On March 3, 1775, the Virginia Gazette altered the citizens of James City County to the presence of an armed British hip at the ferry landing at Kingsmill:
A Caution of the Publick. Be it known that his Majesty’s armed schooner MAGDALEN, HENRY COLLINS, ESQ. commander, mounting four carriage guns . . .now lies moored opposite to Burwell’s ferry, for the purpose of brining to and searching all vessels going up and down the James river. (Note well, masters and owners, that the King pays no costs or damages in his Admiralty courts, whether your vessels, after seizure and libelling, be condemned or not).
The “gunpowder incident,” which occurred on April 21, 1775, sparked unprecedented resistance on the part of local citizens. Thanks to Patrick Henry, militiamen from Hanover County gathered at Byrd’s Tavern, in western James City County, where they offered their assistance in resisting the British. On May 15, 1776, the Virginia Convention, meeting in Williamsburg, voted unanimously for independence from Great Britain.
By March 1777, shipbuilder John Herbert chose a location on the Chickahominy River for Virginia navy’s shipyard. A W. Pointer and a gang of slaves erected the buildings of the Chickahominy Shipyard. By June the shipyard was making repairs and constructing boats to assist the military. In an attempt to attract skilled workers, the state assembly voted to exempt ships carpenters, blacksmiths, joiners, and clerks associated with shipbuilding from military service. Captain James Maxwell, at General George Washington’s request, served as superintendent of the shipyard. Blacks and whites, both male and female, were employed at the shipyard and probably resided on the premises. The size of the shipyard’s payroll suggests there was a substantial work force.
During 1781 combat occurred in several parts of James City County. In April the British fired upon the Americans’ entrenchments at Burwell’s Ferry. They also sailed up the Chickahominy River and set ablaze the Virginia Navy’s shipyard on April 22. Part of the British Army crossed the Chickahominy River at Barrett’s Ferry. In June 1781 Cornwallis set out in pursuit of Lafayette, whose strategy consisted of paralleling the British Army’s movements, staying just out of reach. The Allied Army camped at Byrd’s Tavern, the Chickahominy Church, and Norvelle’s and Cooper’s Mills. Some of Lafayette’s men moved toward Spencer’s Ordinary, where the main roads to Jamestown and Williamsburg converged. The Battle of Spencer’s Ordinary, which occurred on June 26, 1781, was followed by the Battle of Green Spring on July 7. The British also took possession of Jamestown Island, which had been fortified by the Americans, but abandoned. Hostilities only ceased when the British surrendered at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. The French army wintered-over in the local area and withdrew in the following summer. After the French and British went home, James City County’s citizens tried to rebuild their lives. Some local families were destitute, for they had lost their main breadwinner. Others sought reimbursement for wartime losses or payment for supplies they had furnished to the Allied Army.
These exerts were taken from:
“Discover our New World: Where American Began”, a James City County, VA Historic Map brochure
James City County, Keystone of the Commonwealth, by Martha W. McCartney, 1997, pages 206-233, .
More stories and newspaper articles can be found in Martha’s book.
While there are currently no events listed specifically for James City County, search the VA250 Statewide Calendar of Events for a comprehensive listing of programs across the state.