TO ANTHONY BACON, such a notion as “the natural rights of mankind” was nonsense. He contended that people “have no rights, but such as are given by the laws of that society to which they belong.” Of course he rejected colonists’ assertion that taxation by Parliament violated their God-given liberty. Their line of thought would break down all control over colonial trade. North Americans then would deal with Europeans in the Caribbean; the British West Indies would be ruined. The law prohibited colonists from milling iron. Without such restraint, “they would be able to manufacture iron on cheaper terms than we can; and the meanest mechanic in Birmingham, or Sheffield, must foresee what would be the consequence if the Americans should assume to themselves this article of trade.” Bacon supported the ministry’s intent to treat American colonists with “a little wholesome severity.” At the same time, he said he knew Americans well enough to predict that, though they might be wrong, they would resist.
The East India Company’s tea arrived in American ports in November and December 1773. Word of its approach went before it. Assembling in force, as in the days of the Stamp Act, colonists opposed to the tax persuaded merchants scheduled to receive consignments that the company’s tea was not welcome. After Bostonians dumped 90,000 pounds of it into their harbor, destruction of tea became popular throughout the colonies. Faced with such defiance, King George, still resenting repeal of the Stamp Act, let his ministers know that he expected the government to use force. Frederick North was no sneering George Grenville, at pains to show others their inferiority. Witty, amiable, self-deprecating, North had a “naturally conciliating disposition.” He did personal favors for his political opponents. He conciliated the king by doing as the king wished. North hoped, in Bacon’s words, “to bring back the Americans to their duty,” as North and his followers believed colonists must be brought.
In the spring of 1774 Parliament enacted a set of laws to close the port of Boston, change the government of Massachusetts, revise operations of courts, and allow army officers to quarter soldiers on property owned by civilians. Speaking in the House of Commons on behalf of the port bill, Anthony Bacon predicted that it would not hurt British merchants. “The town of Boston will be very materially hurt by this Act. [We] intend it should be.” As soon as the bill passed, Lord North sent a note to the king with a list of members who had spoken in debate.
British merchants trading between London and America did not resist enactment of the new coercive measures, and they did not join in petitions to Parliament and the king to seek repeal. They had no wish to offend Lord North and the king; nor did they believe that colonists would be “totally enslaved” by North’s policies. And if a violent contest began, they did not intend to fight the government. William Lee, one of the forlorn petitioners against coercive measures, found that tobacco merchants did not expect planters to achieve an effective agreement to withhold tobacco. He warned his brother in Virginia: “instead of doing you any good their whole influence will be against you, unless you force them thro’ interest to take an active part in your favor which can only be done by stoping both exports & imports to G.B.”
After the text of the Boston Port Act reached America, William Hoopes of North Carolina wrote: “Nothing but a total Interruption of trade with G Britain can serve the purposes of the Colonies.” Americans opposed to Parliamentary taxation agreed. The North ministry’s new laws persuaded more colonists that Americans faced, as Virginia’s burgesses said, the threat of “Destruction to our civil Rights, and the Evils of civil War.” These words appeared in a resolution designating June 1, 1774, a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer. Learning of it, Lord Dunmore dissolved the General Assembly. The next day most burgesses signed an Association to prepare for a general congress of all colonies, with a threat “to avoid all commercial intercourse with Britain.” On Tuesday, May 31, burgesses still in Williamsburg called a convention to meet two months later.
Among the delegates to the convention in Williamsburg during the first week of August were George Washington; John Syme; Dr. Thomas Walker and his son, John; the late William Nelson’s eldest son, Thomas; the late Robert Tucker’s son-in-law, Thomas Newton, Jr.; Samuel Gist’s agent, John Tabb; and William Anderson’s brother, Richard. Working quickly, delegates chose Speaker Randolph, George Washington, and five other men to represent Virginia at the general congress, then adopted an Association calling for no imports from Britain after November 1, 1774, and no exports of tobacco or other commodities to Britain after August 10, 1775. They said they viewed tea “with Horrour” and would not even use the tea they had at home. They proclaimed any merchant not signing the Association an outcast whose goods, if imported after the deadline, could be seized and reshipped or stored. They agreed to import no slaves. And they called for a new day in Virginia, an era of “the greatest Industry, the strictest Economy and Frugality, and the Exertion of every publick Virtue.” Two weeks later, back at Mount Vernon, Washington wrote: “I could wish, I own, that the dispute had been left to Posterity to determine, but the Crisis is arrivd when we must assert our Rights, or Submit to every Imposition that can be heap’d upon us; till custom and use, will make us as tame, & abject Slaves, as the Blacks we Rule over with such arbitrary Sway.”
George Washington, Charles Willson Peale. Courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society
In Philadelphia, Washington and the other Virginia delegates stood out at the general congress, grandly called the Continental Congress. Virginia was the largest, most populous colony. Not surprisingly, Speaker Peyton Randolph was elected president. The Continental Association, signed on October 20, owed much to Virginia’s example. The congress approved several declarations and addresses explaining Americans’ rejection of the ministry’s new laws and of Parliament’s broad powers. No one went further than Virginians in asserting Americans’ right to autonomy and self-government. During the summer, public meetings in many courthouse towns had assured delegates to colonial and continental gatherings that they must defy the North ministry’s “fixed Intention” to enslave Americans.
In colonists’ conduct Anthony Bacon saw selfishness and sedition. He assumed that the leaders of the resistance intended “republican usurpation.” He could see why “those who have nothing to lose” would welcome “a general scramble”; but why would “men of property and honour,” such as his partners in the Dismal Swamp Company, join a rush to “inevitable ruin”? Americans had no real grievances. Bacon could only conclude that his partners and others like them were “dupes” misled by the artifices of men who had neither property nor honor.
During debate in the House of Commons on one of the bills to coerce Massachusetts, Lord North replied to American petitioners’ protest that Parliament was violating “the unalienable Right of the Subject.” He said: “I am sorry to hear a charge thrown out, that these proceedings are to deprive persons of their natural right. Let me ask, of what natural right, whether that of smuggling, or of throwing tea overboard? Or of another natural right, which is not paying their debts?” With Lord North, Anthony Bacon deplored “unseasonable speeches, petitions, and remonstrances.” Bacon scorned the colonists’ appeal and proclaimed his support for North’s measures.
The king decided in August that an early election would strengthen the ministry in the House of Commons. A surprise dissolution of Parliament would leave the opposition less time to prepare. And if Americans remained defiant, the spring of 1775 would not be a good time for a general election. So, in October, Anthony Bacon left his office in Copthall Court and his country house overlooking park and forest to travel to Aylesbury, the small, dirty town on a hill.
Aylesbury returned two members. Bacon’s colleague was his sometime business partner, John Durand. A wise candidate gave an open supper at the Bell Inn and entertained lavishly at the time of voting. He also offered most voters the usual gift of money; only about seventy of the four hundred refused it. The rest, a local historian wrote, “cared nothing for Peace, Retrenchment, or Reform; they only required a definite answer to one question—‘How much money have you got?’ ” In the election six years earlier, Bacon had spent £2,500 for his seat. The voters in 1774 expected a bigger gift than the £8 they had each received last time. Speaking of the practice known as “occasional conveyances,” whereby a landlord could temporarily fill his burgage houses with men who would vote as they were paid to vote, Bacon said “that he once knew a Gentleman who lost his Election, though infinitely the more preferable Candidate, because that waggon, which carried the Gentleman’s occasional Voters, did not arrive so soon as the waggon which contained the occasional Voters of his opponent.” Bacon made sure he did not lose.
Preparing for the election, the secretary to the Treasury, Lord North’s main political operative, wrote next to the names of Bacon and Durand: “They say the same again, but Query, A Nabob or two, and being outbid, see them.” The secretary feared that a candidate with riches from the East or West Indies might throw more money into Aylesbury. No one outbid Bacon. His colleague, however, came last of four in the poll. Aylesbury’s cheerfully unprincipled voters elected Bacon, a loyal supporter of Lord North, and John Aubrey, a strong critic of the ministry who opposed taxing or coercing American colonists. After polling ended throughout Britain, Lord North had about the same number of followers in the new House of Commons as during the previous Parliament.
The prospect of no exports from North America frightened Francis Farley and other Antiguans. On the recommendation of the Board of Trade, the king had appointed Farley to the colonial Council in December 1773. The welfare of Antigua concerned him officially as well as privately. If the island got no food, staves, and shingles from the mainland, ruin must follow. Planters agreed to devote one-third of their land to gardens of corn, yams, and potatoes if the American trade stopped. But such relief would come late or, if the rains failed, never. A curse seemed to have fallen on the island. The hurricane’s damage still scarred it. Drought returned. Some planters emigrated to the fresh soil of the islands acquired from France. A war might be the last stroke. Antigua had 4,000 white people and more than ten times as many black people. In a famine Farley expected the slaves to rebel. He said: “we shall stand a bad chance.”
Francis Farley comforted himself by getting married to a much younger woman, Elizabeth Thomas, niece of a former governor of the Leeward Islands. She owned a plantation overlooking Willoughby Bay on the southern coast of Antigua. While ill in 1770, she had trouble with overseers. Farley calmed her ruffled temper and helped manage her property. After they were married in June 1774, he found her prudent, obliging, and affectionate. She was soon pregnant.
Samuel Martin expected news of these events to alarm Eleanor Laforey. She had given Farley his only grandson. Would much or all of her father’s property go to children of a second marriage? She and her husband had returned to England, but Captain Laforey had held only one command since the end of the war, and his stay in the frigate Pallas was brief. Political conflict ran through the navy; he allied with Vice Admiral Augustus Keppel, the favorite of the opposition to Lord North’s ministry. Captain Laforey, though an excellent officer, also was “much given to talking & writing,” the first lord of the Admiralty later noted with disapproval. Eleanor Laforey could draw reassurance, Samuel Martin thought, from the news early in 1775 that her father’s new wife had suffered a miscarriage.
In the first six years of Elizabeth Byrd and James Parke Farley’s marriage she gave birth to four daughters, Francis Farley’s other grandchildren. At Maycox, James repeated on a smaller scale some of the mistakes of his father-in-law at Westover. He entered his mare in subscription purse racing, but she was beaten with ease. He handled William Byrd’s interest in the enduring but dubious Chiswell lead mine, which still owed money to Speaker Robinson’s estate. Francis Farley feared that his son was running up gambling debts, but James was running up many kinds of debt. He owed thousands of pounds to Dinwiddie, Crawford & Company of Glasgow; he apparently borrowed money from William Byrd. James Parke Farley’s creditors went unpaid, and his obligations swelled to a sum greater than the worth of his assets.
William Byrd could not afford the generosity for which he was often praised. His debts in Britain remained large, though he at last sold his estate there for £20,000 and reduced them. He still sought “an advance” from merchants. The agent of Farell & Jones promised the Bristol office: “I shall be moderate with him.” Byrd owed more than £2,000 to Patrick Coutts, a merchant in Richmond, owner of the 250-ton ship Westover. To help him, Byrd, working through his London merchants, tried to persuade Samuel Gist to fill Coutts’s order for merchandise. Gist said that “Mr. Couts might be a good man but he had not been altogether punctual to his promises.” Even so, Captain John Stevens, master of the Westover, predicted that Gist would fill the order. Byrd’s merchants declined to do so. After the Westover reached Virginia in October 1774, Coutts offered her for sale or lease. Her new owner was Samuel Gist.
Francis Farley worried about the security of his holdings in North Carolina and Virginia should violence break out between colonists and the government. He thought the ministry could not conquer America, but most of his anger settled on the “vile People, at Boston, that … were the Author of all this mischief.” Thomas Hutchinson and his like had misled the ministry, while Samuel Adams and his like had “inflamed and misled the common People.” Among the results he foresaw were starving slaves in Antigua and the ruin of Francis Farley.
James Parke Farley would take no part in opposing the government unless forced to do so, his father wrote. Both of Francis Farley’s other representatives in Virginia, William Byrd and Robert Munford the playwright, deplored the prospect of a civil war. Francis Farley advised his son to leave Maycox, move his family to the Land of Eden, and “remain there quietly” to “avoid the troubles.”
Francis Farley held half of the tract in North Carolina for his niece, Elizabeth, and his nephew, John Simon Farley, an officer in the British Army. Believing that his late brother’s share of 25,800 acres was worth more than £3,000, Francis warned the improvident Jack not to lose it. Jack’s misery would be complete when he and his “poor family” were “obliged to sell their share of the land of Eden.” Since Francis had not conveyed a title to his niece and nephew after their father’s death, Jack could not sell what he did not hold. Nevertheless, any threat to this possession distressed Francis. Moving his son there promised the best hope of security for both his son and his title to the land.
Francis Farley had sent more than thirty slaves from Antigua to North Carolina; another forty were on the Maycox plantation. With those working for the Dismal Swamp Company and elsewhere, he had about one hundred slaves in the two colonies. James Parke Farley would have enough laborers for the land the elder William Byrd had thought so rich. For the first time, it ought to yield a profit. While Francis Farley enjoyed the early months of his second marriage, James Parke Farley, Elizabeth Byrd Farley, and their two small daughters moved to the Land of Eden.
The plantation at Maycox was sold to Francis Farley’s partner in the Dismal Swamp Company, David Meade, who had just turned thirty. Thirteen years had passed since his return from England to Nansemond County. He still did not enjoy living near the Dismal Swamp, selling lumber to troublesome buyers. His wife, Sarah, who was pregnant, and his mother were ready to join him in going up the James to Prince George County. He bought 600 acres at Maycox and sold his 4,000 acres in Nansemond County to his brother, Andrew. Late in the summer of 1774, the Farleys left Maycox, and the Meades moved in.
The soil at Maycox was poor, but David Meade had little interest in agriculture. He loved “domestic tranquility,” and, visitors noticed, “he rarely attends to business.” He devoted himself to making the interior of his handsome brick house “extremely well fitted up” and to his chief enthusiasm, a pleasure garden. His slaves worked not on crops but on fulfilling his design for the landscape. Across 12 acres of rolling mounds on the south bank of the James he laid out terraces rising from the water, mirroring those in sight at Westover, and, behind them, artfully juxtaposed trees and plants framing a series of vistas of the river. He especially sought a smooth turf. Viewing the house, the gardens, the river, and Westover in the distance, visitors said: “charming,” “enchanting.” Meade kept all in “complete order.” He apparently modeled his effects on English gardens he had seen, striving for woods and vales and turnings and changing perspectives, gratifying the eye with the picturesque. Had he set out to surround himself with scenes bearing no likeness to the Dismal Swamp, he could hardly have done better.
Elizabeth Farley did not share her grandfather Byrd’s enthusiasm as she looked out over the broad meadow on the south bank of the Dan River and the valley where the Irvin met the Dan. Rows of tobacco plants covered part of it. On a high, dry knoll above the valley, a setting she conceded was “pretty,” a house was taking shape. Her husband grandly called it “Belview.” While he hunted deer, she wrote to her father: “Mr. Farley talks of making improvements, which I cant say gives me any satisfaction as it seems to convince me he always intends living here.” She apparently did share her grandfather Byrd’s view of North Carolinians. Receiving letters from Virginia and writing replies were, she said, “the two greatest pleasures this part of the world can afford me.” A wagon arriving from Westover without letters from her father and friends made her feel worse.
Elizabeth called James Parke Farley her “Friend & Husband.” If he stayed at the Land of Eden, so would she. But aside from the presence of her husband and daughters—she was pregnant with her third—she found it a lonely life. James spent much of his time, first, driving squatters off the land “after some difficulty,” then dividing many of the 25,800 acres into farms and plantations for tenants. He kept old William Byrd’s favorite tract, Saura Town, for himself, placing upon it not only tobacco but also cattle, sheep, and swine. His new purchases included pewter spoons, spirits of turpentine, nails for tobacco hogsheads, and sheep shears. True, he also bought rich brocade, silk garters, and chocolate. A few luxuries did not turn Elizabeth’s mind from the difference between life at Westover, which a European guest called “worthy of Paris,” and living near her neighbor by the ford of the Dan, “a plain back wood’s planter, with a large family … a hospitable, but uncultivated mind, and rude manners.” For her husband’s welfare and for the security of Francis Farley’s property she remained at Belview, watching the eastward road along the Dan and the northward road to Petersburg, hoping to see a wagon or a horseman carrying letters.
With Francis Farley, Samuel Gist took alarm at the “Unhappy differences” between American colonists ready to defy the British government and a ministry determined to force them to submit. Associations, closing of ports—no doubt fighting would come next—threw business out “of its usual Channel.” Gist meant to get as much tobacco as possible from Virginia to London as fast as he could. To his vessels the Planter and the Elizabeth he added the Mary and the Westover. He kept all four busy.
As the Planter, with her cargo of indentured servants and manufactured goods, dropped down the Thames with the tide in the first week of February 1774, the Elizabeth was already at sea. She arrived in the James River in the first week of March, under the command of Captain Alexander Leitch. In her were European goods for Phripp, Taylor & Company of Norfolk and “a steddy young lad” from Bristol, Samuel Sellick. Phripp, Taylor & Company had asked Gist to find an apprentice to work in their store. He sent them his kinsman, Sellick, with the usual indentures. Captain Leitch apparently had orders from Gist to return to London quickly. The Elizabeth moored in the Thames six months and ten days after she began her voyage to Virginia.
While the Elizabeth rode at anchor in the James and the Planter remained in the Rappahannock, Gist and his colleagues at Lloyd’s moved into their new rooms in the Royal Exchange. For two years a committee of underwriters had tried to find accommodations better than the cramped quarters in Pope’s Head Alley. After the British Herring Fishery Society moved out of the Exchange, vacating two large, lofty upstairs rooms looking out on the Bank of England and Threadneedle Street, John Julius Angerstein, acting for the committee, leased them for twenty-one years. On the first weekend in March, underwriters, brokers, ship captains, admiralty attorneys, merchants, waiters, messenger boys, and newspaper readers moved themselves, their papers, and their tea, coffee, and snacks across Cornhill and into the rooms above the East Country Walk on ’Change.
In the inner room, about 1,000 square feet under a 20-foot ceiling, each underwriter claimed his corner of a table in a four-man booth, where he sat every afternoon, awaiting policies. In the past five years the number of subscribers had more than doubled. On a bookstand in the wide passageway between the public room and the subscribers’ room lay a folio volume bound in green vellum. In it clerks wrote reports of arrival or loss of vessels in all seas. Old Thomas Fielding and young Thomas Tayler, masters of Lloyd’s, oversaw the waiters, the serving of food and drink, and admittance to the rooms. At the height of business, between three and five o’clock, the rooms were almost always full, and the busy crowd, many smoking, kept up Lloyd’s reputation for “pestiferous Air,” “much worse” than the smoke hanging over London.
Moving to the Royal Exchange, underwriters acquired new neighbors. One was an organization they helped by large contributions. The Marine Society, which was eighteen years old but newly chartered in 1772, prided itself on rescuing boys who were “vagabonds,” “distressed orphans,” or “untoward servants,” and turning them into seamen. The kingdom held too many boys “hardened in iniquity,” “too volatile” and “too bold.” Founders of the Marine Society said: “The more abandoned the common people become, the more attention should be shewn to salutary police,” by which they meant good policy. In the three years before the society won its charter it had indentured more than 1,100 boys to merchant vessels and the Royal Navy. Since its beginning it had sent almost 12,000 to sea, “chiefly of the overflowing of these vast cities.” Beyond the joint contribution of the men at Lloyd’s, underwriters served as governors and members of the committee of the Marine Society. Anthony Bacon was a committeeman and a governor. The society received contributions from Lord Clive, conqueror of large parts of India, from the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa, and from many other merchants. Thus it continued its effort to rescue the indigent and redeem the vicious, teaching “the rising generation to defend their Country, and promote her Commerce” by going to sea.
In Lloyd’s new rooms a conspicuous sign in large gilt letters stated a unanimous resolution of the subscribers: “as the common Method of insuring Lives upon Speculation, and without any particular Interest, was contrary to the Laws of Humanity, and subversive of the Rules of Society, such Practices should be ever held in the utmost Abhorrence by the subscribers.” The sign was not effective. In October an underwriter sitting not far from it subscribed a line of £200 on a policy insuring the life of Frederick the Great for one year, charging a premium of £16. Such scenes happened often, though business at Lloyd’s overwhelmingly dealt with marine insurance. Compiling A Complete Digest of the Theory, Laws, and Practice of Insurance a few years later, John Weskett found Lloyd’s messy. The air was bad; frequent “mutually hurtful Altercations” broke out. Tradesmen, shopkeepers, all sorts of inexperienced and credulous people wandered in from the street to get rich as underwriters, only to be duped out of their money. Underwriters otherwise reputable wrote “GAMING POLICIES.” If Weskett had posted a sign in the public room of Lloyd’s, he said, it would have warned of “the great and constant Danger of DECEPTION.” Brokers and merchants obtaining policies often used “Insinuation, Plausibility, and artful Diversification” in describing their vessels and voyages to underwriters. Some underwriters drafted “loose, hasty” policies, while others wrote in a “crafty Manner.” Weskett was appalled to find almost every day “no less than 4 or 5 Attornies at LLOYD’S Coffee-House! What a Degradation”—merchants and underwriters ought not to sue one another so often.
The disorder and duplicity came with the openness to all and the volatile scale of transactions making Lloyd’s the leading insurer of risks at sea. A merchant underwriter later explained: “the facility given at Lloyd’s Coffeehouse, in effecting Insurances on risks of an inferior description, brings to it the Insurances of a better description.” A broker said: “As long as I can find good names and facility in the Room I think it is more pleasing to all parties to stay there.” By four o’clock, noise in the rooms rose to a busy hum of many voices. A person unable to overhear a conversation still could watch the “calculating features” of the brokers and underwriters as they agreed on policies. Samuel Gist, about to turn fifty, was one of the underwriters known as “the old standards,” men who “always remain in their places, and whenever they can get their Premium they will write.” He prospered.
Captain Leitch moored Gist’s ship Elizabeth in the Thames during the last week of June. Gist was irritated that John Mayo had shipped him 128 barrels of flour. He wrote: “had you Ship’d Tobacco this Year it would have answered very well for you.” He discharged the Elizabeth’s cargo and loaded her with goods in less than four weeks. As the volume of his tobacco and other freight in London grew, Gist concluded that carmen working at waterside charged too much: 1s. 2d., for carting a half-ton hogshead a half mile up Tower Hill to a warehouse. Most carts held three hogsheads. Gist thought that one shilling per hogshead was “ample and sufficient.” He and a few other merchants persuaded the Corporation of London to reduce the rate. In the Elizabeth, Gist sent more indentured servants: shoemakers, tailors, rope-makers, curriers, a housemaid, and a schoolmaster. Returning to Virginia, the Elizabeth bore Gist’s orders to Mayo: “I hope it will suit you to give Capt. Leitch good assistance this voyage & as he will be late in the Season I should not like to have him detain’d.” The pilot went ashore at Deal on August 2, and Leitch sailed for Virginia. In September, the Elizabeth, bound for the James River, and the Planter, bound for London, were both at sea.
The servants on board the Elizabeth made an easier crossing than those who went to Virginia in the Planter. The Elizabeth dropped anchor in Hampton Roads seven weeks after she sailed out of the Downs. Captain Leitch was in a hurry to sell the servants’ indentures and obtain tobacco. Four weeks after he reached Virginia, he got married. Two weeks later, before he had unloaded his ship, he was dead.
Acting for Gist in Petersburg, John Tabb chose a new master for the Elizabeth, James Barron, brother of the captain of Tabb’s ship Nancy. Barron was a thirty-four-year-old Virginian who had gone to sea as a boy; he had commanded ships for more than ten years. From December until mid-February he and Gist’s representatives tried to get tobacco. Virginians had made this more difficult by closing their courts as part of their defiance of Britain. The planters had grown “so saucy now they’ll have their price or not pay their debts since they can’t be compelled to do it.” Even so, he managed to load the Elizabeth with 494 hogsheads and to sell all the servants’ indentures. The rest of her hold he filled with barrel staves. He was cleared out of port for London on February 15, 1775. He did not yet know that Gist, having just dispatched his new ship Mary to Virginia, wished Barron and the Elizabeth to return to Chesapeake Bay for one more cargo before exportation stopped on August 10.
High on the wall at the end of Lloyd’s public room were two large dials. One was a clock; the other showed the direction from which the wind blew. Day after day in February the needle of the latter stood somewhere between southwest and south-southwest as a storm swept over the Channel and southern England, followed by weeks of hard wind. Even if newspapers had not told him, Gist would have known from the vane that the Mary, with many other vessels, remained in the Downs. Twice Captain James Miller set sail and, with the Mary close-hauled, tried beating into the Strait of Dover. Both times he and vessels with him put back into the Downs. The Mary did not sail for Virginia until four weeks after her departure from London. Gist could do nothing about the hogsheads she would miss. His only consolation was that eight or ten other vessels, owned by men with the same thought of a profitable voyage to Virginia, could not sail.
