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The Heroes of Hampton Town



During this war several of the inhabitants of Hampton acquired credit and renown. Prominent among these in political life was George Wythe, son of Thomas Wythe and Margaret Walker, who attained almost equal distinction as a statesman, a jurist, and as an interpreter of the law, being the preceptor of both Jefferson and Marshall. The brick house in which he was born, on Back River, is still standing. William Roscow Wilson Curie was not only chairman of the County Committee of Safety, and Colonel of the County Militia, but one of the first judges of the Admiralty Court of the new Commonwealth. Miles King, afterwards mayor of Norfolk, also performed important military services. As a resort for seafaring men, it furnished both sailors and officers to the gallant State Navy. Among the most famous of these was Captain Joseph Meredith, who commanded the privateer La Fayette, George Hope, who superintended the construction of gunboats at Warwick near Richmond, Capt. William Cunningham, who was first lieutenant of the schooner Liberty, and afterwards prominent in procuring munitions of war from the West Indies, and Captain Richard Barron and Captain James Barron, sons of Captain Samuel Barron, who commanded Fort George in 1749.

Virginia had, at one period of the war, as many as seventy vessels including frigates, brigs, brigantines, schooners, sloops, galleys, armed pilot boats and barges; and they rendered great service to the American cause. They not only effectually prevented the incursions of bands of plundering Tories on the bay, but were useful in making prizes of British merchantmen and in exporting tobacco and other produce, and exchanging their cargoes in the West Indies for arms and military stores. Smollet, in his continuation of Hume 's History of England, says that, " by the export of tobacco from the Chesapeake the credit of the colonies was chiefly, if not wholly supported," and by the inland navigation of that bay, large quantities of provisions were conveyed to the middle colonies for the subsistence of the American armies."

Many of these small vessels were built at South Quay, Hampton, which became headquarters of the Virginia Navy.

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It was controlled by a board of naval commissioners, of whom Col. Thomas Whiting, of Hampton, was president. The largest ships carried thirty-two guns each, and one of them - the Gloucester - was a prison ship and was moored near Hampton on Elizabeth River. Only one of the Virginia ships survived the war - the famous Liberty - which figured in twenty gallant encounters.'

Undoubtedly the most distinguished of the naval officers was James Barron. He was the son of Captain Samuel Barron, and his wife, Jane Cooper, daughter of Philip Cooper. He was born at Fort George in 1749, and began sea life at a very early age. He was sent to sea at ten years in charge of Captain Barrington, who sailed in a fine ship belonging to London, a constant trader to James River. His first commission was over a small vessel belonging to Col. John Hunter, of Hampton, called the "Kickotan," in which he sailed for some time. On attaining his maturity he was made commander of a fine ship owned by Samuel Guest, a merchant of London. At the first dawn of the Revolution he was captain of a military company composed of the young sailors of Hampton, who were numerous at that time, and was engaged in the action with Captain Squires' party when he attacked the place in 1775.

After the navy of Virginia was organized, James Barron and his brother, Richard had commands at different times of the ships Liberty and Patriot.

In 1779, James Barron became senior officer and was placed in command of all the naval forces of the commonwealth. He performed many gallant naval exploits, but possibly nothing that he did was more important to the cause of the Revolution than his interception of a boat sent by Lord Dunmore in April, 1776, to Annapolis with dispatches for Governor Eden from Lord Dartmouth, the English Secretary of State, regarding the proposed expedition against the City of Charleston. James Barron then cruising in the Chesapeake, captured the boat and conveyed the papers, which discovered the whole plan of British operations to Williamsburg. The Charlestonians had warning in advance, and had time to concert a defence which foiled completely the formidable British attack under Sir Henry



' The Virginian Navy of the Revolution. - Southern Literary Messenger, Richmond, Va., XXIV, I, 104, 210, 273.

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Clinton and Sir Peter Parker. After the peace he continued in command of the only two vessels retained in the service for the protection of the revenue until the year 1787, when he died, leaving the services he had rendered to his country to survive after him/

After the repulse of Captain Squires' force in 1775, there was no other attack made upon Hampton during the Revolution, but the waters and country in the vicinity were the scenes of conflict at each invasion of the British. In December, 1780, a fleet commanded by Benedict Arnold, sailed through the capes and captured some small vessels of the Virginia navy in Hampton Roads.

During their stay the shores of Elizabeth City and Warwick County were repeatedly visited by small parties of British troops bent on plunder and forage, who had skirmishes with the local militia. In these encounters. Col. Francis Mallory and his brother Edward, of Hampton, bore a conspicuous part. In March, 1781, Arnold sent Col. Dundas around to the York River with 200 men to surprise the American post at the Halfway House between Hampton and Yorktown. The post was deserted, however, and Dundas continued his march to Newport News, where he was to join the ships again. On the way he fell in with forty of the militia, commanded by Col. W. R. W. Curie and Col. Francis Mallory. They made a brave resistance, but were overwhelmed by numbers. Curie was taken prisoner, and Mallory fell pierced by numerous musket balls and bayonet thrusts.

In the summer of 1781 Lord Comwallis took up his position at Portsmouth and his transports stationed in the Roads repeated their annoying depredations. When later in the year he removed to Yorktown, the Elizabeth City County militia participated in his capture, much to their own satisfaction and that of their friends and neighbors, who had been so tormented bv him.



^ A Biographical Notice of Commodora Barron of the Navy of Virginia, The Virginia Hist. Register I, 23.



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