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Chapter 55:

The royal governor of Virginia Invites the Serv-Ants and slaves to rise against their masters.

November—December, 1775.

The central colonies still sighed for reconciliation;
Chap. LV.} 1775. Dec.
the tories and the timid were waiting for commissioners; the credit of the continental paper money languished and declined; the general congress in December, while they answered the royal proclamation of August by threats of retaliation, and a scornful rejection of allegiance to parliament, professed allegiance to the king, and distinguished between their ‘resistance to tyranny’ and ‘rebellion;’ but all the while a steady current drifted the country towards independence. In New Jersey, the regular colonial assembly, which was still kept in existence, granted the usual annual support of the royal government. On the fifth of December they resolved themselves into a committee of the whole, to consider the draft of a separate address to the king; but as that mode of action tended to divide and insulate he [214] provinces, Dickinson, Jay, and Wythe were sent by
Chap. LV.} 1775. Dec.
the general congress to Burlington, to dissuade from the measure. Admitted to the assembly, Dickinson, who still refused to believe that no heed would be taken of the petition delivered by Richard Penn, excused the silence of the king, and bade them wait to find an answer in the conduct of parliament and the administration. ‘After Americans were put to death without cause at Lexington,’ said he, ‘had the new continental congress drawn the sword and thrown away the scabbard, all lovers of liberty would have applauded. To convince Britain that we will fight, an army has been formed, and Canada invaded. Success attends us everywhere; the savages who were to have been let loose to murder our wives and children are our friends; the Canadians fight in our cause; and Canada, from whence armies were to overrun us, is conquered in as few months as it took Britain years; so that we have nothing to fear but from Europe, which is three thousand miles distant. Until this controversy, the strength and importance of our country was not known; united it cannot be conquered. The nations of Europe look with jealous eyes on the struggle; should Britain be unsuccessful in the next campaign, France will not sit still. Nothing but unity and bravery will bring Britain to terms: she wants to procure separate petitions, which we should avoid, for they would break our union, and we should become a rope of sand: rest, then, on your former noble petition, and on that of United America.’ ‘We have nothing to expect from the mercy or justice of Britain,’ argued Jay; ‘vigor and unanimity, not petitions, are our only means of safety.’ [215] Wythe of Virginia spoke for a few minutes to the
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same purpose, and the well-disposed assembly of New Jersey conformed to their joint advice.

Simultaneously with the intrigues to allure New Jersey into a separate system, Tryon, who, since the thirtieth of October had had his quarters on board the armed ship Dutchess of Gordon, in New York harbor, recommended a similar policy to the inhabitants of New York; but William Smith, the historian, who busied himself with opening the plan privately to members of the provincial congress, met with the most signal rebuke. Roused by the insidious proposal, the New York convention, while it disclaimed the desire to become independent, attributed the existing discontent to the hostile attempts of the ministry to execute oppressive acts of the British parliament, designed for enslaving the American colonies; on the motion of John Morin Scott, they rejected the thought of ‘a separate declaration as inconsistent with the glorious plan of American union;’ on motion of Macdougall, they confirmed the deliberative powers of the continental congress; and they perfected their organization by establishing a committee of safety with full executive powers within the colony. The king would receive no communications from the general congress, and all separate overtures were at an end.

Meantime France and the thirteen colonies were mutually attracted towards each other; and it is not easy to decide which of them made the first movement towards an intercourse. The continental congress in December voted to build thirteen ships of war, thus founding a navy, which was to be governed by a marine [216] committee, consisting of one member from each

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colony; yet as they still would not open their ports, they were in no condition to solicit an alliance. But Dumas, a Swiss by birth, a resident inhabitant of Holland, the liberal editor of Vattel's work on international law, had written to Franklin, his personal friend, that ‘all Europe wished the Americans the best success in the maintenance of their liberty:’ on the twelfth of December the congressional committee of secret correspondence authorised Arthur Lee, who was then in London, to ascertain the disposition of foreign powers; and Dumas, at the Hague, was charged with a similar commission.

