Posts Tagged ‘Chickahominy’

Spencer’s Ordinary W-35

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012


On this road, four miles south, the action of Spencer’s Ordinary was fought, June 24, 1781, between detachments from Lafayette and Cornwallis’s armies.




Further Research

General Lord Cornwallis

In the summer of 1781, General Lord Cornwallis and his 6,000 British regulars began to move from Richmond east towards Williamsburg. Tasked with the effort of quelling Virginia’s revolutionary resistance, Cornwallis put chase to the Continental Army of about 3,000 soldiers and militiamen under the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette was able to evade Cornwallis’ forces for about a month, until General Anthony Wayne reinforced his Continental Army. These reinforcements bolstered Lafayette’s Army to 4,000 men, and gave him the confidence to strike out against Cornwallis’ frequent raids against colonial assets.

Queen's Rangers Seal

On June 25th, Lafayette received word that Cornwallis had sent a detachment of Queen’s Rangers under Lieutenant Colonel John Graves Simcoe to forage for food and destroy colonial vessels along the Chickahominy River. Intending to intercept Simcoe’s forces, Lafayette and Wayne ordered American Colonel Richard Butler to confront Simcoe with a mixed group of Pennsylvania cavalry and infantrymen under Captain William McPherson, and two companies of Virginia riflemen led by Majors Richard Call and John Willis. The next day on the 26th, around 100 colonial infantry and cavalrymen encountered Simcoe’s vanguard near Spencer’s Ordinary. The first action occurred when Captain McPherson and his cavalry were charged by Simcoe’s own mounted troops. In this initial action McPherson fell from his horse, and several of his men were taken prisoner. After this small melee, Colonel Butler’s main force began to arrive just as Simcoe’s infantry was advancing to support his cavalry. Simcoe learned from the prisoners that Lafayette’s main force was near by, and he ordered that this information be relayed to Cornwallis in Williamsburg. Simcoe also had his men construct tree barricades near Spencer’s Ordinary to provide a defensive position against any attack.  The British Lieutenant Colonel then formed his men into a manipulative formation meant to cause Butler to assume he possessed a large amount of soldiers. This ploy initially was successful, and Simcoe ordered an infantry charge against Butler’s lines to again give off the impression that his force was much larger than it actually was. Butler’s men were able to withstand this charge, and Simcoe then ordered a cavalry charge and discharged a cannon against the Colonial forces. After this skirmish and stalemate both detachments retreated, for fear of engaging the main body of either opposing force.

John Graves Simcoe

The aftermath of this foray resulted in 9 killed, 14 wounded, and 32 captured Colonials, and 11 killed and 25 wounded British soldiers. Simcoe was forced to leave his wounded men under a flag of truce in Spencer’s Ordinary. Both army detachments retreated to their respective camps, and would meet again at the Battle of Green Spring on July 6th later that summer.


Further Reading

Fryer, Mary Beacock, and Christopher Dracott. John Graves Simcoe, 1752-1806: a Biography. Dundurn Press Ltd., 1998.

Johnston, Henry Phelps. The Yorktown Campaign and the Surrender of Cornwallis, 1781. Harper & Brothers, 1881.

Lossing, Benson John. The Pictorial Field-book of the Revolution: Or, Illustrations, by Pen and Pencil, of the History, Biography, Scenery, Relics, and Traditions of the War for Independence. Harper & brothers, 1860.

Lytle, Richard M. The Soldiers of America’s First Army, 1791. Scarecrow Press, 2004.

Photo Credits

Historical Marker “Spencer’s Ordinary W-35,” courtesy of Lindsey Smith, 2012.

“General Cornwallis,” The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, (accessed May 2, 2012).

“Queen’s Rangers Seal,” Historical Narratives of Early Canada, (accessed May 2, 2012).

“John Graves Simcoe,” Historical Narratives of Early Canada, (accessed May 2, 2012).

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Department of Historic Resources

Chickahominy Church W-32

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012


 Two miles south is the site of the colonial Chickahominy Church, now destroyed. Lafayette’s forces camped there, July 6-8, 1781. The church was used as a hospital after the battle of Green Spring, July 6, 1781.



Further Research

General Cornwallis

James City County saw several Revolutionary War battles during the year of 1781.  The Battle of Green Spring took place near Green Spring Plantation.  In June, General Cornwallis pursued Lafayette who was attempting to parallel the British Army’s movements (Wickwire).  On July 6, one of Lafayette’s generals, “Mad” Anthony Wayne, was ambushed with his forces by General Cornwallis near Green Spring, as he lead a troop of 500 men (Johnston).