Captain Barron moored the Elizabeth in the Thames at the end of March. He learned that in a few weeks Gist was dispatching him to Virginia with unusual orders to John Tabb. For ten years Gist had warned his representatives not to buy tobacco for cash, except as a last resort. Now, as a result of Americans’ nonimportation Association, he could not ship goods. He told Tabb to buy as much tobacco as possible. Gist also used another 300-ton ship, the Liberty, belonging to Thomas Bennett, one of the governors of the Marine Society. Under the command of Captain William Outram, who had orders to return with tobacco, she had sailed from the Downs in ballast two weeks before Barron and the Elizabeth arrived. Captain John Stevens with the Westover also could bring a cargo from Virginia. All these captains—Miller, Barron, Outram, Stevens—must make haste. Soldiers were boarding troop transports bound for America. The navy was stationing more men-of-war in American waters. Anthony Bacon had contracts to furnish coal and provisions to the army in North America. Gist wrote: “if these Unnatural differences were once propperly settled I should hope Tobacco would again fetch a very good Price.” If they were not settled, tobacco would bring an even higher price. No Virginian need hesitate to sell tobacco to Gist. He explained that he obeyed the nonimportation Association which took effect on November 1, 1774. His vessels arriving in Virginia after that date did not bring British merchandise. He complied so strictly, he said, that he had not even sent clothes and boots for the slaves on his Virginia plantations. He wished only to collect debts and buy tobacco. In the last week of April 1775, Captain Barron and the Elizabeth sailed for Virginia.
Late in 1774, Dr. Thomas Walker’s son-in-law, Joseph Hornsby, hoped to do as Samuel Gist had done nine years earlier: move back to England. In the past five years Joseph and his wife, Mildred, had made Dr. Walker a grandfather of two girls, Hannah and Mildred. Joseph planned to take Dr. Walker’s daughter and granddaughters far from Castle Hill and Williamsburg. Joseph’s brother, William, already was in England.
Joseph Hornsby prospered. His uncle had died in May 1772, leaving the bulk of a “large Fortune” to him. He inherited houses, lots, and a well-stocked store in Williamsburg, with slaves and livestock. He had become a justice of the peace and a vestryman of Bruton Parish. He was thirty-four years old. For two years he had worked to collect debts owed to his uncle’s estate. William Byrd owed him more than £4,000; Speaker Robinson’s estate still owed more than £850. But Byrd and many other debtors remained unmoved by requests or by threats “to commence Suits without Respect to Persons.” The European goods in Hornsby’s store at the time he announced his imminent departure were worth, he said, £1,200 sterling. He offered to sell them and his land in the country “very cheap,” expecting to leave in the middle of February 1775.
Joseph Hornsby did not go to England. Nor did he sell his store or his plantation. In the spring his brother returned from London. On June 17, Dr. Walker gave Joseph one-half of a share in the Dismal Swamp Company.
• • •
Lord Dunmore was “a jolly, hearty companion, hospitable & polite at his own table.” But after spending a few days with him a young British officer concluded that, as a governor, Dunmore was “the most unfit, the most trifling and the most uncalculated person living.” Dunmore thought about himself so much that he often failed to notice what others were doing. In 1774 he looked forward to a long, lucrative stay in Virginia.
From the start he showed no interest in enforcing the Crown’s proclamation against settlement in the west. He sought friends among Dr. Walker’s friends: William Preston, William Christian, George Washington, men who owned tens of thousands of acres beyond the mountains and coveted more. Dunmore shared their alarm at the prospect of a large grant to the Pennsylvanians and Londoners led by Samuel Wharton and Thomas Walpole, trying to found a new colony, Vandalia, between the mountains and the Ohio River. Early in the spring he transmitted to the Earl of Dartmouth a remonstrance against creating Vandalia, signed by more than 150 residents of the west. Dunmore was eager to make grants, which brought him fees, and he did not wish land to be removed from his jurisdiction.
Dunmore encouraged settlers near the forks of the Ohio River to assert Virginia’s claim to the region. They defied Pennsylvania, re-establishing a fort from which the army had withdrawn and calling it Fort Dunmore. In the spring, with the governor’s approval, William Preston’s surveyors worked on both sides of the Kentucky River. They went down the Ohio more than 50 miles beyond the mouth of the Kentucky. At the same time, William Byrd, Patrick Henry, William Christian, and others collaborated in a plan to buy land from the Cherokees along the Clinch, Holston, and Powell rivers, west of the latest Cherokee line, drawn in 1771. In Philadelphia, Henry told a backer of Vandalia: “Ld Dunmore is your greatest friend, what he is doing will forever hereafter, secure the peace of your colony, by driving the Indians to an amazing distance from you.”
During the summer and early autumn Dunmore waged war on Shawnees in the Ohio Valley. Murders of Indians by western whites had provoked reprisals. George Washington warned of “a confederacy of the Western, & Southern Indians,” saying: “a general war is inevitable.” Others, however, believed that “the Indians have been the most barbarously treated, & that his Lordship ought to have had justice done them for some late murders committed upon them under a cloak of friendship.” Though some Shawnees tried to form an alliance among tribes, Cherokees, Ohio Valley Iroquois, and most Shawnees, as well as others, wanted peace. Dunmore and his men in the west sought war to drive the Shawnees north of the Ohio and to assert their own claims and Virginia’s right to the western lands. As Dunmore left Williamsburg to lead this campaign, the Earl of Dartmouth, in his office in Whitehall, was writing to him: “while these Compacts with the Indians remain in full force and The King’s Sacred Word stands pledged for the observance of them, every attempt on the part of the King’s Subjects to acquire title to and take possession of Lands beyond the Line fixed by His Majesty’s authority & every encouragement given to such an attempt, can be considered in no other light than that of a gross Indignity and Dishonour to the Crown, and of an Act of equal Inhumanity and Injustice to the Indians.” After the governor reached Fort Dunmore and tried to awe emissaries from the Delawares, the Wyandots, and the Iroquois, a Delaware man, seeing him, asked: “What old litle man is that yonder playing like a boy?”
Dunmore’s October campaign was brief; his western volunteers suffered few casualties. They behaved, he conceded, with “Shocking inhumanity,” and they “impressed an Idea of the power of the White People, upon the minds of the Indians.” Shawnee leaders got peace—most had been trying to keep peace all year—by agreeing to withdraw from the region south of the Ohio. Returning to Williamsburg, Dunmore found the Earl of Dartmouth’s reprimand awaiting him. He was pained. He wrote a report of his campaign, assuring Dartmouth that he had not “acted only in conjunction with a parcel of Land Jobbers.” His real motive, he said, was “Duty to His Majesty, and Zeal for his Service and interest.”
Richard Henderson of North Carolina and his associates threatened Virginians’ designs on the west from another flank with a scheme to buy 20,000,000 acres from the Cherokees—all the land west of the Kentucky River, south of the Ohio River, and north of the Cumberland River, with a broad stretch of land south of the Cumberland. They called it Transylvania. Its eastern boundary was the western boundary of the land Wharton and Walpole called Vandalia. Henderson invited Patrick Henry to become a partner in Transylvania, but Virginia speculators said that Vandalia and most of Transylvania had always been Virginia and must remain so. Dunmore had his eye not only on land North Carolinians were trying to acquire but also on rich tracts along the Mississippi River. He issued a proclamation calling Henderson’s purchase a “Pretence,” ordering that anyone acting on it be “immediately fined and imprisoned.” Henderson ignored him.
Dunmore’s letter to the Earl of Dartmouth justifying his campaign against the Shawnees also condemned Virginians. He said that royal government had broken down in the colony. Local officials enforced resistance, not loyalty. He recommended that the Royal Navy blockade Chesapeake Bay. Earlier in December, Virginians learned that the ministry had ordered an end to private shipments of arms and ammunition to the colonies. Throughout America people already had begun to arm themselves. Newspapers published instructions for producing ingredients of gunpowder at home. In Fredericksburg, George Washington’s brother-in-law and partner, Fielding Lewis, commanded the Spotsylvania County militia. He was unanimously elected chairman of the Spotsylvania County Committee in December. With some of his colleagues, he visited his fellow merchants to make sure of their compliance with the nonimportation Association and he led a committee for purchasing gunpowder, lead, and gun flints. He owned an 80-ton vessel, the Fanny, and a 90-ton vessel, the Fredericksburg; many such vessels sailed from the mainland colonies to the West Indies for munitions.
A few weeks after he became chairman, Lewis wrote to Anthony Bacon, manufacturer of artillery for the British government, acknowledging that he owed a large sum. Bacon put it at £2,448 7s. Lewis promised to pay, though his debts, he said, exceeded £5,000. As a beginning, he would ship flour. Upon receiving this letter, Bacon gave power of attorney to a man about to leave London for Virginia, authorizing him to collect from Lewis.
One source of these large debts was Lewis’s new house. He was fifty years old, and his wife was forty-one. The youngest of their many children was three. They left the house on Princess Anne Street, overlooking the Rappahannock River near his brick warehouse, and moved to a hilltop plantation east of town, called Millbrook. There he had built an imposing two-story brick house with four chimneys. Spare and almost unadorned on the outside, it was rich and ornate within. Its drawing room, looking out on Fredericksburg through recessed windows, stood comparison with rooms at Westover or Rosewell: a rectangle covering 500 square feet, with ceiling and mantelpiece displaying the best stucco-duro decorative plasterwork in Virginia, more of which appeared elsewhere in the house. The painter and plasterer were still at work in the spring of 1775, so the Lewises had not yet moved their mahogany bedstead and table or their Windsor chairs into their new home.
On the second day of spring, three months after Fielding Lewis had begun collecting munitions, the Virginia Convention in Richmond resolved that the colony should be “immediately put into a posture of Defence.” The delegates appointed a committee to arm and train a sufficient number of men. Four weeks later, Lord Dunmore, obeying instructions from the Earl of Dartmouth, removed gunpowder from the colonial government’s magazine in Williamsburg and put it on board a Royal Navy vessel in the James River. When news of this reached Fredericksburg, Lewis wrote to George Washington: “it seems we must submitt or dispute the matter Sword in hand, every person I think that has any regard for Liberty must prefer the latter.” Lewis expected Washington to help him get more gunpowder for Fredericksburg when Washington went to Philadelphia to attend the meeting of the Continental Congress. In many parts of Virginia word of Dunmore’s action led people to assemble and talk of marching on Williamsburg.
A week after Dunmore seized the gunpowder, an express rider passed through Fredericksburg from the north with news that fighting had begun after British soldiers marched out of Boston to confiscate arms and ammunition. The next day, Saturday, April 29, about six hundred armed men gathered in Fredericksburg, ready to go to Williamsburg and force Dunmore to surrender the gunpowder. Speaker Randolph wished to forestall violence. His message from Williamsburg reached Fredericksburg on Saturday and persuaded the armed men to go home and wait. Other militiamen were marching around in other parts of Virginia. Lord Dunmore threatened to arm slaves and wreak devastation.
During the first week of June the General Assembly remained in session. Virginians’ military display appeared among the burgesses and in the capitol. Men wearing fringed hunting shirts, the uniform of liberty, passed the marble statue of the ever graceful Lord Botetourt. The burgesses said they often had heard Botetourt declare “that the business of a Governor of Virginia was much easier than he could have conceived, as he found that the government almost executed itself.” Dunmore, Dartmouth, Lord North, and the king had not learned that happy lesson.
For a week the burgesses, Dunmore, and people in the streets of Williamsburg vied for control of the powder magazine. John Pinkney, setting type for Thursday’s edition of his Virginia Gazette, due to appear on June 8, added a newly acquired excerpt from the letter Dunmore had written to Dartmouth the past December—the passage in which Dunmore called for a naval blockade. At two o’clock Thursday morning Dunmore left the governor’s palace with his family and his aide. They went on board a Royal Navy schooner, then transferred to HMS Fowey in the York River. Six days later, in Philadelphia, Congress voted to begin raising a Continental Army. The next day delegates unanimously chose George Washington as its commander in chief. A report to the British on Virginians who might remain loyal to the Crown said of Fielding Lewis: “has abilities & Influence, but I suppose will follow the Fortunes of his Brother in law.”
As Washington headed for the outskirts of Boston, his partners in the Dismal Swamp Company took advantage of the gathering in Williamsburg to hold a meeting. After ten years, the company had Dismal Plantation, a drainage ditch to Lake Drummond, and about fifty slaves. Forty of these were “good working hands,” able to grow corn, tend livestock, cut shingles, and dig ditches. The plantation held about thirty head of cattle, fed by grazing in the swamp. Its stock of sheep and hogs was “not worth mentioning.” John Washington, resident overseer, made the best of the company’s failure to drain large stretches of the swamp. The slaves grew rice—seven tons, “equal in Quality to that of South Carolina.” Unable to find a buyer in Virginia, Washington shipped fifty-five casks to Antigua, where people were building reserves of rice and beans.
At the meeting, Dr. Walker conveyed half of his share to Joseph Hornsby. As the number of owners of half-shares and quarter-shares grew, voting became cumbersome, with each full share casting one vote. The members thereupon changed all shares to quarter-shares, with each quarter-share casting one vote. An owner of an original full share, such as George Washington, Fielding Lewis, Francis Farley, or Secretary Nelson, would now cast four votes. Dr. Walker and his son-in-law each cast two votes. And David Jameson cast one vote for himself and three for Samuel Gist. Any member was free to sell some or all of his quarter-shares. John Washington, having lived on the outskirts of the Dismal Swamp for almost ten years, responded to Britain’s attack on American liberty by entering the Virginia forces at the age of thirty-five. He “left the affairs of the Compa[ny] in a good deal of confusion.” The partners employed Henry Riddick, whose land adjoined Dismal Plantation, to superintend its affairs in the swamp. Thomas Walker and David Jameson had the partners’ appointment to act as “Trustees,” conducting the company’s business. Since the partners who met in Williamsburg were surrounded by people predicting an imminent invasion by the Royal Navy and Army, they adjourned without making new plans for improving the Dismal Swamp.
Taking the Elizabeth down the Thames on a clear, hot day, the last Friday in April, Captain James Barron conveyed letters and recent newspapers. His latest issue was dated Thursday, April 27, 1775. Articles and correspondence borne by vessels sailing since the first week of January dealt with a series of meetings held by London merchants trading with North America. Some opposed the ministry’s policy; others thought first about debts of colonists, who would be even less likely to pay if war began. They proposed to petition Parliament. But Lord North also had supporters, who promised, through the Earl of Dartmouth, to make sure that merchants met “not with any View to disturb the operations of His Majesty’s Ministers but to take the head from a factious party.” Two of the ministry’s friends were Anthony Bacon and Samuel Gist.
At the first meeting, on January 4, 1775, Bacon suggested that they do nothing while the king and Parliament considered a petition from the Continental Congress. Bacon’s proposal was obviously “a Ministerial manoeuvre” and was rejected. But the committee appointed to draft a petition was also a ministerial maneuver, loaded with supporters of coercion, such as Gist and four colleagues from Lloyd’s: Frederick Pigou, Jr., William Neate, William Greenwood, and John Nutt.
Gist did not attend many of the committee’s evening meetings, but when he took part, he showed “the most rancorous malignity agt. America & the people there, that you can possibly conceive.” He opposed putting any words into the petition suggesting that merchants thought America oppressed or injured. He “always endeavor’d to get the most servile ideas introduced to flatter administration & implore their gracious protection.” Lord North’s merchant friends were Americans’ “inveterate enemies,” William Lee warned, “none more so than Mr. Saml. Gist.” In its final form the petition described possible damage to Britain’s trade and asked the House of Commons to give “most serious Consideration” to this subject and apply “healing Remedies.” The House voted to refer the petition to what Edmund Burke called a “committee of oblivion.”
Before the Elizabeth sailed, Gist wrote instructions to William Anderson. Reconciliation had not turned out the way Anderson expected. Instead of inviting his daughter and son-in-law to London to live in comfort, Gist had summoned a kinsman of his late stepsons, Thomas Smith, who had served as Gist’s “collector.” Gist treated his son-in-law as his resident representative for his Virginia holdings. In April 1775 he instructed Anderson to purchase a tract of about 550 acres adjoining his land in Hanover County. Anderson paid £1,600 of his own money for it. Gist also expected Anderson to find cargoes of tobacco for the Mary, the Liberty, and the Elizabeth.
Captain James Miller anchored the Mary in the York River just as residents of York Town learned of fighting outside Boston. The Elizabeth was leaving London. A week later, Captain William Outram anchored the Liberty in the York. On the same day, the Virginia Gazette published an anonymous letter informing the public that John Wilkinson, part owner of the Mary, had leased two of his ships to the British government to transport troops to Boston. The man who had sent the Mary—everyone knew he was Samuel Gist—“must have known of Mr. Wilkinson’s crime.” Gist had made himself “an accessory to the guilt,” and the Mary ought to be sent back to London in ballast.
Captain Miller, in danger of facing Gist with no tobacco, put a rebuttal in the Gazette. He said that Gist was “innocent.” Wilkinson owned a small share of the Mary; Gist was principal owner and sole manager. Gist recently had “proved himself a zealous friend to American liberty” by serving on a merchants’ committee to petition the House of Commons. Captain Miller assured his readers that Gist would do whatever “will conduce the most to promote the glorious cause in which they are embarked.” Gist’s ship was allowed to remain in the York, but William Anderson found in June that “he cannot get the Mary loaded.” He asked John Tabb to send hogsheads from Petersburg which Tabb had been saving for the Elizabeth.
Captain Barron and the Elizabeth made a swift passage. Less than four weeks after sailing from the Downs, she was about 330 miles north of Bermuda. There Captain Barron hailed a schooner. Her master told him that she was out of Marblehead, Massachusetts, and he had news. A battle had been fought between British regulars and the provincial militia, with small loss to the Americans. It had been bloody for the regulars. The Elizabeth resumed her voyage westward.
As the Elizabeth approached Cape Charles and Cape Henry, the House of Burgesses convened in Williamsburg. Lord Dunmore and the burgesses began their squabble. After Dunmore fled to HMS Fowey in the York, near the Mary and the Liberty, the burgesses voted to reject the North ministry’s latest overture. It was a measure of coercion poorly disguised as conciliation, offering to forgo parliamentary taxation if the colonies agreed to pay the cost of the Crown’s government and army in America. The House referred the offer to the Continental Congress. Virginians believed that Lord Dunmore had summoned a naval force which would arrive soon. Rumors spread, describing a plot among slaves in Norfolk, who had gathered gunpowder and “implements of war,” planning “to rise and murder the white people in the night.”
The Elizabeth arrived in the James River on June 14 after a voyage of forty-seven days. Fewer than ninety days remained before the ban on exportation would take effect. William Anderson and John Tabb hurried to find a cargo. The burgesses met to adjourn. Young men broke into the governor’s palace to seize a large stock of muskets and pistols. Lady Dunmore and her children sailed for England in a Royal Navy schooner. The Liberty sailed for London, soon followed by the Mary. The Elizabeth was Samuel Gist’s last hope for making the most of the coming shortage of tobacco.
Gist grew more eager. He wrote to Tabb: “for any Purchass you make on my acct I will pay your Bills no matter how soon they are drawn, how Large the Sum, or how low the Ex[chang]e.” Tobacco filled warehouses on Tower Hill. Before the year ended, London merchants had imported almost 44,000 hogsheads—more than 44,000,000 pounds. Gist’s colleagues at Lloyd’s, James Dunlop and John Wilson, as well as eight other firms, brought in more than he did. Still, he was the tenth-largest importer in the City, with 1,434 hogsheads. Between the January meeting of the merchants and Christmas he acquired almost 1,500,000 pounds of tobacco. For the Elizabeth’s voyage in the summer he doubled the usual value of each hogshead as he insured them at Lloyd’s. Sir Robert Herries, a buying agent for the Farmers-General of France, was speculating in tobacco privately, too. Learning that the French might drop him, he had to buy a great deal of tobacco on short notice at a higher price. Gist sold him some, but Gist intended to leave hogsheads brought by the Elizabeth in his warehouse, waiting for prices to rise still higher.
John Tabb and William Anderson had difficulty getting tobacco for the Elizabeth. As Gist had foreseen, the exchange rate was low: £100 sterling bought only £115 in Virginia currency, and tobacco prices were rising. Knowing they could not fill the hold with hogsheads, they also bought barrel staves, deerskins, and ginseng. During those weeks militia companies camped outside Williamsburg. Some men moved into the capitol and the governor’s palace. When HMS Mercury stood up the York River in the second week of July, militiamen paraded along the bank in case she was the van of an invading fleet. A convention met in Richmond to create a new government for Virginia, assuming sovereign powers, establishing an armed force, regulating trade, and printing money. It authorized construction of a factory to make small arms in Fredericksburg, under the superintendence of Fielding Lewis and Charles Dick.
By Monday, August 14, Tabb and Anderson had loaded the Elizabeth with 463 hogsheads of tobacco and 13,000 staves. She was ready to sail, weeks before the deadline. The James River Naval Office cleared her out of port, and she dropped downriver. After she passed the capes, before she stood out to sea, it was time for the pilot to leave her. Captain James Barron announced that he was going, too—leaving the Elizabeth and quitting the employ of Samuel Gist. Virginia would need a navy as well as an army for Americans’ fight against the British government, a force to capture or sink vessels of the Royal Navy and of British merchants. Barron chose to serve Virginia. He turned the Elizabeth over to the first mate and departed. The mate and the twelve seamen he now commanded sailed for London with the last of Gist’s tobacco.
After the Elizabeth rode safely at her mooring in the Thames and the hogsheads had been carted to a warehouse, Gist wrote to Barron. He said that Barron had been a good captain in every way—except in joining the rebel cause. Gist urged him to return to the duty he owed his sovereign, and assured him that if he did so, he would receive command of “a fine ship in the transport service.” Gist’s partner in the Mary, John Wilkinson, owned two, the Lion and the Brilliant. Before a letter from Gist could reach Barron, his militia company was active in Hampton Roads, capturing vessels. Members of the Virginia Convention praised “his diligence & abilities.” The Committee of Safety empowered him to fit out three armed vessels, one of which he commanded, naming her the Liberty. The committee said: “We … have great Confidence in his Prudence and Valour.”
Writing a private letter on board HMS Fowey, Lord Dunmore warned the Earl of Dartmouth against Secretary Nelson, who had succeeded his late brother as president of the Council. Nelson’s holding the secretaryship, “by much the best office” in the colony, still rankled in the fugitive governor’s mind. He also resented Nelson’s caution. In recent months the secretary had “shown nothing but a care to avoid giving offense either way.” William Byrd, on the other hand, struck Dunmore as a loyalist, “averse from the violent proceedings in the country.”
Dunmore read Byrd correctly. The conflict between the British government and Americans pained him. By July he believed that war was unavoidable and that Americans were deluded in expecting to hold out against British power. He asked Sir Jeffery Amherst “to inform His Majesty & his servants … of my attachment to them.” He despised the colonists’ “frantick patriotism,” pushing them toward “inevitable ruin.”
In April, Byrd’s friend and Francis Farley’s agent, Robert Munford, had agreed, deploring “the spirit for warfare” he saw in Virginians and their leaders. But Dunmore’s seizure of the colony’s gunpowder angered him, and, knowing he must choose a side, Munford joined the resistance.
Contrary to Francis Farley’s assurances that his son took no part in rebellion, James Parke Farley was elected to the North Carolina Provincial Convention as a delegate from Guilford County. Byrd could see that his son-in-law disagreed with him. Byrd’s son, Thomas Taylor Byrd, was an officer in the British Army. Another son, Francis Otway Byrd, was an officer in the Royal Navy. Though their letters sounded dutiful and loving, his relations with them were not happy. He did not wish Otway to leave the navy, and he did not wish Thomas Taylor to get married to Susannah Randolph, daughter of Attorney General John Randolph and niece of Peyton Randolph. If either son defied him, Byrd’s will said, such disobedience would reduce his bequest to one shilling. Thomas Taylor obeyed, but Otway did not. After his father helped him get a leave of absence from the navy, Otway joined the Virginia militia, then went to the camp outside Boston and entered the Continental Army.
