“The Sword is Now Drawn…” The Powder Incident, Lexington and Concord moves Virginia to Revolution

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Battle of Lexington by Amos Doolittle, December, 1775

One of the most amazing parts of the events on April 19, 1775 is just how sophisticated the colonial information network was. As soon as Lt. Col. Francis Smith’s British Regulars began to move across the Charles River, riders fanned out from Boston and to neighboring towns. Each town then had more riders that spread out and soon dozens of men were riding through the New England countryside warning of the fighting that took place. Soon information spread to the mid-Atlantic colonies and Philadelphia on April 24th. In the age of no electricity, the complexities and speed that news traveled from Boston to the other colonies was pretty amazing. Stories grew from person to person and it would take months and even years to decipher truth from exaggeration. It was imperative for both the “Patriots” and General Thomas Gage to get their version of the events of April 19th out as fast as possible. Facts or not, the importance of the public relations was of utmost importance to both sides to win the hearts and minds of the other colonies.

As the news reached Virginia, the colony was already at a crossroads with their

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Virginia Lt Governor, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore

Governor. The last House of Burgesses that met in Williamsburg was dissolved in August 1774 over their vocal support of the people of Massachusetts after the Boston Port Act. The once popular Governor, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (Governor Dunmore), was angered over their overt support and ordered them dissolved and returned home. The legislature defied his orders and met soon after at the nearby Raleigh Tavern, thus constituting the “First Virginia Convention.” With questionable legal authority, the Convention called for solidarity and non-importation of British goods. They also agreed to meet again in the future. The “Second Virginia Convention” met in March of 1775 in Richmond, a safe distance from the Governor’s influence in Williamsburg. It was at this Convention that Patrick Henry made his famous “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” speech on March 23. Though considered radical at the time, the speech energized the Convention and set the tone. When the Governor learned of the Convention and especially Henry’s speech, he made a fateful decision to remove the gunpowder stored in the magazine in Williamsburg. Continue reading ““The Sword is Now Drawn…” The Powder Incident, Lexington and Concord moves Virginia to Revolution”

The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, Part 5

Escape from America

Finally, in the spring of 1777, Cresswell again decided to try returning to England.  Thomson Mason, who had already intervened with two Committees of Safety to protect the Englishman, offered to help with Virginia authorities once more, provided that Cresswell swear not to join the British Army.  Cresswell did.  The best plan was to leave Leesburg, travel overland to Alexandria, then take a schooner down the Potomac and Chesapeake for Williamsburg and Hampton, where it might be possible go aboard a ship bound for British-occupied New York.  As he made his preparations, the local Committee of Safety arrived on April 16 to search his possessions for treasonable items.  They seized a shot pouch, powder horn, and bearskin he acquired from the Delaware Indians.  Cresswell decided not to contest the seizure lest it complicate his departure.

Continue reading “The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, Part 5”

The 245th Anniversary of "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death"

On this date, in 1775, Virginian Patrick Henry, a delegate to the Second Virginia Convention from Hanover County, Virginia sat in on the ongoing debate at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.

Patrick Henry

The 28-year old then stood to give his defense of his proposed amendments to the petition then being debated. Below is the last few lines of his now famous statement, with the last sentence being the one most remembered;

If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

Continue reading “The 245th Anniversary of "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death"”

McColloch’s Leap

“By no means comparable with the feats of a similar character” and “performed an act of daring” and “nay, desperate horsemanship” and “seldom been equaled by man or beast.” All these describe the amazing escape of Major Samuel McColloch in September 1777 during the attack on Fort Henry around where present-day Wheeling, West Virginia.

I first encountered this amazing, daring, and crazy eluding of capture when I took my own, well not as risky, but still a leap, moving to Wheeling to attend university there. Parents were 3,000 miles away in England and I was attempting to juggle basketball, studies, getting re-acclimated to life in the United States, and unknowingly, a left knee that was about to explode. Being a history major, this was one of the first accounts learned in a freshman year seminar class about local history to inspire the incoming students to explore the area outside of campus.

Fort Henry, built in 1774, was originally named Fort Fincastle, one of the titles of Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia. When the colonies revolted, the fortification was renamed in honor of Patrick Henry.

Fort Henry
courtesy of West Virginia History OnView
https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/041457
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Origins of a Revolutionary Orator

Studley state historical marker
State of Virginia historical marker for Studley

Nestled in Hanover County, VA, near where modern residential communities meet farm fields that have been worked for centuries, is the site of a colonial-era plantation home called Studley.  It was here on this site that Patrick Henry, the “Voice of the Revolution”, was born.

A 600-acre tobacco plantation, Studley was built in the 1720’s for its original owner, Colonel John Syme and his bride, Sarah, the former Sarah Winston.  The surrounding community, as it does today, took its name from the site. (By the mid-19th century, the Studley area was called Haws Shop, after a nearby blacksmith shop.  In the latter part of May, 1864, Union and Confederate cavalry units fought a dismounted action here just prior to the battle of Cold Harbor.  Prominent among the Union commanders engaged was Brig. Gen. George Armstrong Custer.)

Sketch of Studley
Sketch of Studley

Continue reading “Origins of a Revolutionary Orator”