During the Battle of Kemps Landing on November 5, 1775, an enslaved man, serving alongside the British regulars, came face to face with his former enslaver, Joseph Hutchings, a local militia commander. Hutchings fired at him point blank and missed. In retaliation, the black soldier wounded him with a sword.

The Battle of Great Bridge was the only notable battle they were engaged in. It took place in early December 1775 and proved a very unsuccessful campaign for the British. After eventually being pushed out of mainland Virginia, Dunmore’s army sought safety at Tucker’s Mill, on flotillas at sea. Eventually, they found sanctuary at Gwynn’s Island off the east coast of Gloucester County.

Here, many more attempted to escape slavery and join Dunmore and his men. On the island, they suffered through a typhus epidemic, starvation, smallpox, dehydration and fire. Over time, the group split into two. One body headed for the relative safety of British-held New York, and the other for St. Augustine in Florida. 

The question of slavery was one of the most debated and difficult to come to terms with in America at the time. We know now that the issue would continue to be a significant one for the American people. It would lead to the American Civil War approximately 100 years after the creation of the country. Ultimately, more American slaves found their freedom through the Revolutionary War proclamations than any other means until the Civil War.

Around 1,200 runaway slaves responded to Dunmore’s call to bear arms and support the King. Compared to the 200,000 enslaved people in Virginia at the time, it may not appear to be that significant. But these events represent a monumental sacrifice. One that allowed individuals who were systematically denied the ability to make their own decisions, to do just that. 

“When Patrick Henry delivered his immortal demand for either liberty or death, he was not speaking to slaves. No matter; they heard him anyway. And those who could, responded to his call. They endured the cold and the mud, hunger and thirst, disease and deprivation, to fight untrained against a numerically superior foe.” 

This content was originally published here.

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