William Byrd and his second wife were close. He admired her “Goodness of Heart.” Mary Willing Byrd also had wide reading, a good memory, and a gift for telling stories. One of her favorite stories carried a lesson bearing on her effort to persuade her husband not to disinherit Otway. She told about the wedding of her sister, Dorothy. At the age of eighteen, Dorothy had eloped with Captain Walter Sterling, a thirty-five-year-old officer in the Royal Navy. To be married in church without her family’s approval, the couple stood at the altar in disguise. Dorothy, daughter of one of Philadelphia’s leading merchants, was dressed as a cook, wearing a checked apron; Captain Sterling wore the uniform of an able seaman and put a black patch over one eye. When her father, Charles Willing, learned of the wedding, the shock caused him to fall, striking the back of his head. He died the following year at the age of forty-five. Only after his death did she have a proper wedding. Though his last illness was a fever, the family blamed his death on his fall. He had never forgiven Dorothy. Nor did William Byrd heed his wife’s urgings to change his will. He had known his father only briefly; his mother had checked him in nothing. He had spent and gambled away a fortune. He would teach his sons prudence and obedience.
Byrd wished to pay his many debts, but his gestures did little to reduce them. The closed courts thwarted attorneys such as Benjamin Waller, who reported to his British clients: “Things are in so dismal a Situation here, that there is no getting any Thing.” The return of Byrd’s protested bills of exchange had grown routine. He had “kept no regular books,” and he now regretted his “inattention to accounts.”
As the General Assembly convened in Williamsburg on Thursday, June 1, to hear what Lord Dunmore would say about Lord North’s conciliatory proposal, the Virginia Gazette published an attack on “the honourable W——m B—d, esquire.” The author accused Byrd and his “abandoned faction” of plotting to alienate Virginians from the cause of liberty. The justice of this cause and the martial spirit of Americans attracted every virtuous man. Byrd was not virtuous. He had ruined himself with “the cursed thirst of lucre,” and he was “publickly reputed a man of a very immoral character.” The contrast between America’s friends in Parliament and Byrd was as stark as the contrast between Cato and Caligula. Resentment of Byrd went back at least ten years to the days of Speaker Robinson’s secret loans and John Chiswell’s murder of Robert Routledge. Now Byrd would have to read and hear censure without trying to put a printer or anyone else in jail.
The following Wednesday, Byrd wrote to a friend in Philadelphia: “You will see by our Papers how much I am abused.” Rumor said that he had written to Virginia officers who had served with him in the 1750s, conspiring to raise an armed force to support Lord North’s government. Byrd denied the charge: “no thought of raising a single Man for that, or any other purpose, ever enter’d into my Head. Nor have I, in any Instance whatever, interfered in any Publick transaction, except in disaproving of Men in Arms trampling all Civil Authority under Foot.” Even if Virginians believed Byrd, his not raising soldiers for resistance to Britain gave offense. He declined to offer his military experience to Virginia by commanding troops that the summer convention in Richmond voted to mobilize. The other colonel of a Virginia regiment in the 1750s now commanded the Continental Army.
Byrd’s life was crumbling. Around him at Westover lay a scene “most lovely, every thing in beautiful order.” Acres of nearly perfect wheat stood ready to reap. The meadows and pleasure gardens, the terraces rising along the bank of the James, showed the careful work of more than seventy years. Scores of slaves tended crops, gardens, and livestock. In the pastures steers, horses, and sheep grazed. Near the house, one outbuilding was a nursery for plants that would later grow in the gardens. In the brick library, twenty-three black walnut cases held his father’s great collection of books, to which he had added. The walls of the library and the house showed three portraits of his father, portraits of his father’s noble friends in the days of Queen Anne, as well as portraits of Byrd and of each of his children. Sets of Hogarth prints ran along the walls, and in “poets corner” hung a picture of Pegasus and the Muses. Byrd had made Westover a reflection of his refinement. His son-in-law spoke of Byrd’s “amenity of manners,” while his neighbor at Maycox, David Meade, admired “the splendid dignified & highly polished Colo. Byrd of Westover.” Byrd and his wife continued to entertain guests. Mary Byrd’s “very noble bearing” and her seemingly effortless management of a house full of visitors made her a “most distinguished and charming” hostess. After patriots’ censure and insults and threats began, she said: “many people who had been kindly treated at good Mr. Byrds were the most violent.”
David Meade saw that his friend William Byrd had forfeited the good opinion of patriots. Byrd’s stand, his son said, “exposed him to the resentment of the Contrary Party, who it appears are so numerous as to deprive him and the few who are of the same sentiments of all hopes of making any head against them.” Byrd defied those he called “the brave heroes in hunting shirts.” If any such “valiant volunteers” tried to carry out their frequent threats to visit Westover and punish him, they would find him “prepared for their reception” and ready “to try their courage.” But his encounter with two of their leaders, he said, “convinced me I had nothing to fear from their resolution.” In the summer Byrd thought that people rebelled because they had been misled by designing men; they greatly overestimated their power to win a war with the British. “I flatter myself the time is not far off,” he wrote at the end of July, “when I shall be able to convince the Virginians of their error, & bring them back to their loyalty & duty.” Achieving that “blessed purpose” would be the happiest event of his life. Two months later he had concluded that the rebels did not want peace on advantageous terms. They sought “a change of government.” He concluded that war, suffering, and ruin must fall upon the deluded Americans.
On board HMS William in Chesapeake Bay, Lord Dunmore fulfilled a threat he had been making since spring. He signed a proclamation on November 7 and published it a week later, declaring martial law in Virginia, ordering every man able to bear arms to join him in putting down rebellion, and promising that all indentured servants and slaves in the service of rebels would be free if they fought for the king. This proclamation did for Byrd what Dunmore’s seizure of the colony’s gunpowder had done for Robert Munford, angering him and convincing him that he must join Americans’ resistance to Britain. He offered himself to the Virginia Convention as commander of the new 3rd Virginia Regiment, but the delegates overwhelmingly rejected him in favor of Hugh Mercer. Byrd’s friend Ralph Wormeley wrote: “Col: Byrd joined the popular party—he was not trusted—He lost every thing.” Wormeley meant not that Byrd lost his property but that he lost the place among Virginians he had inherited from his father and his grandfather and had won for himself.
Lord Dunmore’s schooners and his detachment of soldiers enabled him to use Norfolk as a base for raids along the shorelines. Militiamen crossed the James and moved downriver. New soldiers from Virginia and, later, North Carolina arrived in Nansemond and Norfolk counties. Firing on Royal Navy vessels became routine. Scottish merchants prepared to leave Norfolk, packing their trade goods and household furniture, loading departing vessels or standing ready to go on short notice. Norfolk held many people opposed to the British. Dunmore said that “this little dirty Borough” had “Sedition and Rebellion” in “all Ranks of People.” But the merchants had given it a reputation among other Virginians as a center of loyalty to Lord North and the king. Many people in the borough took alarm both at “the elopement of their Negroes” and at reports that rebels intended to burn the city.
Dunmore learned in mid-November that militiamen had gathered at Great Bridge ten miles from Norfolk in the northeastern reaches of the Dismal Swamp. This long, low wooden bridge on trestles and piers connected two parts of a causeway crossing a stretch of the swamp. At one end of the causeway a road led to Norfolk; at the other a road led toward North Carolina. The bridge was the most important link in the land approach to Norfolk. Using a map drawn by Thomas Macknight, Dunmore, accompanied by another partner in the Campania Company, James Parker, took his 109 British regulars and two dozen black and white volunteers up the south branch of the Elizabeth River to secure the bridge. The militiamen withdrew; he pursued them northeastward into Princess Anne County and dispersed them easily, killing a few.
Dunmore marched to Norfolk and issued his proclamation summoning men to aid the Crown. He would no longer have thought that the president of Virginia’s Council, Secretary Nelson, was equivocal if he could have heard “the language of the President” in Williamsburg when Nelson learned of the proclamation. One planter said of Dunmore’s action: “men of all ranks resent the pointing a dagger to their Throats thro the hands of their Slaves.”
Dunmore put a small garrison in a fort at Great Bridge and began fortifying Norfolk. Parker and Macknight supervised construction of earthworks. Dunmore, naval officers, and the remaining Scots thought the British could hold Norfolk indefinitely. Merchants sent word to Britain that they were free to ignore the rebels’ nonimportation Association. One wrote to his brother: “be as Expeditious as possible and bring out as Many Goods in the Brig as She will hold. Now is the time to Strick a bold Strock depend upon it you will Never have such another to Make Money by dry Goods in this Country.”
Much to the disgust of Virginians gathering near the British fort at Great Bridge, about 3,000 inhabitants of Nansemond, Norfolk, and Princess Anne counties and of the borough answered Dunmore’s call. They swore loyalty to the king, though only a few hundred of them looked fit to bear arms. Many slaves joined the British. One of them, George, said when captured by Virginians that 400 blacks were with Dunmore in Norfolk. The governor armed black men in what he called “Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment.” For white loyalists he organized “the Queen’s Own Loyal Virginia Regiment.”
The fort at Great Bridge held out against the Virginians. Learning that North Carolinians were coming with artillery, Dunmore decided, against the advice of army officers, to attack rebels’ entrenchments on the south bank of the Elizabeth River. In addition to condemning privately “the Absurdity & extravagant Folly” of an assault, the officers blamed it on “the Scotch Pedlars” who had Dunmore’s ear. On Saturday, December 9, at dawn, 121 soldiers and their officers crossed the bridge, advanced along the narrow causeway “through a Morass” toward the Virginians. Seventeen were killed and 49 wounded in a brief exchange of fire which left the Virginians unhurt. The British withdrew to Norfolk that night.
Notwithstanding their fortifications, Dunmore and the merchants suddenly saw that they could not remain in Norfolk. Soldiers and loyalists went on board naval and merchant vessels. Virginia and North Carolina forces entering the borough found only a few people. Warehouses stood full of shingles and planks. Empty streets were lined with unoccupied brick houses. Mahogany furniture, carpets, china, pictures on the walls awaited their owners’ return. During the next two weeks the contest between Dunmore and the Virginians amounted to one question: who would burn Norfolk?
On Tuesday, January 1, 1776, Captain Henry Bellew of HMS Liverpool, “discovering,” as Dunmore put it, that rebels were parading in the streets of Norfolk, began to shell the city. Other vessels joined him, then lowered boats and put men ashore to set fire to warehouses. Tuesday and Wednesday, after the boats withdrew, Virginia soldiers spread the fire and looted houses. A sailor trying to stop some of them received this answer: “the people in Norfolk were a parcell of Damned Tories and ought to have all their houses burnt, & themselves burnt with them.” Joanna Tucker’s home, emblem of Robert Tucker’s success, was fired by soldiers. They took offense at a carpenter who refused to help; “they damned him for a Tory.” The houses belonging to Robert Tucker’s estate, to his son, Robert Tucker, Jr., and to his son-in-law, Thomas Newton, with most of the borough’s other buildings, were destroyed. Almost all remaining buildings were burned before the soldiers abandoned the borough, leaving blackened brick walls and free-standing chimneys. Colonel Robert Howe of the North Carolina forces assured Virginia authorities that Norfolk would not again be a haven for loyalists or a trading station for Scottish merchants.
The three Scots of the Campania Company gave up their scheme to force the Dismal Swamp Company to share its success with them. James Parker and William Aitchison welcomed Dunmore to Norfolk. Their partner in North Carolina, Thomas Macknight, joined them in October.
The partners had done nothing with the North Carolina portion of the Dismal Swamp after Parker and Macknight and their slaves cut a pathway to Lake Drummond. They had never intended to spend money trying to drain, as the Virginians did. The Campania Company, Parker said, was “a Speculation altogether.” Their policy for swamp land was to “let it lay & take a Chance.” As merchants and landowners, they had flourished. Parker’s residence, though not large, showed expensive tastes and overlooked an elaborate garden. He was part owner of a ropewalk and a distillery; his share of stores and land in North Carolina, he said, was worth £14,000, and his five houses and other holdings in Virginia even more. His open contempt for “buckskins” and their rebellion had made him “most obnoxious” to Virginians. He approved of Dunmore’s departure from Williamsburg. Parker said: “What can a Governor do without a little force.” Hearing that Speaker Peyton Randolph had died in Philadelphia after suffering a stroke, Parker said he was sorry that Randolph “did not Live long enough to be hanged.”
In seventeen years of working for Parker and Aitchison in North Carolina, Thomas Macknight had become one of the most important men in the northeastern sector of the colony. He was clerk of Pasquotank County Court. At his estate, Belville, he had more than one hundred slaves. Around his house lay a ten-acre pleasure garden and large orchards. His store was a big, two-story structure. He owned more than 8,000 acres, of which more than 1,700 were cleared and in use. Governor Josiah Martin thought that Macknight was worth £30,000 sterling. He had enriched himself by using his partners’ money and goods as if they were his own, calling on Parker and Aitchison for more. After Parker learned of Macknight’s misdeeds, he wrote to a friend: “I am not at all surprized Mr. M deceives you by appearances, he has me for 20 years by promises.”
Early in October 1775, Macknight fled Belville on horseback “without a servant or a change of clothes,” riding more than 50 miles to Norfolk. He said he had learned just in time that people plotting to kill him were about to strike. Ever since April, when his colleagues in the North Carolina Convention had called him “Disingenuous and equivocal” and declared him “inimical to the Cause of American Liberty,” many people had talked about killing him. His friends, even his old Campania Company ally, Samuel Johnston, turned against him after he refused to join in resistance to Britain. He defied his critics in public and in print, saying that only by exports could he pay his just debts in Britain. His critics called him “a pest of society.”
Lord Dunmore gave Parker and Macknight the rank of captain of engineers. Parker’s brother-in-law, Jacob Ellegood, took command of the Queen’s Own Loyal Virginia Regiment. As Dunmore abandoned Norfolk, they went with him. William Aitchison took his family to the Eastern Shore, leaving his “very elegant” and well-furnished house, one of seven he owned in Norfolk. His country home, Eastwood, stood on a plantation in Princess Anne County, and he owned land in North Carolina. Lord Dunmore often had visited Aitchison’s home in Norfolk. In the fire on New Year’s Day, Virginia troops began by burning it. Aitchison’s slaves already had joined the British.
Aitchison, Parker, and Macknight believed the rebellion would not last long. They stood poised to act as soon as the British restored order. Macknight was to sail to London and persuade Alexander Elmsly to join them in “Commercial Speculation.” Once the rebellion collapsed, Macknight would be “amongst the first in with a Cargo of Goods.” A British Army officer sending a letter by him wrote: “he is the most spirited clever Fellow I have met with in this Country.”
Nothing turned out right for the three partners. Not only did the rebellion continue, it became a revolution for the independence of America, with the colonies now renamed states. Everywhere Aitchison went—Princess Anne County, Northampton County, Pasquotank County—committees of safety treated him as suspect and let him know he was not welcome. He was sixty-three years old and infirm. This treatment “laid hold of his Spirits in a very strong degree.” As they parted, James Parker did not expect to see Aitchison alive again. At Eastwood, Aitchison contracted a fever in October and died on the last day of the month.
Parker stayed with Lord Dunmore as his chief engineer while the governor roamed the waters of the Chesapeake for six months, accompanied by a flotilla of loyalists’ vessels. They spent time ashore at Robert Tucker’s mills and bakehouses, which they demolished, and on Gwynn’s Island at the mouth of the Piankatank River. Smallpox and other diseases killed hundreds of Dunmore’s white and black volunteers. Bodies washed ashore every day. A surprise attack on Gwynn’s Island by rebels forced Dunmore’s men to abandon it in a panic. After the remaining British and loyalist vessels set sail, a squall struck. Parker’s armed tender, cruising in search of provisions, stranded on the Eastern Shore. He and the other seventeen men on board “immediately surrendered” to Virginia forces “and begged for quarters.”
Thomas Macknight’s voyage to London was deferred for several months after he met Governor Josiah Martin at Cape Fear, North Carolina. He accompanied the British expedition to Charleston and served for a while as an agent for prizes, obtaining for the army cargoes of American vessels seized by the Royal Navy. By the time he returned to Cape Fear in the summer, North Carolina’s Provincial Congress had taken possession of his land and slaves. Reaching London in autumn, he heard that the 200-ton ship Belvillehe and Parker and Aitchison had dispatched to Cádiz laden with staves had been taken by a man-of-war off Cape St. Vincents and condemned as a rebel prize in a British Court of Admiralty at Gibraltar. Macknight had lost everything. The British government, he believed, owed him recompense not only for the value of the Belville but also for losses his loyalty had cost him: a plantation, many slaves, a store, and a large, valuable portion of the Dismal Swamp. Living in London “in the most frugal manner” on an allowance from the government, he spent much time drawing up petitions for compensation, attending cabinet ministers’ levees in search of a hearing, and waiting in Whitehall to persuade officials to help him. In a state of “distraction” he accosted Earl Bathurst, president of the Council, in Green Park while the earl was taking his morning walk. Macknight explained his case and handed copies of testimonials to Bathurst, who, Macknight thought, “seemed to pity my distress.”
Dr. Thomas Walker returned to Pittsburgh in the summer of 1776. He had visited in the autumn of 1775 to end the conflict known as Dunmore’s War. In the presence of representatives of the Six Nations, the Wyandots, the Delawares, and the Ottawas, he had told representatives of the Shawnees: “we have before told you all that we had no intention of incroaching on your Lands which are the real Sentiments of our hearts.” All present knew that, two days earlier, Flying Crow of the Six Nations had said to the Virginians: “we hope you will … make no Encroachments upon us that our Children may Continue to live in Peace and Friendship.” Walker went back to Pittsburgh in 1776 as one of the Continental Congress’s commissioners to Indians in the Ohio Valley. War between the Cherokees and the southern states already had begun. Walker and his colleagues were to report on the intentions of northern Indians.
Ever active, Dr. Walker turned a slow Tuesday into a picnic party of fourteen people, rowing up the Monongahela River in a large canoe to the site of General Edward Braddock’s defeat. After eating a hearty meal, they walked over the battlefield, noting the bones and skulls of men killed by the Indians and the French more than twenty years past. Trees still bore the scars of musket balls and artillery fire, some marked as high as 20 feet above the ground. Dr. Walker gave the company a “warm and glowing narration” of the battle. His story reached a climax in the flight of Braddock’s army, with “the hellish yells of the Indians, and the groans and shrieks of the dying and the wounded falling upon their ears.”
Ten days after this excursion, Walker and his fellow commissioners warned western settlers to prepare for attacks by Chippewas, Ottawas, and Shawnees. In their report to Congress, the commissioners said that an Indian war was “by no means improbable.” If it came, however, it ought to look different from the rout of the colonial settlers in the 1750s. Walker urged Virginians and Pennsylvanians to get ready to punish Ohio Valley Indians, as Cherokees were about to be punished. “We have sought only the security of the Frontiers against the Horrors of Indian Cruelty.” Walker had warned Shawnees the previous October: “if you will Continue to do us Mischief you must not Expect to be treated with such Lenity as you were in the Year 1764 by Colo Boquet and by Lord Dunmore last fall.”
Even as war spread over the continent and as General Washington’s army abandoned New York City to retreat across New Jersey, Dr. Walker kept an eye on the Dismal Swamp. The company’s slaves produced a good crop at Dismal Plantation in the autumn. Samuel Gist wrote to William Anderson, urging the company to invest in more slaves. Anderson explained that the war was “an insurmountable obstacle to the Companys advancing Money.” Buying slaves, even were it possible, would not be prudent, lest “another Dunmore should appear on the Coast.” Gist had hinted that he might visit Virginia, but of course, he did not. In August a sloop bearing Scottish factors sailed out of Chesapeake Bay, bound for New York. The summer of 1776 was not a good time for a merchant from Britain to travel in Virginia. Gist said he would trust “providence who I hope will in the end settle all things right.” He told Anderson: “I must entirely rely on you in the mean while to do the best you can for me.”
Dr. Walker visited Dismal Plantation and the swamp during the winter, a few weeks after Washington and his army revived their hopes by recrossing the Delaware River to attack the enemy by surprise. Walker still had faith in the promise of the Dismal Swamp Company’s project, he said. He gave a favorable report to William Anderson, who wrote to Samuel Gist to reassure him that Walker and David Jameson “have as high an opinion of the value of the estate if it was properly conducted as you have.” During the following spring, heavy rains flooded Nansemond and Norfolk counties. Waters of the Dismal Swamp rose and spilled over the surrounding land. On the route from Suffolk to Edenton, which skirted the swamp’s western margin, long stretches of road lay under three feet of water.
Members of the Dismal Swamp Company took leading places in the new state government devised by the Virginia Convention and defined in a written constitution. The governor was to be elected annually by the House of Delegates and the Senate, but the first governor was chosen by the Convention. A minority voted for Secretary Thomas Nelson, partly in search of legitimacy through continuity, since the president of the colonial Council always became acting governor upon the death or departure of the royal governor. But most delegates chose Patrick Henry, Virginia’s most popular politician. Henry moved into the governor’s palace in Williamsburg. The furniture left by Lord Dunmore had vanished into the homes of patriots; the state bought replacements from William Byrd.
John Page served on the state Council, as he had on the colonial one. His colleagues elected him its president, thereby making him also lieutenant governor. For the first three months of his term, Henry was ill and Page did the work of governor, though he suffered debilitating attacks of vertigo, worsened by applying himself to accounts, reading, and writing.
As Page organized resistance to Lord Dunmore late in 1775 and early in 1776, his wife, Frances, was pregnant for the sixth time. Her delivery of their daughter, Alice Grymes Page, in February was difficult. Frances long seemed to lie near death, but she recovered and soon got pregnant again. She and John felt “crowded into a little House” after leaving Rosewell to live in Williamsburg. They had the lead stripped from their mansion’s many window frames for Virginia to use in musket balls. It weighed almost 1,300 pounds. While Dunmore remained at large in the Chesapeake, their big house overlooking the York was not a safe place for one of Virginia’s most important officials to live.
Almost all the former colonies adopted new state constitutions. Of Virginia’s Page wrote: “I believe ours is the most perfect in the World.” The tyranny of king and Parliament, by arousing resistance, inadvertently had resulted in “freeing Millions from Bondage.” America would be “one of the noblest Republics the World ever saw.” At work in Williamsburg, writing to St. George Tucker, Page warmed to his subject. With no advantages, Americans, though facing Indians’ attacks and slaves’ revolts, fought the empire the world held in awe, “rather than wallow in Peace & Luxury, if they must be deprived of the Privileges of free Men to obtain that Happiness.” As he wrote “Happiness,” Page was interrupted by a friend, Major James Innes, who had just arrived with a prisoner: James Parker. The little Scottish merchant had sold Virginians a great deal of luxury in peacetime, sneering at them all the while. He was held in Williamsburg for a month, then moved to New London in Bedford County. He soon escaped and joined the British in New York, offering his services for an invasion of Virginia.
Thomas Nelson, at the age of sixty-one, became secretary of the commonwealth of Virginia, taking an oath of loyalty to the new government. At the end of 1776, Dr. Walker and David Jameson were sworn in as members of the Council of Virginia. Three days after Walker joined the Council, the General Assembly enacted a law prohibiting British subjects from recovering debts in Virginia. Under instructions from the Committee of Safety, given early in the year, Fielding Lewis not only produced small arms and provided ammunition but also fitted out armed vessels to cruise the waters of the Chesapeake. The 81-foot keel of the row galley Dragon was laid in Fredericksburg late in the autumn. He bought a schooner, a sloop, and a pilot boat.
In Paris, William Carmichael of Maryland heard that the Continental ship Reprisal had taken five British prizes. He wrote: “This will make a little noise at Loyd’s.” American vessels and others pretending to be American inflicted heavy losses on British merchant shipping. John Nicol, a seaman in a Royal Navy man-of-war protecting a convoy, said: “The American privateers swarmed around like sharks, watching an opportunity to seize any slow-sailing vessel.” Every day at Lloyd’s, new captures by Americans were posted in the big green arrival and loss book. Underwriters’ estimates of the value of lost ships and cargoes had passed £300,000 in August and was nearing £600,000. After two years of American privateering, Lloyd’s book showed a loss of 559 vessels, with a total value of more than £1,800,000. Insurance premiums on the Jamaica-to-London run rose to 15 percent. For some voyages on other routes, underwriters charged 28 percent. Anyone could see that some shrewd and lucky men would make fortunes at Lloyd’s as long as war continued. Others lost everything.
The British condemned American vessels the Royal Navy apprehended. Nevertheless, the Philadelphia firm, Willing & Morris, insured some vessels at Lloyd’s. Thomas Willing, Mary Byrd’s brother, and his partner, Robert Morris, also envisioned making fortunes from the war. Offering to obtain supplies and arms in Europe for the American government, they intended to import merchandise to sell at a large profit. Morris was ready to pay a premium of 50 percent for insurance if necessary, though “vastly too high,” because he could mark up European manufactures 500 percent to 700 percent for retail sale in America. The best commodity to ship to Europe was tobacco. Willing and Morris had “a considerable quantity” at Edenton, North Carolina, waiting for the company’s agent in Martinique to send a fast sloop or schooner to Albemarle Sound, bearing dry goods in and tobacco out. Willing and Morris wrote to him: “dont loose a moment in executing this Scheme.”
