Thursday, July 3, 2014

British Invade Chesconessex!

By Terry Malarkey, from London, England and Chesconessex Creek.
Location of Chesconessex
Creek on Google Maps.

When Judy (also a Londoner) and I came to United States in the early 70's, Judy got a job running the Murrysville Community Library in western Pennsylvania. One day some schoolkids came into the library and said they had a project to research and report on the war between Britain and United States in 1812. Judy, a history specialist, said “What war?” And after doing some research with the kids she found that there had indeed been a war between our two countries in 1812. She came home and told me, and I too was surprised.

So imagine the irony of reading an article by Kirk Mariner in the Eastern Shore News, and discovering that the British had invaded Chesconessex Creek, where we now live, in 1814 and that June 25 was the 200th anniversary of that invasion. So with some help from Kirk Mariner, Miles Barnes, and the Web, I tried to put together a little story of what happened.

To set the scene:
  • 200 years ago, in 1814, the War of 1812 was in its 3rd year.
  • Napoleon was on sabbatical (it turned out!) and exiled to an island off of the coast of Italy called Elba.
  • The land we now live on on the Eastern Shore was still owned by the Wise family (until after the Civil War).
  • British attentions now turned to the Western Hemisphere. A distraction was needed to deflect the USA in its invasion of British North America (Canada).
  • 500+ British troops, fresh from the wars of Europe, were encamped on Tangier Island (which you can see from our house) in newly-constructed Fort Albion, surrounded by redoubts, breastworks and armed with cannon. Often, powerful Royal Navy warships were anchored close by.
  • Also present were the British Corps of Colonial Marines, comprised of escaped slaves from Virginia and Maryland, now in red Royal Marines uniform and with $20 bounty each in their pockets. In despatches they were described as “marked by great spirit and vivacity and perfect obedience”.
  • There were various skirmishes, probes by both sides and some personal animosity between rival personalities, Captain Scott of the British army and Captain Joynes of the American militia.
  • The American militia had barracks and artillery on Chesconessex Creek, and were commanded by Captain Joynes.
  • At dawn on June 25, 1814 the British were running out of food. (Fresh Pride had closed!) With the food shortage and the rivalry in mind, the British admiral approved a raid by 500 Royal and Colonial Marines in barges. They were guided by the Colonial Marines who, being escaped slaves, knew the land intimately.
  • The British invaders seized food, cannon, and burned down the barracks. No casualties were reported.
  • Captain Joynes and his militia fled, leaving behind his sword, feathered hat, and uniform. These items were then given to a Colonial Marine sergeant (a former slave) as a prize and to humiliate Joynes.
  • Fort Albion on Tangier was used as a base to blockade the Chesapeake & attack Washington D.C. (where several public buildings, including the Presidential Mansion, were burned down), and Baltimore (giving rise to the National Anthem).
  • Fort Albion was manned by the British until the end of the war by the Treaty of Ghent, in February 1815. It has now been lost to erosion.
  • The escaped slaves & their families went as free citizens to Trinidad, Bermuda, Canada, & etc.
The Internal Enemy by Alan Taylor
Pungoteague to Petersburg, Vol 1 Eastern Shore Militiamen by Alton Brooks Parker Barnes & Lee Howard
Calendar of Virginia State Papers, Jan. 1, 1808 to Dec. 31, 1835 by H. W. Flournoy, VA State Library
'Niles" weekly register, Robt E. Spencer