Page images

itpread. The efforts of the American commanders and their men to stop the progress and ravages of tha fire, proved ineffectual. The conflagration raged for nearly three days and consumed atxtut nine-tenths of the town. Scarcely can even the strongest imagination picture to itself the distress of the wretched inhabitants, most of whom, friends i>r foes, saw their homes, their property, their all, an indiscriminate prey to the irrepressible fury of the flames. The horrors of the conflagration were heightened by the thunder of cannon from the ship*, and mnsketry of the hostile parlies that encountered each other in sharp conflict near the shore, and on the smoking ruins of the devot -d town. In thee encounters, the British were uniformly repulsed, and driven back to their boats with shame and loss. Of the Americans, by a singular good fortune, none were killed, and only 5 or 6 men wounded, one of whom mortally. Some women and children were, however, reported to hive lost their lives. In this nffair, fhe intrepid Stevens still added to his fame. At the head of his hardy, indefatigable, and irresistible band, he rushed with the rapidity of lightning to the water-side, struck a large party of British, who had ju*t landed there, and •ompelled them to retire, with slaughter anil in dismay, to the protection of their wooden wills. In general, during the whole of this afflicting scene, both officers and men evinced a spirit worthy of veterans.

"Such was the melancholy event which laid prostrate the most flourishing and richest town in the colony. Its happy site, combining all those natural advantages which invite and promote navigation and commerce, had been actively seconded by the industry and enterprise of the inhabitants. Before the •msting troubles, an influx of wealth was rapidly pourtne into its lap. In the two years from 1773 to 1775, the rents of the houses increased from 8,000 lo 10,000V. a year. Its population exceeded 6,000 citixens, many of whom possessed affluent fortunes. The whole actual loss, on this lamentable occasion, has been computed at more than three hundred thousand pounds sterling; and the mass of distress attendant on the event is beyond alt calculation.'1

After the conflagration of Norfolk, occasional skirmishes took place between the Virginians and the enemy, in which the latter suffered most severely. "On the 6th of February, Col. Robert Howe, who was now commander of the American troops, abandoned Norfolk, or rather, the site on which Norfolk had stood; for scarcely any vestige of that ill-fated town was now to be seen. After removing the inhabitants, the remaining edifices had been destroyed ; and the mournful silence of gloomy depopulation now reigned where the gay, animating bustle of an active emulous crowd had so lately prevailed." Howe stationed his troops at Kemp's, at the Great Bridge, and Suffolk. To the latter place numbers of houseless and distressed fugitives from Norfolk had resorted; humanity and hospitality had thrown open her doors, and every building was arowded with these unfortunate wanderers.

The most energetic measures were resorted to by the committee of safety, to preclude the flotilla of Dunmore from obtaining supplies along the banks of those waters which their presence still infested. By these measures they were compelled to abandon their intrenchments, and after burning the barracks they had erected near the ruins of Norfolk, to seek a refuge on board their vessels, where much suffering awaited them. In the latter part of May they were seen manoeuvring in Hampton Roads, and they finally landed and intrenched themselves at Gwyn's island. The signal defeat that awaited them there, is detailed under the head of Mathews county.

On the 9th of May, 1779, a British fleet from New York, conducted by Sir George Collier, anchored in Hampton Roads. The government of the state had erected Fort Nelson a short distance below Portsmouth, on the western bank of Elizabeth River, to secure Portsmouth, Norfolk, and the marine yard at Gosport, from insult. This work was garrisoned by about 150 men, under Major Thomas Matthews, who abandoned it and retreated to the Dismal Swamp. On the 11th, the British took possession of Portsmouth, and detached troops to Norfolk, Gosport, and Suffolk. At the two first they destroyed abundance, of naval and military stores, and the last they burnt. They also destroyed, besides much public and private property, upwards of a hundred vessels. They remained but a short lime, and then re-embarked for New York.