Willing and Morris had a representative in Paris: Silas Deane of Connecticut, who wrote to his wife: “I have been involved in one scheme and adventure after another.” At the first Continental Congress, he and Patrick Henry had discussed settling Connecticut farmers in towns “on the New England plan” along the Ohio River. In Paris, Deane represented not only Willing and Morris but also the United States government. He did the same things for the company and for the Secret Committees of the Continental Congress: obtain credit from the French government and merchandise and arms from Europe by importing commodities, especially tobacco. Morris wrote to him about shipments through the French West Indies: “You may depend that the pursuit of this plan deserves your utmost exertion & attention so farr as your mind is engaged in the making of Money for there never was so fair an opportunity of making a large Fortune since I have been Conversant in the World.” About £250,000 sterling passed through Deane’s hands. He fitted out privateers to seize British vessels and bring them into French ports. The men who purchased for the United States were his associates, as were the men who captured British cargoes and sold them. Deane suggested that Americans seize Bermuda to get a harbor from which to attack British shipping: “the whole West India Trade must be intercepted.” Benjamin Franklin arrived in France at the end of the year. Arthur Lee, in London, received instructions to join Deane and Franklin.
France’s aid and Deane’s activities were supposed to be secret. Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais organized France’s assistance, using the name “Roderigue Hortalez.” Lee’s letters to Beaumarchais from London were signed “Mary Johnston.” Franklin’s old friends in London, Samuel Wharton and Thomas Walpole, promoters of Vandalia, had the code numbers 176 and 177. Parts of some letters were written in invisible ink. These precautions availed little. Deane’s secretary, Edward Bancroft, dividing his time between London and Paris, was a British agent. One of the letter drops used for communications between Deane and Bancroft was the office of Anthony Bacon in Copthall Court. After Arthur Lee moved to Paris, his secretary also was a British agent. Beaumarchais, on his way to Le Havre, posing as an iron dealer named “Durand,” found that actors in The Barber of Seville had advertised that the author would attend the play. The ministry had other sources, who kept Viscount Weymouth, secretary of state for the southern department, better informed than his American spies did. The activities of Deane and his business associates were more hidden from the American government than from the British.
Deane realized that he could make money in London and Amsterdam, using information he and Franklin received from America. With Samuel and Joseph Wharton, Thomas Walpole, and Edward Bancroft, he tried to stay ahead of the bulls and bears on the stock exchange, and he took out insurance: “gaming policies” of the kind that Lloyd’s underwriters formally deplored but still subscribed. As soon as American commissioners received word of events making war between Britain and France more likely, Deane and his friends in London paid premiums of 25 percent or more for policies enabling them to recover thousands of pounds if war broke out within a year. Bancroft was to warn the Whartons in case other news made war less likely so that they could buy “counter-insurance,” betting the other way. Another British agent reported on Bancroft: “He is flush of mony. Has large share in the Cargoes going out—& I suppose has been bribed by W—le.” Deane and Bancroft each took a one-fourth share of a policy paying £2,000 if France and the United States formed an alliance, an event they knew to be imminent. They told Samuel Wharton “to make his Speculations accordingly.” As soon as two treaties were signed on the evening of February 6, 1778, an express messenger left Paris for London, bearing the news for the purpose of “advantageous speculation in ’Change Alley.” He had a head start of “some hours” by the time the British ambassador received official notice. The messenger, booted and spurred, arrived by night at the residence of one of the Americans in London. The British ambassador’s first dispatches from Paris were dated February 6. The express rider knew the treaties’ terms; the ambassador did not. Deane also hoped to join Walpole and the Whartons in profiting from Vandalia by getting Congress to override Virginia’s claims. He was versatile enough to talk with Patrick Henry about plans for Transylvania and with Samuel Wharton about plans for Vandalia. After Arthur Lee began to denounce Deane’s corruption stridently, Deane wrote to Bancroft: “Mr. A.L. must be shaved, & bled or he will be actually mad for Life.”
Congress recalled Deane even before delegates learned the scope of his enterprises. He had offended them by giving contracts and commissions to European officers seeking rank and pay in the American Army. He did not regain a position of trust. Nevertheless, his appetite for schemes remained strong. He wrote to his brother from Paris: “We have often talked of the Dismal Swamp. Pray inquire who the proprietors are, and what is their title; also at what price they estimate it. A good speculation may be made that way when peace takes place.” The later insurance speculations by Deane and Bancroft failed as often as earlier ones had succeeded. Congress refused to reimburse Deane for his expenses. He needed money. He offered himself to the British government as an advocate of America’s reunion with Britain.
Late in 1776, as Silas Deane drank champagne in his expensive rented house in Place Louis XV, William Byrd, at the age of forty-eight, gave up on the American Revolution and on life. His will, written two years earlier, contained phrases hinting that he did not expect to live much longer. Preoccupied with his many large debts, he attributed them to “my own folly.” He wrote: “I … am unhappy I can do no more, which has shortened my days by many years.” He blessed his wife and prayed that God would “continue her in health for many years.” The will directed her to sell one hundred slaves, as well as part of their plate, furniture, and livestock. His father’s library of almost 3,500 volumes also was to be sold to raise money to pay his creditors. Byrd could not bear to do these things. The law passed late in 1776 prohibiting Britons from collecting debts in Virginia did not relieve him because he thought of his obligations in Britain as “debts of honour.”
Mary Willing Byrd spoke of her husband as “her good Mr. Byrd.” They took pains in the education and upbringing of their children. At the end of 1776, Mary Byrd was five months pregnant. For her husband she had, she said, “heartfelt affection.”
William Byrd’s polished courtesy masked unhappiness. In his will he inserted a dig at his adult sons by praising “my son Charles, who never offended me.” Charles was four years old. Byrd had disapproved when his son, Otway, joined the Continental Army and became aide-de-camp to General Charles Lee, an eccentric Englishman fighting for the Americans. Yet during Lee’s visit to Westover in the spring of 1776, Byrd and his wife charmed the irritable misanthrope with “civilities and attentions,” which at last had Lee playing with the Byrds’ little daughters. Lee’s letter of thanks concluded, “God give you all health and spirits,” but God had not done so for William Byrd. His mind dwelt on how “greatly incumbered with debts” he was and on what he had suffered at the hands of estate managers “thro’ carelessness of some … & the villany of others.” Mostly he thought about his own folly in contracting this encumbrance, “which imbitters every moment of my life.”
Describing William Byrd many years later, David Meade condemned gambling, the “inevitable consequences” of which were “poverty, want, misery and often suicide.” Meade called this warning a “not unapt digression.” On New Year’s Day, 1777, William Byrd, in Meade’s words, “resigned to his successors all his claims to temporal enjoyments and temporal honors.” This was as close as Meade could bring himself to recording that Byrd had killed himself, and Meade came closer than anyone else.
For Mary Byrd, her husband’s death was “her great bereavement.” She displayed “extraordinary and almost inconsolable grief.” He left her a thirty-six-year-old widow with seven children to rear, the oldest fifteen. She taught them and, later, her grandchildren to remember “the liberality of his heart,” his “fidelity and activity” in public service, and the “warmth and sincerity of his soul.” She gave birth four months after his death and named the boy William. She drew closer to Sarah Meade. Since Westover had two ferry boats, the women could fulfill their wish “to be together to cheer each other,” Mary Byrd crossing the James to Maycox, or Sarah Meade crossing to Westover.
William Byrd’s will was proved on February 5. It made his widow sole executrix unless she decided that the task was “too troublesome an office for her.” He need not have worried. Mary Byrd threw herself into the project of ridding the estate of debt. Only by doing so could she secure for her children the legacies bequeathed to them. The will mentioned the possibility of selling Westover, but she meant to preserve it. Fifteen years earlier, upon first arriving, she had written to her family in Philadelphia: “This is the most delightful place in the world.” She had believed that her new husband was rich and growing richer. Though she learned otherwise, she never swerved from maintaining Westover. Mary Byrd had “great wit.” She enjoyed old Colonel Byrd’s books, telling her sister: “The Library would delight you.” These resources, with her “care and activity,” sustained her as she faced “Colo Byrds Creditors daily coming upon her” and his debtors, who found many reasons not to pay. Her sister said of defaulters: “not contented with evading what is just they too generally become the Enemies of those they have injured.”
On Thursday, April 24, the long road toward the James, passing through an oak grove and by Westover’s vast meadows, leading to old William Byrd’s monogrammed iron gate, filled with Harrisons, Randolphs, Carters, Pages, and many others attending the first of several auctions of effects from the estate of the recently deceased William Byrd. Joseph Hornsby and his brother, William, came from Williamsburg; John Tabb came from Petersburg to buy slaves. People bought horses, steers, calves, lambs, furniture, firearms, and utensils. Peter Lyons bought a backgammon table. Slaves from Westover and other Byrd plantations were sold. Black people whose families long had lived in two rows of whitewashed houses, the “village of quarters” just inside the main gate, were put on the block for a total of £6,790 10s. More followed in November. At sales in the fall and winter, Mary Byrd parted with paintings, etchings, Hogarth prints, and silver services. No one bid against her when she bought the family portraits and the portraits of old Colonel Byrd’s friends for £1 each. The second sale brought in almost £11,000 in paper currency.
Mary Byrd said: “I hope to God it will be in my power to prevent any persons suffering by the Estate in any way what ever.” She came from a family of merchants; she understood balancing accounts; her “singular intelligence” impressed others. She paid cash to people who had received from her husband worthless bills of exchange drawn on London merchants. This put her Virginia creditors in a tight place, testing their devotion to the American Revolution. An attorney explained to his client: “I did with the other Creditors receive your Balance from her in November 1777, in Paper Currency then declared by a Law of the new Commonwealth a lawful Tender in all Cases, with a Penalty on such as should make any Difference between Paper Money and Specie, the last of which had vanished. Besides at that time there was a danger of being accounted a Tory and treated accordingly in Case of refusing the Currency.” Virginia had entered what David Jameson called “the age of paper.” One of the most deeply indebted estates in Virginia moved closer to solvency.
In accordance with her husband’s will, Mary Byrd advertised to sell “the very valuable LIBRARY.” She found no buyer for almost a year. At last she sold all the books to Isaac Zane, Jr., owner of an ironworks in the Shenandoah Valley. He paid £2,000, expecting to resell them in the North at a profit. She kept old Colonel Byrd’s manuscripts.
Some upstairs rooms in the Westover mansion fell out of use, permanently closed off. In those still open the house looked as it had in better times. Slaves made sure that gardens, groves, and meadows were “neatly kept.” The first thing a visitor saw upon entering the house was a portrait of Mary Byrd’s late husband. One of the portraits hanging in the drawing room showed the elder William Byrd looking out sardonically. Around the dining room table or in the drawing room, Mary Byrd encouraged her daughters to enjoy themselves. Guests found them “very witty and very lively company,” full of “smart repartee.” To help support the family, Mary Byrd had a brew house built; in it she “sat up brewing Beer.”
Her stepdaughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth and James Parke Farley, stayed in their new house in the Land of Eden during the first year of the war. Elizabeth gave birth to a third daughter. James’s father’s slaves adapted from the work of growing cane and producing sugar to the different tasks and rhythms of growing and curing tobacco. Yet the only reduction in James’s debt to the store owned by Dinwiddie, Crawford & Company came through shipments of rum and sugar from his father. James owed £1,700.
Francis Farley helped his son with rum and sugar until direct commerce between Antigua and the mainland stopped. James did not tell him about the debts. Just as Virginians rushed to send tobacco to Britain, they shipped food and lumber to Antigua. At least twenty vessels arriving from Antigua entered the port of Norfolk during 1775. By early August the island’s markets were glutted with American grain. Prudent Antiguans such as Farley built reserves. After captures of vessels began early in 1776, he could buy little. He heard about his son rarely, through indirect channels. He knew that Elizabeth Farley was “an obliging good Wife” and that she and James had given him three granddaughters. He knew he had one hundred slaves working in North Carolina and Virginia, but he could not find out how they fared.
Although Farley denounced Americans’ war for independence, he said the British could not win. He predicted an American alliance with France more than two years before one was formed. He wrote: “I know [th]at Continent prity well, I have been in eight different Provinces, and if the [Pe]ople continue united I do not think they are to be subdued by Land forces. The Sea Coast may, but I verily believe if the King of Prussia with the best 100,000 Troops he ever Commanded was 100 Miles in the Country they would be all cut off.” Farley looked to the future with gloom, expecting war and American independence to destroy the world of sugar planters in the British West Indies.
The number of whites in Antigua had fallen to 2,600. They always worried about an uprising among the 38,000 blacks. A shortage of food would increase the likelihood of revolt. And if British troops were transferred from the island to North America, whites would have no trained defenders against a slave uprising or a French invasion. Antiguans were “high Loyalists,” and they called on the Crown to protect them. The government sometimes seemed more preoccupied with preventing them from selling gunpowder to Americans.
In October 1775 drought settled on Antigua. Clouds drifting southward brought no rain. Hot, dry weather lasted for eleven months. Food crops did not grow. Stockpiles dwindled. Slaves were put on short rations, which they eked out by sucking sugar cane. Francis Farley foresaw starvation for many. As shortages grew more severe and prices rose, the island attracted speculators, who bought cargoes of foodstuffs after captured American vessels were condemned in a Court of Admiralty. Resale of these supplies on the open market made provisions still more expensive.
One of James Parke Farley’s last transactions with Scottish storekeepers was to buy a gun on June 15, 1776. Not long afterward, many Scots left Virginia and North Carolina. James and Elizabeth Farley returned to Virginia, where James served as a soldier, apparently in the militia. Visiting North End, home of Elizabeth’s cousin on a peninsula overlooking Chesapeake Bay not far from York Town and Rosewell, he fell ill and died “suddenly” on May 1, 1777. Elizabeth Farley was pregnant. She drew on the Byrd family’s gift for sarcasm as she wrote that he died “a Victim to his country.” The Byrds often blamed their troubles on the American Revolution. Her brother, Thomas Taylor Byrd, applying to the Council of West Florida for a grant of land, said that he had been deprived of a large fortune because his father had remained loyal to the king.
Months passed before Francis Farley learned of the death of his only son. A Scottish merchant who fled to New York mentioned it to a friend of Farley’s, without details about how or when James had died. Knowing that Elizabeth was pregnant, Farley worried about her well-being and her children. He also feared for the security of his property in Virginia and North Carolina. Two of the three men to whom he had given power of attorney—James Parke Farley, William Byrd, and Robert Munford—were dead. His nephew, Jack, still served as an officer in the British Army. Farley thought that North Carolinians and Virginians, if they heard this, would confiscate his property. He urged Jack not to remain “a slave in the army of a very declining almost ruined country.” Why not resign his commission and go to North Carolina to protect the family holdings? Francis Farley’s son-in-law, Captain John Laforey, could not do so. He commanded a man-of-war, HMS Ocean. Farley wrote as if he hardly expected his nephew to heed his advice, and Jack did not.
Heavy rain fell on Antigua in September 1776. Reservoirs and ponds filled; people planted corn and other food crops. A few months later, however, drought returned. After nine months of dry heat, Antigua looked more “burnt up” than it had been for the past thirty years, “not a green thing to be seen.” Early in 1777 the island began to depend primarily upon beans shipped from Britain. Farley was “extremely busy” trying to supply his six plantations and those he supervised for absentee owners. He cut some slaves to two-thirds of the usual ration “for fear of a total want.” The sugar crop was stunted, but its owners thought more about the dangers of invasion and insurrection. Farley predicted that three out of every hundred slaves on the island would starve to death and that malnutrition would leave “a great many so reduced it will scarcely be practicable to raise them.” As Antigua neared famine, Farley and his colleagues on the Council got permission from the navy to import food from St. Eustatius and other Dutch and French islands.
Despite these concerns, Francis Farley did not neglect his interests on the mainland or his daughter-in-law and grandchildren. Just after New Year’s Day, 1778, he wrote to Robert Munford, requesting that cultivation of tobacco continue at the Land of Eden. Elizabeth Farley might detain some slaves in Virginia, but he knew that she was “very prudent” and would keep only a few. The rest, except those “employed in the Dizmal Swamp,” should work his North Carolina land, with the proceeds going to his daughter-in-law. Farley saw speculators in prize cargoes pay 90 shillings per hundredweight for tobacco in St. Johns and make a good profit on it in England. Munford ought to take advantage of these prices with tobacco shipped to France. Farley intended to visit Virginia as soon as the “unhappy dispute” ended. Elizabeth Farley lived at Nesting, about a mile upriver from Westover. Her fourth child was another daughter, named Mary Byrd Farley. The baby girl’s maternal grandfather had killed himself before she was born; her paternal grandfather did not know she existed. Francis Farley hoped for a grandson to continue the name of Farley and inherit the Land of Eden and his share in the Dismal Swamp Company.
Robert Munford was forty years old when Farley asked for his help. In the decade before the war he had acquired more land and slaves in Mecklenburg County, bringing his holdings to 4,000 acres and ninety-one slaves. His home at Richland, like Dr. Walker’s at Castle Hill and George Washington’s at Mount Vernon, was built of wood, but the improvements he made gave it “the appearance of magnificence.” To departing Scottish merchants Munford owed large sums. He had drawn £2,300 in unpaid bills of exchange, and his debts exceeded his assets.
Munford disliked “the intemperate warmth” Virginians had shown in opposing British measures before fighting had begun. Late in 1774 a petition circulated in Mecklenburg County. It advocated “expelling out of the country all Scotchmen.” Two and a half years later, after most factors had left, 190 citizens of the county petitioned the House of Delegates to inflict “more severe punishment” on any remaining Scottish storekeepers who refused to accept the new paper money in payment of old sterling debts. This petition was signed by Sir Peyton Skipwith, Virginia’s only baronet, and by such lesser men as David Royster, Joseph Royster, and Charles Royster, whose stridency showed that they were not “moderate & prudent” people of the kind Munford had hoped would forestall “the evils of a civil war.” Munford did not sign.
After Munford sided with the Revolution, he recruited soldiers, served in the House of Delegates, and, late in the war, fought the British in North Carolina. But gleeful belligerence and ostentatious patriotism among Americans still offended him. At about the time the second Mecklenburg County petition against Scottish factors was signed by his neighbors—May 1777—he wrote a play: The Patriots.
How many of Munford’s fellow planters, if they could have seen or read his play, would have recognized themselves in his fictional sketch of them? “Her father is a violent patriot without knowing the meaning of the word. He understands little or nothing beyond a dice-box and race-field, but thinks he knows every thing; and woe be to him that contradicts him! His political notions are a system of perfect anarchy, but he reigns in his own family with perfect despotism. He is fully resolved that nobody shall tyrannize over him, but very content to tyrannize over others.” Asked to define the word “tory,” one character, member of a Committee of Safety, replies: “All suspected persons are call’d tories.” Munford’s loyalty to the American cause had been “suspected” in March and April 1775. The voters of Mecklenburg County chose Bennet Goode, instead of their longtime burgess, Robert Munford, to represent them in the new House of Delegates. Goode also served on the county committee enforcing the Association. Munford’s distaste for what his hero calls “the patriotic itch” and for politicians exploiting it recurs throughout his play. In Act II, just before the Committee of Safety denounces Scots as enemies, Munford’s hero says of it: “I hate these little democracies.” A Scot challenges the committee to prove that he is an enemy. One member answers: “We suspect any Scotchman: suspicion is proof, sir.”
Munford ridiculed not only cant and bloodthirstiness among patriots but also a disposition in the American Revolution “to spurn at all government.” He linked the “phrenzy of the times” with the decay of both “public virtue” and “the social virtues.” Choosing as his hero one of two “gentlemen of fortune accused of toryism,” he left little doubt of a connection between their being “gentlemen of fortune” and their being accused. A contemporary of Bennet Goode’s later described Munford: “he was what they called an aristocrat.” In The Patriots, the Revolution is, in part, a triumph of petty and ignorant men over educated and discerning men. Munford conveyed his disgust at this dimension of patriotism by having one member of the Committee of Safety say: “shew me a clever man, and I’ll shew you an enemy.” The play’s happy ending was written by a man who did not appear to expect such an outcome in his own life. When he received Francis Farley’s letter after writing The Patriots and read Farley’s allusion to the war years—calling them “this unhappy time”—Robert Munford had reason to agree.
Virginia, with the other states, received from Congress in the fall of 1777 a recommendation that property of loyalists be confiscated to provide money for the war. Members of the House of Delegates would not yet go so far, in violation of international law. British officials had not seized the property in Britain of Americans they deemed rebels. The delegates instead sequestered the property of loyalists so that profits from these estates, as well as debts owed to loyalists, would not be paid. The proceeds were invested in Continental loan office certificates—that is, lent to the United States. Among the properties sequestered were five plantations and 149 slaves belonging to Samuel Gist.
Ever since Gist’s departure from Virginia, Benjamin Toler had supervised overseers on Gist’s plantations. He lived near the Pamunkey River, six miles from Hanover Court House. He traveled to Amherst and Goochland counties and within Hanover County to make sure that Gist’s land remained productive, sending profits to Gist. His crop of 1777 yielded about 80 hogsheads of tobacco. In London they were worth at least £3,200; even in Virginia they would bring about £1,120. Gist’s letters and instructions reached Virginia by way of Holland, France, or the French West Indies. In July 1777, Gist’s agent at Petersburg, Thomas Shore, announced his intent to go to Europe. Anyone wishing to transfer money or order manufactured goods could apply to him directly or through Thomas Pleasants in Richmond or William Anderson in Hanover. Anderson offered the plantation of Gist’s stepson, the late John Smith, for rent, and he bought land for Gist. In Virginians’ eyes Gist was “an alien enemy who could not hold any property in this country.” Yet, through Anderson, he did.
Late in November 1777, Gist and almost all leading underwriters and merchants at Lloyd’s signed a memorial to the government, complaining about collusion by France and Spain in American raids on British commerce. Many privateers had few or no Americans on board. The merchants warned: “to such a Price has the Premium of Insurance already arisen, in Contemplation of these Hazards, that many of the most valuable Branches of the Navigation of the Kingdom cannot support so heavy a Charge.” This memorial soon became irrelevant, as greater risks arose. On December 2 people in London learned that six weeks earlier General John Burgoyne had surrendered to the Americans in upstate New York. Although Sir William Howe had defeated George Washington’s forces twice in Pennsylvania and occupied Philadelphia, the Northern Department of the Continental Army under Horatio Gates, with the help of militia, had captured an invading British Army. The value of stock fell, and one member of Parliament “said pleasantly and possibly truly enough that the insurers at Lloyds will have a good scuffle in Westminster Hall upon this Subject.” Anyone could see that France’s covert aid to the United States probably would soon become overt, in the form of diplomatic recognition and alliance in war on Britain. In that event Britain’s merchant fleet risked not only Americans’ piracy but also the French and Spanish navies. More underwriters faced bankruptcy.
By February 1778, Americans secured their alliance with France. Attempting to forestall it, Lord North’s ministry appointed a peace commission to offer terms of reunion to the Americans. This commission had no chance of success, but Samuel Gist and other merchants formerly trading to America took care that reconciliation not come at their expense. They signed a memorial urging the ministry to provide in any agreement “the most effectual measures … to secure the debts due to them which have been contracted under the faith and sanction of the British laws.” Americans’ intent to evade paying was embodied, the merchants said, in “that most dangerous, accumulating, and overwhelming paper currency,” which they made legal tender “in full discharge of book debts, bonds, and all other securities, without having any funds for its redemption.” If the king did not protect “his much injured subjects,” they expected “the loss of their fortunes.”
Each sequestered estate in Virginia was assigned a commissioner to manage a loyalist’s plantations in order to extract a profit for the benefit of the Continental loan office. Samuel Gist’s old ally Peter Lyons persuaded the Council—Gist’s partners in the Dismal Swamp Company, John Page, Thomas Walker, and David Jameson, were councillors—to make William Anderson commissioner for the holdings of Samuel Gist in February 1778. Lyons assumed that if Gist’s property “fell into other hands, it would be much injured.” Of course, everyone knew that Anderson was Gist’s son-in-law. His appointment “subjected him to suspicion that he would not do as much for the public as an indifferent person.” He was charged with “breach of duty, for not selling the crops soon and paying money into the treasury.” He made his first payments in July. That year and the next he gave more than $21,750 in Continental currency to the treasurer of Virginia. Officially, this sum was the equivalent of almost £720 sterling. Anderson withstood suspicion and complaints, occasionally carrying a musket on militia duty to show that he was no loyalist. Mary Anderson’s kindness and hospitality made her popular in spite of Virginians’ dislike of her father. Benjamin Toler worked Gist’s slaves, and Henry Riddick kept the Dismal Swamp Company’s slaves at work with tools Gist had shipped before the war.
