November 27, 2011


Hear ye! Hear Ye!
On Saturday next, drums will roll, muskets will boom, plaques will be unveiled and wreaths laid. Re-enactors in British uniforms will charge across a bridge and fall as though dead. Militia counterparts will shout huzzahs. And solemn ceremonies will honor veterans and patriots, faithful and true.

This will be a sort all-day patriotic double-header. Lineal descendents, daughters and sons of those who served in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, will flock to Great Bridge, the site of a one-sided battle, and then to the historic churchyard at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church where their ancestors lie.

And John Marshall, better known as the most influential Supreme Court chief justice of all, will get his due as a soldier.

Actually, both John Marshall, who as a lieutenant in the Culpepper Minutemen fought at Great Bridge, and his father, Maj. Thomas Marshall, who served during the war, will both be honored by a monument to be dedicated Saturday morning at Great Bridge Battlefield Park.

And now, hear ye further:

A wreath-laying ceremony will precede a re-enactment of that Dec. 9, 1775 morning when Lord Dunmore’s forces advanced on patriot breastworks near what is now the southern end of the Great Bridge Bridge.

“The British began their march across the narrow causeway with fixed bayonets in perfect parade array to the beating of two drums,” writes Chesapeake historian E. Preston Grissom in the current issue of Patriots of the American Revolution.

The American commander ordered his men to hold their fire until the enemy was within 50 yards, Grissom continues. British Captain Charles Fordyce, leading his grenadiers, was hit in the knee, “brushed it off as if nothing had happened, and then raised his tricorn and shouted, ‘The day is our own!’ ”
“Within a few feet of the breastwork, Fordyce went down, his lifeless body riddled by no fewer than 14 bullets. At least 14 grenadiers fell dead in the volley. . . [and] another 19 were wounded; two or three of them reached the breastwork only to fall against it.”

It was a total rout, with more than 100 British losses, compared to a single slight hand wound to one patriot. The humiliated Dunmore retreated to his ships in Norfolk Harbor and then, on New Year’s Day, 1776, bombarded the city’s waterfront, soon sailing away and ending British rule in Virginia.

There’s almost no connection between Great Bridge and St. Paul’s except that one of Dunmore’s errant cannon balls lodged in the church’s wall.

And now this:

That afternoon, under brooding magnolia, willow oak and live oak trees in St. Paul’s churchyard, several groups representing both sons and daughters of the Revolution and War of 1812 will lay wreaths and dedicate plaques to patriots and veterans of both wars who lie there.

Years of painstaking research have matched names either with obituaries or service records. Lt. George Chamberlaine of Warwick County has one of the most colorful biographies. At about the age of 22 he was captured and imprisoned in England only to escape and return to service, commanding several ships during the war.

The patriots were not only soldiers and sailors but others who helped the cause. At the south side of the church yard is a marker for both George and Miriam Abyvon. George served as mayor before during and after the war. Miriam is recognized for providing the troops “three gallons of rum.” Another’s name was added to the plaque for contributing to the cause a gun and a horse.

Among the War of 1812 veterans is Pvt. Charles Donaldson, a native of Scotland who, after the war was for “many years the proprietor of a Beer and Porter Cellar in this Borough,” according to an obit in a local paper. He died in 1825 “after a tedious indisposition.”

Then there’s Midshipman William C. Hall or Queen Ann County, MD, who, on March 9, 1814, while on board the frigate Constellation near Craney Island, “fell from the mizzen-topmast head of that ship and was instantly killed.”

The plaques, with more than 40 names between them, will be placed on the south side of the church tower. They have been given by so many sons/daughters organizations it would be impossible to name them all, so let’s give them all one rousing huzzah.

For more information, go to www.norfolkchapter.org

Photo: Graves of several Revolutionary War and War of 1812 patriots and veterans lie in the churchyard of historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. (by Paul Clancy)