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bucks in velvet and ruffles gathered to talk | everything relating to it interested them. It
was the only matter which excited them,
It would be difficult to find a fitter illustration of the old colonial Virginia life than that which this little town affords. It was a typical Old Dominion borough, and was one of the eight boroughs into which Virginia was originally divided. One or two families owned the place, ruling with a sway despotic in fact, though in the main temperate and just, for the lower orders were too dependent and inert to dream of thwarting the "gentlefolk," and the Southerner uncrossed was ever the most amiable of men. If there were more than one great family, they nevertheless got on amicably, for they had usually married and intermarried until their interests were identical.
Nearly all the "old" families in the colony were allied, and the clannish instinct was as strong as among the Scotch. The ambition of the few wealthy families in the colony, perhaps more than the usually accepted aristocratic instinct, excluded from the circle all who did not come up to their somewhat difficult standard. Government was their passion, and
In York, the Nelson family was the acknowledged leader in county affairs. President Nelson had sent his eldest son, Tom, when a lad of fourteen, to Eton, and afterward to Cambridge, where he was graduated with some distinction. The style in which the President of the Council lived is exhibited by the casual remark, in a letter written to a friend who was in charge of this son, that he had just bought Lord Baltimore's six white coach-horses, and meant to give his own six black ones a run in his Hanover pastures. In 1761, the young squire came home, and it shows the influence of his family that, while yet on his voyage across, he was returned as a member of the House of Burgesses. About a year afterward, he married Lucy Grymes, the oldest daughter of Colonel Philip Grymes, of Brandon, in Middlesex. The Grymeses enjoyed the reputation of being the wickedest and cleverest family in the Dominion. The name was originally Græme, but when the first of them fled from Scotland in 1715, after the failure of the Old Pretender, he, for prudential reasons, changed his name to Grymes. Little Lucy was a dove in the eagle's nest, however. She was a cousin of Light-Horse Harry Lee and of Thomas Jefferson. An old MS. states that the latter was one of her many lovers, but the story appears to lack confirmation, as the lady denied it even in after years.
During the years that followed, York maintained her position as an influential borough in the direction of affairs. When
the crisis came, Secretary Thomas Nelson, "the President's" younger brother, was at the head of the moderate party. He received forty-five votes in the Convention for Virginia's first governor, but was beaten by Patrick Henry. He was, however, put in the Privy Council. His nephew and namesake, Thomas Nelson, Jr., was one of the leaders of the ultra patriots, and with his cousin and connection, Dudley Digges, took so conspicuous a part in the early revolutionary action of the State, that 'Captain Montague, the commander of the, British ship Fowey, threatened to bombard York. The manifestation of their anger took a singular turn, which at the same time shows the naïve character of the old Virginia gentry. They solemnly resolved that his action had been so inhuman that he should not be further recognized as a gentleman. It is possible that however determined the men were not to recognize Captain Montague, the women were less resolute, as he was remarkable for his great personal beauty,-so remarkable, indeed, that it was said Lady Augusta Murray, who afterward married the Duke of Sussex, and who was herself declared to be the handsomest woman in the three kingdoms, used to repeat at the end of each verse in the 136th Psalm, whenever it occurred in the church service:
"Praise Montague, Captain of the Fowey, For his beauty endureth for ever."
Dudley Digges, young Nelson's colleague in the House of Burgesses, was a member of the Privy Council, and of the Committee of Safety. He was the worthy lineal descendant of that brave Sir Dudley who flung at Charles the First's powerful and insolent favorite, Buckingham, the retort, "Do you jeer, my lord? I can show you where a greater man than your lordship, as high in power, and as deep in the king's favor, has been hanged for as small a crime as these articles contain."
Such was York, the patriotic little Virginia town into which Cornwallis retired in the summer of 1781, when he received orders from Sir Henry Clinton to intrench himself on the coast and await instructions. At this time it boasted among its citizens the Governor of the State, for young Nelson had attained the highest dignity in Virginia. He had been one of the leaders in the great movement which had separated the colonies from the mother country. He
| had been a conspicuous member of all the great conventions. He had made the motion in committee of the whole in 1776 that Virginia should instruct her delegates in Congress to try and induce that body to declare the United Colonies free and independent States; he had, as one of her delegates, signed the great Declaration; and now he had been chosen to take the entire control of the State, and with almost dictatorial powers to manage both her military and civil polity. "His popularity was unbounded," says the historian. His patriotism certainly was. The father of a modern English statesman, speaking of his son's freetrade views, said he might be exalting the nation, but he was ruining his family. The same criticism might have been passed on General Nelson's administration. His patriotism was of a nature that now strikes one as rather antique. When money was wanted to pay the troops and run the Government, Virginia's credit was low, but the Governor was told that he could have plenty on his personal security, so he borrowed a couple of millions and went on; when regiments mutinied and refused to march, the Governor simply drove over to Petersburg, raised the money, and paid them. Consequently, when the war closed, what old George Mason declared he would be willing to say his nunc dimittis on, viz., the heritage to his children of a crust of bread and liberty, had literally befallen Governor Nelson.
