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Colonial History
William Woodford, (1734-1780)
By Susan F. Sili


When the French threatened to take over Virginia lands in the Ohio Valley, the royal governor sent young George Washington to the frontier to hold back the French and marauding Indians. This incredibly small band of militia was ordered to defend the frontier. With this force, was a unit from Caroline commanded by William Woodford. Woodford was raised in an atmosphere of culture and refinement at his father's estate in Caroline, known as Windsor.. His father had been one of Governor Spotswood's Knights Of the Golden Horseshoe. His ancestors had been distinguished soldiers in the British Army and he had inherited a love of military life. Woodford had been with Washington earlier with another small force which had attempted to block the French at Ft. Necessity. His bravery on that campaign was the beginning of one of the most brilliant military careers in the history of Virginia.
Only two years younger than Washington, Woodford's considerable abilities were noticed by his senior officer. They enjoyed a close association with Woodford becoming one of Washington's most trusted officers. After the end of the French and Indian War, the colony began to experience trouble with the Cherokee Indians. After fighting failed to bring about a satisfactory conclusion, Woodford was sent to into the disputed area. Through negotiation and working with pioneer scouts, he managed to reach the Cherokee headquarters, where after much difficulty, he persuaded a party of braves to accompany him to Williamsburg to talk to the royal governor. This established a peace in Virginia which lasted over a decade.

At the beginning of the war with Great Britain, Virginia troops assembled in Williamsburg. Woodford, who was then a colonel, was ordered to take command of the Second Regiment. With the gathering of the troops in Williamsburg, the royal governor, Dunmore fled to the area of Norfolk. Woodford's first mission was to drive Dunmore from the Norfolk peninsula. His assignment was critical because it was there Dunmore awaited British reinforcements by sea. The fort the governor occupied was at Great Bridge the only overland route to Norfolk. The fort was heavily armed with cannon and the Virginians had no artillery. Woodford was afraid to attack the front of the fort so he placed his troops behind breastworks and laid in for a siege.

Under cover of night. Dunmore began to send troops along the narrow bridge which connected the fort to the mainland in an attempt to surprise the Virginians. Under Woodford's orders, the colonists opened fire in the direction of the bridge. The redcoats were cut down and their bodies fell into the dismal swamp on either side of the narrow gangplank. This was the first battle of the Revolution to be fought on Virginia soil. Governor Dunmore retired his forces by sea leaving the route to Norfolk open. Woodford proved himself to be a humanitarian while occupying Norfolk. He made no attempt to disturb the British warships at anchor only a short distance from shore. He allowed the wives and children of the Tories, who had fled to the ships to come to shore, to escape the unbearable living conditions on board the ships. At the battle of Brandywine, in 1777, Woodford was severely wounded. He recovered and returned to the field only to be captured at the siege of Charleston. He was taken on board a British war ship and sent to New York where he died in captivity in 1780. He was buried there in Trinity Church yard.

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