This Day (There Can Be No Poetry After Bolling Edition)

Published:May 20, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1775, Robert Bolling published a long elegy in the Virginia Gazette mourning the deaths of Virginia militamen at the hands of Indians during Dunmore’s War (1773–1774). Bolling was a burgess and something of a hipster wine guy who was once jailed for challenging one of the more flighty of the William Byrds to a duel. He later was sued by his own brother. (Bolling’s attorney was Thomas Jefferson.)

What he really wanted to be when he grew up, though, was a poet, and the Gazette was happy to publish all twenty-one tedious stanzas by this great-great-grandson of Pocahontas, thereby doing violence both to basic meter and to the dignity of Virginia Indians. To wit:

Fame held (in the mild arts of peace

While fared Dunmore) rough talk;

The Mingoes, Delawares, Shawanese,

Had raised the red tomauk.

The Chieftain started, awful frowned—-

Say, sprung his armies from the ground?

Virgour, or magic, west and north

Displays in arms. Where leads Dunmore

His northern bands, red nations cow’r,

And from his mercy date new birth.

On page four of the Gazette that day was a strange personal ad by one John Maxwell of Lancaster:

This is only speculation, of course, but perhaps Bolling’s stanzas were the last straw.

IMAGES: Find archived issues of the Virginia Gazette online at The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.