Researching the American Revolution

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Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry by George Bagby Matthews(1857 - 1943) from Thomas Sully (1783-1872)

Patrick Henry by George Bagby Matthews(1857 – 1943) from Thomas Sully (1783-1872)

Patrick Henry is best known for his famous quote, “Give me liberty or give me death.”  However, he made considerable contributions in leading Virginia as its first governor.  Virginians looked to Henry as their leader in twice – both times of crisis.  First as their initial governor during the War for Independence and then again during the turbulent days of the Confederation.  Interestingly, Henry opposed the new Federal Constitution as he felt it gave too much power to the Federal government and did not contain a bill of rights.

A complex person, Henry championed individual liberty, but could not reconcile with slavery and full citizenship for all men and women.  He privately expressed reservations with slavery but did not pubically advocate ending slavery.

Due to his notoriety, there are many biographies of Henry.  Here is a partial list in date order of publication.  The Wirt biography is the primary source for Henry’s “Give me liberty, or give me death.” speech. For an analysis of the authenticity of the quote see an article by David A. McCants in the The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 87, No. 4 (Oct., 1979), pp. 387-402.


Wirt, William. Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry. Philadelphia: James Webster, 1818.  Free on line copy

Henry, William Wirt. Patrick Henry: Life, Speeches and Correspondence (3 Volume Set). 3 vols. New York: Charles Scribner’s sons, 1891.

Meade, Robert Douthat. Patrick Henry:  Patriot in the Making. Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1959.
———. Patrick Henry: Practical Revolutionary. Lippincott, 1969.


Beeman, Richard R. Patrick Henry: A Biography. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1974.


Campbell, Norine Dickson. Patrick Henry, Patriot and Statesman. 2. print. Old Greenwich, Conn: Devin-Adair, 1975.

Mayer, Henry. A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic. 1st Grove Press ed. New York : [Emeryville, CA]: Grove Press : ; distributed by Publisher’s Group West, 2001.

Vaughan, David J. Give Me Liberty: The Uncompromising Statesmanship of Patrick Henry. Nashville, Tenn.; St. Albans: Cumberland House ; Verulam, 2003.

Kidd, Thomas S. Patrick Henry: First among Patriots. New York: Basic Books, 2011.


Unger, Harlow G. Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2011.

Kukla, Jon. Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2017. For  a review of this book, click.


In addition, there are many children’s and young adult biographies.


Patrick Henry; life, correspondence and speeches edited by William Wirt Henry:

Volume I

Volume II

Volume III


Scotchtown, One of Patrick Henry’s Revolutionary Era homes and the likely place he wrote his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speach



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