In October, 1780, Brig. Gen. Leslie, with about three thousand troops from New York, landed at Portsmouth, and took possession of vessels and other property on the eoast. He soon left the shores of the state and sailed for Charleston, and shorily after joined Cornwallis. When Arnold invaded Virginia in January, 1781, the waters of Elizabeth River were again entered by the enemy. Portsmouth was for a time the head-quarters of the traitor. Cornwallis was also at Portsmouth just previous to taking post at Yorktown.

Portsmouth, the seat of justice for Norfolk county, is on the left bank of Elizabeth River, immediately opposite Norfolk, with which there is a constant communication by a ferry, distant three quarters of a mile. The town was established in February, 1752, on the land of William Crawford. Like Norfolk, and several of the large towns of eastern Virginia, many of its early settlers were Scotch and Irish, principally engaged in mercantile pursuits. In common with Norfolk, it possesses one of the best harbors in the

[graphic][merged small]

Union, in which vessels of war are generally lying at anchor, and vessels of the largest size come to its wharves. A short distance below the town is the U. S. Naval Hospital, a large and showy building—shown on the right of the above view—built of brick, and stuccoed. On the opposite side of the river stand the ruins of Fort Norfolk; it is on or near the site of Fort Nelson, built in the war of the revolution.

The U. S. Navy Yard is directly on the southern extremity of Portsmouth, half a mile from the central part of the town, in that portion of it called Gosport, where the general government has built a large and costly dry dock, of the best materials and work manship, capable of admitting the largest ships. The construction of vessels at the navy-yard, at times employs as many as 1,400 men; and it is this source that proves one of the principal means of the support of the town. The Portsmouth and Roanoke rail-road commences at this place, and with the connecting rail-roads forms a communication with Charleston, S. C. The Virginia Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy, established here in 1840, by Capt. Alden S. Partridge, numbers about forty pupils. Portsmouth contains a court-house, jail, 6 churches—1 Presbyterian, 1 Episcopal, 1 Catholic, 1 Baptist, 1 Methodist, and

1 do. for blacks—a branch of the Bank of Virginia, and a population of about 7,000. The town is beautifully laid off into squares, and its site is level. With Norfolk, it possesses an excellent fish-market. Shellfish, oysters, crabs, &c, abound. The Lynn Harbor oysters are highly esteemed by epicures.


Navy Yard, Gotport.

The village of Deep Creek is situated at the northern extremity of the Dismal Swamp canal, about 10 miles from Norfolk. It is a depot of the canal, and contains about 30 dwellings. Its commercial business is principally confined to a trade in large juniper or white cedar shingles, and other lumber from the Dismal Swamp, which gives constant employment to several schooners, plying to the northern cities.

The celebrated swamp called the "Dismal," lies partly in Virginia and partly in North Carolina; it extends from north to south nearly 30 miles, and averages, from east to west, about 10 miles. Five navigable rivers and some creeks rise in it. The sources of all these streams are hidden in the swamp, and no truces of them appear above ground. From this it appears that there must be plentiful subterraneous fountains to supply these streams—or the soil must be filled perpetually with the water drained from the higher lands which surround it. The latter hypothesis is most probable, because the soil of the swamp is a complete quagmire, trembling under the feet, and filling immediately the impression of every step with water. It may be penetrated to a great distance by thrusting down a stick, and whenever a fire is kindled upon it, after the layer of leaves and rubbish is burned through, the coals sink down, and are extinguished.

The eastern skirts of the Dismal Swamp are overgrown with reeds, ten or twelve feet high, interlaced everywhere with thorny bamboo briers, which render it almost impossible to pass. Among these are found, here and there, a cypress, and white cedar, which last is commonly mistaken for the juniper. Towards the south there is a very large tract covered with reeds, without any trees, which being constantly green, and waving in the wind, is called the preen tea. An evergreen shrub, called the gall-bush, grows plentifully throughout, but especially on the borders; it bears a berry which dyc« a black color, like the gall of an oak—and hence its name.


