Born in near Perth, Scotland, John Murray became the fourth earl of Dunmore when his father, William Murray, third earl of Dunmore, died in 1756. While serving in the Third Regiment of Foot Guards, he married Lady Charlotte Stewart, daughter of the sixth earl of Galloway. They had nine children between 1759 and 1774. Dunmore was a member of the House of Lords as one of the sixteen Scottish representative peers from 1757 until January 1770, when the king appointed him governor of New York. The following year the king appointed him governor of Virginia to succeed Norborne Berkeley, baron de Botetourt, who had died in October 1770.
Dunmore resided in the governor's palace in Williamsburg from September 1771 until June 1775. His wife joined him midway through his administration. Twice he traveled to the frontier, visiting Fort Pitt (the future site of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) in 1773 to attempt to settle a dispute between western Virginians and western Pennsylvanians who both claimed the region, and in the autumn of 1774, when he led an army of volunteer militia into the upper Ohio River Valley to protect western settlers from the Indians. That expedition was later known as Dunmore's War. Virginia volunteers under Colonel Andrew Lewis defeated Cornstalk at the Battle of Point Pleasant in October 1774, after which Dunmore negotiated a peace treaty with the Indians.
In May 1774 when the House of Burgesses ordered a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer in support of the people of Boston after the Coercive Acts had closed the port, Dunmore dissolved the General Assembly, but the colony's committee of correspondence and the private actions of the burgesses led to Virginia's taking a leadership role in the First Continental Congress. The following spring he issued a proclamation in the king's name forbidding the election of delegates to the Second Continental Congress, but the second Virginia Revolutionary Convention meeting in Richmond reelected the colony's delegates before Dunmore could act. In April 1775 he ordered the colony's supply of gunpowder to be removed from the public magazine in Williamsburg, and thereafter the city became an armed camp. Dunmore fled Williamsburg to the safety of a royal warship early in June 1775 and from then until he departed for England at the end of the summer of 1776 he had the assistance of British warships to threaten the rebellion in the eastern part of Virginia. In November 1775 Dunmore issued a proclamation offering freedom to slaves who ran away from their owners and fought for the king in a military unit that he raised and called Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment. Dunmore's proclamation convinced many Virginia slave owners that the only way to secure their safety and property was to declare independence.
Dunmore attempted to return to Virginia with the British Army in 1781, but the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown made that impossible. He helped many Virginians who remained loyal to the Crown receive compensation from the Crown for their property that the state government had seized. Dunmore served as governor of the Bahamas from 1786 to 1796 and died in Kent, England, in 1809.
"Murray, John, Fourth Earl of Dunmore." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford, Eng.: Oxford University Press, 2004, 39:955–956.