Just then De Bonvouloir, the discreet emissary of Vergennes, arrived in Philadelphia, and through Francis Daymon, a Frenchman, the trusty librarian of the Library Company in that city, was introduced to Franklin and the other members of the secret committee, with whom he held several conferences by night. ‘Will France aid us? and at what price?’ were the questions put to him. ‘France,’ answered he, ‘is well disposed to you; if she should give you aid, as she may, it will be on just and equitable conditions. Make your proposals, and I will present them.’ ‘Will it be prudent for us to send over a plenipotentiary?’ asked the committee. ‘That,’ replied he, ‘would be precipitate and even hazardous, for what passes in France is known in London; but if you will give me any thing in charge, I may receive answers well suited to guide your conduct; although I can guarantee nothing except that your confidence will not be betrayed.’ From repeated interviews De Bonvouloir obtained [217] such just views, that his report to the French minis-

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ter, though confusedly written, is in substance exact. He explained that ‘the Americans hesitated about a declaration of independence, and an appeal to France; that the British king had not as yet done them evil enough; that they still waited to have more of their towns destroyed and more of their houses burned, before they would completely abhor the emblems of British power; that a brig was despatched to Nantes for munitions of war, and an arrangement made for purchasing the same articles of France by way of St. Domingo; that skilful engineers were much wanted; that everybody in the colonies appeared to have turned soldier; that they had given up the English flag, and had taken for their devices, a rattlesnake with thirteen rattles, and a mailed arm holding thirteen arrows.’

The communications of the French agent to the secret committee were not without influence on the proceedings of congress; in France his letters were to form the subject of the most momentous deliberation which had engaged the attention of a French king for two centuries.

Some foreign commerce was required for the continuance of the war; the Americans had no magazine to replenish their little store of powder, no arsenal to furnish arms; their best dependence was on prizes, made under the pine-tree flag by the brave Manly and others who cruised in armed ships with commissions from Washington; even flints were obtained only from captured storeships; and it was necessary to fetch cannon from Ticonderoga. The men who enlisted for the coming year, were desired to bring [218] their own arms; those whose time expired, were com-

Chap. LV.} 1775. Dec.
pelled to part with theirs at a valuation; for blankets the general appealed to the families of New England, asking one or more of every household; the villages, in their town meetings, encouraged the supply of wood to the camp by voting a bounty from the town treasuries.

The enlistments for the new army went on slowly, for the New England men, willing to drive the enemy from Boston, were disinclined to engagements which would take them far from home, on wages paid in a constantly depreciating currency: besides, the continental bills were remitted so tardily and in such inadequate amounts that even those wages were not paid with regularity; and the negligence threatened ‘the destruction of the army.’ For want of funds to answer the accounts of the commissary and quartermaster, the troops were forced to submit to a reduced allowance. Washington himself felt keenly the habitual inattention of congress and its agents; and the sense of suffering wrongfully and needlessly, engendered discontent in his camp. He would have had the whole army like himself rise superior to every hardship; and when there were complaints of unfulfilled engagements, angry bickerings about unadjusted dues, or demands for the computation of pay by lunar months, he grieved that the New England men should mar the beauty of their self-sacrificing patriotism by persistent eagerness for petty gains.

The Connecticut soldiers, whose enlistment expired early in December, were determined to leave the service. They were entreated to remain till the end of the year, and were ordered to remain at least [219] for ten days, when they should be relieved; Leon-

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ard, one of their chaplains, preached to them on the duty of courage and subordination; nevertheless many of ‘the Connecticut gentry’ made the best of their way to their own firesides; some with their arms and ammunition. Washington would have had Trumbull make an example of the deserters. Trumbull answered: ‘The pulse of a New England man beats high for liberty; his engagement in the service he thinks purely voluntary; when the time of enlistment is out, he thinks himself not further holden: this is the genius and spirit of our people.’ But the inhabitants along their homeward road expressed abhorrence at their quitting the army, and would scarcely furnish them with provisions; and the rebuke they met with in their towns, drove many of them back to the camp. Others in Connecticut volunteered to take the places of those who withdrew; but Washington had, through the colonial governments, already called out three thousand men from the militia of Massachusetts, and two thousand from New Hampshire, who repaired to the camp with celerity, and cheerfully braved ‘the want of wood, barracks, and blankets.’ In this manner, with little aid from the general congress, Washington continued the siege of Boston, and enlisted a new army for the following year, as well as could be done without money in the treasury, or powder or arms in store. His ceaseless vigilance guarded against every danger; the fortifications were extended to Lechmere's Point; and every possible landing place for a sallying party from Boston was secured by intrenchments.

