American Revolution 250th Commemoration
History 250 Years in the Making
In 2016, U.S. Congress created the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission. In 2021, the Virginia General Assembly created the Virginia 250th American Revolution Commission, which has been funded through 2032. The state commission was organized to prepare for, and commemorate, Virginia’s participation in the American Revolution commemoration and create a balanced narrative to tell share stories from the perspectives of those on the homefront, Continental and British soldiers, and African American individuals. Shortly after, the state commission charged each Virginia locality to form their own committee to plan for the state’s commemoration by inventorying, preparing and highlighting many rich historical resources each locality has to offer its community and tourists.
Chesterfield County has answered the call of the state commission. A committee has been formed and has begun plans for Chesterfield County’s involvement in this initiative which will involve collaborating with regional partners and promoting community engagement. Chesterfield County plans to commemorate the American Revolution and tell our stories through special events and interpretive programs, a video series, signage for trails and historical sites, driving tours of significant sites, preservation of culturally significant areas of military engagements, and building a Continental Army training barracks to be used for educational programming.
Many significant battles were fought in Chesterfield County during the American Revolution and the Chesterfield Continental Training Barracks, established in 1781, was known as the Valley Forge of the South. As part of the 250th commemoration, Chesterfield will provide opportunities for students, residents and tourists to remember, revisit and learn from the events of the American Revolution.
Upcoming Rev250 Events
Getting to Know James Lafayette
Thursday, Feb. 1; 6-7 p.m. - Did he ask to be a spy, or was he asked to be a spy? Through historical reenactment, Stephen Seals of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation tells us the story of James Armistead Lafayette, an enslaved spy during the American Revolution. Registration begins Thursday, Jan. 18.
Forgotten Patriots - Virginia’s Black Continental Army Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolution
Thursday, Feb. 15; 6-7 p.m. - In 1781, citizens of Chesterfield County witnessed the American Revolution come right through their community. Black Virginia men camped, marched, and fought side by side with their white neighbors in pursuit of liberty and independence from King George III and English rule. Their roles are still often overlooked but undoubtedly helped the ideas of the Revolution to take root. Registration begins Feb. 1.
Chesterfield in the Revolution
On March 23, 1775, in a modest church overlooking Richmond, Virginia, Chesterfield representatives to the 2nd Virginia Convention, Archibald Cary and Daniel Watkins, listened to Hanover representative Patrick Henry declare his call to arms against the Virginia colony’s home country of England. His speech, known by the words, “Give me liberty, or give me death,” became a rallying cry for many with grievances against parliament and King George III. Within a month after that speech, shots were fired against the king’s troops in Lexington, Virginia and Concord, Massachusetts. Following that moment, death and destruction within the 13 American colonies was a common sight.
What started as a rebellion against the king transformed into a War of Independence in July of 1776. Chesterfield’s soldiers serving with General George Washington were fighting for freedom from monarchial control.
By then, Chesterfield had not sent many of its men off to war. Archibald Cary’s mills were supplying the troops, and the approximate 14,000-15,000 free residents and thousands of enslaved people worked on the hundreds of farms within the county. From 1776 through 1780, the war had little affected rural Chesterfield and its people outside the new capital of Richmond, Virginia.
Things would change in late 1780 after a new commander in the South, General Nathaniel Greene, came to Virginia and brought trusted Washington subordinate, General Friedrich Wilhelm Baron de Steuben, with him. Steuben was assigned to take command recruiting, training, and supplying of the Continental Army forces in Virginia. Meanwhile, Greene commanded the army campaigning in the Carolinas. Steuben fed Greene’s army with rations, equipment, and, most importantly, men from Virginia. Without Virginia, the Southern Army under Greene would wither away.
In 1781, the bayonets of British authority were pointed at Virginia, the home of Washington, Henry, Thomas Jefferson and other well-known rebels. The Continental Army then established a Continental Barracks, a training depot with hundreds of huts, a hospital, and various manufactories at Chesterfield Courthouse. Because of this, British leadership targeted the barracks for destruction. The winter of 1780 into 1781 was brutal, and many of Chesterfield’s men died of exposure and disease. Chesterfield’s militia was very active due to the 1780 campaigns from Virginia to South Carolina, so soldiers were exhausted from the fighting and cold.