Near the middle of the swamp, the trees grow much closer, both the cypress and cedar; and being always green, and loaded with large tops, are much exposed to the wind, and easily blown down in this boggy place, where the soil is too soft to afford sufficient hold to the roots. From these causes the passage is nearly always obstructed by trees, which lay piled in heaps, and riding upon each other; and the snags left in them pointing in every direction, render it very difficult to clamber .over them.

On the western border of the Dismal Swamp is a pine swamp, above a mile in breadth, the greater part of which is covered to the depth of the knee with water: the bottom, however, is firm, and though the pines growing upon it are very large and tall, yet they are not easily blown down by the wind; so that this swamp may be passed without any hindrance, save that occasioned by the depth of the water. With all these disadvantages, the Dismal Swamp, though disagreeable to the other senses, is, in many places, pleasant to the eye, on account of the perpetual verdure, which makes every season like the spring, and every mouth like May.

"Immense quantities of shingles and other juniper lumber are obtained from the swamp, and furnish employment for many negroes, who reside in little huts in its recesses.

"Much of the lumber is brought out of the swamp, either through ditches cut for the purpose, in long narrow lighters, or are carted out by mules, on roads made of poles laid across the road so as to touch each other, forming a bridge or causeway. There are very many miles of such road. The laborers carry the shingles, &c, to these roads from the trees, on their heads and shoulders. The Dismal Swamp Canal runs through it from north to south, and the Portsmouth and Roanoke Rail-road passes for five miles across its northern part.

"It looks like a grand avenue, surrounded on either hand by magnificent forests. The trees here, the cypress, juniper, oak, pine, &c, are of enormous size, and richest foliage; and below is a thick entangled, undergrowth of reeds, woodbine, grape-vines, mosses, and creepers, shooting and twisted spirally around, interlaced and complicated, so as almost to shut out the sun.

"The engineer who had constructed the road through this extraordinary swamp, found it so formidable a labor as almost to despair of success. In running the line, his feet were pierced by the sharp stumps of cut reeds; he was continually liable to sink ankle or knee deep into a soft muddy ooze ; the yellow flies and moschetoes swarmed in myriads; and the swamp was inhabited by venomous serpents and beasts of prey.

"The Dismal Swamp was once a favorite hunting-ground of the Indians; arrowheads, some knives, and hatchets, are yet found there; and it still abounds in deer, bears, wild turkeys, wild.cats, &c. The water of this swamp is generally impregnated with juniper, and is considered medicinal by the people of the surrounding country, who convey it some distance in barrels. This swamp is much more elevated than the surrounding country, and by means of the Dismal Swamp Canal, might be drained, and thus a vast body of most fertile soil reclaimed; and the canal might be transformed into a rail-road—add the juniper soil, which is vegetable, might, perhaps, be used as peat

"Lake Drummond.—There is in the interior of the Dismal Swamp a body of water bearing this name, after the discoverer, who, says tradition, wandering in pursuit of game with two companions, was lost, and in his rambling came upon this lake. His comrades failed to thread their way out. Drummond returned, and gave an account of the sheet of water, which was accordingly called after him."

This lake is much visited by parties from Norfolk and the adjacent portions of North Carolina. There is here, exactly on the line of Virginia and North Carolina, a favorite public house, called "The Lake Drummond Hotel," which has become "the Gretna Green" of this region. The poet Moore, who was in this country in 1804, has made a superstition connected with this lake tbe subject of a well-known poetical effusion, which we here extract. A BALLAD.


Written at Jforfolk, in Virginia. They tell of a young man who lost his mind upon the death of a girl he loved; and who suddenly disappearing from his friends, was never afterward* heard of. As he frequently said in his ravings that the girl was not dead, but gone to the Dismal Swamp, it is supposed that he had wandered into that dreary wilderness, and had died of hunger, or been lost in some of its dreadful morasses.—Jlnon. "La Poesie a ses monstres comme la nature.1'—D'Alcmbert.

