Arthur Dobbs

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For the politician in Northern Ireland, see Arthur Frederick Dobbs.
Arthur Dobbs
His excellency Arthur Dobbs esq., captain general, governour in chief and vice admiral of the Provence of North Carolina in America (NYPL NYPG94-F42-419798).jpg
His excellency Arthur Dobbs esq., captain general, governour in chief and vice admiral of the Provence of North Carolina in America (NYPL NYPG94-F42-419798)
6th governor of the Royal Colony of North Carolina
In office
Preceded by Matthew Rowan
Succeeded by William Tryon
Personal details
Born 2 April 1689
County Antrim, Ireland
Died 28 March 1765
Brunswick Town, North Carolina
Spouse(s) Anne
Profession Political, engineer and Surveyor-General

Arthur Dobbs (2 April 1689 – 28 March 1765) was an Anglo-Irish politician with large landholdings in North Carolina who served as the colonial governor of the state from 1754 to 1765.

Early life and career[edit]

He was born the eldest son of Richard Dobbs of Carrickfergus, County Antrim, who was soon to become Sheriff of Antrim in 1694. He was a neighbour and family friend of Jonathan Swift despite their political differences. He served briefly in a dragoon regiment in the Irish Army, and afterward managed his family estate.

He became an engineer and Surveyor-General of Ireland, supervising the construction of the Irish Parliament House in Dublin, as well as other Irish public buildings.[1] He was appointed High Sheriff of Antrim in 1720[2] and in 1727 was elected Member of Parliament for Carrickfergus, a seat he held until 1760.

Whilst a member of the Irish Parliament, he purchased 400,000 acres (1,600 km2) in North Carolina in 1745 and encouraged settlement in the colony, especially by Irishmen. Following the death of North Carolina governor Gabriel Johnston, Dobbs was confirmed to succeed him on 25 January 1753. However, he did not arrive to assume his duties until October of the following year.

Governor of North Carolina[edit]

While governor of North Carolina, Dobbs sought unsuccessfully to establish a permanent capital, to be called George City, near Tower Hill and the Neuse River.[1] Plans were drawn up for a Palladian governor's mansion similar to Tryon Palace, which Dobbs' successor, William Tryon, would erect 10 years later in New Bern.[1] Dobbs' governorship was overshadowed by the French and Indian War and the start of the American Revolution. Shortly after his arrival, Dobbs visited the western frontiers of North Carolina, organised the construction of Fort Dobbs, and attempted to raise troops to fight in the French and Indian War. Dobbs moved to Brunswick Town, North Carolina in 1758 where he lived for the rest of his life. In 1759 and 1760, Governor and Assembly were often at odds. Debt, Indian affairs, public complaints about Lord Granville's agents and about Dobbs' failure to put down riots in Edgecombe County and elsewhere, and Dobbs' frequent vetoes of Assembly bills led to intense tensions. Dobbs even dissolved the Assembly in 1760 and ordered new elections, but this plan backfired; a secret committee drew up outlandish charges against the governor to be sent to the King. Only the succession of King George III, which brought additional powers to Dobbs, saved him from further conflict with the Assembly.

Other interests[edit]

Apart from his North Carolina interests, Dobbs was heavily involved in attempts to find a Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic during the 1740s. He actively worked to have the Hudson’s Bay Company’s trade monopoly revoked on the grounds that they showed little or no interest in promoting discovery expeditions relating to the Northwest Passage. Dobbs felt that others might finance exploration if they had some expectation of trade. Revoking the Hudson’s Bay Company’s trade monopoly was his solution for stimulating exploration. From 1741 to 1747, Dobbs managed to stimulate exploration, the result of which convinced most people that such a passage did not exist. A British Parliamentary inquiry in 1749 ended attempts to revoke the Hudson’s Bay Company’s charter. Dobbs' involvement in the Canadian Arctic exploration resulted in a substantial increase in geographical knowledge as well as increased awareness of the economic potential. Dobbs was also an amateur scientist and published several astronomy articles as well as a pamphlet on honeybees.

Private life[edit]

He had married in 1720 Anne, daughter and heir of Captain Osborne of Timahoe, County Kildare and the widow of Captain Norbury. They had three sons and a daughter.[3]

In 1762, Dobbs, then seventy-three, married fifteen-year-old Justina Davis at St. Philip's Church in Brunswick. A few months later he suffered a stroke and was bound to a wheelchair. In the fall of 1763 he attended a conference of Southern governors and Indian tribes in Augusta, Georgia, which resulted in the Treaty of Augusta. In 1764 Dobbs look a leave of absence to return to England, and Tryon arrived as lieutenant-governor to fill his place. Dobbs later decided to retire and return to Ireland, but while packing, suffered a fatal seizure on 28 March 1765, just two weeks before he was to depart. He was buried at St. Philip's. Today no sign of his grave remains.

He was succeeded by his eldest son, Conway Richard Dobbs.[3]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Desmond Clarke, Arthur Dobbs, esquire, 1689–1765 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957)
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • Blackwell P. Robinson, The Five Royal Governors of North Carolina (Raleigh: The Carolina Charter Tercentenniary Commission, 1963), 27-46.
  • Patrick C. Morton, "Arthur Dobbs and the Quest for Empire, 1729-1759" (Wake Forest University: Graduate Thesis, 1997)


  1. ^ a b c Bishir, Catherine (2005). North Carolina Architecture. UNC Press. p. 55. 
  2. ^ "Public Record Office of Northern Ireland - Dobbs Papers" (PDF). Retrieved 30 June 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Burke, Bernard. A genealogical and heraldic dictionary of the landed gentry of Great Britain..., Volume 1. p. 302.  Google Books

External links[edit]

Parliament of Ireland
Preceded by
Edward Lyndon
Archibald Edmonstone
Member of Parliament for Carrickfergus
With: John Lyndon 1727–1741
Francis Clements 1741
Arthur Upton 1741–1760
Succeeded by
Marriot Dalway
Arthur Upton
Government offices
Preceded by
Edward Lovett Pearce
Surveyor General of Ireland
Succeeded by
Arthur Jones-Nevill
Preceded by
Matthew Rowan (acting)
Governor of the Royal Colony of North Carolina
1753 – 1764
Succeeded by
William Tryon