Posts Tagged ‘Yorktown’

The Theft Case of Mary Aggie: not erected

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012


Mary Aggie, an enslaved woman, was convicted of theft in York County in 1730. Lt. Gov. William Gooch, impressed with Mary’s profession of faith when she sued previously for her freedom, supported her 1730 claim for “benefit of clergy,” which then allowed only white men to escape the harshest penalties for most first offenses. Gooch’s support resulted in Mary’s pardon. In 1732, the General Assembly extended a limited form of benefit of clergy to all races and women. Mary was sold out of Virginia in 1731, probably never knowing her appeal’s significant legal effect. The benefit was abolished in 1849.

Further Research

Dred Scott

Mary Aggie was an African American slave in the mid-eighteenth century and was often related as the Dred Scott of the next century.   Mary Aggie was and still remains and obscure person in history, but her case, however, earned her a place in history as the central figure for an important legal case resulting in laws with respect to convicted felons: white, women, Indians, mulattos and African Americans alike.  There is not much background on Mary Aggie as  there are no records of her birth or her parentage.  Mary Aggie had previously attempted to sue for her freedom in the 1720s from her owner. During this case, Mary Aggie had impressed the current governor with her proclamations of faith in Christianity – something that would prove to be in her favor when she was facing her conviction (Encyclopedia Virginia). At this time, Lieutenant Governor Sir William Gooch presided over her case and thus denied her the freedom she so desired.

Lt. Gov. William Gooch

In 1730, Mary Aggie was accused and convicted of stealing three sheets from her owner of a value of forty shillings, a crime that often yielded the penalty of death or severe corporal punishment.  Fortunately for Mary Aggie, Sir William Gooch also presided over this case and was able to send her case to the General Court in which she would possible receive the benefit of clergy.  Benefit of clergy was best known to be provided to literate persons only which allowed the convicted persons to escape death and other serious penalties – dating back to the Middle Ages English law (Encyclopedia Virginia).  However, before the final verdict, Gooch was able to pardon Aggie on the condition that she be sold out of the colony.  Her case was a precursor for the law in 1732, which allowed for almost all Virginians to plead benefit of the clergy in most cases for the next sixty years.

Mary Aggie's Pardon

After her case, it was still unclear as to whether women and slaves of Virginia were entitled to plead benefit of clergy during a first capital conviction.  The General Assembly, thus, using references to Aggie’s cases, presented evidence to the General Court and ended up passing that law in 1732.  However, though this was extreme progress, there was still a specific list of people who could not plead benefit of the clergy.  The law also allowed for courts to apply other punishments and to deny the rights of the criminals to give testimonies in court (Snyder).

Further Reading

Hemphill, John M. II. “Aggie, Mary.” In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 1. Edited by John T. Kneebone, J. Jefferson Looney, Brent Tartar, and Sandra Gioia Treadway. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.

Hemphill, J. M., II, & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. “Mary Aggie (fl. 1728–1731)”. Encyclopedia Virginia. (Accessed March 13, 2012).

Snyder, Terri L. Brabbling Women. Disorderly Speech and the Law in Early Virginia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003.
Photo Credits

“Dred Scott,” PBS: Africans in America, (accessed May 2, 2012).

“Lt. Gov. William Gooch,” Brooklyn Museum: American Art, (accessed May 2, 2012).

“Mary Aggie’s Pardon,” Encyclopedia Virginia, (accessed May 2, 2012).

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Department of Historic Resources link unavailable.

Aviation Field Yorktown W-232

Thursday, March 15th, 2012


 From July 1919 until Aug. 1921, the U.S. Navy operated an aviation training school north of here at what was then known as the U.S. Navy Mine Depot (U.S. Naval Weapons Station). The school provided the first advanced aviation and gunnery operations. In Oct. 1922 the aviation field supported the first flight made from a U.S. aircraft carrier, USS Langley, which was anchored in the York River. Also, on 8 May 1925 likely the first overland commercial flight from New York City to this region landed there.

Further Research

The land that the Naval Weapons Station sits on has been around through much of our history.  Military men trudged up and down Old Williamsburg Road, which today runs straight through the station.  The oldest structure at the station is the Lee House, which was built in 1649 and was inhabited by many families until the United States Government acquired the property. During the Civil War, the Army of the Potomac established numerous fortifications around the site.  As the war progressed, these fortifications were used as defensive protection from Confederate attacks (Freeman).

In 1916, Congress requested a site on the Atlantic Coast for a weapons handling and storage facility to fit the following criteria:

  1. Sheltered inland waterway deep enough to accommodate capital ships
  2. Sparsely populated area sufficient in size to provide quantity distance separation for explosive material processing and storage facilities
  3. Close to the naval base at Norfolk to permit short boat trips for explosive loadings in the Hampton Roads area (Global Security).