The press of New England avowed more and [220] more distinctly the general expectation that America

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would soon form itself into a republic of united colonies. Such was become the prevailing desire of the army, although Lee still hoped to act a part in bringing about a reconcilement through a change of the British ministry. This is the real purport of an elaborate letter addressed by him to Burgoyne, who was about to sail for England; for which he excused himself to an American friend by saying: ‘I am convinced that you have not virtue enough for independence, nor do I think it calculated for your happiness; besides, I have some remaining prejudices as an Englishman.’

In December, Lee left the camp for ten days to inspect the harbor of Newport, and plan works for its defence. His visit, which had no permanent effect, was chiefly remarkable for his arbitrary conduct in ‘administering a very strong oath to some of the leading tories.’ After his departure the British vessels of war plundered the islands in Narragansett bay as before.

Meantime Dunmore, driven from the land of Virginia, maintained the command of the water by means of a flotilla, composed of the Mercury of twenty four guns, the Kingfisher of sixteen, the Otter of fourteen, with other ships, and light vessels, and tenders, which he had engaged in the king's service. At Norfolk, a town of about six thousand inhabitants, a newspaper was published by John Holt. About noon on the last day of September, Dunmore, finding fault with its favoring ‘sedition and rebellion,’ sent on shore a small party, who, meeting no resistance, seized and brought off two printers and all the [221] materials of a printing office, so that he could publish

Chap. LV.} 1775. Oct.
from his ship a gazette on the side of the king. The outrage, as we shall see, produced retaliation.

In October, Dunmore repeatedly landed detachments to seize arms wherever he could find them. Thus far Virginia had not resisted the British by force; the war began in that colony with the defence of Hampton, a small village at the end of the isthmus between York and James Rivers. An armed sloop had been driven on its shore in a very violent gale; its people took out of her six swivels and other stores, made some of her men prisoners, and then set her on fire. Dunmore blockaded the port; they called to their assistance a company of ‘shirt men,’ as the British called the Virginia regulars from the hunting shirt which was their uniform, and another company of minute men, besides a body of militia.

On the twenty sixth Dunmore sent some of the tenders close into Hampton Roads to destroy the town. The guard marched out to repel them, and the moment they came within gunshot, George Nicholas, who commanded the Virginians, fired his musket at one of the tenders. It was the first gun fired in Virginia against the British: his example was followed by his party. Retarded by boats which had been sunk across the channel, the British on that day vainly attempted to land. In the following night the Culpepper riflemen were despatched to the aid of Hampton, and William Woodford, colonel of the second regiment of Virginia, second in rank to Patrick Henry, was sent by the committee of safety from Williamsburg to take the direction. The next day [222] the British, having cut their way through the sunken

Chap. LV.} 1775. Oct.
boats, renewed the attack; but the riflemen poured upon them a heavy fire, killing a few and wounding more. One of the tenders was taken with its armament and seven seamen; the rest were with difficulty towed out of the creek. The Virginians lost. not a man. This is the first battle of the revolution in the Ancient Dominion; and its honors belonged to the Virginians.

While yet a prey to passion after this repulse,

Dunmore was informed that a hundred and twenty or thirty North Carolina rebels were marching into the colony to occupy the Great Bridge, which, at a distance of nine or ten miles from Norfolk, crossed the Elizabeth river. It rested on each side upon firm dry ground, which rose like islands above the wide spreading morasses, and could be approached only by causeways; so that it formed a very strong pass, protecting the approach to Norfolk by land from the county of Princess Anne and from a part of the county of Norfolk. He had twice received detachments from the fourteenth regiment, which had been stationed at St. Augustine: collecting all of them who were able to do duty, and attended by volunteers from Norfolk, Dunmore on the fourteenth of November hastened to the Great Bridge. Finding no Carolinians, he marched rapidly to disperse a body of militia who were assembled at Kemp's Landing, in Princess Anne. They lay in an ambuscade to receive him, and fired upon his party from a thicket; but being inferior in numbers, in discipline, and in arms, they soon fled, panic struck and in confusion, leaving their commander and six others as prisoners. On his return, he [223] ordered a fort to be built at the Great Bridge on the
Chap. LV.} 1775. Nov.
side nearest Norfolk.

