The War of 1812
The United States declared war on the United Kingdom on June 18th, 1812. The main reasons for the conflict were; British territorial expansion in North America, British support for Native American tribes opposing US settlement, and the impressment of US sailors by the British Navy. At the time the US had a very small army and county militias were brought into service, like they had been during the Revolutionary War. In Washington DC many did not want to fund a large army and pointed to the success of the Militia system in winning the Revolution. There was also a reluctance to maintain a large standing army because of the perceived threat it could pose to freedom of the newly formed country. One difference from 1776 was the increased power of the British Navy, a mobile force that could move large numbers of troops quickly. Local Militias along the coast could barely compete. Peace was negotiated in December 1814, but the Treaty of Ghent was not officially ratified by congress until February 17th, 1815. The war was considered a draw by many historians. America did win several decisive inland battles in the Northwest Territories, but along the Chesapeake Bay and other areas of the coast the British were mostly free to operate as they pleased.
War in the Northern Neck
By December 1812 the Chesapeake was under blockade by the British. On April 1st, 1813 several large British ships began moving on the Rappahannock River. American vessels were spotted off of Windmill Point and 17 small crafts were deployed from the British ships to give chase. The American schooners sailed up the Rappahannock River and lost most the British barges and pinnaces by maneuvering through the night. The next day five of the British vessels came upon the American schooners at the mouth of Carter's Creek. Captain Stafford anchored his schooners in a line with port-side guns at the ready. The British lost two vessals as they made their advance, but they were ultimately able to board and capture all four ships. The four privateers were named Arab, Lynx, Racer, and Dolphin. The Dolphin was the largest with 12 guns and a 100 man crew, Captain Stafford, though wounded, refused to give up until all the other ships were captured and his own ship was boarded.
You are hereby required and directed to destroy and lay waste such Towns and districts upon the Coast as you may find assailable...
- Alexander Cochrane, Vice Admiral of the British Navy
During the war British troops frequently raided the countryside, burning homes and destroying crops. Slaves were also freed or taken. John Hungerford, an officer in the Westmoreland militia wrote, "Our negroes are flocking to the enemy from all quarters, which they convert into troops, vindictive and rapacious -- with a most minute knowledge of every bye path." Another officer from Westmoreland wrote a letter to the Richmond Enquirer newspaper detailing the plundering of Hampton by British forces:
The town and country adjacent was given up to the indiscriminate plunder of a licentious soldiery, except, perhaps, the house where the head quarters were fixed, is an undeniable truth. Every article of valuable property was taken from it. In many houses not even a knife, a fork, or plate was left. British officers were seen by Dr. Colton in the act of plundering a Mr. Jones's store. His house, although he remained in town, was rifled, and his medicine thrown into the public street, just opposite where many officers took up their quarters, who must have been eye-witnesses of the scene. The church was pilaged, and the plate belonging to it taken away, although inscribed with the owner's name. The wind-mills in the neighborhood were stript of their sails. The closets, private drawers, and trunks of the inhabitants, were broken open, and scarcely any thing seemed to be too trifling an object to excite the cupidity of these robbers.
- Richard E. Parker, Lieutenant Colonel, 111th VA Militia
Parker's letter went on to describe the way British soldiers assaulted and tortured a private citizen with bayonets, and also described in detail several instances of rape against women in the city. He ended his letter with a plea for more men to join the war effort and fight against these atrocities. Similar accounts would follow about British action in the Northern Neck.
In March of 1814 six British barges entered the mouth of the Great Wicomico. Several estates were plundered and a US schooner returning from Baltimore with a cargo of sugar, coffee, and whiskey was captured. The militia responded but was ineffective. Days later more British vessels sailed into Cockrell's Creek. It was reported that nine family's storehouses were plundered and their furniture and other articles were wantonly destroyed. Late in March raids occurred at Sandy Point in Westmoreland. Slaves and cattle were taken from two plantations.