War gave Anthony Bacon little rest. The Ordnance Board, deliberating in private without taking competitive bids, awarded him contracts for cannon of various calibers at a price of £18 for each ton of dark gray iron. A single contract on June 17, 1778, one of many between 1773 and 1779, was worth £11,700. He received more orders than any other manufacturer of ordnance. Early in the war Bacon ended his partnership with John Wilkinson but still used and improved Wilkinson’s method for boring cannon. He brought a new partner into his operations at Merthyr Tydfil. Buying out his first partner, William Brownrigg, and replacing him with Richard Crawshay, Bacon exchanged a man of science for a man of business. Crawshay worked forges, foundries, and laborers relentlessly. Bacon leased more land around Merthyr Tydfil, as well as another furnace nearby in 1777 and still another in 1780. With more people working on iron, ironstone, and coal, new cottages rose to fill gaps between earlier ones in the town’s cramped, crooked streets. The constant noise and heat of blast furnaces and iron wheels grew more intense, as did clouds of coal smoke. The forging, casting, and boring of Bacon’s cannon surrounded their makers with flame, smoke, ashes, and soot. As his resident agent at the Cyfarthfa furnace, Bacon employed Richard Hill, husband of Margaret Bushby Hill, whose sister was Bacon’s mistress. Bacon was a godfather of the Hills’ daughter.
Taking account of the growing population of Glamorganshire, officials in Cardiff built a new jail. An improved turnpike ran from Merthyr Tydfil down the valley of the Taff 26 miles to Cardiff. It needed frequent repair as long teams of horses hauled wagons laden with iron guns, many with nine-and-one-half-foot barrels. At the edge of the neat walled town, guarded by a ruined castle overlooking the Bristol Channel, stood the Gwlat Quay. It became known as “Cannon Wharf.” Cardiff’s quiet was often broken as Bacon’s guns were tested by firing 6-pound or 18-pound or 32-pound cannon balls from St. Mary’s Street, at the end of the wharf, into the earthen bank of the south wall. Once approved, artillery pieces were shipped to the king’s ordnance depots and on to America.
The Ordnance Board was only one of several contract-letting boards doing business with the member of Parliament for Aylesbury. Bacon owned a colliery in Cumberland County. He won contracts to supply coal to the British Army in America. One, in August 1778, was worth £18,000. Earlier agreements, under which he bought coal for the army and received a commission of 2½ percent, were even more lucrative, especially if he bought the coal from himself and took a commission.
Bacon also received contracts to supply provisions to the army. Although he was a lesser figure in this trade, he was paid more than £44,000 for Irish provisions in 1778. For 1779 the government stipulated a similar sum. The first agreements, setting a fixed, arbitrary price for the commodities Bacon’s agents delivered, were “extremely favorable to the Contractors, & prejudicial to the publick.” Bacon received overpayments even after a new system computed cost per ration.
Bacon bore the initial expense of furnishing food, coal, and cannon to the Crown, relying upon the government to fulfill its agreements. It was often slow to pay. The Ordnance Board gave him debentures, certifying its debt to him. The ministry, in turn, had to float large loans to finance the war. Delays mounted. In October 1780 debentures redeemable in August 1778 remained due. George Jeffery, a merchant in Throgmorton Street, around the corner from Bacon’s offices, wrote: “an Ordnance Contractor applied to me for a parcel of Goods but could give me no other payment than ordnance Debentures.” Reluctantly, Jeffery took the paper at a steep discount, making “such an exorbitant profit I was ashamed to ask for it. However I found I was still lower than other People.” Bacon was only one of many who were circulating “an amazing fund for Commerce” created for carrying on the war. He was most resourceful when most beleaguered by his big risks, the husband of a relative said. “Once at least, if not oftener, his creditors were called together and his books shewn; and he has been heard to declare, that several times, even in the apparent zenith of his prosperity, had the same thing happened to him, he would have been found worse than nothing.” Bacon survived and, with his fellow contractors, remained loyal to Lord North’s ministry.
Opponents of Lord North censured corruption and waste in the contract system. The navy, the army, and the Ordnance Board spent far more than the sums voted by Parliament, relying on the members to cover these “extraordinaries” with new public funds. This practice, the clerk of the House of Commons later wrote, rendered the process of appropriation “ridiculous and nugatory,” while the ministry tolerated “frauds and abuses.” In debate Isaac Barré singled out the ordnance estimate: “The expence of the ordnance service for this year was above £470,000 and no man could tell to what the account might be swelled.… It had been all imposition from beginning to end, or some persons imagined they had an interest pretending to be deceived.” Members criticized Bacon by name for the amounts he collected to provide slave labor to the government in the West Indies, calling the payments “a most shameful squandering of public money.” The Treasury Board received complaints about late deliveries and inferior quality in Bacon’s shipments of provisions. In the spring of 1778 the opposition tried to prohibit contractors from sitting in the House of Commons. One member provoked Bacon by denouncing them “for being private plunderers; for entering into a conspiracy with a corrupt administration to plunder their country.” Bacon rose to defend himself. He said that he fulfilled his contracts “fairly and honestly,” that he was not a tool of the ministry, and that he “could not conceive why contractors should be treated in so unbecoming, nay, contemptuous a manner—as if they were monsters and not fit for human society!” After the House divided on the question, the Treasury’s secretary, Lord North’s political operative John Robinson, reported from Downing Street: “We were hard run yesterday … and but barely threw out the Contractors’ Bill.” Less than three weeks after the vote, Bacon received a contract for sixty-three more cannons. The following year £1,500 was allotted from the king’s privy purse to help re-elect him in Aylesbury.
Bacon did not let oratory in the House of Commons dispirit him. He enjoyed theatrical people. One of his critics in Parliament, Sir William Mayne, who owned large estates in Ireland and received an Irish peerage in 1776, was the brother of Robert Mayne, who shared Bacon’s contracts to supply Irish provisions to the army. A satirist writing a mock epitaph for Sir William while he was still alive said that Lord North, “wishing to profit by his Connexions, and lamenting the Insignificance of an Instrument so wretched, implored the [king] to make a Lord of him.” But even after Sir William became Baron Newhaven, he “for a long Series of tiresome Years, was neither distinguished by an Action or a Sentiment, which merited Observation.” Anthony Bacon had no need to worry about what Sir William Mayne might say. Later in the war, Robert Mayne went bankrupt and killed himself.
Bacon cultivated other interests. In 1776 he helped David Garrick push a bill through Parliament incorporating a fund for the care of old and needy actors. In Wales, Bacon’s “poetic and literary inclinations” led him to learn Welsh and to seek out “all the bards and educated men” within reach. He befriended the wild-eyed, drunken clergyman Evan Evans, or Ieuan Fardd, pre-eminent scholar of Welsh language and literature. In moments of liquored gratitude Evans sometimes gave away his most precious possessions. He gave or sold to Bacon his rare manuscript copy of the sixth-century epic poem Y Gododdin by Aneirin of the Flowing Muse, Prince of Bards, containing the story of Mynyddawg Mwynfawr and his host of men who feasted for a year before attacking Saxon invaders at Catraeth. It was “equal at least to the Iliad, Æneid or Paradise Lost.” Compared to men Bacon knew, orators in Parliament talking about “what a mine of corruption government contracts were” cut a small figure. Bacon agreed with Samuel Rogers, a merchant writing from London: “Whatever be the Issue of the War in America, the Campaigns made there afford a good Opportunity for Business to People who are wise and skillful enough to keep their Affairs within their power.”
Americans’ war against Britain depended upon transatlantic trade. Virginia lay at the center of this trade. To purchase European arms, ammunition, and supplies for the war, as well as manufactured goods bought by citizens, and to repay loans, America’s most valuable commodity was tobacco. During 1778 and 1779 a hogshead delivered to Spain, France, or Holland commanded more than three times its peacetime price. Delivered to Britain, it brought more than six times as much as the old price. The 22,012 hogsheads exported from Virginia yielded the equivalent of £990,083 sterling.
Robert Morris wrote to Silas Deane: “all Trading People do & must run Risques.” Every master of a vessel bearing American tobacco knew this truth. Beyond the usual risks of the sea and danger of seizure by British privateers or Royal Navy vessels in distant waters, captains increasingly found that entering or leaving Chesapeake Bay was dangerous, almost prohibitively so. By 1777 the British Navy stationed fourteen ships of war in waters off Cape Henry and Cape Charles. Some vessels slipped past them in fog, and others outran them, but “Tis next to a miracle if a Vessel arrives within the Capes without being chased.” At the end of 1778 beaches for 25 miles south of Cape Henry were littered with wrecks of trading vessels stranded while running from British cruisers. Shipping into and out of the bay fell to one-fourth its peacetime volume.
A safer route for getting tobacco out of Virginia and Maryland ran overland, along the northwestern reaches of the Dismal Swamp, into the waters of North Carolina. Tobacco vessels sailed out of the James River and up the Nansemond River, anchoring at Suffolk. Hogsheads were discharged into wagons to be hauled 25 miles to warehouses at South Quay on the Blackwater River. They were loaded on board sloops or square-riggers. These dropped down the Blackwater into the Chowan River and down the Chowan into Albemarle Sound. Vessels of almost 200 tons could call at South Quay. Smaller vessels also took hogsheads down the rivers to Edenton, where ships, schooners, and sloops rode at anchor. When ready to depart, they sailed out of Albemarle Sound and, protected by the Outer Banks, passed behind Cape Hatteras to Ocracoke Inlet, a break in the Outer Banks with a 12-foot draft. This was their passage to the sea. Vessels bringing munitions, rum, and manufactured goods to America entered at Ocracoke Inlet and followed the same route to Edenton and South Quay. Supplies for General Washington’s army went from warehouses at Suffolk down the Nansemond River into the James and into Chesapeake Bay, then up the bay to its northernmost point: Head of Elk, Maryland, 12 miles from Pennsylvania.
Some vessels outward bound from Albemarle Sound or Chesapeake Bay sailed for Nantes or Cádiz or Bordeaux. But most headed for ports in the West Indies—French islands such as Martinique or the Danish island of St. Croix—or, best of all, the Dutch island of St. Eustatius. A dormant volcano rising steeply from the sea about 75 miles northwest of Antigua, St. Eustatius supported on its 15 square miles a rich mixture of visitors, “smugglers, adventurers, betrayers of their Country, and rebels to their King.” Though the island’s harbor was poor, it was ringed for a mile and a quarter with warehouses two deep. After these filled, hogsheads of tobacco and sugar covered the beach. Merchants routinely saw two hundred vessels anchored in the road. In 1779 more than 2,000 vessels brought cargoes to the island, almost 300 of them from the United States. At the peak of its wartime trade, St. Eustatius held goods and commodities worth more than £3,000,000.
The British naval officer who called some people on the island “betrayers of their Country” referred not to Dutch subjects but to British merchants, agents, and ship captains. Everyone knew that many goods passing through St. Eustatius came from Britain. Before the bench of the High Court of Admiralty the king’s attorney said in October 1777: “Our own merchants, as well as the Dutch are concerned. The spirit of commercial adventure has seized all the world.” English goods had “a prodigious Sale” in Virginia and other states. Many British merchants strove to profit. Vessels cleared from home port to a British island in the West Indies sometimes landed only part of their cargoes, then took the rest to St. Eustatius. Other captains were bolder. From a convoy escorted to St. Kitts by HMS Leviathan in the autumn of 1779, seven vessels “went down openly to St. Eustatius.” British colonists and traders in St. Kitts sent Irish provisions to St. Eustatius. These found their way to Martinique to feed the French fleet. Commenting on British merchants’ trade at the Dutch island, Vice-Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney wrote to Captain John Laforey: “I … am fully convinced, by intercepting hundreds of letters, that if it had not been for their treasonable correspondence and assistance, the American war must have been long since finished.”
Americans had followed this trade route during the previous war and in peacetime smuggling. They built a steady trade on behalf of independence more quickly than they built a reliable army. At St. Eustatius, European goods bound for America sold for 120 to 400 percent of cost. After they made the run to Edenton, South Quay, and Suffolk, they took another large markup. Worried about criticism from his associates Willing & Morris, Carter Braxton wrote defensively to justify charging customers only 300 percent more than he had paid for dry goods bought in the West Indies. His enemies the Lees said that he “from a ruined fortune is now amassing an immense Estate from the distresses of his country.”
In Williamsburg, John Hatley Norton looked forward to getting rich. He told merchants in Rotterdam and Bordeaux: “European Goods particularly such as we used to receive from Engld, sell at an advance of 1500 pCent on sterling Cost.” Many vessels were captured. Insurance at Amsterdam required a premium of 35 percent; French underwriters asked 45 or 50 percent or more. The transatlantic trade absorbed losses and premiums while remaining lucrative. Alarmed by high markups, state governments and Congress tried to control prices and regulate trade. Virginia named Fielding Lewis, Charles Dick, and James Mercer as commissioners to confer with North Carolina’s commissioners on prices. Lewis served as chairman. In their meeting early in 1778, they concluded “that it is totally impracticable to regulate the general Imports & Produce of the States.”
Fielding Lewis formed his opinion about importation not just from observation and report but also from experience. He and several other merchants and investors established Fielding Lewis & Company. Under the management of Joshua Storrs, the company pooled capital to send the schooner Betsey, laden with tobacco, to France and the French West Indies in search of profitable return cargoes: sugar, molasses, salt, coffee, cloth, china, and other goods. In Suffolk, Wills Cowper received tobacco for the Betsey. The company also brought cargo in the mail packet Virginia. The partners prospered. One wrote to another as they prepared a joint venture in January 1778: “May the good Luck of Fiel Lewis & Company attend us.” A few months earlier a 1/32 share in the company sold for £500 currency. Though Lewis spent the summer of 1778 at Berkeley Springs for his health, he gave advice about the Betsey’s voyage: “it’s my opinion that Rum Sugr. & molasses are the best.” The partnership dissolved at the end of the year; its substantial profits were divided in the spring of 1779.
John Page suggested a similar venture to St. George Tucker in the autumn of 1776. Bringing in rum, sugar, munitions, and medicine from the West Indies, Page wrote, “would put you into a way of making a very considerable Fortune.” Five months later, Tucker allied with Maurice Simons of Charleston. The first leg of his trip to Charleston took him along the post road from Suffolk skirting the Dismal Swamp. In the still March evening unruffled brown water reflected vast trunks and high, moss-hung branches of old cypress trees, as in an “extensive looking Glass.” He heard so many frogs that the ground seemed to be alive and croaking. The uneven road threatened to drop him into the swamp. Nightfall and chill came upon him. Seeking shelter in a house near the road, he found an old woman and a girl of sixteen. They let him use a bed. As he talked with them, they gave him coffee but no milk because their cows spent the winter in the swamp, foraging. The old woman explained her coffee’s unusual “pungency” by telling him that she sweetened it with molasses: “we have no Sugar. No Sir, we poor people can not afford such Dainties as Rum and sugar.” The next day Tucker reached Edenton, which was “nearly overrun by the busy sons of commerce.”
After meeting Simons in Charleston, Tucker returned to Virginia. On his own and his partners’ account he collected hogsheads of tobacco at South Quay and sent them in the brig Dispatch to Samuel and John Delap, merchants in Bordeaux. Early in 1779 the Delaps remitted about £2,000 sterling to Tucker through London and Bermuda. His share was more than £430. The return voyage of the Dispatch by way of Surinam was less happy. Off the Outer Banks two British cruisers gave chase. To save what he could, Captain William Hill Sergeant ran her on shore. Losing the vessel, Sergeant salvaged rum, molasses, and guns in her hold. Cargoes from Bermuda brought Tucker further profits. In April 1780 he bought a 100-acre farm.
A port town before the war, South Quay became a boom town. Virginia’s two galleys built there joined other vessels in defending Ocracoke Inlet. Merchants traveling from Suffolk to South Quay had a “disagreeable journey.” Whitefield’s, the only tavern in Suffolk late in 1777, was “a bad one.” The road leading westward from Suffolk and the Dismal Swamp passed small plantations and worn wooden houses. Sandy soil supported mainly short marsh grass and pine trees. Occasionally a traveler saw a gristmill or a tar kiln. Near the center of these silent pine barrens stood South Quay, a busy, dirty town of many kinds of transactions. American, French, and Spanish vessels were anchored near the wharves. The brig El Sagrado Corazón de Jesus brought twenty-two cannons. Full of sailors and teamsters, the town had little law and much rum. Early in 1778 hire of a wagon cost more than £4 per day. Pilferage from cargoes, routine in London, was rampant in South Quay. Masters of vessels, merchants, and agents made quick deals, trying to gauge how many hundreds of percent profit they could expect to turn. News of a cargo of salt attracted both merchants and local people. Essential for curing meat, salt was in short supply. Men furnishing rations to the army wanted it, as did people south of the James who supported themselves partly by curing hams. At one of the peaks of demand, a bushel of salt at South Quay brought £150 currency or 112 pounds of tobacco.
A traveler on roads out of Suffolk and Norfolk needed to take care—he might be robbed or killed by fugitives living in the Dismal Swamp. After Lord Dunmore left the region, some blacks and whites who had joined him, with others who had left their former homes, camped in dry sectors of the swamp, where militiamen did not relish pursuing them. It was safer to leave these runaway blacks, bitter loyalists, and bandits alone. Sporadically, some of them raided houses or attacked travelers, then “return’d into their strong swamps, from whence they will commit many daring outrages.”
Despite dangers by land and sea, South Quay’s trade flourished for the first three years of the war and revived during the last two. Demand for tobacco in Europe and for lumber and provisions in the West Indies, combined with Americans’ eagerness for war supplies, liquor, sweets, and manufactured goods, drew vessels and speculators. A trader wrote to a partner in Fielding Lewis & Company: “You may guess my dislike at being engaged so long in such a Country as this.” He could have said of South Quay what the master of the Saucy Jack wrote about its sister port in North Carolina as a warning to the same merchant: “I can fully assure you you have no friends in Edenton—(Vultures All).”
As men in other states did, Virginia’s political leaders and moralists condemned behavior typical of wartime trade. John Page said that “the Demon of Avarice” had been “let loose upon us.” Depreciation of paper money enabled Edmund Pendleton to make more rapid progress in settling accounts between the state and Speaker Robinson’s estate. At the same time, he deplored “the graspers” and their greed, which “pervaded every breast almost.” On the list of offenders were “Planters, Importers, Speculators, & monopolizers.” Two years after Fielding Lewis & Company had dissolved, Lewis complained to George Washington that imported goods cost too much: “none can afford to buy except the Tradesmen and speculators.” But the demon was not confined to a few classes or groups: “every man now, trys to ruen his neighbour.”
Foretelling impending financial disaster for Virginians, moralists also deplored “luxury, and extravagancy.” Prices were extortionate; yet, somehow, far too many people lived in “Indolence” and “dissipation,” indulging themselves with costly objects. A list of goods in demand during August 1779 contained not only gunpowder, flints, earthenware, and cottons, but also gold leaf, blonde lace, white gloves, embroidered cambric waistcoats, brandy, and tea. A horse race in Caroline County late that year shocked Edmund Pendleton by the size of its purse: £30,000 in Virginia currency. Moral decline manifested itself both in gambling for such a large sum and in printing so much paper money that £30,000 would soon be worth only £240 sterling.
Censors of the times returned to the subject of “dirty paper,” a currency almost of “no more value than Oak leaves.” Inflation, they believed, brought the decay of ethics. George Washington complained that all but a few of his debtors paid him paper at face value under laws making currency legal tender. He thus received about 7.5 percent of the value of the money owed him. John Page said that “the Spirit of Traffic” spread among Virginians. He and Walter Jones saw this not as laudable enterprise and ingenuity but as “the licentious perfidy, fraud, pride and poverty which are the offspring of rags and paper, and are perfectly epidemic with us.” Recalling stories of the famous bubble in France early in the century, Carter Braxton predicted in 1777 that, if prices continued to rise, “probably all our Money and Credit will end as the Mississippi scheme did.”
Buying provisions at St. Eustatius, planters of Antigua regained indirectly some of their trade with North America, but not enough. Even if Antigua had enjoyed unfettered commerce, its condition would have remained desperate. Drought, beginning in 1777, continued in 1778 and 1779. The island’s exports fell steeply. In a good year it produced at least 15,000 hogsheads of sugar. In 1779 and 1780 it harvested a “Dismal Crop,” which yielded about 3,500 each year. Slaves’ private vegetable gardens withered. The colony had to import water, which sold for 1s. 6d. per gallon. Even at that price, too little arrived. Some provisions from Britain turned out to be spoiled. In 1778 slaves began to die of starvation, “in the greatest agony.” Many others were “exceedingly sickly.” The following year “the Flux,” dysentery, struck Antigua. As many as 7,600 black people, 20 percent of the population, died. No one knew the precise number.
Francis Farley believed that he was a humane slaveholder. He held a reserve of food on his plantations, yet feared that in a famine, “any of us that are provident and have a store of Provision by us for our own Negroes will have it forced from us.” Soon he had new concerns: his wife’s poor health and his own illnesses. Long a sufferer from gout, he came down with the flux in 1779. He hoped in March that a voyage to Tobago, about 900 miles round trip, would benefit him with sea air and a change of climate.
On Saturday, March 27, just before his departure, Farley, feeling “much Indisposed,” wrote his will. To his wife he bequeathed lifetime use of one of his plantations, as well as personal possessions and household goods. After making a few monetary bequests, he left most of the rest of his property in Antigua, four plantations, to Captain John Laforey, trusting him to “act the part of a man of Honor by my Grand Children.” Laforey also was eventually to inherit the plantation where Farley’s wife lived.
Farley devoted a long section of his will to his property in North America: the Land of Eden, his plantations near Norfolk, and his share in the “Company known by the name of the great Dismal Swamp.” He knew of three granddaughters in Virginia, but he had not learned the outcome of Elizabeth Byrd Farley’s latest pregnancy. She had a fourth daughter, soon to be two years old, but Francis Farley provided for the possibility of a grandson. If one had been born, Farley wrote, he was to inherit the Land of Eden, the Virginia plantations, and the partnership in the Dismal Swamp Company. He also was to inherit Farley’s Mercers Creek plantation on the northeastern coast of Antigua. The granddaughters were to receive £2,000 sterling each, upon reaching the age of twenty-one. But if no grandson had been born, the granddaughters would inherit all Farley’s property in Virginia and North Carolina and his Mercers Creek plantation jointly, share and share alike. Thus, by a roundabout way, the Land of Eden returned to the Byrd family. Old Colonel William Byrd’s great granddaughters were to become partners in the scheme to drain the Dismal Swamp—a scheme, he had written fifty years past, which could be completed in ten years.
On Tuesday, March 30, Farley took passage on board a ship bound for Tobago. After two days at sea, he proved to be “too far gone to recover.” He died on Thursday. The ship changed course to put back to St. Johns, intending to return Farley’s remains to the burial grounds of other members of his family. Sailing for Antigua, her master and crew sighted French frigates to windward. The men-of-war bore down upon them to seize a prize. The ship bearing Farley’s body ran before the trade winds, closely chased by the fast frigates. She “was very near being taken” as she approached the steep, wooded slopes of the British island of Montserrat, 27 miles southwest of Antigua. She sailed into Sugar Bay and dropped anchor under the guns of Fort Barrington. The remains of Francis Farley were buried in Montserrat.
When Captain Laforey learned of his father-in-law’s death, he was commander of HMS Invincible. He had irritated the ministry by testifying for the defense in the court-martial of Admiral Augustus Keppel, another episode of the political fights in the navy and the capital. Keppel had been acquitted, to the delight of the fleet and of Lord North’s opponents. Celebrators and rioters moved through London’s streets at night. Keppel received the thanks of the City. He was honored with a dinner at the London Tavern, where toasts were raised to the Americans and to “Keppel and Liberty.” Despite Laforey’s politics, the Admiralty gave him a posting he wanted: commissioner of naval affairs in the Leeward Islands, with his office at English Harbor, Antigua. The appointment made him “extremely happy.” He would be near his newly inherited plantations. The Admiralty welcomed a vacancy in the command of HMS Invincible as it reassigned senior officers. Leaving Eleanor Laforey and their children in England, John Laforey sailed for English Harbor.