Encouraged by ‘this most trifling success,’ Dunmore raised the king's flag, and publishing a proclamation which he had signed on the seventh, he established martial law, required every person capable of bearing arms to resort to his standard, under penalty of forfeiture of life and property, and declared freedom to ‘all indented servants, negroes, or others, appertaining to rebels,’ if they would ‘join for the reducing the colony to a proper sense of its duty.’ The effect of this invitation to convicts and slaves to rise against their masters was not limited to their ability to serve in the army: ‘I hope,’ said Dunmore, ‘it will oblige the rebels to disperse to take care of their families and property.’ The men to whose passions he appealed were either criminals, bound to labor in expiation of their misdeeds, or barbarians, some of them freshly imported from Africa, with tropical passions seething in their veins, and frames rendered strong by abundant food and out of door toil; they formed the majority of the population on tide-water, and were distributed among the lonely plantations in clusters around the wives and children of their owners; so that danger lurked in every home. The measure was a very deliberate act which had been reported in advance to the ministry, and had appeared an ‘encouraging’ one to the king; it formed a part of a system which Dunmore had concerted with General Gage and General Howe. He also sent for the small detachment of regulars stationed in Illinois and the northwest; he commissioned Mackee, a deputy superintendent, to raise a regiment [224] of Indians among the savages of Ohio and the west-

Chap. LV.} 1775. Nov.
ern border; he authorized John Connolly to raise a regiment in the backwoods of Virginia and Pennsylvania; and he directed these different bodies to march to Alexandria. At the same time he was himself to ‘raise two regiments, one of white people, to be called the Queen's Own Loyal Virginia regiment; the other of negroes, to be called Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian regiment.’ Connolly was arrested in Maryland in November; and thus the movements at the west were prevented.

At Dunmore's proclamation a thrill of indignation ran through Virginia, effacing all differences of party; and rousing one strong impassioned purpose to drive away the insolent power by which it had been put forth. Instead of a regiment on the king's side from the backwoods, William Campbell and Gibson were on the march from Fincastle and West Augusta, with patriotic rifle companies, composed of ‘as fine men as ever were seen.’ In the valley of the Blue Ridge the different congregations of Germans, quickened by the preaching of Muhlenburg, were animated with one heart, and stood ready at the first summons to take up arms for the defence of the men of the low country, regardless of their different lineage and tongue.

The general congress promptly invited Virginia, as it had invited New Hampshire and South Carolina, to institute a government of her own; and this was of the greater moment, because she was first in wealth, and numbers, and extent of territory.

‘If that man is not crushed before spring,’ wrote Washington of Dunmore, ‘he will become the most formidable enemy of America. Motives of resentment [225] actuate his conduct to a degree equal to the

Chap. LV.} 1775. Nov.
total destruction of Virginia. His strength will increase as a snowball by rolling, and faster, if some expedient cannot be hit upon to convince the slaves and servants of the impotency of his designs.’ The Virginians could plead and did plead that ‘their assemblies had repeatedly attempted to prevent the horrid traffic in slaves, and had been frustrated by the cruelty and covetousness of English merchants, who prevailed on the king to repeal their merciful acts; that the English encouraged and upheld slavery, while the present masters of negroes in Virginia pitied their condition, wished in general to make it easy and comfortable, and would willingly not only prevent any more negroes from losing their freedom, but restore it to such as had already unhappily lost it;’ and they foresaw that whatever they themselves might suffer from a rising, the weight of sorrow would fall on the insurgent slaves themselves.

But, in truth, the cry of Dunmore did not rouse among the Africans a passion for freedom. To them bondage in Virginia was not a lower condition of being than their former one; they had no regrets for ancient privileges lost; their memories prompted no demand for political changes; no struggling aspirations of their own had invited Dunmore's interposition; no memorial of their grievances had preceded his offers. What might have been accomplished, had he been master of the country, and had used an undisputed possession to embody and train the negroes, cannot be told; but as it was, though he boasted that they flocked to his standard, none combined to join him from a longing for an improved condition or even from ill will to their masters. [226]

The innumerable affinities which had united the

Chap. LV.} 1775. Nov.
people with the British government, still retained great force; a vague dread of taking up arms against their sovereign pervaded the mind of the common people; none had as yet renounced allegiance; after the success at Kemp's Landing, nearly a hundred of the men who were in the field the day before, came in and took the oath of allegiance which Dunmore had framed; and in the following three weeks it was accepted by nearly three thousand: but of these less than three or four hundred could bear arms, of which not half so many knew the use. Norfolk was almost entirely deserted by native Virginians, and was become the refuge of the Scotch, who, as the factors of Glasgow merchants, had long regulated the commercial exchanges of the colony. Loyal to the crown, they were now embodied as the militia of Norfolk. The patriots resolved to take the place.