In mid-April four British barges sailed into Carter's Creek unopposed. They took two ships with a cargo of 250 barrels of flour. Sixty sheep were also taken from the estate of Martin Sherman at Pop Castle. Days later barges again sailed into Carter's Creek, this time "five or six militia fired at them and supposedly killed a British officer." The raid was not deterred however and the Corotoman Plantation had slaves and sheep taken. The following day at Windmill Point the British landed and "plundered a poor man of the name of Hinton of a boat, everything he was worth."
During the first week of May a series of skirmishes between Northern Neck militias and British raiders took place at the Coan and Yecomico rivers. An ineffective attack was reported at Peckatone Plantation. The Richmond Enquirer wrote that about 100 slaves had been taken from the area and that 20 schooners loaded with flour and bound for Maryland were protected by local militia when the took refuge by sailing up the Yecomico.
In the summer of 1814, British raids into the Northern Neck intensified, mostly from the Potomac, as they advanced on Washington DC.
In early July of 1814 Narrows Plantation, between Machodoc and Nomini Creek, was sacked and 30 slaves were taken. Days later a force of 1,200 British troops landed at Nomini Ferry in Westmoreland, the Militia was unable to rebuff them and the British sacked and burned property at will. Col. Parker of the Westmoreland Militia had at his command only about 80 infantry and artillery men plus 20 Calvary and was forced to retreat. The British camped overnight and the next day they burned Nomini Church along with several homes. Parker reported that the British "had carried away everything they could, destroyed what they could not, broke windows and doors, burned the wheat stacks, killed livestock and stole tobacco and not less than 130 negroes. Some persons were left without one single dollar on earth." Days later Narrows Plantation was targeted again. Col. Bramham brought 250 troops from the Richmond County militia to respond but was ineffective.
On August 3rd, 1814 over 1,000 British sailed into the Yecomico River. Most of the militia forces in the area were waiting in Kinsale in anticipation of the attack, but to their surprise the British diverted the main attack to Mundy's Point. The militia there were forced to retreat and abandon one cannon, as they fell back they hid another cannon in the woods. The British marched inland all the way to Village and back, about 12 miles, destroying homes and property along the way. That same day the Northumberland Militia reported a small victory at Cherry Point, after successfully recovering the cannon hidden during the attack at Mundy's Point a command of 40 men engaged British troops disembarking from a barge. Col. Downing's account of the action published in the Richmond Enquirer said "several were set down by the first fire, and were seen to fall down at almost every shot. Instead of fifteen or twenty oars with which they reached the beach before they got out of the range of our musketry and carbines, they could only man five or six." The main militia forces at Kinsale saw the six mile trail of smoke from the march to Village and withdrew under commands from Gen. Hungerford, fearing an attack from rear. A small detachment of troops from Essex under Major Yates was left to monitor the British activity. That afternoon additional British tenders landed in Kinsale and begin setting buildings on fire, reports on the fighting vary but Yates was killed. The British claimed to have sank three schooners and made off with 67 hogshead of tobacco and some flour. At the end of the day British ships in he Potomac reported being able to see the line of fires across the Northern Neck and noted that they were only extinguished by heavy thunderstorms that night.
On August 8th, Gen. Hungerford sent a message to the British officer Rear Admiral George Cockburn and asked for the release of six prisoners taken during the action on August 3rd. On the list was Luke Dameron. Hungerford noted that Dameron was 53, and along with two others on the list, was over the military age prescribed by the law. He went further to say that all six men on the list were, "peaceably remaining at their own homes - from which they were forcibly taken, and the houses of several burnt." Cockburn replied, "I beg permission to judge for myself how far the people in question can be considered to have confirmed to the declarations and usages you have quoted." All six appear to have been released eventually.
On August 7th, British troops entered the Coan River on ten ships, the militia fired on them with field cannons, but three British vessels continued to the head of the river and captured three schooners loaded with tobacco. The militia unit was reportedly from Lancaster County and was forced to withdraw when another ten British ships arrived. The raiders marched inland, burning houses at Northumberland Court House and occupying Wicomico Church. British ships sailed into the Coan again on the 14th but no damages were reported.