As commissioner, Laforey oversaw the Royal Navy’s most important harbor in the West Indies: a refuge from storms, a magazine of supplies, a shipyard for repairs, and a dumping ground for sick seamen. In the absence of an admiral, he had authority over all officers and vessels in the harbor. He found, however, that some newly promoted captains defied him—young men with no memory of the surrender of Louisburg in 1758 and with too little respect for their elders. He worked in a cramped office above a storehouse, often staying late at his desk and sleeping on a field bed nearby. Around his building, drunken sailors wandered among hovels. Laforey had little time for plantations; he learned that Francis Farley had left them “under incumbrances” which could be lifted only with profits produced by plentiful rain and large crops of sugar.
As soon as Britain declared war on the Dutch, the British took St. Eustatius, ending the island’s career as an entrepot for Americans. Almost two years earlier, in May 1779, a British force had gone to Virginia to strike South Quay and Suffolk. On Saturday, May 8, a fleet commanded by Commodore Sir George Collier sailed between the capes, into Chesapeake Bay. To the British, the spectacle looked impressive; to Virginians, frightening: five men-of-war, easterly winds filling their sails, accompanied by an armed galley, privateers, and 22 troop transports, bearing about 1,800 soldiers.
Commodore Collier and Major General Edward Mathew knew what they were after. In New York they had been told by William Franklin, royal governor of New Jersey, that a young man taken on his way from Virginia to Cádiz had let drop some information: Suffolk and Portsmouth held an unusually large concentration of provisions and other supplies. Loyalists told the British as much, hoping that the army would come to Virginia to stay. Accompanying Sir George as an advisor, James Parker returned to familiar scenes he had fled almost three years earlier. Sir George struck Virginia because it was “the province which of all others gives sinews to the rebellion from its extensive traffick.” General Sir Henry Clinton allowed the army to raid but not to stay. If a permanent post around Norfolk looked advantageous later in the year, Sir George wrote, “the situation of the county of Norfolk is such as will require no very great force to keep possession, from its being covered by the Dismal Swamp and other difficulties in approaching it by land. I understand this part of Virginia carries on a great trade in tobacco and abounds in naval stores and in cattle.” Loyalists tried to sell the strategic merits of the Dismal Swamp to the British as ardently as William Byrd or George Washington tried to sell the swamp’s future to investors.
On the exposed point of land overlooking the Elizabeth River west of Portsmouth, among the ruins of Robert Tucker’s mills and bakery, Virginians had built fortifications. As British troops landed on Monday, May 10, the commander of a small American force saw the uselessness of resisting. He withdrew along the eastern margin of the Dismal Swamp into North Carolina, returning northward on the western side.
Before withdrawing, Virginians burned a new Continental Navy frigate, but Sir George Collier still took rich prizes. In addition to vessels on the stocks in the shipyard, his seamen captured about 130 others in two weeks. In the yard he found large quantities of masts, sails, cordage, and seasoned timber. General Mathew’s soldiers, surveying wharves and warehouses along the Elizabeth River, saw the first signs that Sir George’s informants had told the truth. Almost 200 hogsheads of tobacco, more than 100 barrels of pork, more than 100 barrels of flour, as well as molasses, rum, salt—the list was long, and the proceeds of this booty, after it was taken away and sold, was divided among soldiers and sailors, according to rank. Rumor in New York the following month said that Commodore Collier and General Mathew each cleared £5,000 sterling.
Among those surprised at Portsmouth were two French vessels laden with tobacco. One, Le Soucy, out of Bordeaux, had brought a cargo of rum, sugar, and manufactured goods partly belonging to the Deane brothers, Silas and Simeon. Loading her with tobacco for an outbound voyage, Simeon had chosen Portsmouth as the safest port. He was there when the British appeared in the Elizabeth River. Captain Pierre Raphael Charlet, master of Le Soucy, tried to save her by withdrawing up the southern branch. When capture looked imminent, he put pitch and tar under the scuttles of her main deck and fired her before she could be taken. Deane tried to conceal bales of goods on shore, but the British, he said later, “came so suddenly upon us as to prevent saving anything.… I escaped the only Person in my Party of 30 Men.” On the advice of local people, he fled westward along Deep Creek to hide in the northeastern reaches of the Dismal Swamp.
At dawn on Wednesday, May 12, he found himself trapped between a pond and a “terrible thicket.” He feared he could not get out of the swamp, and he felt “almost kill’d by the Insects.” He was not so lost as he thought. A little boy approached with instructions from his mother to guide Deane to the Suffolk road. He said that the English were asking for Deane by name. Simeon did not wish to become a trophy of war, the captured brother of America’s former emissary to France.
With the boy’s help, he reached the Suffolk road near Francis Farley’s plantation. The route, however, was not safe. Too many British soldiers passed by, plundering farms and houses on their way to Suffolk. People piloted Deane from house to house, each person passing him on to another. He at last persuaded James Taylor to hide him “in the thick Swamp” until the British left. With a blanket for shelter and with food brought to him, he stayed more than a week “continually in the Swamp & almost ready to perish by such Millions of Insects.” When he emerged, he had a beard, no stockings, torn clothing, and bare legs cut by briers. He had lost Le Soucy, her cargo of 360 hogsheads of tobacco, most of his merchandise, and £10,000 in currency.
While Deane waited under a blanket among the vines and stands of bamboo in the shadow of the swamp’s big trees, the British destroyed Suffolk. A detachment of about four hundred men under Colonel George Garth marched to the Nansemond River. They found the unusually large collection of supplies which had attracted Sir George Collier to Virginia: more than 3,000 barrels, mostly pork, the rest flour and other provisions. With too little time and too few sailors to remove this hoard, the soldiers burned it. Stacked next to the wharves were hundreds of barrels of pine tar, pitch, turpentine, and rum. Men knocked the heads in and poured the contents over stockpiles of food, over wharves, and into the river. The fires they set consumed all but a few of Suffolk’s one hundred frame houses, as well as its warehouses. Sheets of burning tar and pitch floated on the water. Exploding barrels of gunpowder threw burning timbers high into the air. Wind and water carried fire into the Dismal Swamp. For days, as flames moving through the swamp ignited tall reeds, people heard explosive bursts like running gunfire. On their way back to Portsmouth, soldiers drove ahead of them all the livestock they could find.
Sir Henry Clinton had ordered General Mathew to bring his troops back to New York by June 1. Seeking freedom, many slaves, perhaps five hundred, went to Portsmouth to leave with them. Some became seamen in privateers. One or more of the Dismal Swamp Company’s slaves left Dismal Plantation. After the British were gone, the company paid “for carrying home a runaway Negro.” Late on Monday, May 24, and in the dark morning hours of Tuesday, General Mathew’s men went on board their transports. The British fired the shipyard. Keels, hulls, masts, and timbers sent up a bright flame as Commodore Collier’s vessels set sail and left the Elizabeth River. The fleet spent one more day in Chesapeake Bay, then passed the capes and stood out to sea.
As the British departed, Williamsburg filled with people attending the spring session of the General Assembly. All rooms and beds were taken, if not by delegates and senators, by “Speculators and others of the same likeness,” eager to witness the struggle over new land laws. Thomas Jefferson succeeded Patrick Henry as governor on June 1. Three times in 1777 and 1778 he had tried to win passage of measures to regulate the state’s sales and grants of its western lands. Each time opponents deflected his proposal.
Jefferson wished to abrogate the vast colonial grants to companies and to groups of kinsmen and political allies. He envisioned a land office conveying public land to settlers more often, and to speculators less often, than in the past. He and George Mason had collaborated, dividing the labor of drafting bills to settle titles and to create a land office. These came before the delegates and senators in June 1779.
The legislators agreed upon rejecting the claims of the Indiana Company. Part of the urgency of fixing a policy came from a desire to thwart Pennsylvania speculators and others hoping to get Virginia’s western territory. During the previous session, the General Assembly had made peace with Richard Henderson and his Transylvania scheme. Though claims based on private arrangements with Indian tribes, such as Henderson’s purchase from Cherokees, were invalidated, the Assembly allotted to him 200,000 acres along the Green River in western Kentucky.
Jefferson’s changes in the old system provoked more resistance. George Dabney, calling speculators “the greatest Enemies We have,” explained: “the misfortune is the Example begins among our leaders.” Jefferson later wrote about Mason’s draft of a law: “His great object was to remove out of the way the great and numerous orders of council to the Ohio co. Loyal co. Misissipi co. Vandalia co. Indiana co. &c.” This was Jefferson’s wish, but Mason still worked to win confirmation of the Ohio Company’s claim, with no more success than the Indiana Company had. Speculators and their friends were well represented in the Assembly. As the bills went through the House of Delegates and the Senate, Mason had good reason to fear that they would be “mutilated mangled & chop’d to Peices.”
By the time the “act for establishing a Land office” emerged, it was almost a gift to speculators. It permitted purchase of public land with depreciated paper currency. Rules for surveys and conveyances favored speculators over settlers. Not surprisingly, after the Land Office opened in October, “People took out Warrants for vast Quantities of Land.” Five months later, Fielding Lewis wrote: “I suppose five million acres are already granted, never was so fine a Country sold for so trifling a sum.”
The “Act for adjusting and settling the titles of claimers” underwent fewer changes. Mason and Jefferson’s draft declared void all orders of Council and entries for land west of the mountains except those already surveyed and patented. Only the Loyal Company and the Greenbrier Company would survive under this provision. But the act’s wording cast doubt on the validity of all colonial grants of land not yet fully surveyed, and the Dismal Swamp Company’s holdings were such a grant. The Assembly changed Mason and Jefferson’s draft. The final act for settling titles omitted mention of the west and voided unsurveyed colonial grants. The act made one exception to this new rule: “except also a certain order of council for a tract of sunken grounds, commonly called the Dismal Swamp.” The Assembly reserved to itself the power to determine the company’s title. Obviously, the Dismal Swamp Company had friends in the legislature, and everyone knew that one of the partners was commander in chief of the Continental Army. Nevertheless, after the Land Office opened, many people took out warrants for acres of the Dismal Swamp, “knowing that the Company had lapsed the time allowed them by the Council under the former government.”
With purchases, grants, settlements, and rival claims multiplying in the west, Virginians and North Carolinians agreed that fixing their boundary in the region had become a “necessary business.” No one had more interest in the outcome than Dr. Thomas Walker, since the boundary of Virginia would also mark the southern line of the Loyal Company’s tracts. Though “considerably beyond his grand climacteric,” Walker said of himself, his wiry little body remained vigorous. His wife died in November 1778. Later that month the House of Delegates confirmed the Loyal Company’s title to land already surveyed. In December he accepted appointment to serve as a commissioner to extend the line begun by William Byrd and continued by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson.
North Carolina chose commissioners led by Richard Henderson. The survey was to start in August 1779. During his visit to Williamsburg in the spring, Henderson saw Virginia’s preparations for Walker’s expedition: tents, utensils, provisions, arms and ammunition for chain carriers, line markers, packhorse men, and one hundred guards. Dr. Walker expected his fifteen-year-old son, Francis, to manage the Loyal Company’s business someday. The boy accompanied the surveyors to get his first look at the west. Not relying solely on his own skills, Walker took another surveyor, James Michie, with him. But he spoke of “making great Haste, so that they may not wait to be very Accurate.”
Early in August long lines of mounted men, with their packhorses, crossed the Blue Ridge. Pausing at Fort Chiswell, Walker wrote some letters about Loyal Company business. The men then rode into the mountains to meet Walker’s fellow commissioner, Daniel Smith, and to find the North Carolinians “at the Beginning of the Line.”
In 1749, Fry and Jefferson ended their survey at Steep Rock Creek, looking up at the Iron Mountains. Walker and Smith waited there for the North Carolinians, who came ten days late. Many trees had died in the preceding thirty years; no one could find markings by the earlier surveyors. The commissioners took observations with their Hadley’s quadrants and azimuth compasses, then stipulated that they were on the line of 36° 30′ of north latitude and that they were 329 surface miles or 319 air miles west of the beach above Currituck Inlet. On September 6 they began to extend their chains due west, they supposed, over the Iron Mountains, across the south fork of the Holston River, past Shelbys Fort, toward Moccasin Gap.
A week later, during a rainstorm, Richard Henderson sat in his leaky tent writing a letter. He warned the government of North Carolina not to grant Virginia’s request that landholders’ Virginia titles be confirmed by North Carolina wherever their property fell on the south side of the line. He already could see that the line ran north of settlements claimed by the Loyal Company. Here was a chance to overturn some of the “secret surveys” made long ago by “an old Land monger” who, even as Henderson sat writing, had his own tent pitched not far away. People who knew nothing of the Loyal Company, Henderson said, had settled in the region and started farms. Defying the company’s claims, they had been treated with “Extreme Cruelty” by the “Damn’d Scotch-Irish Virginians in Office.” He hoped that settlers, not the Loyal Company, would get title to land in North Carolina.
Henderson had predicted that news of the survey would cause “madness and rage” among Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Creeks. Walker and the Virginians also felt concern about Indians’ reactions. The island in the Holston River, a customary place for meeting and trading by Virginians and Cherokees, fell on the North Carolina side of the line. In the last week of September, the commissioners met a delegation of Cherokees there. During the wait for the Indians’ arrival from the valley of the Little Tennessee River, the North Carolinians began to complain that the boundary did not follow the proper parallel and ran too far south.
After Cherokee men from Chota reached the island, Dr. Walker addressed them, trying to put the best face on the surveyors’ purpose. The next day, Onitositah, leader of the Upper Town Cherokees, replied. He said that he needed all his hunting grounds, extending northward from the Cherokee towns to the south bank of the Cumberland River and westward to its mouth on the Ohio. He hoped to keep his men away from the surveyors, but if this new line cut off any of his territory, he said, “ ’twill make me begin to think of what I was told some years ago by the Kings people.” The British had warned him that if Americans won independence, “they would at last take all our hunting grounds and bring us to nothing.” He hoped for “more compassion.” Walker and Smith assured the Cherokees that Virginia “will not take any Land that you have a right to.” The commissioners urged them to change from hunting wild game to raising livestock and to “live as we do.” American independence promised not destruction but “a plentiful Trade.” At the beginning of October, the surveyors resumed their progress westward.
After 5 miles, the parties stopped in Carter’s Valley, 45 miles west of their starting point. Henderson and the North Carolinians insisted that the line ran about two and one-half miles south of its true course. Walker and Smith attributed his mistake to a change in the magnetic variation of the compass, perhaps caused by iron ore nearby. The Virginians tried to prove their case by letting Smith take two North Carolinians back eastward along the line they preferred, while Walker and Henderson continued westward. Every day’s observation convinced Smith that the North Carolinians were wrong, but they remained adamant. On October 27, the parties were reunited as Smith caught up with Walker at Black Water Creek. Making more observations, Walker concluded not only that the North Carolinians erred in thinking the line too far south but that he too had miscalculated, running it too far north from the start. He proposed that they move the line two miles and ten seconds south. Henderson refused. Several days passed “in making observations, debating, and even abusing one another.”
As the commissioners squabbled, they stood, without knowing it, more than 12 miles north of the line of 36°30′ of latitude. Walker’s line was wrong, putting a strip of his own claim into North Carolina. Henderson’s preferred line, two miles to the north, lay farther off a true course. Years later the surveyor and mathematician Andrew Ellicott wrote to the governor of Virginia about Walker’s survey: “The accuracy of this work I have always considered at best but doubtful, owing to the mode and instruments made use of by those gentlemen.” Since Walker failed to make correct allowances for magnetic deviation, his line did not run due west. The farther he went, the farther north of the true line he blazed his meandering boundary. Dr. Walker was in a hurry. He preferred a fixed, flawed line sooner to a perfect one later.
From Carter’s Valley to Cumberland Gap, in the first two weeks of November, one file of chain carriers and packhorses followed Walker, while a little more than two miles away, another file followed Henderson. Crossing the Clinch River, they looked into water so clear they could see every fish and the river bottom at a depth of eight or ten feet. They climbed the long, steep range of Powell’s Mountain. For the first time in thirty years Walker saw streams and heights he had named. In mid-November, they reached the well-traveled road running between steep cliffs—Cumberland Gap. Walker’s line put it in Virginia; Henderson’s put it in North Carolina. Henderson announced that the North Carolinians were quitting “this abortive undertaking.”
Henderson went to Boonesborough for a few days, intending to keep his eye on the Virginia surveyors, then headed for French Lick on the Cumberland River. He and other speculators envisioned a town there, named for the dead war hero Francis Nash. Dr. Walker and the Virginians pushed their line westward from the Gap about 15 more miles, crossing Cumberland Mountain range and reaching Clear Fork. The guards began to complain about steep climbing; they sounded mutinous. Walker and Smith later reported to the House of Delegates that they considered giving up the survey at Clear Fork on November 22. But they knew that, farther west, settlers who thought themselves living in North Carolina held land reserved for Virginia’s soldiers in the Continental Army. The commissioners wrote: “These, and some more of the like considerations, made us think it more conducive to the good of the State in general that we should keep on, than that we should return.” They chose to skip a mountainous segment, make a detour using the Cumberland River, then resume their survey farther west on its bank, “where by reason of many People being about to settle, it might be of importance to run the line speedily.” They turned north to reach the upper Cumberland. At the river’s edge, they built canoes for themselves and their baggage, resting their thin, hungry horses. On New Year’s Day snow began to fall.
The next day, hunters shot wild turkeys. On the third, under an overcast sky, snow on the ground rose above the men’s ankles. Hunters killed six bison. More days of snow and bitter cold followed. Wind built deep drifts. The Cumberland froze—“a River,” Walker said, “never known to be frozen before.” The Virginians had no way to foresee in November, as they chose to push westward, that the first months of 1780 would bring to North America its coldest winter in forty years. In easternmost Virginia the waters of Chesapeake Bay froze “almost to the Capes,” locking vessels in ice, which sank many. On January 15, Dr. Walker celebrated his sixty-fifth birthday. Daniel Smith reported: “The old Gentleman is in good health and stands fatigue surprizingly.”
Unable to move downriver, they remained in camp for six weeks; out of deep snowdrifts they carved spaces for their tents. Large fires burned day and night; yet the surrounding snowbanks did not recede. To fish, they cut through a foot and a half of ice on the surface of the Cumberland. Each morning they found the hole frozen solid. Hungry opossums and raccoons entered their tents at night. The men lived on fish, venison, and other meat. In Walker’s mess, his son, Francis, cooked, spending his days hunting game. Dr. Walker, lover of tall stories and practical jokes, allowed no gloom. He could not use one of his favorite stunts: boiling a rattlesnake in a coffeepot, serving coffee, then pulling out the dead snake. But he might retell his authentic account of a hard march in the last war, when commissaries went alongside cows following the army and cut out steaks as the cows walked. Francis never saw his father in better form, showing “all that life & good humour which we were kept alive by in the woods.”
In mid-February a thaw let their canoes move downriver. A few miles north of the mouth of the Obey River, Walker and Smith chose a spot on the west bank of the Cumberland to resume their survey. They calculated that they were 109 miles west of the point where they had stopped in November; the true distance was 97 miles. They divided their labor. Smith continued overland with the survey while Walker’s party went down the Cumberland to produce “a tolerable Map” of “a fine River.” On his journey, Walker paused at French Lick to write William Preston about securing “such Lands as may bring me my money” and to say that he was “very Hearty,” with hopes of returning east of the mountains in April.
Smith joined Walker at French Lick, having run the line 131 miles from the point where the Cumberland crossed it flowing southward to the point where the Cumberland crossed it again flowing northward. With some modifications, their irregular line remains the boundary between Kentucky and Tennessee. Together they floated down the Cumberland to their line and surveyed nine more miles to the bank of the Tennessee River. They did not know that on the Cumberland their survey had reached 36°40′—ten minutes of latitude off the true line. Their boundary continued to run erratically north of west until it struck the Tennessee.
The commissioners then headed homeward. But on April 7, 1780, they met a messenger bearing a letter from Governor Jefferson written nine weeks earlier, while they were snowbound. The state of Virginia wished to build a fort on the Mississippi River, near the mouth of the Ohio. Receiving instructions and assistance from George Rogers Clark at the falls of the Ohio, the commissioners were to find the point where Virginia’s boundary met the Mississippi River and “fix it by some lasting immoveable natural mark” so that it could be found easily in the future, “which may perhaps be of importance.”
Walker and Smith went down the Ohio to its mouth, then followed the Mississippi to a double set of switchbacks in its convoluted course. There, on May 9 and 10, they took out their quadrant and compass to end the line William Byrd, his fellow Virginians, and their surly counterparts from North Carolina had begun on the sand above Currituck Inlet in 1728.
Two months later, Walker and Smith stopped in Harrodsburg, just short of the Kentucky River, on their way eastward. They parted on July 22. By the time Dr. Walker and his son reached Castle Hill, they had been away from home for a year. Upon his return, Walker busied himself with establishing the Loyal Company’s claims. In the midst of this paperwork, he concluded that two years as a widower were enough. The day before his sixty-sixth birthday he got married—as he put it, “I intermarried with Mrs. Elizabeth Thornton, an old sweetheart of mine.”
As, in August 1780, Dr. Walker reacquainted himself with the comforts of Castle Hill, his longtime acquaintance and peacetime merchant in London, Samuel Gist, watched consternation spread through the underwriters’ room at Lloyd’s. Word arrived that the consolidated outbound convoy of East India and West India merchant vessels had been taken by the combined Spanish and French fleet under the command of Lieutenant-General Luis de Córdoba. Like the Stock Exchange, Lloyd’s had a reputation for being “the Sport of False News & Fables.” But this news was true.
Sailing before the wind, with the southerly set of the Canaries current, Captain John Moutray in HMS Ramillies escorted five large East India ships, as well as eighteen ships with troops, provisions, and equipment, and forty merchant vessels bound for the West Indies. Moutray also had two frigates: HMS Thetis and HMS Southampton. Ten days from Spithead, as the convoy was about 530 miles west of the Straits of Gibraltar, sailing for Madeira 230 miles to the south, seamen sighted at midnight the lights of strange ships ahead. Moutray signaled the convoy to change course and follow him westward, sailing close to the wind. The men-of-war and three merchant ships came round. Instead of following the lights of HMS Ramillies, the rest of the convoy continued to sail before the wind. At dawn on August 9 they found themselves near thirty-three Spanish and French warships. Only five merchantmen escaped. At the end of the month the people of Cádiz were treated to the spectacle of more than 2,800 British prisoners disembarking: soldiers, seamen, women of the army, and passengers, including “married and unmarried ladies of condition.”
Two weeks after the capture, a visitor to the Royal Exchange wrote: “It has been a black week at Loyd’s.” Thirty years later, men still recalled the “many failures of Underwriters” following loss of that convoy. They spoke of a loss of £1,500,000. Even if that estimate looked too round and too large, the blow was severe. More bad news arrived on Monday, August 28. The outward bound convoy for Québec had been intercepted and dispersed in July by American privateers off the banks of Newfoundland. Somehow, a veteran privateering captain “had the most exact information concerning all our outward and homeward bound fleets, with the ships appointed for their convoy, and even in what longitude and latitude they were to part company.” Twenty-two vessels were taken, most of them said to be worth £30,000 each. Underwriters’ losses neared £400,000, rumor reported. London merchants asked Lord George Germain to provide better convoys.
Samuel Gist was not among the underwriters who became casualties of these disasters. As in his tobacco transactions, his skills as an insurer made him seem lucky. Early in 1778, Harry Clarke, a broker at Lloyd’s, had worked the room in search of underwriters willing to insure cargo in the Janet Laurie for £1,500 from the Firth of Clyde to Jamaica. He had “much difficulty” because “our underwriters are very shy of West India risques,” especially winter risks, beginning on August 1, the start of hurricane season. He eventually collected fourteen subscribers. Samuel Gist took a line for £100. John Sherer was one of two underwriters who took a line for £150. The following month Sherer subscribed for £200 on the Jamaica Pollock and £150 on the Friendship, both on the Clyde-Jamaica route. Gist did not join him. Before the war ended, everyone learned that Sherer had overextended. His name appeared on the list of bankrupts. The same fate befell John Walter, who had joined Sherer in taking lines on the policies of the Jamaica Pollock and the Friendship. Walter said: “I was 12 years an underwriter in Lloyd’s Coffee House, and subscribed my name to 6 millions of property; but was weighed down, in common with above half those who were engaged in the protection of property, by the host of foes this nation had to combat in the American War.” For some ruined by the war, the consequences were fatal. The Gentleman’s Magazine published an obituary of “Mr. Delarive, a policy broker, whose death was accelerated by a run of ill success in the alley, a heavy loss in a large cargo of Irish provisions returned upon his hands from France, and the dangerous illness of a young woman who lived with him, and of whom he was doatingly fond.” Some underwriters and brokers, though not facing bankruptcy, looked at their losses, then “quitted the Coffeehouse.”
