Thursday, April 12, 2012

Our Family's Visit to Yorktown Battlefield in Yorktown, Virginia in 1973 and 2010

Black Buzz News Service
Dudley Digges House
Yorktown Battlefield
Yorktown, Virginia
A survivor of the siege of Yorktown in 1781.  The Dudley Digges house is a
superb example of Tidewater, Virginia homes during the Colonial Era
Pittsburgh, PA
April 12, 2012

By Tricia

In 1973, I along with my parents and family experienced the beginning of the British colonial American adventure in 1607  at Jamestown, Virginia.  Later on that hot day in July,  we relived the end of that British involvement at Yorktown in 1781.   I remember being thrilled at seeing the actual trenches that were dug by those brave early American soldiers at Yorktown.   Recently I returned to the tiny town located on the sparkling York River.  Once again I visited the battlefield, this time with different family members.  We were riveted as the guide described the events that led to the Revolutionary War's end in that little Virginia hamlet. General George Cornwallis, British commander of Georgia and the Carolinas was discouraged by the successes of the very able American commander, General Nathaniel Greene.  So he moved his forces into Virginia seeking a safe harbor where the British could use their superior navy to control American trade on the  Chesapeake, and  would be able to quickly evacuate his army if necessary. Our guide showed us where George Washington and the French fleet bottled up Cornwallis, forcing him to  raise the white flag,  making this the second time during the War that an entire British Army surrendered to the Americans. 

The Yorktown Victory Center is a living history museum.  Through licensed guides, films, and hands -on activities, one can learn more about our history.  The role of African Americans is also revealed.

A visit to the gift shop and the other quaint shops that abound, and a stroll down the streets of historic Yorktown will make history come alive.  
Further investigation by Black Buzz has revealed that hundreds of African American patriots along with other patriots and the French, played a major role in defeating the British under the forces of General Cornwallis.  On August 29, 1778, the Black Elite First Rhode Island Regiment defeated three assaults by British troops at the Battle of Rhode Island (Newport).  The First Rhode Island Regiment was the first Black unit in America.  (This unit was also comprised of Narragansett Indians and a few Whites).  
The First Rhode Island Black Regiment along with other Black Minutemen who fought at Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill were involved in the fighting at Yorktown.  On October 14, 1781, the regiment took part in the assault and capture of Redoubt 10 (fortification) at the Seize of Yorktown.  According to the Library of Congress, the Black American soldiers did not receive compensation for  their service after the war.  Their White counterparts however received compensation as well as land grants.  
Many native African American Virginians and Carolinians also fought at the Seize of Yorktown.  One of the African American patriots who fought at the Battle of Yorktown was Abraham Cottiler (Cuttilo) who was a freeman of color and who was from York County.  After filing a court claim, Mr. Cottiler received a pension for his service in the Revolutionary War.  His family members consisted of the following: Nancy Cottiler, Betty Cottiler, John Frances, James Wallace and John Cottiler.  (Source: Virginia Revolutionary War Land Grant Claims, p.58). Another African American patriot who fought gallantly at the Battle of Yorktown was Stephen Davenport also from York County.  (Source: Virginia Negro Soldiers, p.34).  African American females served as cooks, nurses, servants and laundresses in the Continental Army and with British troops.
There were hundreds of Black Africans who fought as loyalists with the British at Yorktown.  General Cornwallis sent the Black Africans into the heart of the American lines who were known to have smallpox.  General Cornwallis' intent was to have the infected Black troops spread smallpox among the Continental and French troops.  It should also be noted that more Black Africans served among the British during America's War of Independence than with the Continental patriot forces because the Black Africans were promised emancipation and freedom.  
After Cornwallis' surrender, the Americans rounded up the surviving slaves for re-enslavement.  Many of the Black refugees did in fact escape to Nova Scotia, England and Australia.  Eventually a few Blacks would leave Nova Scotia  to form the Africa State of Sierra Leone.
The following is an excerpt from Alan Gilbert's new book titled: Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War of Independence.  "As Daniel Flohr, a German private who walked around the field Yorktown after the battle wrote in his diary: "Most of the corpses are Mohren (Moors)."  

Nelson House, Yorktown Battlefield; Yorktown, Virginia
The Nelson House was built by " Scotch Tom" Nelson in the early 18th century.  This impressive house was the home  of his famous grandson, Thomas Nelson, Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence.


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