Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Battle of the Barges

Written by Bill Helin

Throughout the Revolutionary War British barges plundered and harassed farmers living on the Maryland and Virginia Eastern Shore creeks. By 1782 the state of Maryland had had enough and ordered Commodore Zedechiah Whaley of the Maryland State Navy to clear the Chesapeake Bay of this British threat. Commodore Whaley in command of a flotilla of 4 sail and oar driven barges spotted the enemy in
Revolutionary War Barges
Tangier Sound. Determining that the British force was too strong for his lightly manned barges, Commodore Whaley sailed into Onancock creek on 28 November 1782, and asked Lieutenant Colonel John Cropper (County Lieutenant of Accomack County) to assist him with volunteers to man his barges. Colonel Cropper gathered up 25 local men and boarded Whaley’s flagship PROTECTOR. Officers with Colonel Cropper were Captain Tom Parker, William Gibb, and Major Smith Snead. Underway the following day the American flotilla sighted the British force east of Tangier Island heading north at a fast pace.

After a 24-hour chase the Maryland fleet caught up with the six British barges at the head of Kedges Strait, the water that divides Smith Island and South Marsh Island to the north. Whaley ordered his fleet to attack and in a short while they had closed the enemy to 300 yards. Encountering heavy cannon and musket fire 3 of the 4 Maryland barges turned back leaving PROTECTOR and it’s 65-man crew alone to fight the British.

As the battle pressed on, gunpowder on PROTECTOR exploded killing four men. Others jumped overboard in flames. A musket ball killed commodore Whaley. In hand to hand fighting Colonel Cropper was badly wounded. Overwhelmed by a superior force, PROTECTOR surrendered. Of the 65 men who
Headstone of
Commodore Whaley at
 Scott Hall Cemetery
went into action aboard PROTECTOR, 25 were killed or drowned, 29 were wounded and only 11 escaped. By 3 December Colonel Cropper and the other American prisoners were released and were back in Onancock. The Battle of the Barges was over. Ironically the battle had occurred on the same day that the Treaty of Peace between Great Britain and the United States was signed.

George Corbin of upper Accomack County arranged the funeral of Commodore Whaley. Carried through the streets of Onancock by a procession of Accomack County militiamen, Commodore Whaley was buried on 3 December 1782 in the Corbin family cemetery at Scott Hall with full military honors.

Sources:
Barton Haxall Wise,  "Memoir of General John Cropper”
Alton Brooks Parker Barnes,  “John Cropper; A Life Fully Lived”

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful local History! Learn more at Ker Place!

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