Portrait of "Mad" Anthony Wayne

General Lafayette had joined Wayne at Green Spring and noticed British guards and decided to attack which lead to minor skirmishes.  Lafayette soon realized that something was wrong and began to hold back some of his battalion and camped at Green Spring Chickahominy Church – able to observe the maneuvers of the battle.  Both the Marquis de Lafayette and Anthony Wayne used the estate as a marshaling area before engaging the British forces (Cotton). Meanwhile, Wayne continued to administer significant casualties to the British.  However, Cornwallis had tricked hem and had lured Wayne into a trap.  Fortunately, Wayne was able to charge on the British and halter their advance until Lafayette returned with his forces in order to aid in American retreat.  The American forces retreated the Green Spring where the Chickahominy church was used as a hospital to administer to the wounded forces but was eventually burned down during the Civil War (Mason, 528).

Further Reading

Cotton, Lee Pelham. Green Spring Plantation: An Historical Summary. (accessed March 7, 2012).

Clary, David A. Adopted Son Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Save the Revolution. New York: Bantam Books, 2007.

Johnston, Henry Phelps. The Yorktown Campaign and the Surrender of Cornwallis, 1781. New York: Harpers and Brothers, 1881.

Mason, Geoge. “The Colonial Churches of James City County, Virginia.” William and Mary Quarterly, Second Series 19, no. 4 (October, 1939), 510-30.

Nelson, Paul David. Anthony Wayne, Soldier of the Early Republic. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.

Wickwire, Franklin and Mary. Cornwallis: The American Adventure. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970. (Accessed April 12, 2012).

Photo Credits

Historical Marker “Chickahominy Church W-32,” courtesy of Lindsey Smith, 2012.

“General Cornwallis,” The Colonial Willamsburg Foundation, (accessed May 2, 2012).

“Portrait of ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne,” Archiving Early America, (accessed May 2, 2012).

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Department of Historic Resources

First Williamsburg Gaol Inmates: not erected

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012


On May 3, 1704, two Chickahominy Indians called Coscohunk and James Mush were accused of burning the house of another Chickahominy, Tom Perry. They were held in the new Williamsburg Gaol overnight and released into the custody of the Chickahominy tribe. In September, about forty Nanzattico Indians, accused of complicity in an assault on a family of English colonists in Richmond County, were sent to the Gaol. They remained there until May 1705, when the Virginia Council ordered those 12 or older to be transported to Antigua and sold into slavery. Their children were kept as house servants to Council members.

Further Research

The Public Gaol

The Williamsburg Gaol was erected in 1701. It was a brick prison with the dimensions of thirty by twenty feet with two stories, and was used for both prisoners and the jailer with his family. In addition to the interior rooms, there was also a courtyard, which was enclosed by walls so as to prevent escape during the prisoners’ recreation time. It was known “as a strong, sweet Prison” and would be used into the period of the Civil War and beyond then (Tyler 1907, 221).

Some of the first official prisoners to be held in this prison were two Chickahominy Indians by the name of Coscohunk and James Mush. According to an official report by the House of Burgesses, they were accused of burning down the cabin of Tom Perry, splitting his canoe, and threatening to go to the Seneca tribe to join with them and bring down the English (McIlwaine 1918, 401). This was supposedly out of retaliation for Tom Perry having supposedly burnt down the home of Drammaco, a chief member of the Chickahominy tribe, unveiling a large amount of tension between members of the tribe in regard to selling parts of their reservation. This case was not looked into any further by King William Court at a later date, but was unable to be finished due to the courthouse being burnt down in 1885 (Roundtree 1990, 116).

Another set of reputable prisoners, were the associates of the infamous pirate

This was Virginia's chief prison which housed debtors and criminals and served as the jail for the General Court in the nearby Captiol. Here Blackbeard's pirates, captured in 1718, were confined until the day of their hanging. Leg irons, an exercise yard, food slots, and criminal cells with primitive sanitation have been restored to their early appearance.

Blackbeard. They were all executed in 1718. The Lieutenant of Detroit, Henry Hamilton, also spent time in the Williamsburg Gaol, as General George Rogers Clark captured him in the late 1770s. (Tyler 1907, 221). He was arrested due to the belief that he had purchased pioneer scalps from the Indians, and was kept in manacles and chains for his time in the gaol (The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation). These standards were not unusual for offenders who were held, though. Prisoners were generally kept in their rooms without a source of heat, had a general area designated for sanitation in their cells, and the more serious offenders were kept in shackles, irons and chains while they waited for their court proceedings (Beney 1997, 127).

Further Reading

Beney, Peter. The Majesty of Colonial Williamsburg. Greta: Pelican Publishing Company, 1997.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “Public Gaol.” (accessed 16 February, 2012).

McIlwaine, H.R. editor. Legislative Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia Volume I. Richmond: E. Waddy Compay, 1918.

Roundtree, Helen C. Pocahantas’s People: The Powhatan Indians of Virginia through Four Centuries. Oklahoma City: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.

Tyler, Lyon Gardiner. Williamsburg, the Old Colonial Capital. Richmond: Whittet and Shepperson Publishers and Printers, 1907.

Photo Credits

“The Public Gaol,” Williamsburg, Virginia, (accessed May 2, 2012).

“The Public Gaol Plaque,” Williamsburg, Virginia, (accessed May 2, 2012).

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Department of Historic Resources link not available