William Legge, Lord Dartmouth


William Legge was the Second Earl of Dartmouth and the Secretary of State for the Colonies at the start of the American Revolutionary War. Dartmouth is most well-known for ordering General Thomas Gage to use military force to arrest leaders of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and restore order in Massachusetts.

William Legge, Lord Dartmouth, American Revolution

William Legge, Second Earl of Dartmouth. Portrait by Nathaniel Hone I, 1777. Image Source: Hood Museum, Dartmouth College.

Who was Lord Dartmouth, the Secretary of State for the Colonies?

William Legge was the Second Earl of Dartmouth and the Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1772 to 1775. Referred to as Lord Dartmouth, Legge played an important role in shaping colonial policies as the American Revolution transitioned to the American Revolutionary War.

Battle of Lexington, 1776, Fight on the Common, Pyle, GAC
This painting by Howard Pyle depicts the Battle of Lexington. Image Source: Google Arts & Culture.

Facts About Lord Dartmouth — Early Life and Career

These facts summarize the life and career of William Legge, the Second Earl of Dartmouth.

Early Life and Lineage of William Legge

  • William Legge, the second earl of Dartmouth, was born on June 20, 1731.
  • His parents were George Legge and Elizabeth Kaye.
  • Legge’s father was Viscount Lewisham, a member of Parliament.
  • His mother was the sole heiress of a wealthy family.
  • Legge’s father died away in 1732, which put him next in line as the Earl of Dartmouth.
  • His mother married Francis North, Lord North and Grey.
  • Legge was close friends with his stepbrother, Frederick North, who later became Prime Minister of Great Britain.
  • Legge inherited his title in 1750, succeeding his grandfather, and becoming the Second Earl of Dartmouth.

Education and Travels

  • Legge was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Oxford.
  • After completing his studies, he went on a three-year tour (1751–1754) of the Continent, which was customary for young gentlemen.
  • Frederick North accompanied him on the trip.
  • During the tour, they visited places like the University of Leipzig, Venice, Florence, and Paris.

Lord Dartmouth Returns to England — Marriage and Politics

  • Legge returned to England in the spring of 1754.
  • On May 31, 1754, he took a seat in the House of Lords.
  • In January 1755, he became engaged to Frances Nicholl, the daughter of Sir Charles Gunter Nicholl.
  • Frances brought a substantial dowry of £100,000 to their marriage.
  • They married and had a total of nine children together.

Dartmouth’s Interests

  • Legge’s considerable wealth provided him with various opportunities.
  • Unlike his step-brother, Frederick North, Legge did not initially pursue a career in politics.
  • He focused on religion and philanthropy.

The First Great Awakening

  • Although he was an Anglican, Legge and his wife were interested in the evangelical movement of the First Great Awakening.
  • They supported notable Methodist leaders such as John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield.

Dartmouth College

  • Legge led a successful fundraising campaign in Britain for a charity school for Native American Indians in New Hampshire.
  • In 1769, the school was renamed Dartmouth College, in honor of Legge.

Lord Dartmouth and the American Revolution

The Rockingham Ministry and the Board of Trade

  • In 1765, Lord Dartmouth was invited by Lord Rockingham to join his newly formed Whig government.
  • Dartmouth accepted the position of First Lord of Trade on July 19, 1765.

Lord Dartmouth and the Stamp Act

  • While he led the Board of Trade, Lord Dartmouth was confronted with the controversy surrounding the Stamp Act.
  • He supported the repeal of the Stamp Act but supported the Declaratory Act, which asserted Parliament’s authority over the American Colonies.
Stamp Act in Boston, Illustration
This illustration depicts outraged Bostonians reading a copy of the Stamp Act. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Dartmouth Withdraws from Politics

  • Lord Dartmouth resigned from the Board of Trade on July 30, 1766, due to the political infighting that took place during the Stamp Act Crisis.
  • He attempted to secure a different position in the government but was not supported by Sir William Pitt, who had replaced Lord Rockingham.
  • Dartmouth responded by withdrawing from politics.

Lord Dartmouth, Secretary of State for the Colonies

  • On August 22, 1772, Lord Dartmouth became Secretary of State for the Colonies in a government led by his stepbrother, Lord Frederick North.
  • As Secretary of State, he was involved with everything going on in the American Colonies.
  • Despite his sympathy for colonists, he viewed their protests, like the Boston Tea Party, as insults to the King’s authority.
  • Dartmouth wanted to ensure the colonies remained dependent on Great Britain.

