Essex County History
Essex Occupied by the British

After the revolution, Essex settled down to raising their families and crops in peace, while some ventured west in search of new land or a chance to make their fortune. War between England and France would soon begin to complicate their lives.

Naval competition between England and France began to impact American shipping due to international trade, the search for deserting seamen and the forced impressments of sailors for naval service. This led to violence on June 22, 1807. The British ship Leopard attacked the American frigate Chesapeake under the command of Captain James Barron, later to become a resident of upper Essex County. Three Americans were killed and 18 wounded in the British search for deserters. Essex, like the rest of Virginia, was furious about the attack. A county meeting resulted in public resolutions adamantly condemning the attack but not calling for war. The meeting was chaired by Colonel William Waring and attended by familiar Essex names such as James Garnett, Archibald Ritchie, Thomas and Newman Brockenbrough, Taliaferro Hunter and Sthreshley Reynolds. Essex natives in Richmond like Thomas Ritchie, Spencer Roane and John Brockenbrough led much larger rallies to condemn the attack.

Naval, political, trade and other tensions with England continued to increase until war was declared by America on June 18, 1812. The experienced and powerful British Navy effectively isolated the Chesapeake Bay, including the Rappahannock River. Dispersed militia units on foot could do little to oppose mobile British Marines supported by concentrated, shipboard artillery. Families along the Rappahannock waited with anxiety as British units attacked plantations, Urbanna and Hampton in 1813. Fear increased as the British strengthened their forces at Tangier Island under the command of Admiral Cockburn and burned Washington in August 1814. The British sword would soon be turned on Tappahannock.

On November 30 1814, a force of eight schooners along with thirteen troop and supply ships were sighted off Middlessex. The heavily outnumbered Essex Militia with one cannon was no match for this force and a short naval barrage of the town left no doubt about who had the upper hand. During their three days of occupation, nearly all the homes were pillaged and even some Ritchie family graves were desecrated. Thomas Ritchie was a well-known critic of England in his role as editor of the Richmond Enquirer. Afterwards, the British force continued to strike individual plantations along both sides of the Rappahannock.

Local militia, however, effectively ambushed a detachment of British at Jones' Point and learned from deserters that Urbanna was the next target. Brigadier General John Cocke ordered all militia units in the area to Urbanna. The sizeable show of force deterred the British and the Rappahannock remained safe for the remainder of the war.

Essex County veterans list

Bristish occupy Essex County


1. Settlers, Southerners and Americans: The History of Essex County, Va.. 1985. by James B. Slaughter (available at the Essex County Museum and Historical Society)
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