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Does Anyone Remember the Heroism of John Champe?

The Escape of John ChampeJohn Champe was born in the year of 1752 in Loudoun County. At the onset of the American Revolution, he enlisted in the Virginia forces and served as a dragoon in the cavalary legion of "Light Horse" Harry Lee where he attained the rank of sergeant major. At the time, Lee had just captured the British-held fort at Paulus Hook and his troops were assembled with General George Washington along the Hudson River. Many years later, when he wrote his famous Memoirs of the War, he related the exploits and heroism of Champe. According to the story, certain anonymous papers had fallen into the hands of General Washington which implicated certain of his soldiers in treason, and particularly one of his generals. He gave Lee the papers to study carefully. When asked his counsel, Lee said that he thought the letters represented a contrivance of Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander-in-chief, to destroy confidence between Washington and his men. In other words, the papers had intentionally fallen into the hands of Washington. Nevertheless, Washington feared a possible defection of one of his highest officers.

"I have sent for you" Lee quotes Washington as saying, "in the expectation that you have in your corps individuals capable and willing to undertake an indispensable, delicate and hazardous project. Whoever comes forward upon this occasion, will lay me under great obligations personally, and in behalf of the United States I will reward him amply. No time is to be lost: he must proceed if possible this night. My object is to probe to the bottom the afflicting intelligence contained in the papers you have just read; to seize Arnold, and by getting him, to save Andre (General Andre was accused of Treason). They are all connected. While my emissary is engaged in preparing means for the seizure of Arnold, the guilt of others can be traced; and the timely delivery of Arnold to me, will possibly put it into my power to restore the amiable and unfortunate Andre to his friends. My instructions are ready, in which you will find my express orders that Arnold is not to be hurt; but that he be permitted to escape if to be prevented only by killing him, as his public punishment is the sole object in view. That you cannot too forcibly press upon whomsoever may engage in the enterprise; and this fail not to do. With my instructions are two letters to be delivered as ordered and here are some guineas for expenses."

Lee mentioned the name of an unknown sergeant major. "Being told his name," continues Lee "that he was a native of Loudoun County in Virginia; about twenty-three or twenty-four years of age; that he had enlisted in 1776; rather above the medium size; full of bone and muscle; with a saturnine countenance, grave, thoughtful and taciturn; of tried courage and inflexible perseverance, and as likely to regret an adventure coupled with ignominy as any officer in the corps; a commission being the goal of his long and anxious exertions, and certain on the first vacancy; the general exclaimed that he was the very man for the business; and that going to the enemy by the instigation and at the request of his officer, was not desertion though it appeared to be so. And he enjoined that this explanation, as coming from him, should be pressed on Champe."

Lee hastened to the camp of his cavalry corps and arriving at night, sent for Champe and placed the matter before him, stressing the great obligation he would confer on the commander-in-chief to carry out the assignment. "Champe listened with deep attention, and with a highly excited countenance; the perturbations of his breast not being hid even by his dark visage. He briefly and modestly replied, that no soldier exceeded him in respect and affection for the commander-in-chief, to serve whom he would willingly lay down his life; and that he was sensible of the honour conferred by the choice of him for the execution of a project all over arduous; nor could he be at a loss to know to whom was to be ascribed the preference bestowed, which he took pleasure in acknowledging, although increasing obligations, before great and many." Champe was not deterred by the danger of enlisting with the enemy but concluded that if any mode could be contrived free from disgrace, that he would do so. Then, he prayed to be excused. Lee understood the reluctance of Champe to join the camp of the enemy as a spy, however, the plan could yield tremendous results, so exerted his utmost power of persuasion. He pointed out that Washington himself had declared that (in this case) the desertion was not a crime. Slowly, Lee persuaded Champe to execute the plan and gaving him three guineas as expense money, sent him promptly to New York. But Chance was not gone a half an hour before his absence was discovered and reported. To buy more time, Lee pretended not to understand the report. The reporting officer returned to his men and ordered them to assemble, thus quickly learning that Champe, "his horse, baggage, arms and orderly book" were missing. His worst fears thus confirmed, he hurriedly arranged a party of pursuit. Lee, however, once again delayed by telling the officer that he was assigned to other duties that evening and that another officer would have to lead the pursuit. The officer chosen was young Cornet Middleton, a sympathetic and rather tender-hearted soldier who might be moved to protect Champe, should he be taken. The reluctant orders signed by Lee read: "Pursue as far as you can with safety Sergeant Champe, who is suspected of deserting to the enemy and has taken the road leading to Paulus Hook. Bring him alive that he may suffer in the presence of the army; but kill him if he resists or escapes after being taken." Still, Lee continued to procrastinate, contriving to hold Middleton by giving him instructions in trivial details.

