Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why you shouldn't cross a man like General John Cropper, Jr.

A copy of a portrait of General
Cropper painted by Charles
Wilson Peale on display at
Ker Place. The original is at
the Smithsonian.
Written by Randy Stuart as part of the On-Line Lesson Plans

One of the Eastern Shore’s prominent early Americans was General John Cropper. He was born on December 23, 1755 at the family plantation, Bowman’s Folly in Joynes Neck, Accomack County, Virginia.  John served in the Revolutionary War as early as 1775, training in Accomack County. At age 20, he married Margaret Pettitt, whom he called Peggy, on August 15, 1776 at Accomack Co. Also in 1776 he was commissioned captain of a Shore company of the 9th Virginia Regiment, which in December left to join General Washington at Morristown. Sadly, both of his parents died that same year.

In 1777 he was commissioned major of the 7th Virginia Regiment and, in September, suffered a bayonet wound in the thigh at the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania. The flag bearer had been shot so John Cropper pulled the ramrod out of a musket and tied a red bandana to it. He then raised and carried it as the regiment’s flag. He led his men back to General Washington. In 1778 General Lafayette appointed him lieutenant colonel in command of the 11th Virginia Regiment and in June he participated in the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey. Cropper served with the Virginia troops during the hardships of the winter at Valley Forge. Cropper became devoted to his commander-in-chief, George Washington, and the two men remained friends until Washington’s death in 1799.

In September of 1778, John Cropper requested leave to return home to check on his family and his
Bowman's Folly. Picture credit:
property. This was a common practice of officers and soldiers during the Revolutionary War. He returned to Accomack County to find Eastern Shore families had been under constant attack from British raiding parties who sailed up the creeks, landed, ransacked and robbed homes, and sometimes burned down the houses. In fact, according to his diary entry of February 12, 1779:

A group of British raiders from the Thistle Tender rowed up Folly Creek with muffled oars. They had crept quite close to his house, Bowman’s Folly, and then burst through the doors as he and his family were in their beds. Cropper was taken by the raiders to a room and left there guarded by two men holding loaded muskets. The remainder of the raiding team found the wine cellar began drinking heavily and then ransacked the house. Cropper listened to the ever growing level of noise and deduced his guards might have become distracted. He quietly lifted the door latch, pulled open the door, and jumped past the two startled raiders. He ran two miles in his bedclothes to a neighbor’s house. Armed with three old muskets, they raced back to Bowman’s Folly. When they were in earshot of the loudly drunken raiders, Cropper’s neighbor became afraid and ran away. Cropper, armed with two muskets, sneaked up near the house and shot off both guns. He then yelled at the top of his voice, “Come on, boys, we have got them now.” This trick fooled the raiders and they ran to the boats and rowed away. Cropper went to search for his wife and two year old daughter.

He had been just in time. The raiders had been laying a track of gunpowder from the house to the creek. But where were Peggy and little Sarah? He found them in the privy. He had saved his wife, child and house, but they had been robbed of many possessions and the house had suffered some structural damage including a number of broken windows.

Fearing another raid, Cropper moved his family to another house he owned which was in the town of Accomac. But John Cropper was a determined soldier and was infuriated by this ungentlemanly and unmilitary attack on his home. In two weeks time, he had mustered men and weapons. With the help of “brass four pound guns” placed on Parramore and Cedar Islands, Cropper and his men opened fire on the Thistle Tender and her sister ships. Cropper had the satisfaction of seeing the ship which held the raiders of his family and property sink with all hands on board.

Concerned about his young wife and daughter, his neighbors, and the precarious situation on the Eastern Shore at this stage of the war, Cropper wrote a letter resigning his commission in the Continental Army. The letter was never accepted officially and Cropper served subsequently as Colonel of Virginia Militia in Accomack County until the war ended.

In addition to his military possessions on exhibit at Ker Place, the Cropper Bed and the Cropper Cradle may be found in the master bedroom. We hope you will return to Ker Place and learn more about John Cropper, including his service during the War of 1812.

1. Memoir of General John Cropper of Accomack County, Virginia. Barton Haxall Wise. Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society, 1892; 1974.
2. Eastern Shore of Virginia 1608 – 1967. Susie M. Ames, Ph.D. and James Egbert Mears. Lewis Historical Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1950. (& additions)
3. 5 November 2013.
4. Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies: Outbuildings and the Architecture of Daily Life in the Eighteen Century Mid-Atlantic. Michael Olmert. Cornell University Press, 2009.
5. Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Ralph T. Whitelaw. Peter Smith, Gloucester, Mass., 1951.
6. Tangier in the American Revolution. - Gail Walczyk.​tangier_1.htm 3 February 2014. (Barnes, Alton Brooks Parker, Pungoteague to Petersburg, Vol I, Eastern Shore Militiamen Before the Civil War 1776-1858, (A Lee Howard Book: A Parker Barnes.)
7. 12 February 2014.
8. "Society of the Cincinnati" 27 February 2008. <> 14 February 2014.

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