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Currituck County Men at the Battle of Great Bridge, Va.
The complete defeat of the British in the Virginia Colony at the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9, 1775, seven months before the Declaration of Independence, was at the time called the Second Battle of Bunker Hill. It resulted in the capture of Norfolk by the Patriots and the bombardment and complete destruction of Norfolk three weeks later on January 1, 1776. It ended the rule of the British Crown in Virginia.
John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, colonial governor of Virginia, had retreated from Williamsburg, but Norfolk was considered a "nest of Tories", and Dunmore thought he was making headway against the rebellion by pillaging the plantations of patriots, winning slaves over to his side and seizing printing presses. With just one more regiment and a few more battalions, he wrote on the November 30, 1775, "I really believe we should reduce this colony to a proper sense of their duty."
On the other side General George Washington, commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, urged that Dunmore "should be instantly crushed" lest his forces grow. He wrote the president of the Continental Congress from New England: "I do not mean to dictate, I am sure they will pardon me from freely giving them my opinion, which is, that the fate of America a good deal depends on his being obligated to evacuate Norfolk this winter or not."
According to contemporary accounts in the Virginia Gazette, Lord Dunmore, after defeating the opposition at Kemp's Landing (now Kempsville) moved ten miles (16 km) south to Great Bridge on the South Branch of the Elizabeth River. Great Bridge was the shipping point to nearby Norfolk for shingles, tar potash and turpentine from the Carolinas. Finding resistance increasing, he built a stockade on the north (Norfolk) side, removed the bridge planking, destroyed five or six houses on the opposite shore and fortified the narrow causeway bridge approaches with two twelve pound cannons.
Colonel William Woodford, in charge of the 2nd Virginia Regiment, was gathering forces at Great Bridge of minutemen from Fauquier, Augusta and Culpepper Counties, in the western part of the Colony as well as volunteers from Princess Anne and Norfolk Counties. Woodford reported two hundred fifty Carolina men arriving under Colonel Vail "composed of regulars, minute men, militia and volunteers..." The Virginia Gazette reported "150 gentlemen volunteers had marched to Virginia from North Carolina on hearing of Lord Dunmore's insolences and outrages."
Dunmore, misinformed of the strength of the opposition, sent sailors from the Otter at Norfolk, "plus some sixty townsmen" on a surprise attack on Great Bridge. In the early morning hours the column came within fifteen steps of the American forces before falling mortally wounded. Lieutenant Travis, in command of the American advanced breastworks, had ordered his handful of twenty five men to reserve their fire until the enemy came within fifty yards. The staggered British were rallied under Lieutenant Samuel Leslie, who was later captured. Woodard's main group, moving through Great Bridge, received a heavy cannon barrage. It was all over, however, in half an hour's time.
The introduction to William Doub Bennett's (1922-2006) Currituck County North Carolina Eighteenth Century Tax & Militia Records published in 1993 gives the names of a list of men from Currituck County who were involved in the Battle of Great Bridge.
John Adams John McCay Thos. Allin William Melson Thos. Barrot Jeremiah Mercer Joshua Baxter Thos. Mercer Thos. Beadingfield Joseph Murphey Mathias Brickel Thomas Nuby [Newby] Hodges Brinsham John Overton John Cockton Peter Padrick, Jur. Josiah Cooper Charles Perkins Thos. Coper [sic] Wm. Perkins Arthur Cotton Saml. Phillips Benja. Crabb George Powers Peter Dauge Nathan Poyner Joseph Dickinson Robert Poyner Jonathon Duke Thos. Relf Timothy Etheridge Jeremiah Sexton Wm. Focker Isaac Simmons James Gamwell Mr. Slacks James Garrett John Slaughter Peter Gordon Permenas Smith Dempsey Gregory Solomon Smith John Hall Evan Stanley Nathan Hall John Stanley Saml. Halstead John Stuart Robt. Heath James Sumner David Hill Saml. Walker Wm. Holloway Thos. Walker John Hutchins John Watkins Samuel Jarvis James White Thomas Jarvis Jas. Williams Elizabeth Jones Lewis Williams Jos. Jones Wm. Wooten Taylor Jones William Wooton Gideon Lamb David Lindsey Saml. Linton
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© 2007 Kay Midgett Sheppard