absentee, he was largely responsible for filling the executive role on his own. He quickly alienated Virginians by enforcing harsh tax laws on landholdings, which many colonists found coercive. This was the first of several clashes that Dinwiddie had with the Virginia Assembly over finance and taxation in the colony.

French and Indian War

In 1753, Dinwiddie's actions as lieutenant governor triggered war. For the duration of his years in service, Dinwiddie had made a consistent effort to form alliances with Native Americans living in western Virginia and the Ohio Country. These alliances were critical as bulwarks against competing European imperial powers—particularly the French. In 1753, Dinwiddie sent George Washington to western Pennsylvania to convince French forces to leave the area. Keeping French influence out of the region would help Dinwiddie secure his Native American allies and expand colonial borders without a major military contest. The French refused to give any ground. At this point, Dinwiddie ordered Washington and his Virginia militiamen to drive the French from the region. Dinwiddie's decision was one direct cause of the French and Indian War, which began in 1754.

While contributing to the beginning of the war, Dinwiddie worked tirelessly to defend Virginia from the hostilities. The French defeated Washington and his men at Fort Necessity in 1754, leaving western Virginia unprotected. Dinwiddie ordered the construction of forts along major transportation routes in the area. He also continued to negotiate alliances with powerful indigenous groups, including the Cherokees, the Nottoways and the Catawbas. Virginia survived the French and Indian War without sustaining major damage.

Final Years

The stressors of Dinwiddie's work, particularly during the war, left him physically exhausted and ill. He retired to England in 1758 to live out his final years, and died on July 27, 1770, in Bristol.

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