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War of 1812 – The British raid New Point Comfort, Virginia

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HMS Albion in the foreground

March 17, 1814 – British ships raided New Point Comfort in the southern reaches of the Chesapeake Bay, within the state of Virginia.  Involved in the engagement were approximately fifty British troops and an unknown number of Virginia militiamen:

near New Point Comfort…  had the pleasure of seeing one of the handsomest skirmishes I ever witnessed…  The fire commenced equally severe on both sides for about fifteen minutes, when the enemy was compelled to take shelter under the cover of some sand hills.  At this moment a barge came to their assistance and commenced a fire from a 12-pound cannon, which was returned from a concealed six; which was continued with great warmth for a few minutes, when she had to make the best of her way to the beach, being in a sinking condition, having shot through her…  although…  his [Captain Frederick Weedon] horse shot down…  we lost not a man. (Richard Virginia Patriot, March 30, 1814) – via The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake

New Point Comfort was the site of a lighthouse, which was used as a lookout station by the Royal Navy during their blockade of the Chesapeake Bay.  It was also a location for the British squadrons to replenish the water aboard their ships without too much trouble from the locals.

I am in great Hope that we shall find enough [water on islands in the Middle Chesapeake] by digging a number of Wells, and if they should at any time fail us unexpectedly, our Watering place at New Point Comfort is so near as to make this a matter of less moment.  (Rear Admiral George Cockburn to Vice Admiral Sir Alexander F. I. Cochrane, April 2, 1814) – via The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake

Wells were sunk near the light-house, and a plentiful supply obtained; we were only reminded of the enemy’s presence by an occasional shot from his field-pieces, whenever he fancied a boat within reach of them.  (Captain James Scott, 1834) – via The War of 1812 in the Chesapeake

The British stationed a squadron of ships for blockade duty at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, in Lynnhaven Roads.  The squadron consisted of frigates, sloops-of-war and the 74-gun ship-of-the-line HMS Albion, flagship of Rear Admiral Cockburn.  The large force was sufficient to keep the American frigate USS Constellation bottled up in nearby Norfolk, but they were no match for the smaller and faster American privateers and Baltimore clippers.

Eventually the British moved on, leaving the lighthouse badly damaged in their wake:

The enemy left New Point Comfort on Sunday last after four weeks possession. Yesterday I went on the Point & such a scene of wanton destruction I never beheld. You have heard before that they burnt the Keeper’s house & oil vault—they have also broke every pane of glass in the lanthorn, taken out & carried off all the window frames, also the door & frame from the Light House—pulled down the Franklin & all the wire around the lanthorn, broke the steps to pieces & injured the house as much as possible. If the war continues, I am clearly of opinion that we should compleat the destruction which they have begun & pull the Light House down; for they use it as a watch tower from whence they can see every thing moving within three or four miles of them & consequently prepare them from any attempt on our part to annoy them. At all events I would not advise the repairing [of] the Light House where it now stands as the water already washes its base & in a few years will undermine it—indeed it was very improperly placed at first. It might be put a quarter of a mile nearer the end of the point & in a perfect secure situation. There is about two thousand gallons of oil belonging to the Light House—it was removed last summer to a place of safety, but it is wasting very much by leakage—it would perhaps be better to sell it should there be no prospect of wanting it this summer…  (Christopher Tompkins of Mathews, Virginia in a letter to Charles K. Mallory, Collector of Customs in Norfolk; dated March 25, 1814) – via the United States Lighthouse Society

The New Point Comfort Lighthouse as it appears today – via Lighthouse News

 

2 thoughts on “War of 1812 – The British raid New Point Comfort, Virginia

  1. Chris

    Thanks for this post. We sail past the New Point Comfort light a couple times a year. I was not aware of its history. I've always been tempted to make a landing, but that's a long leg for us between Norfolk and the Rappahannock and I always end up talking myself out of it. I say its because we don't have the time, but really all the shoals around it give me pause as well. Now I'll have something to tell the kids about when we pass it this year. Thanks again, I really enjoy the historical stuff.

    Like

  2. Mitch

    You are very welcome. I have always been intrigued by the history of the Chesapeake, but have discovered a lot that I am unaware of since beginning this blog. I am glad you are enjoying it!

    Like

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