"They made her a grave, too cold and damp

For a soul so warm and true;
And she's gone to the lake of the Dismal Swamp,
Where, all night long, by a firefly lamp,

She paddles her white canoe.

u And her firefly lamp I soon shall see,

And her puddle I soon shall hear;
Long and loving our life shall be,
And I'll hide the maid in a cypress tree,

When the footstep of death is near 1"

Away to the Dismal Swamp he speeds—

His path was rugged and sore.
Through tangled juniper, beds of reeds.
Through many a fen, where the serpent feeds,

And man never trod before!

And when on the earth he sunk to sleep,

If slumber his eyelids knew,
He lay where the deadly vine doth weep
It> venomous tear, and nightly steep

The flesh with blistering dew!

And near him the she-wolf stirr'd the brake,

And the copper-snake breath'd in his ear,
Till he starting cried, from his dream awake,
"Oh! when snail I see the dusky lake,
And the white canoe of my dear 1"

He saw the lake, and a meteor bright,

Quick over its surface play'd— "Welcome!" he said; "my dear one's light!" And the dim shore echoed for many the night,

The name of the death-cold maid!

Till he hollowed a boat of the birchen bark,
Which carried him otf from shore;

Far he follow'd the meteor spark,

The wind was high and the clouds were dark,
And the boat return'd no more.

But oft from the Indian hunter's camp,

This lover and maid so true,
Are seen at the hour of midnight damp,
To cross the lake by a firefly tamp.

And paddle their white canoe!

On the 22d of June, 1813, a powerful British fleet made an attack on Craney Island, at the entrance to Elizabeth River. They were signally defeated. The event, as given below, is from Perkins' Late War:

Before the British could enter the harbor of Norfolk and approach the town, it was necessary to take possession of Craney Island. On the morning of the 22d, they were discovered passing round the point of Nansemond River, and landing on the main land in a position where the passage was ford able, with a view to pass over and attack the works on the west side of the island, while at the same time a number of barges from the fleet attempted to land in front. These were attacked before they reached the shore, from a battery on the beach, manned by the sailors and marines from the Constellation and the gun-boats. Three of the barges were sunk, most of the men drowned, and the rest compelled to retreat" to their shipping. The party which landed at Nansemond, were met and repulsed by the Virginia militia, and driven back to their ships, with the loss, including those in the barges, of upwards of two hundred in killed and wounded. The city of Norfolk, and the neighboring villages of Gosport and Portsmouth, owed their safety to this gallant defence of Craney Island.

Richard Dale, a distinguished naval officer of the revolution, was born in this county in 1756. He early showed a predilection for the sea, and at the age of 12 made a voyage to Liverpool, and continued in the merchant service until the breaking out of the revolution. In 1776 he was appointed lieutenant of an armed ship, which belonged to the infant navy of Virginia. While cruising in one of the boats of this vessel in the James, he was captured by a British tender and confined on board of a British prisonship at Norfolk. He was at this time scarce 20 years of age, and having passed his youth on the ocean, can scarcely be supposed to have been familiar with the great principles of the revolution. An old schoolmate, named Gutteridgc, who commanded a British tender, prevailed upon him to make a cruise with him up the Rappahannock. In an engagement with a fleet of pilot-boats, he was wounded iu the head by a musketball.

After his recovery he sailed for Bermuda, but the vessel he was in was captured by Commodore Barry; an explanation followed, and Dale, convinced of his error, re-entered the American service as a midshipman. Not long after he was again taken prisoner by the British, but was soon exchanged, and was appointed to the U. S. ship Lexington. This vessel being captured, Dale was the third time in the power of the enemy, who threw him and his companions into the Mill Prison at Plymouth. Dale escaped with a

« PreviousContinue »