Once largely forgotten, a Revolutionary War skirmish is remembered in Virginia Beach


VIRGINIA BEACH — What could be worse than leading soldiers and horses through a swamp in mid-Februrary?

Discovering a burned bridge on the other side and realizing that you’re going to have to wade through yet another swamp.

Those were the obstacles that Hessian soldiers led by Capt. Johann Ewald faced in 1781 when they marched from Great Bridge through Princess Anne County. There they fought with patriots on James’ Plantation, near the current intersection of Princess Anne and Sandbridge roads and Upton Drive.

That Revolutionary War skirmish was remembered at Nimmo United Methodist Church Nimmo United Methodist Church in a ceremony on Saturday, Feb. 15, that included members of the Virginia Beach Historic Preservation Commission and representatives from local chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Sons of the Revolution.  

The event was held to dedicate a historic marker that is planned for the site, according to Mark Reed, Virginia Beach’s historic preservation planner and Jennifer Estes, Nimmo Church’s historian and a member of the Historic Preservation Commission.

En route to James’ Plantation, the Hessians encountered some pretty wild and wet terrain, and, when they reached Dauge’s Bridge — now Dozier’s Bridge — they discovered that the bridge had been burned. They had no choice but to trudge through yet another swamp, according to local historian Chris Pieczynski.

Still, the Hessians persevered, and, on Feb. 15, 1781, they fought members of the Princess Anne County militia under the leadership of Captain Amos Weeks on James’ Plantation, where the militia was apparently camped.  Although the 180 Hessians were outnumbered, they were professional soldiers, and they caught the local 520 local militia members by surprise, killing 120 of them and forcing others to disperse.

This skirmish was largely forgotten until after World War II, when American historian and intelligence officer Joseph P. Tustin discovered Ewald’s diary, complete with hand-drawn maps, while he was working in post-war Germany. Tustin published this diary, which he entitled Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal, in 1979, and this resulted in the skirmish being listed  as “other site of interest” in the 2007 Report to Congress on the Historic Preservation of Revolutionary War and War of 1812.

Pieczynski, an adjunct professor at Tidewater Community College and the University of Maryland, became intrigued by this skirmish and received a grant of just over $500 from the Virginia Beach Historic Preservation Commission to research it. He was interested in knowing how Ewald’s expedition fit into the British campaign, and he also sought to learn exactly where James’ Plantation was.

“The hardest part was translating the place names into modern place names,” said Pieczynski, who studied the maps and pieced together clues from other sources. The pronunciation of Dauge, a French name, was probably corrupted over the years into Dozier, and a 1916 map marks the intersection of Princess Anne and Sandbridge roads as “James Corner.”

The skirmish was part of a larger effort, led by the notorious traitor Brigadier Gen. Benedict Arnold, to secure Virginia for the British. Arnold, headquartered in Portsmouth, sent Ewald and his soldiers into Princess Anne County, where the militia was “a thorn in the British side,” Reid said.

Ewald failed to accomplish his major mission, that of catching Weeks. After the skirmish, the Hessians proceeded south to Pungo Chapel, an Anglican chapel a few miles south of the present Pungo Village. They captured some members of the militia but still failed to capture Weeks.

The Historic Preservation Commission also awarded a grant of $2,425 for the marker, which will be placed at the intersection of Princess Anne Road and Elson Green Avenue. Pieczynski isn’t sure how long it will take to make and erect.

© 2020 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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