Few people who live in the Olde Wythe, Merrimac Shores and Little England neighborhoods of Hampton thought twice about the significance of today's date when they got up this morning.
But 200 years ago on June 25, a British amphibious force clashed with local militiamen up and down what is now Kecoughtan Road, Columbia Ave and Victoria Boulevard, leaving at least a dozen dead, about 45 wounded and a couple of dozen missing in a furious early morning engagement.
Cannon fire sounded from both the American gun battery at Cedar Point and an assault force of about 40 British boats that came up the river. Congreve rockets flared through the sky from the British boats, too, setting fire to two Hampton houses.
Six-pound field guns added to the thundering sound of battle as the British force marching overland from their landing place in Wythe met Capt. Richard B. Servant and his deadly accurate Elizabeth City County riflemen in a fierce exchange of fire someplace along Kecoughtan Road between Lasalle Avenue and Sunset Creek. But even with the reinforcement of Maj. Stapleton Crutchfield's infantry and a company of Capt. John B. Cooper's York County cavalry, the marksmen were unable to do much more than temporarily blunt the advance of a force that outnumbered roughly 400 Americans by more than 1,500.
That's when the attack shifted back to Cedar Point, where Elizabeth City County artillery Capt. Brazure W. Pryor had not only forced the British barges to retreat but then turned his guns on the advancing land force. Not until the last minute did he and his men spike their cannon and then swim to safety across the Hampton River.
Much of what made the Battle of Hampton so famous in its day were the outrages that took place after the American retreat, when some 600 French soldiers for two Independent Companies of Foreigners went on a rampage, killing a couple of prisoners of war in cold blood, looting and pillaging such outlying houses as Little England and assaulting as many as 7 women unable to escape the three-day occupation.
Some British officers reportedly looted stores and houses in the town itself, and Lt. Col. Charles Napier struggled to control his troops in the 102nd Regiment, who threatened to mutiny when he restrained them from joining the Frenchmen in the sack of Hampton.
"Remember Hampton!" became a battle cry for the rest of the War of 1812, and it was used by Gen. Andrew Jackson during the Battle of New Orleans 18 months later.
But what I like just as much -- as a resident who regularly walks through the tree-lined streets of Little England and plays on Cedar Point with his little kid -- is the fame won by Servant, Crutchfield, Cooper, Pryor and their outnumbered comrades after the battle was over.
In patriotic observances held then and in the years following the war, their names regularly cropped up in the rounds of toasts made to honor Virginia's military heroes, notes Williamsburg historian Stuart L. Butler in his 2013 book "Defending the Old Dominion: Virginia and Its Militia in the War of 1812."
So the next time I visit the Barking Dog or the Surf Rider restaurants on Sunset Creek just off the river, I'll be raising a glass to honor these brave if virtually forgotten American heroes, too.
-- Mark St. John Erickson
Look for my series on the War of 1812 in Hampton Roads on the Daily Press Hampton Roads history page at dailypress.com/history.
And don't forget these upcoming Hampton History Museum events marking the Battle and Sack of Hampton:
War of 1812 bus tour and programs, including a gallery tour, children's activities and re-enactors as well as a tour of battle sites. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. Free.
"The Rape of Hampton...Or Was There One? The British Occupation of the Town in 1813," presented by Stuart L. Butler. 7 p.m. Monday. $3.
120 Old Hampton Lane, Hampton. 757-727-1610; www.hamptonhistorymuseum.org
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