Suffolk and the Revolution: Part Two

Published 6:17 pm Saturday, September 3, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kermit Hobbs continues his occasional look at the history of Suffolk today with the second in a three-part series about Suffolk at the time of the Revolutionary War. Look for Part Three next Sunday.

At the time of General Matthew’s invasion of Hampton Roads, there were several thousand barrels of pork purchased by the “Commissaries of government” that were awaiting the orders from Gov. Patrick Henry as to their disposition.

Unfortunately for the Patriots, local loyalists, known to the Patriots as “Tories,” made the British aware of the hidden supplies. Suffolk suddenly jumped higher on their list of targets.

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When news of the British arrival reached Suffolk, 200 men of the Nansemond militia were assembled, bringing whatever weapons they could find. Few had firearms, and even fewer had ammunition. Capt. Bright of the privateer Mars provided more muskets and two three-pounder cannons for the militia to use in defense of the town.

Three well-mounted scouts — Josiah Riddick, Thomas Granbury, and Thomas Brittle — were sent toward Portsmouth to investigate and report back the location of the British forces. Unfortunately, all three were captured by the enemy.

They were transported to New York where they spent the next three years, probably packed shoulder-to-shoulder on prison ships in New York harbor.

The little army of militia, commanded by Col. Willis Riddick, marched out the Norfolk Road on May 11 and camped that evening in front of the home of Capt. James Murdaugh. This site is near Nansemond River High School on Nansemond Parkway and is designated by a historical marker.

That evening Col. Riddick returned to his own home for the night, expecting to be back before any action occurred. Two captains of the militia, Capt. King and Capt. Davis, advanced about a mile ahead of the campground to Hargrave’s Tavern for the night.

This site was near Glebe Church on Nansemond Parkway and is also designated by a historical marker.

Soon after the men arrived, the gate at the road in front of the tavern was heard to rattle, and the two captains, armed with their muskets, went out to investigate. Davis was shot through the heart by the British, and King managed to escape.

He hurriedly rode back to the militia camp and made them aware of the impending danger.

Col. Edward Riddick, second in command of the militia, ordered his men to retreat to Suffolk. At dawn on May 12, two officers were sent forward to ascertain the location of the British. The men soon returned with news that there were 600 redcoats four miles away and advancing toward Suffolk.

By this time, half the militia had already dispersed, and upon hearing this news the rest returned to their homes in the hopes of protecting what they had. In their flight, some were reported to have been captured.

Lest we think of these men as cowards, we need to consider that they were farmers, merchants and other typical citizens of Suffolk and Nansemond County whose military training was limited to occasional weekend drill practice. They were woefully outclassed by the British soldiers who were well-trained, well-equipped, and far more numerous than the militiamen.

To have stood and fought would have served no other purpose than to die for their country.

Kermit Hobbs Jr. is an accomplished Suffolk historian and businessman. Email him at