Meanwhile, soon after the departure of Champe, rain had begun to fall. His horse was shod in a manner peculiar to the Legion enabling Middleton to easily follow the trail. Middleton and his men left the American camp soon after midnight, over an hour after Champe had made his escape. Actually, the pace of the party was slowed by examining the ground for horse shoeprints on which meant the frequent dismounting of troopers. When daylight came, the shoeprints were clear enough and better time could be made. Thus, as the Middleton party reached a hill outside of Three Pigeons, they spotted Champe. Champe, realizing that he was not more than half a mile ahead and could be overtaken if he continued the plan to reach Paulus Hook (now part of Jersey City), So, instead sought immediate refuge in the British galleys which he knew lay a few miles to the west of Bergen. But he was sited again on the new course, his determined pursuers coming within two or three hundred yards of their quarry; but Champe, coming abreast of the galleys, dismounted and ran through the marsh to the river. As he plunged into it, he called upon the galleys for help. "They fired upon our horse" writes Lee "and sent a boat to meet Champe, who was taken in and carried on board and conveyed to New York with a letter from the captain of the galley stating the circumstances he had seen." Escape had been achieved by a narrow margin, yet it also created a realistic background for Champe to join the British.

Middleton returned to camp carrying the horse of the sergeant and its equipment, cloak and scabbard to Lee. Champe had lost his sword in the river. After several days passed, an unsigned letter in a disguised handwriting was received to Lee. It was Champe, relating his further adventures. He wrote that he was kindly received on the galley and taken to the British Commandant in New York who was deeply interested in his story of his escape. Upon which Champe took the opportunity to assure the British officers that after the example of Benedict Arnold, there existed a certain spirit of defection among the American troops. The British believed him, but recorded a description of their new ally, "his size, place of birth, form, countenance, hair, the corps in which he had served, with other remarks in conformity with the British usage." Then Champe was taken before Sir Henry Clinton himself who closely examined the fugitive as to the possibility of the encouraging more desertions from the American forces. After the examination, Sir Henry gave Champe a couple of guineas and assigned him to the service of General Arnold, with a letter telling the latter who and what he was. Arnold also received Champe cordially, expressed much satisfaction upon hearing the manner of his escape and the grand effects his own example had upon the patriots. Arnold attempted to persuade Champe to join his legion; but the sergeant was so devoted to General Washington, that he told Arnold that for his part, he had enough of war and that if he ever were captured by the rebels would be hung. Arnold understood and devised a plan whereby Champe could make contact with his American friends within the British lines who were to procure for him the information sought by Washington as to the loyalty of certain of his officers. Thus a convenient line of communication established between Champe and Lee. The detention of General Andre by the Americans was getting desperate, so Lee promptly sent word urging Champe to learn if the suspected general was guilty. But before anything could be resolved, Andre confessed, freely acknowledging the truth of the charges against him. Andre was promptly condemned as a spy and duly executed. Despite the fate of Andre, Washington still wanted to learn if the suspected general were guilty and urged Champe to learn the answer. Champe soon vindicated that suspect. However, the task of securing the person of Benedict Arnold was at hand. On the 19th October, 1780, Major Lee received from him a full report of his progress toward that end and the plan he had made. Meanwhile, the written communications between Champe and Lee continued. In ten days Champe had added the final touches to his plan for the abduction and so informed Lee, asking that a party of dragoons meet him at Hoboken to whom he hoped to deliver Arnold. By this time, sergeant Champe was quite familiar with the movements of Arnold and planned to seize and gag him upon his returning home about midnight and visiting the garden before retiring. They would remove him to a nearby alley into a boat manned with trusted conspirators at one of the wharves on the Hudson River. When the appointed day arrived, Washington directed Lee to take command of the small detachment of dragoons who were to meet Champe and his prisoner. "The day arrived," quoting Lee again "and Lee with a party of dragoons left camp late in the evening with three led horses; one for Arnold, one for the sergeant and the third for his associate; never doubting the success of the enterprise from the tenor of the last received communication. The party reached Hoboken about midnight, where they were concealed in the adjoining woods, Lee with three dragoons stationing himself near the river shore. Hour after hour passed and no boat approached. At length the day broke and the major retired to his party and with his led horses returned to camp, where he proceeded to headquarters to inform the general of the disappointment as mortifying as inexplicable."

