In 1776, Virginian colonists destroyed the Norfolk shipyards in an attempt to deny the British Navy from utilizing its resources. A new shipyard was then constructed far up the Chickahominy River, with hopes that it would be less vulnerable to a British attack. The destruction of the Portsmouth shipyard in 1780 increased greatly increased the value of this newly constructed shipyard. This shipyard was a small operation, and was only able to produce a minute amount of Colonial warships. Accordingly, the private vessels of Virginians were mostly relied upon to resist the British navy. An officer of the shipyard, James Maxwell wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1780 that the shipyard was in the process of dismantling and repairing a ship but the militia assigned to sail it had deserted. This was often the case as the state of the Virginia navy was poor throughout the War. In April of 1781 as the British navy began to creep into the waterways of the Peninsular, Thomas Jefferson ordered that the vessels located at the state shipyard be anchored further up the James River to avoid destruction. This tactic was effective, as the British navy under General Phillips destroyed the shipyard on the Chickahominy along with a 20-gun vessel and a warehouse on April 21st. Phillips’ victory was significant as it allowed the British to penetrate further up the James River.
Ward, Harry M. For Virginia and for Independence: Twenty-Eight Revolutionary War Soldiers from the Old Dominion. McFarland, 2011.
Kranish, Michael. Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War. Oxford University Press, 2010.
Selby, John E., and Don Higginbotham. The Revolution in Virginia, 1775-1783. Williamsburg: Colonial Williamsburg, 2007.
Morgan, Timothy E. Williamsburg: A City That History Made. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
Historical Marker “State Shipyard W-31,” courtesy of Lindsey Smith, 2012.
“Major General William Phillips British Royal Artillery (1731-1781),” City of Petersburg, Virginia, www.peterburg-va.org (accessed May 2, 2012).