The Richmond History Podcast

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Witness to Liberty and Death

Edward Carrington, From the LOC
The History Pug at St John's, Photo by Jeff Majer
Patrick Henry gave his famous speech at the Henrico Parrish (now St Johns Episcopal Church) on March 23, 1775, but it wasn't until 1816 that the words were published in print for the first time by Henry's biographer William Wirt.1  Because the "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech was not published until 16 years after Henry's death it remains controversial who really authored those words.  One man who claimed to have heard them, and to be profoundly moved by them was Edward Carrington.  

Edward Carrington's grave at St. John's Photo by Jeff Majer
Carrington, born in Boston Hill, a part of Goochland County that became Cumberland County, was licensed to practice law in 1773, but with the out break of the American Revolution he joined the military, reaching the rank of colonel.2  After the war he moved in to politics, serving two terms in the US Congress 1786-1788 and in 1788 he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates representing Powatan County where he proved himself to be an ardent Federalist.2  After his time in the legislature he was appointed by George Washington to be the first Marshal of Virginia.3  As Marshal he supervised the census in Virginia in 1790.2  He turned down appointments of Secretary of War and Attorney General.2  Because of his military experience, in 1794-5 he and the Virginia Governor were charged with raising troops against the "Whisky Rebellions".2  In 1807 he was foreman of the jury during the trial of Aaron Burr for treason in Richmond, and in 1809 and 1811 was elected mayor of RVA.4 

The History Pug under Carrington's window/his grave
Carrington was not one of the 122 Delegates in the church when Henry gave his famous speech, but he was listening from a window.  After he heard the speech he was reported to say, "Right here, I wish to be buried".5  His wish came true when he died in 1810 at the age of 62,3 six years before he could confirm or deny the wording settled on by Wirt.

He was in congress during the Constitutional Convention and even though he didn't agree wholly with the Constitution, he urged its ratification.2  When he returned to Virginia he tried to get himself elected to the Virginia Ratifying Committee, but ironically, because of the Anti-Federalist, Patrick Henry, he was defeated.2

On Carrington's gave, photo by Jeff Majer

5. Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History: 1585-1828, By Walter A. McDougall

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