Patrick Henry - Career


Henry began a career as a planter, but the soil was poor and their main house was destroyed by fire in 1757. He tried a mercantile store, but it failed. While reading for the law, he continued to farm at Pine Slash Plantation before qualifying as a lawyer in 1760. He read the law with an established firm.

Henry first gained local attention in a case dubbed the "Parson's Cause" (1763). It dealt with whether the price of tobacco paid to established clergy for their services, should be set by the colonial government or by the Crown. After the British Parliament overruled Virginia's Two Penny Act, which had limited the established clergy's salaries, the Reverend James Maury filed suit against the vestry of Louisa County for payment of back wages. When Maury won the suit, a jury was called in Hanover County to determine how much Maury should be paid. Henry was brought in at the last minute to argue on behalf of Louisa County.

He delivered an impassioned speech that denounced clerics who challenged Virginia's laws as "enemies of the community" and any king who annulled good laws, such as the Two Penny Act, as a "tyrant" who "forfeits all right to his subject's obedience". Henry urged the jury to make an example of Maury. After less than five minutes of deliberation, they awarded Maury one penny. The Hanover County Courthouse, where Patrick Henry argued the case, is used as an active courthouse. Located along historic U.S. Route 301, the courthouse is adjacent to Hanover Tavern (rebuilt in 1791 after burning) where Patrick Henry lodged while on the case. The courthouse is the third oldest courthouse still in use in the United States.

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