    Yorktown Mine Depot 1945 Ordnance Department

When found, the site was commissioned by the US Mine Depot, Yorktown in July of 1918.  During World War I, the US Mine Depot received, reclaimed, stored and issued mines, depth charges and related materials.  During World War II, they expanded and further developed mines and advanced underwater weapons.  Furthermore, a laboratory was installed to the facility.  The US Mine Depot became the US Naval Weapons Station, Yorktown on August 7, 1958.

U.S.S. Langley CV-1

The aviation field was located on a bluff above the York River and was within the Navy Mine Depot (Yorktown Naval Weapons Station).  The Yorktown aviation field was the first naval air station in the mid-Atlantic region and was established in 1919.  At the Aviation field, aviators were trained in bombing, gunnery, and torpedo operations.  Furthermore, the aviators also spearheaded tests of high-altitude bombsight, which further developed during World War II.  The airfield was officially closed in 1921 and all units were reassigned, the base itself also served as the deep-water channel to support the testing of the Navy’s first aircraft carrier: the USS Langley, CV-1 (Harring). The first take off took place on October 17, 1922 and the first landing took place only nine days later (Gabriele).  The aviation field played a pivotal role in naval aviation.

Further Reading

Global Security. Naval Weapons Station (NAVWPNSTA) Yorktown, Virginia (accessed April 11, 2012).

Gabriele, Tony. “Yorktown Airfield Played Key Role in Naval Aviation.” The Roanoke Times, October 17, 2006, News Section. (Accessed April 11, 2012).

Freeman, Paul. Abandoned and Little Known Airfields: Virginia. (Accessed April 12, 2012).

Hills, Waring. First Landing on the Navy’s First Aircraft Carrier. Patriot’s Point: Home of the USS Yorktown. (Accessed April 12, 2012).

Photo Credits

Historical Marker “Aviation Field Yorktown W-232,” courtesy of Lindsey Smith, 2012.

“Yorktown Mine Depot 1945 Ordnance Department,” Hampton Roads Naval Museum, (accessed May 2, 2012).

“U.S.S. Langley CV-1,” Department of the Navy: Navy Historical Center, (accessed May 2, 2012).

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Department of Historic Resources link not available.

Whitaker’s House W-45

Thursday, March 15th, 2012


A mile north of the road is Whitaker’s House, headquarters of General W. F. Smith, battle of Williamsburg, May 5, 1862.




Further Research

William Farrar Smith

May 5, 1862 saw the first battle of the Peninsula Campaign, which was spearheaded by Major General George B. McClellan. This battle was the result of General Joseph E. Johnston’s shocking evacuation of the Yorktown-Warwick River line just two days prior (Salmon, 80).  As a result of Johnston’s evacuation, McClellan hastily pursued him.  McClellan sent Brig. General George Stoneman to pursue Johnston’s rear guard, which was headed by Brig. General J.E.B. Stuart’s Calvary and with whom his men skirmished many times.  Furthermore, McClellan had ordered Brig. General William B. Franklin to sail up the York River to cut Johnston off and thus prevent him from escaping.  Weary because of foul weather, Johnston decided to wall up his troops at Fort Magruder.

Map of Peninsula Campaign

General William Ferrar Smith served with one of the corps divisions under Major General Erasmus Keyes.  Smith, also known as “Baldy,” led the division that attacked Johnston from the South.  Furthermore, Smith had made Whitaker’s House his headquarters during this battle (Warner, 463).   Unfortunately for General Hooker, in the midst of battle when Hooker was expecting Smith’s support, Smith was halted more than a mile away from Hooker’s position by General Sumner because he believed that the Confederate soldiers would leave their fortifications to attack him on Yorktown Road. This belief turned out to be true, but the Confederates ended up attacking Hooker, not Sumner and Smith.

In the end, however, the battle ended up in the favor of the Union and it was portrayed as an amazing victory over superior forces.

The house itself belonged to John Whitaker, born on May 21, 1745 in Yorktown, VA.  Whitaker played a key role in the process of forming Wake County out of wilderness and establishing the County’s Government. Also known as a “Trustee of the Peace,” Whitaker served in the Wake county Militia and as a Justice of the Court in Wake County from 1777 to 1787.  In addition to his public life, he was a successful planter and businessman and thus held a substantial amount of land.

Further Reading

Eicher, John. H and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001. “John Whitaker 1745 – 1823.” (accessed March 20, 2012).

Salmon, John S. The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide. Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 2001.

Sears, Stephen W. To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.

Smith, William F. Autobiography of Major General William F. “Baldy” Smith, 1861-1864. Edited by Herbet M. Schiller. Dayton: Morningside House, 1990.

Warner, Erza J. Generals In Blue: Lives of Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964.

Photo Credits

Historical Marker “Whitaker’s House W-45,” courtesy of Lindsey Smith, 2012.

“William Farrar Smith,” House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, (accessed May 2, 2012).

“Map of Peninsula Campaign,” Civil War Trust: Maps of the Peninsular Campaign 1862, (accessed May 2, 2012).

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Department of Historic Resources