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Culpeper Times • December 27, 2018-January 2, 2019
HISTORY The Revolutionary Battle of Great Bridge December is a special time for all patriots in Culpeper. This is when a battalion of hearty Culpeper men routed a force of British regulars at the Battle of Great Bridge in what is now Chesapeake, Virginia. The victory of the Culpeper Minutemen that day may seem like just a small encounter, but it had tremendous ramifications for the fighting of the Revolutionary War. In 1775, the colony of Virginia was ruled by Governor John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore. Lord Dunmore, as he is more commonly known, was highly regarded by Virginians for his handling of the frontier Indian uprisings. Many times this put him
CHARLES JAMESON History
at odds with Parliament or one of the Ministries, but Lord Dunmore always sided with the needs of Virginia. However, as 1775 would unfold, the tide would turn against Lord Dunmore. As the great debate would turn from protecting the Virginia frontier to Virginia’s stance on the growing rebellion in the colonies. It would be difficult to criticize Lord Dunmore for his stalwart support for King Charles III and British rule in America. He was the king’s agent in Virginia and would have valued and understood his status in the British aristocracy far more than his status in the colonies. Having only been in America since 1770, he almost certainly had no understanding of the issues facing the average colonist or why they might feel disaffected by the British crown. Finally, he was certainly not going to commit treason by joining what he must have viewed as an armed mob of
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protestors destined to be crushed by one of the best militaries in the world. However, we can be critical of his actions. In order to shut off debate and discussion on the topic, Lord Dunmore disbanded the Virginia legislature – The House of Burgesses. He ordered the destruction of farms and plantations belonging to families sympathetic to the rebellion, and incited slaves to revolt with the promise of freedom. When he no longer felt safe in the capital of Williamsburg, he retreated to Norfolk and the safety of the British navy and the city’s loyalist population. There he enacted martial law and raised 2 regiments of loyalists to supplement his 2 British grenadier companies. One of the regiments he formed was the Royal Ethiopians, an outfit composed of runaway slaves who served the crown in return for their freedom. To defend the port, Lord
Dunmore ordered entrenchments to be erected around the city. Much of the terrain south of Norfolk consisted of swampland – a natural defense. However, there was a major road linking eastern Virginia to North Carolina. There was a natural choke point in this route where the road crossed the Elizabeth River at a place called Great Bridge. Lord Dunmore ordered a palisade be built on the south bank of the river to secure Norfolk’s southern approach. He named the palisade Fort Murray after his family while the patriots referred to it as Hog Pen. Late in November, a small force of patriots arrived. Two Virginia militia infantry regiments under the command of Col. William Woodford prepared to engage Lord Dunmore and his soldiers to open the road. Col. Woodford was joined by Col. William ➤ See Battle, Page 9
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