By Kyle Willyard
Soon after Dunmore removed the colony’s powder, Patrick Henry led a group of armed volunteers toward the capitol to demand the return of the powder or payment for it. Governor Dunmore backed down and payment was made.
Tensions between the colonists and British government continued to worsen though. Lord Dunmore, no longer able to remain in control, fled Williamsburg and took refuge on a British man-of-war.
In response to the rising threat of a war. with Great Britian, the Assembly of Virginia ordered that a Committee of Safety should be appointed to take measures for the defense of the colony. In July 1775, the assembly "found it necessary in the present time of danger," to authorize two regiments of regular troops and sixteen battalions of minutemen, "for the better defense of the colony against invasions and insurrection."
The convention divided the colony into 16 districts, each including from one to four counties. Each district was to provide one battalion of minutemen, raised from the militia, "more strictly trained to proper discipline than hath been hitherto customary." (Sanchez-Saavedra, p.4-5)
The largest battalion was formed in the Culpeper District, which was comprised from the counties of Culpeper, Orange, and Fauquier. By September 1775, about three hundred men had been recruited and divided into companies. The committee of safety commissioned Lawrence Taliaferro of Orange County to be colonel, and Edward Stevens of Faquier County to be major of the battalion. They also commissioned ten captains for the companies into which the battalion was distributed. (Sanchez-Saavedra, p.5)
One of the privates in Captain John Jameson's newly formed company was sixteen-year old Philip Slaughter. Philip's father, Captain James Slaughter, had command of another company. Philip, unlike most youths of the time, began a journal that he kept until 1849. In it, he describes the formation of the battalion.
"We encamped in Clayton's old field (at Catalpa, the home of Philip Clayton). Some had tents, and others huts of plank, &c. The whole regiment appeared according to orders in hunting shirts made of strong brown linen, dyed the color of the leaves of the trees, and on the breast was worked in large white letters the words, "Liberty or Death"! and all that could procure for love or money buck's tails, wore them in their hats. Each man had a leather belt around his shoulders, with a tomahawk and scalping knife. The flag had in the center a rattlesnake coiled in the act to strike. Below it were the words, "Don't tread on me!" At the sides, "Liberty or Death"! and at the top, "The Culpeper Minute Men."" (Green, p.13)
Major Thomas Marshal was accompanied by his nineteen-year-old son, John, who would later become the first chief justice of the United States. John was commissioned a lieutenant in Captain William Pickett's company. He served as a drillmaster, teaching the new recruits the manual of exercise as ordered by His Brittanic Majesty in 1764, the standard drill manual of the time. Lieutenant Marshall, something of a dandy, appeared at the encampment in a "purple, or pale blue hunting shirt and trousers of the same material fringed with white." (Beveridge, p. 72)
Philip Slaughter wrote in his journal, "During our encampment an express arrived from Patrick Henry, commandant of the First Virginia Continental Regiment, by order of the committee of safety, then sitting in the city of Williamsburg, requesting the Minute Men to march immediately to that city, as Governor Dunmore had conveyed powder and military stores from the magazine to a British man-of-war, etc., etc. The Minute Men immediately made ready and marched with all possible dispatch, and in a few days reached the city of Williamsburg. (Green, p.13)
The Minute Battalion had taken several weeks to assemble and make the 150 mile march. On October 20, 1775, readers of Alexander Purdie's Virginia Gazette were informed that "the Culpeper Battalion of minutemen, all fine fellows, and well-armed are now within a few hours march of this city." (Virginia Gazette)
Apparently not everyone read or was convinced by Mr. Purdie's words of admiration. The appearance of the battalion in the capital city caused quite a stir. Slaughter writes, "Many people hearing that we were from the backwoods, near the Indians, and seeing our dress were as much afraid of us for a few days as if we had been Indians; but finding that we were orderly and attentive in guarding the city, they treated us with great respect. We took great pride in demeaning ourselves as patriots and gentlemen." (Green, p.13)
Men were pouring into the city of Williamsburg from all over the colony. The capital was soon turned into a makeshift armed camp. The gardens behind the capitol and at the other end of town behind the College of William and Mary were dotted with tents, and the ground in both places was soon trampled to mud. Taverns did booming business each night and apothecaries made handsome profits in the morning by serving hangover remedies to the unruly new recruits.
While in Williamsburg, officers and men alike took the opportunity to replenish their clothing and supplies. Account books are full of purchases for rifles, muskets, powder, hunting shirts & etc. According to Public Store records, Colonel Taliaferro bought a stand of colors, along with one drum and two fifes. On the same day, eight yards of white shalloon were received for camp colors for the army in Williamsburg. All companies received blue "half--thicks" for enlisted men's leggings and the "best blue stroud" for officers' leggings. Other items included duck for pouches and oznabrig for knapsacks and haversacks. (Company of Military Historians, p. 110) Many officers bought supplies from William Armistead's regimental store, which operated out of Joseph Hornsby's tailor shop. (Sanchez-Saavedra, p.7)
Copyright 1995 by Kyle Willyard
Culpeper home page
All images are copyright 2011 by the Culpeper Minute Battalion, or Gary Liming