Late in August the British advanced on Washington DC where they captured the city and burned the White House. Their main attack sailed up the Patuxent River in Maryland to march over land to DC, a smaller force sailed up the Potomac to provide support and an escape route in case the troops were unable to march back to their ships. Militia units from King George and Stafford were able to launch an assault from Mathias Point and delay the attack from Potomac. While Washington DC was of course not saved this action did disrupt the larger British plan of taking Baltimore as it slowed the British advance as the main force waited for the Potomac squadron to join and gave more time to prepare defenses there. The British command had figured that taking Washington and Baltimore would result in an American surrender, when this did not happen their troops saw a decrease in moral and appeared less eager to engage.
With attention focused to the north, the Northern Neck saw a brief respite until October 4th, when 3,000 soldiers, landed on the Coan River, they overwhelmed the militia and and marched to Heathsville where they plundered and burned homes for two days. On the 7th, British sailed into Dividing Creek. They burned homes and took slaves while meeting little resistance.
In early December, Tappahannock was captured and troops crossed the Rappahannock to march on Warsaw. The militia engaged and retreated after a short battle. Instead of continuing on the British returned to their ships. On December 6th, a small group of 360 British troops marched inland from Lancaster Creek toward Farnham Church where militia were waiting. The American captain was captured and the British took the church without losses, their soldiers freed about 100 slaves from neighboring farms and plantations. This was the last of the recorded engagements in the Northern Neck. The treaty of Ghent was signed just weeks later and fighting in Virginia ceased almost immediately.
Though records of exact service dates and which companies were involved in which conflicts are poor, it is likely that most men who served in their county militias along the Chesapeake Bay were called to service at one point or another to push back against British raiders. Possibly others whose names are not listed on the few available records also stood stood with the militia, officially or unofficially, to try and protect their own homes and property and that of their neighbors. (Service records are on individual's profile pages.)
99th VA Militia (Bagwell's) - Accomack
25th VA Militia (Pollard's) - King George
92nd VA Militia (Chowning, Jr's) - Lancaster
37th VA Militia (Downing's) - Northumberland
- Jesse Bryant
- Darius G. Cralle
- Luke Dameron
- Thomas Fallin
- Moses Hale, Sr
- Holland Marsh
- Thomas Oldham
- James B. Stephens
- George R. Thrift
41st VA Militia (Bramham's) - Richmond
111th VA Militia (Parker's) - Westmoreland
Of these soldiers with confirmed service records, all but one survived the war. Randall C. Clark's death was recorded in Norfolk. Randall was a member of the Westmoreland County 111th Militia. In early 1813 nearly half of Virginia's militia units were called to come and defend Norfolk, it appears that the 111th was one of those units. As men were reorganized Randall may have served briefly in the 41st Militia out of Norfolk, he name appears on a muster with 24 days service and a note stating that he had enlisted in US service. Randall may have participated in the Battle of Craney Island on June 22nd, 1813. This important American victory saved the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth from invasion along with the Gosport Naval Yard. The British took revenge in Hampton days later. Lt. Col. Parker of the 111th Militia documented the crimes against private citizens there in his letter to the Richmond Enquirer. It appears Randall remained in Norfolk for the duration of the War and did not return home. According to US pension rolls, Randall died on January 21st, 1815, as a member of the 20th Regiment, US Infantry. His home county was given as Richmond and his survivors to receive pension benefits were listed. His death occurred after the treaty to end the war was signed but before it was ratified by congress. At that point fighting in Virginia had effectively ended and he may have died of illness.
- Encounters with the British in Virginia During the War of 1812 by Myron (Mike) E. Lyman, Sr. and William W. Hankins, published by The Society of the War of 1812 in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Copyright 2008-2009 by The Society of the War of 1812 in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
- Bulletin of the Northumberland County Historical Society, 31 (1994)
- The War of 1812: Writings from America's Second War of Independence (LOA #232). United States, Library of America, 2013.
- United States Senate.The Pension Roll of 1835.4 vols. 1968 Reprint, with index. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1992.
- "Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Soldiers Who Served During the War of 1812" database with images Fold3 (https://www.fold3.com//title/875/war-of-1812-service-record-index: accessed January 22, 2022)
- Kilby, Craig, and Myron Lyman. “The War of 1812 in the Northern Neck.” Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Magazine, LXIII, No. 1, 2013, pp. 7770–7806.