The Revolutionary War in Chesterfield County, VA

Lord Dunmore

1755 in Colonial Virginia:  Harassment of Williamsburg citizens by the British , the capitol of Virginia, occupied the minds of the colonists. Virginia Governor, Lord Dunmore (His real name was John Murray, the Fourth Earl of Dunmore and garners the distinction of being the 1st "Villian"), a British Tory, so concerned for his own safety, bolted to a British war vessel in Norfolk, VA. He still considered himself in charge of the Colonists affairs. Safely on board the ship, he continued to bother the Virginia Colonists.  First was the “Gunpowder Incident”, started when he organized the removal of locks from firearms in Williamsburg’s armory and seized stores of gunpowder. Citing a potential slave insurrection, Dunmore ordered the removal of these supplies from the armory and transported the weapons to a British warship. He published a “proclamation” on November 7, 1775 offering freedom to slaves and endentured servants who avowed their loyaty to the British and joining their military. That decree further angered the Colonists.

In the summer of 1775, Dunmore’s actions were somewhat reactive and incited by Patrick Henry and others. He gathered a few ships and with a force of British and local Tories began to harrass the colonists along the Chesapeake Bay. He pillaged plantation houses, abused women , children, stole slaves, and burned seaports. By October 1775, he was finally repulsed from Hampton, VA and in December of that year, defeated near Norfolk. On New Year’s Day, 1776, he delivered heavy artillery fire. and burned the city. General Andrew Lewis[1] took command of the Virginia forces and drove Dunmore from his stronghold on Gwynn's Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Dunmore quickly sailed for England, and for three years the British had no foothold on Virginia soil.

[1] Accurate cannon fire from the nearby Virginia mainland persuaded Dunmore to abandon his base.

Baron Frederick von Steuben

By 1779, Thomas Jefferson, then Governor of Virginia, knew the value of Chesterfield County.  Colonial Virginia did not maintain a standing army. Virginia was not wealthy enough to afford full-time soldiers. Governor Jefferson proposed to General Peter Muhlenberg that Chesterfield “be the place of the rendezvous because he considered the location to be a healthy and convenient location”.  It was already a training post and Baron von Steuben, sent by George Washington,  was in Virginia. and had recommended to Jefferson that the post be converted to a rendezvous for all recruits. Chesterfield County was large and at the time, not a crowded county Nearly everyone was engaged in agriculture, and needed spring planting and a harvest in the fall. The militia was the colonial army.  (A more in-depth look at the training depot can be found in the CHSV library in the book” The Continental Training Depot and Rendez-vous at Chesterfield Courthouse, VA 1780-1781” by Bettie Woodson Weaver, 1976.)

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1781 brought the British to Chesterfield County.  Traitor Benedict Arnold led his British forces into Chesterfield County and Richmond burning stores and warehouses.  General William Phillips burned the courthouse and the training center at Chesterfield. The Minutemen from Chesterfield lived to fight another day.  Cornwallis' surrender ended the war in Virginia.

 

Chesterfield County, Virginia was a prominent place in the last years of the war. The militia regiments were organized by county officials and there were regular training sessions at the county courthouse. The Militia system relied on a draft or lottery to man their companies.  Fortunately, from the pensioners applications, the men of Chesterfield responded when their number came up. And they marched to various locations.  In times of peace, these training events became largely social events.

The Revolutionary war was more intense in Chesterfield County and the reader would do well to explore the events in the resources of the Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia's Research Library.

Skirmish at Sudbury's Farm

Chesterfield County's Concord" incident.  On a rainy day in Chesterfield County in 1781,  American Army and Militiamen were surprised at Sudbury' Farm (in Chesterfield County) by the British Lt Col Banastre Tarleton.  Prisoners were captured and taken to Lord Cornwallis in Petersburg, VA.  They were  probably interrogated by the British (a common practice) and told of the strength of Lafayette in Richmond.  This may have influenced Lord Cornwallis to retreat his army to the East Coast of Virginia and finally a total defeat for him.  A Minuteman from Chesterfield County, John Bass summed it up in his pension request.  He was “stationed at Sudbury’s in Chesterfield County when he was surprised by the British Lt Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s Horse (Calvary).  He and about sixty or seventy others were taken prisoner.  He was a prisoner until September 1781 and was exchanged."

 

For another view on these Revolutionary War prisoners and Chesterfield's Militiamen,  refer to the resources at the Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia Research Library.

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