Significant Issues Facing Dartmouth as Secretary of State

From the beginning, Lord Dartmouth was faced with important issues that helped fuel the American Revolution, most of which he inherited:

  1. An attack on a British ship in Rhode Island, known as the Gaspée Affair, took place on June 9, 1772.
  2. Protests in Massachusetts over the payment of salaries for government officials.
  3. The establishment of frontier settlements that violated the Proclamation Line of 1763.
  4. The need to establish a government in the Province of Quebec, which was populated by French Catholics.

The Gaspée Affair

  • In June 1772, members of the Sons of Liberty attacked and burned the HMS Gaspée off the coast of Rhode Island.
  • The commission that investigated the Gaspée Affair recommended potentially sending suspects to England for trial.
  • Lord Dartmouth opposed extradition to England and wanted any trials to be held in Rhode Island.
  • Although no suspects were identified, the threat of sending anyone to England for trial added to the growing tension between Britain and the American Colonies.
Burning of the Gaspee, Painting
This painting by Charles DeWolf Brownell depicts the burning of the HMS Gaspee. Image Source: Gaspee Virtual Archives.

Committees of Correspondence

  • In Virginia, the House of Burgesses viewed the commission’s authority as an attack on British liberties, including the right to a trial by a jury composed of the defendant’s peers.
  • The House of Burgesses responded by establishing the first permanent Committee of Correspondence.
  • Lord Dartmouth viewed these Committees, which were established in other colonies, as a dangerous development, and warned King George III about them.

Boston Tea Party

  • Following the passage of the Tea Act (1773), the Sons of Liberty organized and carried out the Boston Tea Party (December 17, 1773).
  • News of the Boston Tea Party reached London in January 1774.
  • Lord Dartmouth was shocked and considered the actions of the Bostonians unreasonable.

Intolerable Acts

  • While Prime Minister Lord North and his cabinet supported a strong legislative response to the Boston Tea Party, Lord Dartmouth was hesitant.
  • Dartmouth wanted to treat the Boston Tea Party as a criminal matter, but members of Parliament insisted on punishing Boston and Massachusetts.
  • Parliament devised the Intolerable Acts.
  • Dartmouth supported the acts, hoping punishing Massachusetts would encourage the other colonies to fall in line.

First Continental Congress

  • Lord Dartmouth’s hopes fell in the summer of 1774 when he found out the Virginia House of Burgesses protested the closure of the Port of Boston with a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer but also called for a meeting for the colonies to coordinate a response to the Boston Port Act.
  • Dartmouth wrote to Lord Dunmore on July 6, 1774, and told him Virginia was undermining efforts to address colonial grievances.
  • The First Continental Congress met and organized the Continental Association, which enforced a trade embargo on British goods.
  • Dartmouth responded to the growing tension by secretly negotiating with Benjamin Franklin but failed to reach an acceptable resolution.

Dartmouth Orders Gage to Take Action

Lord North’s Conciliatory Resolution

  • Meanwhile, Parliament considered how to respond to the petitions sent by the First Continental Congress.
  • William Pitt offered several proposals to restore peace, including allowing the colonies to govern themselves and to withdraw troops from Boston. However, Parliament rejected his motions.
  • In late February, Lord North drafted a resolution that offered to reconcile the situation with the colonies.
  • Known as the “Conciliatory Resolution,” it was approved by Parliament and subsequently rejected by the Second Continental Congress after it reconvened in May 1775,

The Battles of Lexington and Concord

  • Gage received his orders from Lord Dartmouth on April 15, 1775, and three days later sent an expedition to Concord to seize and destroy military supplies. 
  • The expedition engaged Massachusetts Militia forces during the Lexington Alarm and the Concord Fight, starting the American Revolutionary War.

The American Revolutionary War

  • On August 23, 1775, King George III issued a proclamation “For Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition” in the American Colonies.
  • Lord Dartmouth resigned as Secretary of State in November 1775, as the war escalated.
  • He was replaced as Secretary of State by Lord Germain (George Germain, 1st Viscount Sackville).
  • Dartmouth remained in Lord North’s cabinet and took on the position of Lord Privy Seal.
  • He supported Lord North and the war effort but continued to hope for reconciliation with the colonies.
  • Dartmouth and North both resigned in 1782.

Later Years and Death

  • Lord Dartmouth briefly returned to the government in 1783.
  • Dartmouth passed away on July 7, 1801.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title William Legge, Lord Dartmouth
  • Date 1731–1801
  • Author
  • Keywords William Legge, Lord Dartmouth, Second Earl of Dartmouth, Secretary of State for the Colonies
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 12, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 27, 2024