In early January, a small British unit from New York under General Benedict Arnold landed at Westover Plantation and marched against Richmond. After some skirmishing, Arnold captured the capital on January 5. Military storehouses and tobacco were burned, and the Virginia Continental laboratory and foundry at Westham, across the James River from Chesterfield, was destroyed as Steuben and the Chesterfield Militia watched from across the river. Chesterfield feared invasion, and its men readied to defend all river crossing locations. Yet, Arnold retreated to his base in Portsmouth, and the Chesterfield Militia briefly returned to their families.
It was a brief respite for Jefferson, the Chesterfield Militia and Continental forces at the courthouse. In March, General William Phillips’ British forces reinforced Arnold. By late April, after numerous skirmishes around Portsmouth, the British Army loaded into ships and again came towards Richmond. This time, however, the British Army landed on the Appomattox River and marched on Petersburg, Virginia. At that time, all of Chesterfield’s men were called to duty – “all able-bodied men” capable of bearing arms were assembled at Manchester, the courthouse, Goode’s Bridge, Ware Bottom Church and other sites.
On April 25, 1781, General Phillips’ forces clashed with Steuben’s troops, commanded by Virginia General Peter Muhlenberg in the Battle of Petersburg. The American forces were mostly Virginia Militia, commanded by many veteran Continental Army officers. At the end of the fighting, the troops retreated across the Pocahontas Bridge into Chesterfield County, where Virginia Artillery, and Chesterfield Militia covered their retreat and fired the last shots across the Appomattox River. After a brief bloody fight, Steuben was determined to get his army across the James River to join forces with General Marquis de Lafayette, marching hard southward with his elite Continental Army light infantry battalions. These were the best of Washington’s main army serving in the North.
Steuben had brilliantly offered a delaying battle governed by Muhlenberg, saved many of the Chesterfield supplies and kept his army in an orderly retreat. However, his retreat through Chesterfield County left the rest of the county mostly defenseless, ushering in a week of terror for Chesterfield residents.
War had now come to the doorstep.
Following the Petersburg fight, Steuben’s forces halted at Chesterfield Courthouse, where they helped treat their wounded, removed whatever stores they could, and bivouacked through April 26. Afterward, the forces retreated to Falling Creek Church, near the Chesterfield Courthouse. Steuben’s forces rested the days of April 27 and 28 but started, near the Chesterfield Courthouse, planning for battle against the redcoats. After British cavalry discovered the group’s position, shots were fired. Most of Phillips’ troops, however, remained at the courthouse – where they burned the Continental barracks, manufactories, and government buildings.
On April 27, another branch of Arnold’s forces traveled to the old port town of Osborne’s where the Virginia State Navy laid in wait. Arnold’s troops, after defeating militia forces harassing them, engaged the navy and either captured or destroyed almost the entire fleet. It was a dark day for Virginia and Jefferson.
Within a few days, by April 29 and 30, Phillips and Arnold united their forces and destroyed much of everything in eastern Chesterfield – successfully destroying Cary’s mills, the port industries and community of Warwick, the tobacco storehouses in Manchester and more. Steuben’s Army witnessed the marching and destruction.
While they watched much of Chesterfield’s wealth burn, Steuben’s troops had marched to the “coal pits” of Midlothian, made camp and assumed their defensive positions. By April 30, the troops secured boats at Tuckahoe Ferry on the James River. By May 1, 1781, the Chesterfield and Virginia Militia safely crossed the James River and joined Lafayette’s Continental forces.
In Richmond, all the American troops paraded atop the heights and postured against British forces in Manchester. The British didn’t chance a river crossing attack; instead, they joined their navy and retreated downriver instead. After that, the week of terror was over.
The peace in Chesterfield wouldn’t last long. While the American Army encamped at nearby Wilton Plantation in Henrico County, Colonel Robert Goode, who commanded the Chesterfield Militia, anticipated the arrival of British reinforcements. The British reinforcements, from North Carolina under General Lord Cornwallis, arrived in Petersburg, Virginia on May 20. Goode’s men crossed the James River, guarding against foragers or marauders aiming for Chesterfield farms. The American soldiers camped at Osborne’s as well as Ware Bottom Church and then made new camp close to Manchester.
Goode’s militia, made up of around 150, camped at Ezekiel Sudbury’s farm a few miles northeast of the Chesterfield Courthouse, establishing outposts looking southward towards Petersburg. On the rainy morning of May 23, Cornwallis’ cavalry commander Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, who commanded over 300 horse soldiers of the British Legion and some mounted infantry, used a local Tory (a member of the colonies loyal to the crown) as a guide to get his men on roads around Goode’s sentries. Tarleton’s mounted troops swept into the surprised American camp. Muskets mostly misfired in the rain, and British cavalry used their swords to hack at the Chesterfield militia. Resistance was brief and soon ended, as many ran for their lives all the way across Falling Creek. Several were killed, many wounded, and approximately 50 to 60 men were captured by British forces. Goode was then at “Whitby,” his home on the James River a few miles away. He slept with his family that night and luckily escaped the attack. He rejoined his battalion later that night.
