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Release Date: October 22,2015

Looking back at the Revolutionary War Battle of Hampton

Looking back at the Revolutionary War Battle of Hampton

In most histories exploring the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the April 19, 1775, battles at Lexington and Concord get all the attention.

But in Virginia and the South during the conflict’s early stages, all eyes focused on the clash that erupted six months later at the Oct. 26-27 Battle of Hampton, which will be recreated by nearly 100 re-enactors on the downtown waterfront and streets this weekend.

Most colonists blamed Virginia Gov. Lord Dunmore, who had fled from a belligerent Williamsburg to a Royal Navy ship in June, then began stirring up trouble in Hampton Roads. And driving their widening rift with the British crown was not just fear of invasion but also outrage over Dunmore’s threats, then actual offers of asylum to slaves who took up arms in his struggle to subdue their masters.

No case fueled this alarm more than that of runaway Hampton slave Joseph Harris, the property of prominent Elizabeth City County resident Henry King, and what happened after Harris found refuge with Dunmore aboard the HMS Fowey in July 1775.

Two months later — after Harris piloted a boat that grounded during a hurricane — Hampton residents looted and burned the craft, prompting Capt. Matthew Squires to demand the return of the king’s property.

But the colonists demanded that Harris and other black crewmen be returned to their owners first, setting the stage for a British attack on Hampton.

“There wouldn’t have been a Battle of Hampton without Joseph Harris,” says Woody Holton, author of “Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia,” which was published by the College of William and Mary’s Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.

“As far as people in Hampton were concerned, it was not them but Dunmore who was the rebel. They were simply defending their way of life.”

Look for more in an upocoming story.

-- Mark St. John Erickson

The Battle of Hampton

Where: Along the downtown waterfront and streets between Mill Point Park, which will be the site of a Revolutionary War encampment, and historic St. John’s Church, which will host dramatic readings marking the 240th anniversary of the Oct. 26-27 battle, plus walking tours originating at the Hampton History Museum, 120 Old Hampton Lane, Hampton, and additional exhibits on the Hampton River waterfront.

When: 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday

Cost: Free

Info: 757-727-1610 or

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