Notwithstanding many failures, Lloyd’s flourished during the war. By 1778 the number of men frequenting the rooms to “speculate in insurances” was said to be six hundred. Some, including Gist, made fortunes. In France, marine insurance premiums fluctuated around 50 percent. In Spain, underwriters often refused to insure transatlantic risks. At Lloyd’s, premiums seldom ran so high as on the Continent. Even when they did, a “Merchant of Character” willing to pay could almost always get a policy, “every Risk having its Price.” Of the 6,000 British vessels at sea during the war, almost 2,400 were lost to the enemy. But owners of the other 3,600 paid underwriters between 10 and 30 percent of the insured value of vessel and cargo for each voyage, as did owners of lost vessels. One merchant wrote: “the underwriters have had great losses, but they have had enormous premiums; and when the captains of merchantmen have done their duty, by sticking by the men of war appointed to convoy them, few have miscarried.” Rates shipowners charged for freight rose at the same time that insurance premiums and seamen’s wages did.
Shrewd underwriters shielded themselves. They largely abandoned a peacetime practice: accepting large premiums to insure vessels already at sea but late in arriving. They refused to pay policies on captured ships if the ship had left convoy, as many did in hope of a quick run to a good market. Almost five hundred vessels taken by the enemy were retaken. A vessel recaptured by the Royal Navy might become a prize for the man-of-war’s officers and crew. Underwriters did not pay in such instances. Of course, the courts heard many cases between underwriters and policyholders.
Samuel Gist appeared in court sometimes as plaintiff and sometimes as defendant. After he refused to pay a policy on a captured vessel which, he said, had not joined a convoy as the owner had warranted she would, the owner sued him. The jury found for the plaintiff. Gist asked the Court of King’s Bench for a new trial. After hearing testimony from masters of several ships, Lord Mansfield said from the bench, “This case is very clear,” and ruled against Gist.
But Gist won another case when he sued several shipowners to force them to pay premiums they had agreed to pay but had withheld. The owners argued that Gist could not recover these premiums in court because the vessels, flying a flag of a neutral nation, were transporting provisions from Ireland to West Indian islands occupied by the French. The owners—the defendants—said that “this kind of trading was so notoriously illegal that the plaintiff must have known it to be so.” The policy therefore ought to be void. But the jury found for Gist, and the Court of King’s Bench refused to order a new trial. As did Gist, Lord Mansfield saw benefits in allowing men at Lloyd’s to insure trade with the enemy “because,” he said from the bench, “you hold the box, and are sure of getting the premiums at least, as a certain profit.” Gist held the box throughout the war.
He kept his touch as a tobacco dealer. In July 1776, he held 195 hogsheads; in February 1782, he had 69. He also handled on consignment the sale of tobacco on behalf of loyalist merchants in American cities occupied by the British. He disposed of one shipment early in 1779 at twice the price the owners had paid in New York. Gist’s chief rivals in profitable tobacco dealing were the firm of Champion, Dickason & Company. Despite its name, it no longer had a Champion in it because Alexander and Benjamin Champion had “left the Company & become Insurance Brokers.”
The French made large purchases of tobacco in 1777 before they entered the war. When the price rose to 120 shillings per hundredweight—£100 per hogshead—Gist sold more of the hogsheads he had imported so eagerly in 1775. He did not report to Virginians who had consigned it to him that he received such high prices. He later told Moss Armistead & Company of Petersburg that in November 1777 he had sold their 20 hogsheads for a total of £406 4s. 2d. The firm of Jones & Watson fared still worse at his hands. Their 22 hogsheads, which he had acknowledged receiving, vanished from his records. He spared them the insult of the tuppence.
Across America Square from Gist, William Molleson was in trouble. His firm had imported more than four and a half times as much tobacco as Gist did in 1775. But in the following years Molleson suffered more from unpaid American debts, and the tobacco, or his method of turning it to account, did not serve the firm so well as Gist made his tobacco serve him. In the City, rumor said of Molleson: “it is supposed that instead of carrying on his mercantile business, he had commenced politician, and ruined thereby the fairest prospects.” He gave up his business offices, then his home. Gist no longer saw him in America Square. In May 1778, Molleson stopped payment, called his creditors together, and opened his books. The creditors apparently did not force him into bankruptcy, but his days as London’s leading tobacco merchant had ended.
Gist set aside more money to buy consolidated annuities, the most important vehicle for the British national debt and Gist’s most secure investment. No one knew how much profit successful underwriters made during the war. Royal Exchange Assurance and the other chartered company, London Assurance, together did about 10 percent of the City’s marine underwriting. Royal Exchange Assurance saw its average annual net income rise from £8,100 in 1771–75 to £29,700 in 1776–80. Gist and others at Lloyd’s underwrote higher risks than the chartered companies accepted and charged premiums accordingly. With contractors, such as Anthony Bacon, they were among the most important subscribers to the growing public debt by which Lord North financed the war. Charles Greville, in May 1778, reported on their profit: “The distress of the public & the necessary douceurs raise the Loans of the year to 8 per Cent.” While keeping much capital available for mercantile and insurance purposes, Gist, according to a man who knew him, had put £100,000 into government securities by the end of the wartime boom in business at Lloyd’s.
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Samuel Gist, William Molleson, Anthony Bacon, and other London merchants trading to Chesapeake Bay before the war welcomed news that British forces had invaded Virginia again in the autumn of 1780. The merchants hoped that this time the army would stay.
On Friday, October 20, 1780, Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney’s four men-of-war and two galleys, with transports bearing 2,500 soldiers and with a flotilla of schooners, sailed into the bay. Major General Alexander Leslie expected to unite this force with the army under Earl Cornwallis moving northward through the Carolinas. Leslie “inwardly suspected” that Cornwallis would summon him away from the Norfolk region. Nevertheless, he brought from New York loyalist families seeking to reclaim their property. They began “settling themselves,” trusting that they were secure. Their knowledge of the James, Elizabeth, and Nansemond rivers made them “very useful” to Rodney. Once more, James Parker saw the ruins of his former home and of his stores in Norfolk as he helped the British Army punish the buckskins. Loyalists who had stayed in Virginia were at first “shy” about welcoming Leslie, recalling how briefly the British had visited the year before. But they were told that Portsmouth would become “a military post.” They expressed satisfaction; some men volunteered to take up arms. Leslie wrote: “it hurts me once more to come here, and then to forsake them; but I see the Necessity of it.”
Cavalry and infantry ranged over Princess Anne County’s flat, sandy expanses and along roads bordering the Dismal Swamp. They went to Suffolk and into Isle of Wight County; a detachment landed at Hampton. They plundered and burned houses, taking horses for new mounts and cattle to be slaughtered and salted. General Thomas Nelson, Jr., worked to assemble a force of militia, but Virginians’ main hope was that the British “will soon Imbarke & leave our Capes Clair again.” Black people accompanied the soldiers back to Portsmouth to leave with them.
General Leslie received orders to take his force to Charleston, and his men began to embark on Saturday, November 11. For four days Leslie pretended that he would leave a garrison at Portsmouth: “Refugees & followers of the Army were ignorant of my design to Evacuate the place.” Wednesday, his last day ashore, loyalists and blacks knew that all the soldiers were about to go. Leslie reported: “The last twenty-four hours was an unpleasant time.” Virginia troops entering Portsmouth Thursday morning met “Great numbers of negroes.” Admiral Rodney’s vessels remained in the bay another week. He felt sorry that the king’s friends around Norfolk “will again experience persecution for their loyalty.” On Thursday, the 23rd, he sailed for Charleston.
James Parker and two other loyalists in the king’s service accompanied Leslie’s “tedious and turbulent” three-week voyage to Charleston. Learning that another invading force had entered Chesapeake Bay five weeks after their departure, they headed back to Virginia “to be usefull in that part of America, from their Connections and Knowledge of the Country.” But after Parker and his friends sailed back to the capes on board HMS Romulus, their frigate was captured by French men-of-war under the command of Captain Arnaud Le Gardeur de Tilly. Virginia’s delegates in Congress asked French officers to hold these loyalists “in the most effectual manner” as “state Prisoners.” Parker spent the next eighteen months in a series of cells: on board a French prison ship, in a dungeon in Saint-Domingue, and in close confinement in the citadel of Dinan, then in the castle of Saint-Mâlo on the northern coast of Brittany. He never again tried to control the Dismal Swamp.
The British soldiers arriving in the bay at the end of December 1780 were commanded by the newly commissioned Brigadier General Benedict Arnold. Three months earlier, while a major general in the Continental Army, he had narrowly escaped arrest after George Washington learned that he was in the pay of the British. Sir Henry Clinton gave the defector a British commission and sent him to attack Virginia. Arnold’s first campaign in service to the king did not begin well. Still at sea, his force was hit by a northwest gale. Sailing into Chesapeake Bay, a man-of-war, HMS Charon, ran aground on the shoal which jutted from Willoughby Point east of the Elizabeth River. She spent the night on the mud, giving naval officers time to agree that “intelligent pilots” were “much wanted to conduct the ships and troops up James River.” For the next seven months, British soldiers moved up and down the James, raiding into the countryside.
Until Major General William Phillips arrived three months later with 2,000 more men, Arnold and his 1,600 soldiers showed their flag. They could not do much to suppress rebellion, but they punished rebels. Arnold began with Mary Willing Byrd, harming her not by destroying Westover but by making it his base for a raid on the new state capital, Richmond. Arnold’s wife, Margaret Shippen Arnold, colleague in his treason, was Mary Byrd’s cousin. At Westover, his officers received “a very good breakfast.” The force he took to Richmond demolished arms, ammunition, tobacco, other supplies, and several buildings, then returned. When the British departed, some of Mary Byrd’s slaves went with them. Her light sufferings raised new suspicions that she was a Tory, which grew after Virginians heard that an officer serving in HMS Swift, Lieutenant Charles Hare, brother of a brother-in-law of Mary Byrd’s, had brought in his cabin not only many letters from her but also a cache of merchandise obviously designed to support the Byrds at Westover: china, linen, broadcloth, port, brandy, and other goods. After his first raid, Arnold dropped downriver to reoccupy the familiar British lines around Portsmouth. His men entered the town, he reported, “to the great joy of the inhabitants.” A junior officer wrote in his diary: “The whole town had been abandoned by its inhabitants, except for three families.”
In February, some of Arnold’s soldiers were “spreading ruin in the area and severely harassing the few good loyalists.” About 250 black people entered his lines. He put them to work repairing earlier fortifications and erecting new ones. Militiamen did not rally in numbers large enough to endanger his force. On March 26, Major General Phillips arrived in the bay with 2,000 men. The following month Phillips and Arnold took a large force up the Appomattox River to Petersburg “to break up the communication from Virginia to Carolina.” From the heights where Samuel Gist’s agent, Thomas Shore, lived they dispersed the militia with expert artillery fire, then burned warehouses, vessels in the river, and 4,000 hogsheads of tobacco. Slaves showed the British where white people had concealed themselves and their property. British officers took spoils of war down the Appomattox and the James, but they soon had to return to Petersburg to meet Cornwallis. By the time this force arrived from North Carolina on May 20, Phillips had died of typhoid fever. Arnold returned to New York.
Ever since Arnold had left Westover in January, Mary Byrd had proclaimed her innocence of any loyalist sentiments or collaboration with the enemy. She knew that she was “much watch’d.” An officer accosted her in her bedroom, seeking incriminating papers. Someone tried to burn the mansion at Westover. Her husband’s last years had been embittered by such “persecutors.” She wrote to Thomas Jefferson: “I cannot express violent, enthusiastic opinions, and wish curses [and] distraction on the meanest individual on earth. It is against my religion. I wish well to all mankind, to America in particular. What am I but an American?” Unluckily for her, the first stop for Earl Cornwallis’s army after he left Petersburg on May 24, 1781, was Westover.
Almost 4,000 men camped in the once pristine meadows spread along the James. The soldiers tore down fences, turned horses loose in fields of ripening wheat, made Mary Byrd’s garden nursery a stable for the general’s horses, knocked her milk cows on the head and butchered them before her eyes. In her house, at the foot of the carved balustrade on the central staircase, Cornwallis posted guards to protect her “if she remained quiet and kept to the upper stories.” He promised that she would be compensated by someone. He said he had no cash.
The Marquis de Lafayette arrived in Virginia with three Continental Army regiments—not enough to challenge Cornwallis but enough, with militia and new Continentals, to make the British notice. Since Cornwallis originally was supposed to secure Britain’s hold in the deeper South, no one, not even his superior, Sir Henry Clinton, could tell what he expected to accomplish by marching here and there in Virginia. After three nights, his army headed northward. With the soldiers went forty-nine slaves from Westover. Although no one dared to say it to her face, Mary Byrd knew about “those who tauntingly say aye you see how well her good Friends the British has done for her & Laugh & say all she’ll ever get will be promises.” The following year she wrote: “extreme grief found its way to my heart—conscious rectitude, alone has saved me from the grave.”
In the last week of May and the first week of June, Cornwallis sent raiding parties westward under Lieutenant Colonel John Graves Simcoe and Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Along the Pamunkey and Mattaponi rivers, Cornwallis’s chief concern seemed to be destroying tobacco, supplies, and other property. Lieutenant James Hadden wrote from Westover: “Tobacco, alone has gained the Rebels Allies, and I hope the destruction of it will give the Rebellion a severe check.” One detachment visited Samuel Gist’s plantation in Hanover County. His agent, Benjamin Toler, watched as soldiers burned 12 hogsheads of tobacco and took away five horses and sixteen head of cattle, as well as brandy, bacon, and corn. About forty of Gist’s slaves left with the British. By applying to higher-ranking officers, Toler got all but two of the black people returned to slavery on the plantation. To any officer who would listen he mentioned “in a particular manner” that “Samuel Gist then was a british subject residing in London.”
The legislature had abandoned Richmond to convene in Charlottesville on Monday, June 4. Sunday night, at Castle Hill, Dr. Thomas Walker played host to Newman Brockenbrough, a member of the House of Delegates, Senator John Syme, former partner in the Dismal Swamp Company, and Judge Peter Lyons, who was still protecting Samuel Gist’s interests. Early Monday morning, Walker came into the bedroom Brockenbrough and Lyons shared. He told them that the British had come to Castle Hill. If they lay still, Tarleton might not know they were in the house. Looking out an upstairs window, Lyons saw a yard full of soldiers. He went back to bed. Tarleton had come to Albemarle County in search of legislators and Governor Jefferson. Soon all Dr. Walker’s guests were summoned downstairs.
Banastre Tarleton, by the age of twenty-seven, had shown himself to be arrogant and cruel. He had grown up in comfort, the son of a leading Liverpool slave trader. Contrary to his new prisoners’ fears, he gave them “polite Treatment.” Tarleton and his men ate breakfast at Castle Hill. A detachment rode to Belvoir, home of Dr. Walker’s son, John. There the British found another partner in the Dismal Swamp Company, William Nelson, Jr., his brother, Robert, and John Walker’s son-in-law, Francis Kinloch, a delegate to the Continental Congress. Tarleton released Lyons, Syme, the Nelsons, and other officeholders the same day, after they signed paroles promising not to act contrary to the interests of George III until exchanged for prisoners held by Americans. Kinloch and Brockenbrough were released a few days later. Tarleton’s stay with Dr. Walker gave extra time for word of his approach to reach Charlottesville and Monticello. The legislators adjourned to meet at Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley. Jefferson left home to evade Tarleton’s men. The British burned his tobacco, did the usual damage to his estate, and departed, accompanied by thirty of Jefferson’s slaves. His term as governor had expired four days earlier, and the legislators had not found leisure to re-elect him or to choose a successor. He served no longer. On June 12, delegates meeting in Staunton elected Thomas Nelson, Jr. Ten years had passed since his father had so much enjoyed a stint as acting governor between the death of Lord Botetourt and the arrival of Lord Dunmore.
During late June and early July, Cornwallis’s force moved down the James River, crossing it south of Williamsburg. With few exceptions, the slaves of “all those who were near the enemy” left plantations to accompany the British. As this slow column reached the Nansemond River and the Dismal Swamp in mid-July, soldiers and black refugees suffered from heat “so intense that one can hardly breathe,” from thunderstorms, and from “billions of sand-[flies] and biting-flies.” After horse flies dispersed, chiggers attacked. Some soldiers looked “like people who are seized with smallpox.” For a week the army lay in and around the ruins of Suffolk.
Lord Cornwallis knew that Virginians had rebuilt part of their trade through South Quay. He ordered Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Dundas to take part of the 80th Regiment, the Royal Edinburgh Volunteers, on a day’s march to South Quay to destroy it. The soldiers burned warehouses, tobacco, rum, sugar, coffee, wine, and other goods. They took every horse they found and “plundered the inhabitants in a most cruel manner.”
Before Cornwallis moved to Portsmouth on July 21 and 22, British soldiers visited Dismal Plantation and left the Dismal Swamp Company’s efforts in ruins. Eight draft steers used for heavy work, fifty-two head of cattle, two hundred barrels of corn, twenty-seven hoes, fourteen axes, eight dozen crosscut files and whipsaw files used in making shingles—all the company’s means of working the swamp vanished with the raiding party. The soldiers did “great damage” to several buildings on Dismal Plantation, especially to barns. Almost all able-bodied slaves went out of the swamp with the British: a woman, a twelve-year-old girl, four small children, and twenty-two men. Eleven men, six women, and three children stayed on the plantation. The company’s new agent, Jacob Collee, considered only five of them “fit for any kind of Labour.” After Cornwallis withdrew into fortified lines around Portsmouth, Collee wrote to David Jameson about Dismal Plantation: “There seems a very promiseing crop Corn & a little Rice, but how its to be got in, I know not, as well as how matters are to be conducted in future, for want of help.” Governor Nelson wrote to Lord Cornwallis about the large number of black people with the British, asking whether slaveowners could reclaim them. Cornwallis replied that any Virginian who had not borne arms or held office in the rebellion and who promised never to do so could come to camp and claim his slaves “if they are willing to go with him.”
Sir Henry Clinton received from Lord George Germain, secretary of state for the colonies, an order to keep Cornwallis’s army in the Chesapeake. Clinton directed him to establish a fortified base accessible to the Royal Navy. Cornwallis’s engineers improved the elaborate works at Portsmouth, connecting redoubts and salient angles by deep trenches, erecting palisaded stakes surrounded with strong abatis, logs studded with long spikes. Within these lines, among burnt keels of unfinished vessels, skeletal remains of stocks in the shipyard, and the brick ruins of Robert Tucker’s mills, more than 1,000 black people lived on army rations. After consulting with Captain Charles Hudson of HMS Richmond, Cornwallis decided that his fortified base should be at York Town. Evacuation of Portsmouth began on July 30. By then, smallpox was spreading among the black refugees.
In London, Samuel Gist, Anthony Bacon, and their fellow merchants formerly in the Virginia trade learned that Lord George Germain had ordered occupation of the Chesapeake and that Lord Dunmore had received the king’s command to return to Virginia and resume his governorship. These merchants wished the ministry to remember them when drawing up Dunmore’s instructions. In a memorial they reminded Germain that before the war they had given “large and extensive credits” to colonists, promoting a trade making the manufactures and commerce of Britain “the envy and admiration of all Europe.” Interruption of trade since 1775 meant that “there remains large sums of money now due to your memorialists to their great loss and prejudice.” They urged that Dunmore be instructed to assist them “in the protection of their property and towards the recovery of their just debts.”
Lord Cornwallis moved his headquarters to York Town, leaving Brigadier General Charles O’Hara in command of the evacuation of Portsmouth. A flotilla of transports, escorted by HMS Charon and other men-of-war, plied between Portsmouth and York Town for more than two weeks, shifting soldiers and some black laborers to the new base. Loyalists from Norfolk and Princess Anne counties also went. The sufferings of “Hundreds of wretched Negroes” dying of smallpox distressed O’Hara. He shrank from “abandoning these unfortunate beings to disease, to famine, & what is worse than either, the resentment of their enraged Masters.” In the last days of his stay, O’Hara moved the remaining four hundred black refugees to the Norfolk side of the Elizabeth River and left them with food for fifteen days, “which time, will either kill, or cure the greatest number of them.” The last of the Portsmouth garrison left on August 20. Later, British officers drew up an inspection roll of “Negro emigrants” in New York. It included a number of black people who gave the word “Dismal” as part of their names, in the manner of the sometime slave of the Burwell family, Jack Dismal. If these people, like Jack Dismal, were former slaves of the Dismal Swamp Company, some of the company’s laborers made their way out of the United States and out of slavery with the British evacuation in 1783.
Fielding Lewis’s brother-in-law, the commander in chief, was planning a coup de main. Days before General O’Hara left Portsmouth, Washington learned that Rear Admiral the Comte de Grasse would bring twenty-eight men-of-war and more than 3,000 French soldiers to Chesapeake Bay. Having worked hard for American victory, Fielding Lewis could welcome the prospect of capturing Lord Cornwallis’s army. But his declining health denied him the fullest enjoyment of his brother-in-law’s greatest success.
During the hot months of 1780, Lewis traveled to the mountains for “a change of air.” He had been ill since the fall of 1779. But his health did not improve in the mountains. Back at home, he remained indoors for seven months late in 1780 and early in 1781. From his windows he could see dark, undulating clouds of birds arrive in Fredericksburg, first on their way south late in autumn, then returning northward in spring.
Many worries offset in Lewis’s mind his successes in the small arms factory, the little Virginia navy, and the cargoes of Fielding Lewis & Company. Beyond his old debt to Anthony Bacon, he had run up large new debts by operating the arms factory on his own credit, while the state failed to reimburse him. He also had borrowed money on Virginia’s behalf—between £30,000 and £40,000, including £7,000 he lent to the state. Without his efforts the factory would have closed, he said; yet in February 1781 he found himself writing to the state treasurer: “I have distressed myself greatly, and at this time am not able to pay the collector my Taxes, and continue my business in the usual manner.” Training and regulating skilled workers with a strict regimen, Lewis’s partner, Charles Dick, turned out one hundred stand of new arms per month and repaired many old weapons. Displeased with the state’s tardiness in paying, Lewis and Dick resigned at the end of 1780, but Governor Jefferson insisted that Dick continue to serve.
Fielding Lewis wrote gloomy letters to his brother-in-law. His second son, Fielding Junior, was still a spendthrift at the age of thirty. His fifth son, George, had embarrassed himself in the Continental Army by inattention to duty, for which he drew a brusque reprimand from his uncle the commander in chief; George Lewis resigned several months later. Fielding Lewis wrote about things of which George Washington already knew: “injustice, luxury, and extravagancy” throughout Virginia; Congress’s admission of fiscal desperation by its devaluation of Continental currency, setting the value of $40 in paper at $1; high prices for imported goods, which only speculators could now afford; “the ignorance of our Assembly” and “the ignorance or villany of the Assessors,” whose actions seemed to aim at “the destruction of the large Estates in Lands & Negro’s,” while people who once “were needy and had little or nothing to support them, are now the best able to live, they give greater prices at Sales than any other people, dress better & I believe keep as good tables.” A chicken cost $1,000 in Virginia paper. Although in 1780 Lewis bought 30,000 acres in Kentucky, partly to acquire something tangible in exchange for his depreciating currency, he saw during his long confinement in his splendid new house that he would never be a King Carter. Looking back over the twenty years since he and George Washington first had taken an interest in the Dismal Swamp, he wrote: “I have generally been mistaken in my speculations.”
In the face of censure in Parliament, Lewis’s partner and creditor, Anthony Bacon, did not give up without a delaying action. The more difficulties the army and the navy encountered, the more troubles Lord North’s ministry met in the House of Commons. Among its most vulnerable allies were the members who held government contracts. Bacon received contracts for provisions and artillery ammunition in 1779. He expanded his iron manufactures in Wales in 1780 by leasing the Hirwaun Works, six miles west of Merthyr Tydfil, repairing them and working them “vigorously.” Bacon’s beloved, illegitimate family continued to grow. In 1780, Mary Bushby gave him another son, whom he named for his late brother, the Reverend Thomas Bacon.
The opposition stepped up attacks on “those who have fattened on the ruins of the country by jobs and contracts.” The Earl of Shelburne accused such men of prolonging the war in order to enrich themselves. In March 1781, John Sawbridge, member for the City of London, charged Lord North with buying support in the House by allowing members to take up part of the government’s new loan. No one contradicted him or called him to order for unparliamentary speech. The ministry could outvote but not refute its critics. All knew that, when North lost his majority, the next ministry would at once exclude contractors from Parliament.