This was perhaps Chesterfield’s darkest day.
Sudbury’s marked the end of significant military operations in Chesterfield County in the War of Independence. The fighting and burning had ended at Sudbury’s Farm.
For more information regarding Chesterfield in Revolution, contact John Pagano, Henricus historical interpreter supervisor.
Chesterfield in the Revolution Timeline
July 14, 1774 – Chesterfield County citizens, led by burgesses Archibald Cary and Daniel Watkins, meet at the Chesterfield Courthouse and approve supporting Massachusetts in their struggle against the Crown.
Nov. 24, 1774 – The Chesterfield Committee of Safety and Correspondence forms.
Dec. 17, 1774 – Chesterfield County sends 1,426 bushels of grain to Boston, which is received by Samuel Adams.
March 20, 1775 – Watkins, Cary and the assembly are at St. John’s Church when Patrick Henry delivers his infamous “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death” speech.
April-May 1775 – The local militia take to arms and march to Williamsburg to confront Governor Lord Earl of Dunmore and his gunpowder incident.
Fall-Christmas 1775 – Chesterfield Militia “Minute” Company under Captain Francis Goode and Lieutenant George Markham march to Virginian towns Williamsburg, York, Hampton and Portsmouth to rid Portsmouth of British forces as well as Dunmore. British forces were mustered out just before Christmas.
Winter-Spring 1776 – Chesterfield men enlist in three Continental Army companies (Captain John Markham’s Company, 1st Virginia Regiment; Captain Ralph Faulkner, 5th Virginia Regiment; and Captain Charles Fleming’s Company, 7th Virginia Regiment) and serve with Washington in the Main Army in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
July 4, 1776 – The war changes from a rebellion to a War of Independence after representatives of the colonies approved the Declaration of Independence, drafted largely by Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1776 – Georgia recruits Virginians to fill its quota of Continental soldiers, and officers of the 2nd Georgia Regiment recruit at Chesterfield Courthouse, promising land grants for service; several of these men fight battles in Georgia and South Carolina.
March 1777 – Virginia sends 10,000 pounds of gunpowder to Chesterfield to be kept in a magazine supervised by Cary and guarded by the Chesterfield Militia.
August 1777 – Chesterfield Militia march to Gloucester, Virginia in response to a possible British Raid in the Chesapeake Bay.
1778 – Some British prisoners of war that surrendered at Saratoga, New York are brought to Chesterfield Courthouse and eventually join the other prisoners of war in Charlottesville.
May 1779 – Admiral George Collier’s British fleet raids Virginia, and the Chesterfield Militia return to the field.
June 17, 1779 – Chesterfield Courthouse becomes a home for new British prisoners of war captured by General George Rogers Clark in his campaign against British outposts in the western territories, who are sent to Williamsburg and then back to Chesterfield.
Summer 1779 – A huge forest fire sweeps through Chesterfield County and is finally put out on July 14.
Summer 1780 – Virginia General Peter Muhlenberg proposes that Chesterfield Courthouse become a rendezvous for Continental recruits and troops joining the southern Continental Army.
Aug. 16, 1780 – Chesterfield Militia fight in the Battle of Camden, South Carolina.
1780 – A powder magazine is established at Falling Creek Church and guarded by Virginia regulars of the former 2nd Virginia State Regiment, newly merged as the Virginia State Legion.
Fall-Winter 1780 – Chesterfield Courthouse becomes a Continental Army hospital and barracks for Continental recruits. The hospital is superintended by Dr. William Rickman of Charles City County. General Fredrick Wilhelm Baron de Steuben takes command from Muhlenberg and turns Chesterfield Courthouse into the Valley Forge of the South.
Jan. 5, 1781 - British General Benedict Arnold with a small army march from Westover Plantation and capture Richmond, Virginia, destroying the Westham Foundry and Laboratory. Chesterfield Militia form and gather at several points on the James River to repel his troops from crossing into Chesterfield County.
Jan. 6, 1781 – Veteran Continental Army officer Colonel John Nicholas leads a small force of militia and Continental soldiers on loan from Chesterfield Courthouse that gathered at Tuckahoe Creek to attack Arnold’s outposts west of Richmond.
