In 1774, Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia, dissolved the Virginia House of Burgesses, a democratically-elected body that included George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, after they expressed sympathy for the Boston patriots. On their own the former burgesses began to hold Virginia Conventions, and at the second of these conventions in 1775, rebel sympathies were aroused to action by Patrick Henry's impassioned 'Give me liberty, or give me death!' speech. Lord Dunmore responded by seizing gunpowder and artillery stored in the Magazine at Williamsburg and declaring martial law. Dunmore then delivered a proclamation offering freedom to the enslaved men of Virginia who joined his army in a newly-organized 'Ethiopian Regiment.' The 500 African-American men who joined marched under the banner 'Liberty to Slaves.'

At the third Virginia Convention, the patriots voted to raise an army to defend Virginia from the British. Dunmore began to conduct raids on patriot supplies and defenses, and he succeeded in securing a bridge over the Elizabeth River south of Norfolk that was essential to the supply line from North Carolina. The bridge was less than 150 feet long and situated on the only road between Norfolk and North Carolina. The patriots built fortifications next to the bridge on the opposite side of the river and set up a rebel camp that included the 2nd Virginia Regiment and the Culpeper Minutemen.

At dawn on December 8, 1775 British forces composed of regulars, loyalist militia, and the Ethiopian militia marched to Great Bridge, crossed the bridge under fire, and attacked the rebel patriot camp. Within a half hour the patriots broke the British ranks and caused their retreat. Yet, this brief battle would have immense ramifications as the patriots gained control of Norfolk and forced Dunmore to relocate his base farther north at the mouth of the Rappahannock. Ultimately, Dunmore was driven off from that position as well and forced to evacuate along with other Loyalists. Virginia was then free from British rule and able to serve as a major supply line to George Washington's army. The British would not return to Virginia again until Yorktown in 1781.

Your best bet to tour Great Bridge is to begin at the Great Bridge Battlefield & Waterways Historic Park. Here there is a Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) monument and a short hiking trail with interpretive panels.

Visit Great Bridge Battlefield & Waterways History Foundation for battle details and information about the preservation of this battlefield.

See more AMCs TURN in Virginia.