In 1781 and 1782, Anthony Bacon gave up some contracts by not seeking renewal and transferred others. The shifts, for example, to his cousin and former partner, Anthony Richardson, did not look convincing. One critic put Bacon’s name in a list of contractors who made transfers, and wrote that by holding no contracts in their own names “they think to get re-elected; but can any person suppose that they have really & bonafide no concern in them.… It is impossible & absurd.” Bacon withdrew from many business concerns at the age of sixty-five. Forty years had passed since his sailing days, when he commanded the York, with a cargo of felons bound for servitude in Maryland. Forty years after that voyage, Anthony Bacon and Fielding Lewis, transatlantic associates who apparently never met, understood that they would begin no new enterprises.
Growing angrier about property taxes, Fielding Lewis thought not only of his own assessment for his mansion in Fredericksburg, more than £2,500 Virginia currency, but also of the assessment on Mannsfield, the estate outside Fredericksburg where his friend Mann Page had settled after giving Rosewell to John Page. Mann Page and his son of the same name had to pay Spotsylvania County £4,000.
Less active in the Revolution than Lewis, Mann Page, who turned sixty-two in 1780, still owed debts inherited from his father and debts contracted to maintain Rosewell. If peace had returned at once, he could hardly have convinced John Norton that his debt ever would be paid. Page’s contemporaries dwindled in number. Robert Carter Nicholas died in September 1780, fourteen years after offering himself as savior of Virginia’s treasury from the malfeasance of Speaker Robinson. Robinson’s critics, after taking power, had proven far more imaginative than the old speaker in their use of currency. Virginia’s solvency now rested upon a law requiring creditors to receive depreciated paper money at face value. The new government had shown Charles Greville to be wrong in predicting America’s failure at the start of the war, when he asked: “how can paper currency support its credi[t?] … people cannot for a long while give up reality for paper when its value diminishes dayly.” Page’s former partner in the Dismal Swamp Company, Robert Burwell, father of John Page’s wife, had died in 1777, without having paid the dowry he had promised. The years after his death showed that his son and heir, Nathaniel Burwell, fared worse than Fielding Lewis, Jr.; “much addicted … to gambling,” he soon dissipated his inheritance and later “died insolvent.” As Robert Burwell’s executor, his nephew, Thomas Nelson, Jr., assumed the burden of dealing with large debts owed by Burwell’s estate.
Mann Page was pained by recriminations from his son, John. In 1779, Mann sold land around Tappahannock he once had promised to John. He did so, he explained, “to see if I cou’d pay off the Debts I had contracted” and still bequeath some money to his two younger sons. But John accused him of “injustice” and questioned his father’s affection for him. Had Mann, his son asked, concluded that John was “less deserving”? Mann wrote: “I answer no & at the time I did it, had left you an equivalent by giving you my part of the Dismal & a Tract of Frying Pan, & after Christmas to give up those Plantations in Gloster.” But John Page was not mollified by a gift of land in Gloucester County yielding too little tobacco, of King Carter’s old copper mines near the Potomac, or of half a share in the Dismal Swamp Company.
Mann Page rightly suspected that his son suffered “great anxiety of Mind.” John had led the Virginia Council since the beginning of the Revolution, burdened with the public’s work, always in danger of prostration by an attack of vertigo. His familial obligations widened. His sister, Judith Burwell, died in September 1777, followed in March 1779 by her husband, Page’s friend and neighbor, the gouty, fox-hunting Lewis Burwell, who left behind “a badly managed Estate.” Page became executor of their “confused Affairs.” He brought his four young Burwell nieces and nephews to live at Rosewell with the seven Page children. Large as his mansion was, so many children lived in it that he sometimes lost count and said he was caring for five little Burwells, whom he called “untractable Wards.” Page resigned from the Council early in 1780, but he still performed the duties of “Executor, Guardian, Tutor, Vestry Man, Magistrate, Field Officer of Militia, & Delegate.” Not to receive from his father the land and slaves at Tappahannock he had expected came as a blow at a difficult time.
Mann Page worried about bequests for his younger children because he had achieved no better success with his speculations than had Fielding Lewis. Hanover-Town on the Pamunkey River did not thrive. Twenty years after its charter, Page still owned two-thirds of the “valuable Lots on the principal streets.” He died in November 1780, leaving an estate consisting chiefly of old debts.
The day after Lord Cornwallis’s army surrendered at York Town, Fielding Lewis, knowing he was near death, wrote his will. His bequests divided his lands among his six sons, leaving his mansion and the land in and around Fredericksburg in the hands of his wife during her lifetime. In the past ten months Fielding and Betty Lewis had sold more than 2,200 acres in Spotsylvania County for almost £24,000 in currency. Their youngest sons, Robert and Howell, were twelve and ten years old. Fielding Lewis at last enjoyed some success with a crop of hemp, for which demand rose in wartime. It grew on his land in the Shenandoah Valley, not in the Dismal Swamp. He had no faith in the Dismal Swamp Company as a source of future income for his heirs. His will directed that his share in the company be sold “at the discretion of my Executors,” for the purpose of paying his debts. His portion of the land he and George Washington and Thomas Walker had bought near the swamp was also to be sold. Two months later, Fielding Lewis died at the age of fifty-six.
Lewis’s oldest son wrote to General Washington to explain the will, adding that his father had died “much indebted.” Washington held out hope for the Dismal Swamp Company, but he agreed to the sale of land he, Walker, and Lewis’s estate owned jointly. He warned: “I take it for granted, that you do not mean to sell these Lands unless you can get the value of them, or near it; because this would not only defeat the end you have in view but do injustice to Doctr. Walker and myself.” In February 1784, when Washington visited Fredericksburg and talked with John Lewis, they concluded that an immediate sale would be “imprudent.” A share in the Dismal Swamp Company and the jointly owned lands nearby remained in the estate of Fielding Lewis for years.
The French expeditionary force marched out of Philadelphia toward Head of Elk, Maryland, and Chesapeake Bay, but its commander, the Comte de Rochambeau, chose to go down the Delaware River by water with a small retinue of officers on Wednesday, September 5, 1781. They paused at Mud Island to study Fort Mifflin, then at Red Bank to study Fort Mercer. The fourteen-mile voyage to Chester was leisurely and pleasant to the eye. Beyond the river’s marshy banks lay well-cultivated farmland. As Chester came into view on the right bank, the officers and Rochambeau discerned in the distance, standing near the water, a tall man in uniform, waving his hat in one hand and a white handkerchief in the other. Drawing near, they saw that he was General Washington, acting like a “child, whose every wish had been gratified.” As soon as Rochambeau disembarked, Washington told him that, riding downriver three miles below Chester, the Americans had met an express messenger from the Comte de Grasse. The admiral and his fleet of twenty-eight ships of the line had arrived off the capes on August 26. The French were closing off Chesapeake Bay and patrolling the James River. Washington and Rochambeau “embraced warmly on the shore.” As the news spread through the French and American armies in the following days, “soldiers from then on spoke of Cornwallis as if they had already captured him.”
The generals reached the peninsula between the James and York rivers on Friday, September 14. By then they knew that de Grasse, with most of his men-of-war, had met Admiral Thomas Graves’s squadron in battle off the capes on the same day that Rochambeau had wended his way down the Delaware. From York Town to Nansemond County people heard barrages of naval guns that afternoon. Facing a superior force, Graves could not enter the Chesapeake. He waited a few days, then gave up the attempt after receiving a report “of the French fleet being all anchored within the Cape, so as to block our passage.” This fleet consisted not only of the ships Graves had fought but also of those de Grasse had waited outside the capes to cover as they arrived—a squadron of seven ships of the line bearing siege artillery, commanded by the Comte de Barras in his flagship, the Duc de Bourgogne. By Friday, September 21, most of the French fleet rode at anchor across the main channel below the mouth of the York. Sir Henry Clinton in New York wrote: “when the operation in Chesapeake was ordered, I was promised a Naval superiority, why we had it not, those who promised it can best tell.”
Lord Cornwallis, knowing he was trapped within his semicircle of fortifications overlooking the York, made his headquarters with Secretary Thomas Nelson at the upper end of town. The tall, white-haired old man, flinching with gout, let nothing disturb him. He acted as if his garden and library were always open to any gentleman who cared to call. Nelson saw, as easily as his guest, that Cornwallis was encumbered in a way most military men wished to avoid. The prospect of a base in the Chesapeake had attracted loyalist refugees, black refugees, and British tobacco traders. Dozens of vessels now anchored in the river had come in search of rich cargoes of high-priced tobacco. Secretary Nelson could have told the forty-three-year-old general many stories about royal governance in Virginia during the past fifty years. If British officials had rested content with tobacco vessels, which even now outnumbered in the York those of the Royal Navy … but it was too late.
Washington and Rochambeau began their siege on Saturday, October 6. Three days later their new batteries opened fire, General Washington putting the match to the first gun. For skilled artillerymen, York Town—sloping down from bluffs to the river and to an estuary filled with shipping—presented so many targets in so small a space that the bombardment hit everywhere. The second day it fell silent for a while, in response to a white flag. Secretary Nelson came out of town to enter American lines: “his House was no longer tenable he says.” One shot had killed a slave by his bedside. Sitting at Washington’s headquarters, surrounded by young officers, “he related to us, with a serene countenance, what had been the effect of our batteries, and how much his house had suffered from the first shots.”
Cornwallis held out for another week. By then a person “could not take three steps without running into some great holes made by bombs, some splinters, some balls, some half covered trenches, with scattered white or negro arms or legs, some bits of uniforms.” Rich furniture lay broken amid ruins. Decomposing corpses of men and horses were only partly covered by dirt. Among the ruins stood piles of books—Pope’s works, Montaigne’s essays, theology, history, and law. Like the secretary’s house, David Jameson’s house and outbuildings were destroyed. The night after Secretary Nelson left town, the unlucky HMS Charon was hit by a red-hot shell from a French battery. She went up in flames, fire running quickly up her masts, along her yards, into her sheets and furled sails. Cornwallis’s last gamble—to cross the York and break through American and French lines around Gloucester—was thwarted on the night of October 16 by heavy rain and high wind. He could feed soldiers and refugees for one more week. The time to surrender had come.
Word of Cornwallis’s surrender reached London in less than six weeks. A leading East India merchant described reactions among the king’s ministers: “ ’Tis well, in the dejection it occasions, if we do not yield everything to France.” The Earl of Shelburne, part of a fragmented but vehement opposition to Lord North, was fond of quoting his old acquaintance Benjamin Franklin, who liked to quote himself. “Dr. Franklin used to say,” Shelburne wrote, “that Experience was the school for fools.” Lord North must go, and the war must stop. Beyond those goals, the opposition split. But these enabled Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay to secure American independence in negotiations among the belligerents.
Less than two weeks after word arrived from Virginia, the City of London urged the king to end the war and to dismiss his ministers. At the end of February 1782, the House of Commons voted on the war. Opponents of the ministry won by a majority of 19, Anthony Bacon voting with the ministry. Three weeks later, to forestall losing a vote of confidence, Lord North announced that the king would change his ministers. A kindly critic of Frederick North’s overlong complaisance toward the king wrote of the outgoing minister: “He was an accomplished orator, an able financier, irreproachable in his individual character, and fully adequate to conduct the national affairs in ordinary times. His crime was the American war. In that abyss he became ultimately engulphed.” One of the joint secretaries of the Treasury, Edward Chamberlayne, had become almost indispensable: “he made all Lord North’s calculations, but … would never appear in it.” Others attributed his attitude to diffidence. The new ministry begged Chamberlayne to continue in office: “he talked with great disgust of his place.” Reluctantly, he agreed to serve, but after a friend “remonstrated with him on the absurdity of the apprehension with which he appeared to be actuated,” Chamberlayne went up to his office in Whitehall, jumped headfirst out of a Treasury window, and broke his neck in the fall. Thirty-six hours afterward, he died.
The new ministry, led by the Marquis of Rockingham, lasted only a few months, until Rockingham’s death. In it Shelburne became secretary of state for home, colonial, and Irish affairs. And, by Clerke’s Act of 1782, government contractors could no longer sit in Parliament. Anthony Bacon arranged for Francis Homfray to take his contract to supply artillery, Homfray renting Bacon’s iron mill and foundry and using only pig iron from Bacon’s Cyfarthfa furnace. Before summer ended, Bacon’s name appeared on no government contracts. He remained in Parliament and voted against the preliminary terms of peace a year after he had voted against ending the British war effort.
Forming a ministry after Rockingham’s death, Shelburne gave the colonial secretaryship to Thomas Townshend. Both Shelburne and Townshend, during their brief tenure in that office, received petitions and memorials from merchants formerly trading to America. As usual, these reminded the government of large debts Americans still owed to British merchants. Many important names at Lloyd’s appeared among the signers. One of the first memorials reached Shelburne three weeks after he became colonial secretary. It was signed by Samuel Gist and the heads of nineteen other firms. They said they were “anxiously looking forward” to the time “when the happy period arrives that restores peace between Great Britain and America.” They trusted that Shelburne would make it his “peculiar care to protect & guard the legal demands of your Memorialists for such Debts as were contracted under the faith and sanction of the British Laws before the unhappy dispute commenced.” The final treaty of peace gave British creditors the same legal recourse as creditors who were American citizens.
Such a promise did not inspire confidence. James Mercer’s law practice in Virginia made him cynical. He not only expected a debtor to evade payment; he also expected a county justice to suggest to the debtor “the propriety of offering me Lands in the moon or some Hemp instead of money.” British merchants hoped that this well-known, incurable evasiveness would move the ministry to help them collect. In 1783, William Jones, of Farell & Jones—creditors of William Byrd, James Parke Farley, and many others—said that the death of his brother-in-law and partner, Joseph Farell, during the war “was entirely owing to his anxiety of mind for our large property in Virginia.” Lord North’s ministry had created the war. The least his successors could do was repair some of its damage to Britons.
No one trusted the Earl of Shelburne. “The old Lord Holland used to say that many people were bred Jesuits, but that Lord Shelburne was born one.” Amid the multiple attempted betrayals in negotiating a treaty of peace, Shelburne received messages from people hoping to win favor and to be of use. Silas Deane, taking the waters at Spa, devised a scheme to preserve “some Degree of Union” between America and Britain. Lord Dunmore proposed to arm and supply a force of loyalists to settle in the Mississippi Valley. There they would soon produce indigo, rice, tobacco, corn, lumber, hemp, flax, pitch, and tar. They would connect Canada to New Orleans, offering to Americans asylum from “the Tyranny and oppression of Congress.” With assistance from Indians, Dunmore told the ministry, “you have it at any time in your power to drive the Thirteen united Provinces into the sea, besides securing the Fur Trade.” Experience was not always a school for fools. Opening the session of Parliament on December 5, 1782, George III acknowledged that the treaty of peace must recognize American independence.
London in the summer of 1782 suffered from falling prices on its stock exchange and from an epidemic of influenza which killed many people. These concerns did not distract Samuel Gist from thinking about his property in Virginia. He wrote to William Anderson twice in October, saying peace was near. He intended to resume control of his plantations and slaves through Benjamin Toler. Gist told Anderson to send a list of slaves and livestock; he expected his son-in-law to visit the Dismal Swamp and report on the company’s activities.
In subsequent months Gist wrote to debtors in Virginia. James Taylor was surprised to receive a demand for payment of more than £1,500 sterling due since January 1, 1776. True, Gist had sent goods to the firm Phripp, Taylor & Company in Norfolk for five years before the war. But, as Taylor reminded him, Norfolk now lay in ruins. He hoped that Gist had recovered his money through fire insurance on the stores and goods, since “little or Nothing will be Collected” from the defunct company.
Apparently dissatisfied with his son-in-law’s reply, Gist wrote to Benjamin Toler, demanding detailed accounts and “wresting the estate out” of Anderson’s hands. This left Anderson’s feelings “much hurt” and brought Gist a reproof from Judge Peter Lyons: “I wish on many accounts the letter had not been wrote.” Gist, he pointed out, would have lost all his property in Virginia if William and Mary Anderson had not rescued it from confiscation. In the spring of 1779 the General Assembly went beyond sequestering estates of Britons and loyalists. A new law prescribed seizure of real property, mainly land and slaves, by escheat and of personal property by forfeiture. The state would sell these to help pay for the war. When this bill came before the House of Delegates, Speaker Benjamin Harrison took an interest in William and Mary Anderson. He persuaded a narrow majority of delegates to exclude from the law the property of Virginians who were widows, wives, or children of British subjects. During a long, heated debate, Lyons heard some of the minority “rave” against such a “partial unjust” provision on Gist’s behalf. They said that Gist was “reaping benefit from the war.” They accused him of collusion with Hardin Burnley of Hanover in buying captured tobacco in New York. Harrison prevailed only by arguing that Gist was “dead to this country” and that the Andersons were a deserving, patriotic couple.
William Anderson made a point of “shewing a chearful disposition to oppose the enemy on all occasions.” He also extended hospitality to his critics. Though people in Hanover County and nearby spoke “violent and insolent” words, he maintained a steady conduct. He became a vestryman, and he was elected to the House of Delegates. Anderson’s demeanor proved helpful when resentment of the British reached new heights after Cornwallis’s men did so much damage in Hanover County. Lyons thought that, if the war had continued, “not only british property, but half the great fortunes in this country belonging to suspected men, could have been confiscated and sold.” In June 1782, William and Mary Anderson petitioned the House of Delegates to vest Gist’s estate in Mary Anderson and her heirs. The law passed with “the strong assistance of his friends.”
Lyons tried to impress upon Gist the risk Gist had run in writing to Toler to claim his land and slaves. If the letter had fallen into the hands of “some of our flaming patriots,” it would have shown that Gist’s critics in the House of Delegates had been right—that vesting the land and slaves in Mary Anderson had been a ruse to save this property for Gist. His letter might have led to confiscation of everything, including his three quarter-shares in the Dismal Swamp Company: “indeed my friend,” Lyons wrote, “there is danger yet in talking of it.” Throughout the war, Anderson and Toler treated the plantations and slaves as Gist’s, paying profits to his order, as Gist knew by receiving Anderson’s wartime letters. Anderson bought more land on Gist’s behalf from Gist’s brother-in-law, Thomas Massie, and from the state, which had confiscated land of the loyalist Samuel Martin. Lyons chided Gist: “is all this to be forgot in a moment, and a strict account of profits to be exacted?—surely not.”
While Lyons fretted about Gist’s indiscretion, William Lee, at home outside Williamsburg, warned a merchant in Ostend not to heed proposals from William Dolman of Westmoreland County. “Dollman is really Non Compis Mentis.—that is quite crazy headed,” Lee wrote. “I hear that somebody has trick’d him out of all his right to the Estate.” Dolman died five months later, bequeathing his property to his sons and daughters. The trickster turned out to be Samuel Gist, but he faced a rival claimant. Lee said: “I will not pretend to decide whether either of them have any legal claim to meddle in this business.” Virginians’ attempts to penetrate Gist’s designs on Dolman’s property by approaching another London merchant met this reply: “Mr Gist has studiously avoided giving me any information about the matter.”
David Jameson reported to Gist on the condition of the Dismal Swamp Company, assuring him that the company would pay for the equipment and supplies he had furnished ten years earlier. Without tools for ditching, draining, or making shingles, Jacob Collee had settled for cultivation of rice and corn by the slaves remaining at Dismal Plantation. These crops brought little more than the cost of expenses and taxes. Nansemond County’s assessors raised the tax bill in 1783 by setting the value of the company’s land at 3s. 4d. per acre, rather than the previous assessment of 2s. 6d. To establish the company’s tax bill during the war, Jameson and Dr. Walker had to specify a number of acres. The company had not done this in the past, simply claiming all the swamp on the Virginia side. Dr. Walker picked the figure 40,000 acres, which he “supposed was the whole,” though it was only a corner of the swamp. Jameson reassured Gist: “The Land will be valuable.” At that moment, Jameson wrote, “many” thought it worth £1 currency per acre. Land around Fredericksburg sold for about £10 per acre.
On Monday, October 6, 1783, peace was proclaimed in London. Large crowds gathered to see the formal procession and to hear the proclamation read at St. James’s Palace, at Charing Cross, at the Royal Exchange, and elsewhere. Two days later, Samuel Gist started writing to Virginians, inviting them to resume sending consignments of tobacco and orders for manufactured goods. He pointed out that “by Death, and Misfortunes the old Virginia Merchts in this place are reduced to a very small Number indeed.” He assured his correspondents that in his handling of their consignments, “your Interest shall be as much attended to in the sale as tho’ it was my Own.” He added: “I take this first safe Oppy, since the return of peace to Inclose your Acct. Currt. The Balance … I have no doubt on Examination you will find right, & that you will with your first Convenience, remit it to me, as well as the Interest due thereon.”
Gist told his correspondents that William Anderson would take charge of shipping consignments from Virginia. Earlier in 1783, Gist had suggested that the Andersons move to London, and he offered financial support. They had made a good life in Hanover County and in Louisa County. They owned a prosperous plantation and used “very elegant” mahogany furniture. Mary Anderson, “a most amiable woman,” was “in fine health and very fat.” She rode in a “genteel carriage,” while her husband acquired two “high blooded stud Horses.” They had no children of their own, but they took into their home an orphaned two-year-old girl, Maria Anderson, and a boy, Francis Anderson, niece and nephew of William. He wrote: “I assure you we are very happy in our little boy & girl.” Nevertheless, they were willing to live in London.
Fifteen years of experience with Samuel Gist had made William Anderson cautious. He would live in London and join Gist in business, “provided I can do it without becoming too dependant.” He noticed “with great concern” that Gist’s mention of support did not state a specific sum. Nor did it offer to settle upon the Andersons a fortune giving them their own permanent income. He saw that Gist reserved the right “to give them anything or nothing.” With the most discreet wording he could devise, Anderson said he wished “to be equally guarded against extravagance and parsimony.” He urged Gist to be definite about providing an income, “both with respect to the mode, and the Quantum.” Otherwise, the Andersons would not cross the Atlantic in the summer of 1784, as Gist wished. And they did not.
At the end of the war, Robert Munford went the way of his friend William Byrd. On April 6, 1781, his daughter, Ursula Anna, was married to Otway Byrd. Elizabeth Farley said of her: “She is an amiable Girl & makes our Brother happy.” Munford had just returned from the Land of Eden, where the Virginia militia paused after taking part in the battle of Guilford Court House on March 15. Munford commanded four hundred militiamen in General Robert Lawson’s brigade. With bitter fighting, Lord Cornwallis’s veterans forced the Americans under Nathanael Greene to withdraw, but British troops suffered twice as many casualties—almost one-third of Cornwallis’s force. That night a cold rain fell on the battlefield and on dead and dying men of both armies. Cries of the wounded, a British officer wrote, “exceed all description.” The Land of Eden lay 25 miles north of the battlefield. Munford left Saura Town for Virginia on Sunday, March 18.
After Cornwallis’s surrender at York Town, Munford started to translate Ovid’s Metamorphoses into English. Perhaps that work would distract him from thinking about Americans’ behavior. He privately had written satirical verse more scathing than his two comic plays about cozening politicians and strident patriots. In “A Letter from the Devil to His Son” the devil describes plans for a new hell:
Nay More, to give you due content,
I’ll send you negroes to torment;
An overseer, or two, besides,
To help you cut and slash their hides,
And if I did not know you well,
(Tho’ seldom any come to hell)
Some women I might send; but then,
I’m sure you’d whip them back again.
Munford translated only Book One of Metamorphoses; he did not work steadily. Instead, he became a hard drinker.
As senior magistrate he attended sessions of Mecklenburg County Court so far gone in “excess of Drink & Intoxication” that his “profane swearing” and “indecent and disorderly behaviour” prevented other magistrates from doing the court’s business. They reported his condition to the governor “with sorrow and regret”; it was an abrupt change from his previous “worthy and Judicious conduct.” After a year of drunken disruption, Munford resigned. By the spring of 1783, his “most uncommon intemperance” had become so habitual that his brother-in-law said, “there can be no hopes of reclaiming him.” Late in December, as George Washington resigned his commission to return to Mount Vernon, Robert Munford died. He left his son-in-law and executor, Otway Byrd, to deal with “the estate’s noisey creditors.” William Munford, his son, had to deal with “the embarrassment of my Mother’s circumstances.”
Fifteen years later, William Munford published his father’s plays and poems. Reading The Patriots, he found passages in which his father’s hero, Trueman, expresses scorn for his countrymen. In one of them, near the end, Trueman says: “So in spite of all the malice and censure of the times, I am at last dubb’d a whig. I am not wiser or better than before. My political opinions are still the same, my patriotic principles unaltered: but I have kick’d a tory, it seems: there is merit in this, which, like charity, hides a multitude of sins.” William Munford wrote a preface for his father’s works to assure readers that The Patriots was ridicule of hypocrites, not “a satire on the conduct of America in the late revolution.”