1781 – Colonel William Davies takes command at Chesterfield Courthouse and writes that men there are dying of exposure, privations and sickness.
January-March 1781 – Chesterfield Militia march to join Muhlenberg, commanding the Corps of Observation, trapping Arnold inside his defenses around Portsmouth, Virginia.
February-March 1781 – Several hundred men from Chesterfield Barracks march to join General Nathaniel Greene’s Southern Continental Army in North Carolina.
March 15, 1781 – Chesterfield Militia fight with Greene at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina.
April 25, 1781 – British General William Phillips leads his army against Muhlenberg’s Virginia militia at the Battle of Petersburg, Virginia. It is fought on both the Petersburg and Chesterfield side of the Appomattox River. Steuben abandons the Chesterfield Courthouse barracks and manufactories and instead sends his Virginia State Artillery, as well as Virginia State Legion, to assist Muhlenberg. The Chesterfield Militia form everywhere, including Manchester and Ware Bottom Church, to watch the river crossings and, eventually, Steuben sends his troops towards the fighting. The Chesterfield Militia cover the American retreat over Pocahontas Bridge to camp at Chesterfield Courthouse.
April 26, 1781 – American Army leaves Chesterfield Courthouse and marches to Falling Creek Church.
April 27, 1781 – American Army camps at Falling Creek Church and await battle. However, British cavalry scout the position, resulting in a brief skirmish. Meanwhile, Phillips and his troops destroy the Chesterfield Barracks and depot. At the same time, Arnold marches to Osborne’s Landing and fights the militia as well as the Virginia State Navy, resulting in most of the Navy’s capture.
April 28-29, 1781 – The American Army march to the coal pits close to the James River and await battle again, securing the strategic Tuckahoe Ferry crossing.
April 29-May 1, 1781 – British troops burn most of Manchester and Warwick, including Cary’s mills.
May 1781 – The Chesterfield Militia Battalion under Colonel Robert Goode join the new American commander in Virginia, General Marquis de Lafayette, and his elite battalion of light infantry. They camp together at Wilton Plantation in Henrico, opposite smoldering Warwick.
May 20, 1781 – British General Lord Cornwallis arrives in Petersburg from North Carolina with several regiments of British veterans. Colonel Goode asks Lafayette to leave Wilton to guard Chesterfield. Colonel Goode wants Lafayette to cross and camp in Osborne’s town, Ware Bottom Church and at Ezekiel Sudbury’s midway between Chesterfield Courthouse and Cary’s mills.
May 23, 1781 – Colonel Goode’s Battalion of approximately 140 men is attacked by British cavalry commander Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his 300 mounted soldiers of the British legion. Several of Colonel Goode’s men are killed, dozens wounded and over 50 men captured in a rainy battle where many muskets wouldn’t fire due to the weather.
July 1781 – Veteran Pennsylvania Continental soldiers of General Anthony Wayne enter Chesterfield County and pass through Osborne’s town, Chesterfield Courthouse and on to Colonel Goode’s Bridge as well as Amelia County, attempting to guard against Tarleton’s cavalry raids.
July-October 1781 – Chesterfield Militia participate in Lafayette’s Virginia Campaign against General Cornwallis.
Oct. 19, 1781 – Chesterfield Militia companies participate in the surrender of General Cornwallis’ British Army at Yorktown, Virginia.
Sept. 3, 1783 – Treaty of Paris ends the American Revolution.
1773 Baptist Preacher Trial - A Question of Religious Freedom
The year is 1773 and a minister must obtain an official license from British Crown authorities to preach in public. Archibald Cary, the magistrate of Chesterfield County, is arresting individuals who openly break this law. Citizens across the countryside begin to question the Crown’s authority to regulate religious teachings. Do British authorities have the right to tell someone how they may practice their religious beliefs? Must an individual pay taxes in support of a church that they do not belong to?
As part of the American Revolution 250th Commemoration, the Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia held an interactive performance of the 1773 Baptist Preacher Trial at the Historic 1917 Courthouse on Sunday, June 4, 2023.
Bryan TruzzieHistoric Sites and Programs ManagerPhone: 804-751-4946
Parks and Recreation
6901 Hopkins Road
North Chesterfield, VA 23234
6901 Hopkins Road North Chesterfield VA 23234
Chesterfield County Parks and Recreation
P.O. Box 40
Chesterfield, VA 23832
Phone 804-748-1623Fax 804-751-4131