When it was discovered that Cornwallis was marching on York, the feelings of the inhabitants were doubtless not enviable. Arnold had not long before swept over the State, leaving "red ruin" in his track. Colonel Tarleton, Cornwallis's lieutenant, had procured for himself a not very desirable reputation, having an eye for a good horse and a likely negro, and a conscience not over scrupulous about the manner of obtaining them. Arnold was so much dreaded that, when he was expected to fall on York, Mrs. Nelson, the general's wife, with her young children, fled to the upper country. On this occasion it was that Jimmy Ridout, the carriage driver, in emulation of Cacus, had his horses shod at night with the shoes reversed, so that if they were followed their pursuers might be misled. When Cornwallis marched on York, Mrs. Nelson once more set out for her upper plantations in Hanover.
Cornwallis, expecting additional forces from Sir Henry Clinton, fortified himself
in York. His letter to his chief, conveying the announcement of his surrender, declares that he never saw this post in a very favorable light, and nothing but the hope of relief would have induced him to attempt its defense. This letter gave mortal offense to the superior officer, who was sensible of the justice of the grave charge so delicately conveyed. He had sacrificed his subordinate and the last chances of Great Britain.
Riding over the green fields at present, it requires an effort to picture the scenes they witnessed one hundred years ago. There are fortifications still standing, green
with blackberry bushes and young locusts, but they tell of a more recent strife; the Revolutionary earth-works have totally disappeared, except on "Secretary's Hill." where formerly stood Secretary Nelson's fine house, in which Cornwallis first established his head-quarters. A few signs are still discernible there, due to the possible fact that his lordship had his head-quarters protected by works of unusual strength. If this be the explanation, the precaution proved futile, for when it was known in the Revolutionary camp that it was the British commander's head-quarters, the house was made their special mark, and was almost
demolished. The butler was killed in the act of placing a dish on the dinner-table. Outside the town, there are several spots which may be accurately fixed. Up the river, on the rise beyond the small, dull stream, to the left of the Williamsburgh road going out, were posted the French batteries-the regiments of Touraine, Agénois, and Gatinois -the Royal Auvergne-" Auvergne sans tache." On the creek a little nearer the town fell Scammel on the first day of the siege, treacherously shot in the back after he had surrendered, which "cast a gloom over the camp." His death was avenged afterward by his troops, as they charged over the redoubts with the battle-cry, "Remember Scammel!" Below the town, on the other side, the redoubts were stormed and taken
at night by the picked troops of the French and American armies. The short grass now grows smooth over the spot where the Royal Auvergne won back their lost name and fame; but as we stand where they stood that night with empty guns, panting to use the bayonet, steadfast though their ranks were being mowed down in the darkness, we feel stirred as though it had all occurred but yesterday. Meantime the American stormers of the other redoubt, led by the dashing young Colonel Alexander Hamilton, had plunged through the abattis and gained their prize. What a speech that must have been which the young officer made his men as he halted them under the walls!
"Did you ever hear such a speech?"
asked one officer of another. "With that speech I could storm hell!"
The striking incidents of the siege were not very numerous. It was a steady and unreceding advance on one side and retrogression on the other; but this particular night was somewhat noted for its romantic episodes. When Hamilton, inside his redoubt, sent to inform the French leader of the fact and to inquire if he was in his, "No, but I will be in five minutes," he answered, and he kept his word. Many a blue lapel was stained with heart blood; but their king wrote with his own hand, "Bon pour Royal Auvergne," and posterity says, Amen! They died not in vain. "The work is done and well done," said Washington, when the signal was given that the redoubts were won.
A few days before this eventful night, the Governor of Virginia, who was present in person, commanding the Virginia State forces, had displayed his patriotism by an act which attracted much attention. Observing that his own house within the town had escaped injury from the shells, he learned that General Washington had given orders that the gunners should not aim at it. He immediately had a gun turned on it, and offered a prize of five guineas to the gunner who should strike it.
Three-quarters of a mile back of the two captured redoubts, and outside of the first parallel, stood, and still stands, an old weather-board mansion. Its antique roof, its fire-places set across the corners, and its general old-time air, even a hundred years ago bespoke for it reverence as a relic of a long by-gone age. It was historical even then, for it had been the country residence of Governor Spottswood, who had been the great Marlborough's aid-de-camp, and had
borne the news of Blenheim to England. He had come, bringing his virtues and his graces, to the Old Dominion, and had in the quaint old house on the river bank held his mimic court, forming royal plans for the development of the kingly domain he ruled, entertaining his knights of the Golden Horseshoe, drinking healths which amaze even this not over temperate generation. He established the first iron foundry ever erected on American soil. Hither his body was brought from Maryland, where he died. But one hundred years ago, to the many associations connected with the old house was added one which to this generation dwarfs all others. In its sitting-room were drawn up the articles of capitulation of the British army. Imagination almost always paints in high colors the scene of any great act in the world's drama, but a milder and more peaceful picture can scarcely be conceived than that which this spot now presents. The house was owned at the time of the surrender by "Aunt Moore," as she was called by nearly all the people of York. It is now unoccupied, and the cellar has been utilized as a stable. About it the mild-eyed Alderneys browse the white clover, or gaze sleepily at the unwonted pilgrim. The river sleeps just beyond, with a single sail set like a pearl on its bosom. The spot looks an "ancient haunt of peace," but war has stalked about it since first the English came. The peaceful-looking hedges beyond the old orchard, and on the bluff, are breast works overgrown with bushes. The great civil war, the war of 1812, and the Revolution, all have passed over these green, quiet fields; and yonder in the "Temple" lies the relic of a still older strife-the grave of a soldier who had won his laurels and lain down long before.