Arthur Dobbs (1689-1765)

Arthur Dobbs, sheriff (1720), Surveyor General (1730), and member of Parliament (1727-1730) in his native Ireland, became one of the five royal colonial governors of North Carolina in 1754.  He was born on April 2, 1689 in the fishing village of Girvan in Ayrshire, Scotland, to Richard and Mary Stewart Dobbs.  Soon after his birth, Mary returned with Arthur to Ireland. He resided there until moving to North Carolina.

While serving in the Irish Parliament, Dobbs became a land proprietor of North Carolina.  Under a land grant rewarded to London merchant Henry McCulloh, Dobbs purchased land in North Carolina in 1736.  In 1745, Dobbs, along with Colonel John Selwyn, bought a land grant totaling 400,000 acres in modern-day Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties.  As a colonial proprietor, Dobbs progressively encouraged colonial settlement in North Carolina, especially by Irishmen.

With increasing investments in North Carolina, Dobbs participated in politics.  Following the death of Governor Gabriel Johnston, Dobbs sought for appointment as the new governor of North Carolina.  By January 25, 1753, he was confirmed.  Even though he was officially governor, he did not arrive in North Carolina until October 31, 1754.

Dobb’s administration reenergized and restructured the colonial government of North Carolina.  The people and the Assembly were ready for reorganization after Governors Nathaniel Rice and Matthew Rowan mismanaged government from 1752 to 1753.  As the newly appointed governor, Dobbs appealed to both the colonists and the crown; he believed in strict monarchical rule, yet he considered the needs, requests, and complaints of the colonists.  During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Dobbs encouraged the colonists to fight and defend their land.  By encouraging the development of the silk industry, postal service, printing, and trade, Dobbs encouraged the economic growth of North Carolina.  He also wanted to establish the Church of England in North Carolina and improve the province’s educational system.  Dobbs assumed office as North Carolina evolved into a colonial power, and throughout his administration, Dobbs fostered economic and demographic growth.

In 1757, Dobbs suspended several Assembly members who challenged his authority.  This caused a split between the Assembly and Governor Dobbs.  Dobbs also created discontent by trying to please both the colonists and the Assembly; in the end, he pleased no one.

Two major events overshadowed Dobbs’s governorship: the French and Indian War and the start of the American Revolution.  Some historians, such as Hugh T. Lefler and William S. Powell, suggest that Dobbs foresaw colonial revolution.  Dobbs once wrote that the King should rule the colonies more strictly in order to “oppose and suppress a republican spirit of Independency rising in the colony.”

After ten years in office, Arthur Dobbs retired as governor in 1764.  Dobbs died in North Carolina on March 27, 1765, two weeks before he planned to return home to Ireland.  He is buried at St Philip’s Church in Brunswick, North Carolina.


Sources: Desmond Clarke, Arthur Dobbs Esquire, 1689 – 1765: Surveyor – General of Ireland, Prospector and Governor of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, 1957); Hugh T. Lefler and William S. Powell, Colonial North Carolina – A History (New York, 1973); and Blackwell P. Robinson, The Five Royal Governors of North Carolina, 1729–1775 (Raleigh, 1963).