On the twenty eighth of November the Virginian forces under Woodford, consisting of his own regiment and five companies of the Culpepper minutemen, with whom John Marshall, afterwards chief justice of the United States, served as a lieutenant, marched to the Great Bridge, and threw up a breastwork on the side opposite to the British fort. They had no arms but the musket and the rifle; the fort was strong enough to withstand musket-shot; they therefore made many attempts to cross the branch on a raft, that they might attack their enemy in the rear; but they were always repulsed. Should the fort be given up, the road to Norfolk was open to the victors; in the dilemma between his weakness and his danger, Dunmore resolved to risk an attempt to fall on the [227] Virginians by surprise. On Friday, the eighth of De-

Chap. LV.} 1775. Dec.
cember, after dark, he sent about two hundred men, composed of all that had arrived of the fourteenth regiment, and of officers, sailors, and gunners from the ships, mixed with townsmen of Norfolk. They arrived at the Great Bridge in the night, and halted for rest and refreshment. The Virginians could be approached only over a causeway of about one hundred and sixty yards in length, at the end of which was their breastwork. After the break of day, and before sunrise, Leslie planted two fieldpieces between the bridge and the causeway, and gave orders for the attack; but the Virginians had just beat the reveille; and at the first discharge of the cannon, the bravest of them, unmindful of order, rushed to the trenches. The regulars, about one hundred and twenty in number, led by Fordyce, a captain in the fourteenth, were met on the causeway by a well-directed fire; while Stevens, with a party of the Culpepper minute men, posted on an eminence about a hundred yards to the left, took them in flank: they wavered; Fordyce, with a courage which was the admiration of all beholders, rallied and led them on, when, struck with many rifle-balls, some say fourteen, he staggered and fell dead, within a few steps of the breastwork, or according to one account, having had his hand upon it. The two companies of negroes kept out of the way; so did the loyalists of Norfolk; the regulars displayed the conduct of the bravest veterans; but discouraged by the fall of their leader, and disabled by the incessant fire of the American sharpshooters, they retreated, after a struggle of about fourteen minutes, losing at least sixty-one in killed and wounded. [228]

After the firing was over, the Virginians, who lost

Chap. LV.} 1775. Dec.
not one man, and had but one slightly wounded, ran to bring in those of their enemies who needed the surgeon's aid. ‘For God's sake, don't murder us,’ cried one of the sufferers who had been taught to fear the scalpingknife. ‘Put your arm round my neck,’ replied the Virginian, lifting him up, and walking with him slowly and carefully to the breastwork. When Leslie saw two of the ‘shirtmen’ tenderly removing a wounded soldier from the bridge, he stepped upon the platform of the fort, and bowing with great respect thanked them for their compassion. Fordyce was buried by the Virginians with all the honors due from a generous enemy to his unsurpassed gallantry. A rash adviser urged Woodford to attack the fort with muskets alone; but Pendleton had charged him ‘to risk the success of his arms as little as possible;’ and he wisely put aside the proposal.

In the following night, Leslie, dejected by the loss of his nephew in the fight, abandoned the fort and retreated to Norfolk. Nothing could exceed the consternation of its Scotch inhabitants: rich factors with their wives and children, leaving their large property behind, betook themselves on board ship, in midwinter, with scarcely the necessaries of life. Crowds of poor people and the runaway negroes were huddled together in the ships of war and other vessels, destitute of every comfort and even of pure air.

On the eleventh, Robert Howe, of North Carolina arrived at the Great Bridge, and on the fourteenth he, as the higher officer, took possession of Norfolk. On the twenty first the Liverpool ship of war and the brig Maria were piloted into the harbor. [229] They brought three thousand stand of arms, with

Chap. LV.} 1775. Dec.
which Dunmore had promised to embody negroes and Indians enough to reduce all Virginia to submission. Martin of North Carolina despatched a tender to claim his part of the arms, and a thousand were made over to him.

The governor sent a flag of truce on shore to inquire if he and the fleet might be supplied with fresh provisions; and was answered in the negative. Showing his instructions to Belew, the captain of the Liverpool, who now commanded the king's ships in the Chesapeake, the two concurred in opinion, that Norfolk was ‘a town in actual rebellion, accessible to the king's ships;’ and they prepared to carry out the king's instructions for such ‘a case.’

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