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A Post Such As Portsmouth – British Operations in Hampton Roads, 1781 – is a 2-day re-enactment designed to inform and entertain the public. It features a variety of civilian impressions, military impressions, as well as members of the Royal Navy. The event takes place March 28-29, 2020 at the corner of High and Court Streets in Olde Towne Portsmouth, Virginia.
Map of the Fortifications of Portsmouth from the Rochambeau Collection in the Library of Congress
On New Year’s Day, 1776, a full six months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, war was at hand on the Elizabeth River. The British had suffered a terrible defeat at Great Bridge just a month earlier, (thanks in no small part to the role played by Portsmouth’s own Billy Flora) when the North Carolina and Virginia regiments joined forces to keep the British out of northeastern North Carolina and the Albemarle Sound. Instead of celebrating the New Year, the citizens of one of the colony’s largest cities found themselves confronted with round-the-clock cannon fire from British ships positioned in the Elizabeth River. The rebel/patriot leaders soon realized that they would not be able to hold onto the City of Norfolk for much longer, so under the leadership of Colonel’s Howe and Woodford, the decision was made to finish the destruction of Norfolk to prevent the British from acquiring its strategic advantages. This decision proved to be one of the most far-reaching strategic military decisions of the war for Independence.
Benedict Arnold – Photo Credit: Library of Congress
Fast forward to 1781. Portsmouth had suffered only minor damage in the shelling of Norfolk back in 1776. The infrastructure was in good standing and the population, consisting of both those loyal to the British and loyal to the cause for independence, was strong. Preceding the arrival of General Cornwallis into Portsmouth, Virginia, the infamous traitor, now British General, Benedict Arnold, leads a British force into Hampton Roads. Occupying Portsmouth as their base, along with Colonel Simcoe’s Queen’s Rangers and Captain Ewald’s Jaegers, the British conducted raids in Hampton Roads, and skirmished with Virginia’s forces including Major Weeks at Kempe’s Landing and Great Bridge. General Lafayette led a failed assault on the British post in March 1781, signifying the city’s importance to the beginning and ending of the Revolution in Virginia. As spring approaches, the British await Lord Cornwallis as he and his army campaigns through North Carolina.
This is where our event begins. Join us for:
9:00 am – 9:30 am:
Parade. British march into Portsmouth
(Commemoration of: January 19-20, 1781 “OCCUPATION OF PORTSMOUTH”)
Flag Raising. – “ALL HANDS” (Front Gate)
9:30 am – 10:00 am:
10:00 am – 11 am:
Period Vignette: Press Gang altercation between sailors and civilians.
Sailors approach civilian, interrogate him, try to press him, he resists, draws crowd, sailors exit, crowd follows with intensity, Royal Navy officer threatens crowd and orders them to disperse. Sailors press man into service and carry him away.
11 am – 11:30 am:
British Army DRILL.
11:30 am – 12 pm:
RN Swivel Gun Drill.
12 pm – 12:30 pm:
Period Vignette: Arrest of a Runaway Servant by British soldiers.
(Runaway servant, an Irish laborer, is a street vendor. After handbills are distributed to re-enactors and the public 15 minutes earlier, runaway is recognized by British soldiers who want the reward. He tries to flee but is captured, arrested, and taken before an officer.
12:00 – 1 pm:
Army Foraging Party (Lunch). (“Patrol” in Groups)
1 pm – 1:30 pm:
Period Vignette: Courts Martial Soldier is court martialed for sleeping at his post.
1 witness is brought up. Officer questions soldier and witness. Officer determines that soldier is guilty and sentences him to hard labor and/or loss of rations.
2 pm – 2:30 pm:
Period Vignette: Arrest of a Spy.
Spy is gathering intelligence while posing as street vendor. Militia approach to purchase something. Militia begin asking questions and getting suspicious. Militia sees note in basket and seize it. Note has incriminating information. Spy is arrested and taken before an officer.
2:30 – 3 pm:
Civilian is brought into camp with captured militia reports of Lafayette’s forces (March 18, 1781).
3 pm to 3:30 pm:
Commemoration of: March 19, 1781 “SKIRMISH OF SCOTT’S CREEK”
3:30 – 4 pm:
Period Vignette: (Formation of All Participants) General Arnold Speech and “Oath of Loyalty to King.”
4pm – public events end
10:30 am – 11:30 am
18th century church service at Trinity Episcopal Church
11:30 am – 3:00 pm
Living history displays continued and vignettes as available