NORFOLK, VIRGINIA. 1 January 1776. Burned by Lord Dunmore. After defeating Dunmore's forces at Great Bridge on 9 December 1775, Colonel William Woodford entered Norfolk on the 13th. Colonel Robert Howe arrived the next day with a North Carolina regiment and took command. Dunmore had taken refuge on British ships in the harbor where he and his Loyalist recruits suffered from cramped accommodations and lack of provisions. When Colonel Howe refused to stop snipers on shore from firing at the shipping and refused to supply provisions, Dunmore announced the morning of 31 December that he was going to bombard the town. At 4 a.m. of the New Year he put his threat into effect. Captain Edward Bellew's squadron of one frigate and two sloops, backed up by tenders and Dunmore's provincial flotilla, shot into the town for twenty-five hours and landing parties set fire to warehouses near the waterfront. Wind helped spread the flames through the prosperous town ofsix thousand inhabitants. A few men were wounded on each side, along with a few noncombatants. Lieutenant Colonel Edward Stevens was conspicuous in fighting off the landing parties.
The historian Lynn Montross had correctly identified the long-term significance of the action in saying that "as Virginia's largest town went up in flames the loyalist cause perished with it" (Reluctant Rebels, p. 134). The portion of the town that had not been destroyed was razed to prevent its use by the enemy when Colonel Howe ordered the last troops withdrawn on 8 February. Dunmore then landed and built barracks with a view to maintaining a beachhead, but Howe's troops, from their camps at Kemp's Landing, Great Bridge, and Suffolk, made it impossible for the enemy to get provisions from the countryside. With his miserable collection of refugees and Loyalist militia, Dunmore returned to his ships and on 26 May left to establish a new base on Gwynn Island.
revised by Robert K. Wright Jr.