"Headquarters October 20, 1780. Dear Sir: No circumstance whatever shall obtain my consent to his (Arnold) being put to death. The idea which would accompany such an event, would be that ruffians had been hired to assassinate him. My aim is to make a public example of him; and this should be strongly impressed upon those who are employed to bring him off. The Sergeant must be very circumspect; too much zeal may create suspicion, and too much precipitency may defeat the project. The most inviolable secrecy must be observed on all hands. I send you five guineas; but I am not satisfied of the propriety of the sergeant appearing with much specie. This circumstance may also lead to suspicion, as it is but too well known to the enemy that we do not abound in this article. The interviews between the party in and out of the city, should be managed with much caution and seeming indifference; or else the frequency of their meetings may betray the design, and involve bad consequences; but I am persuaded that you will place every matter in a proper point of view to the conductors of this interesting business, and therefore I shall only add that I am, dear sir, G. Washington."

When Champe failed to deliver Benedict Arnold, Washington and Lee were very apprehensive as to the fate of sergeant Champe and were relieved to receive his letter detailing the circumstances which prevented him from seizing Benedict Arnold. It seems that on the day preceding the planned abduction, Arnold unexpectedly removed his quarters to another part of the town to supervise the embarkation of troops on a special mission, which was an expeditionary force made up largely of American deserters. "Thus it happened" Lee explains " that John Champe, instead of crossing the Hudson that night, was safely deposited on board one of the fleet of transports, from whence he never departed until Arnold landed in Virginia!" Nor was he able to escape from the British Army until Lord Cornwallis was at Petersburg, when he deserted. Champe proceeded into Virginia, then passed into North Carolina where he joined the army soon after it had passed the Congaree in pursuit of Lord Rawdon. "His appearance excited extreme surprise among his former comrades, which was not a little increased when they saw the cordial reception he met with from Lieutenant Colonel Lee. His whole story soon became known to the corps, which reproduced the love and respect of officer and soldier, heightened by universal admiration of his daring and arduous attempt. Champe was introduced to General Green, who cheerfully complied with the promises made by the commander-in-chief, so far as in his power; and having provided the sergeant with a good horse and money for his journey, sent him to General Washington, who munificently anticipated every desire of the sergeant, and presented him with a discharge from further service lest he might in the vicissitudes of war, fall into the enemy's hands, when if recognized, he was sure to die on a gibbet." Source: Legends of Loudoun by Harrison (1938).

What Happened to Champe Afterwards

Revolutionary War Marker of John Champe The story goes that after the war ended, upon the personal recommendation of General Washington, Sergeant Champe was appointed to the position of doorkeeper or sergeant-at-arms of the Continental Congress, then meeting at Philadelphia, but obliged, on account of rioting, to remove to Trenton. His name appeared on a roll of the 25th August, 1783, as holding that position. Soon afterwards he returned to Loudoun, married and acquired a small holding near what is now Dover, between the later towns of Aldie and Middleburg, close by the present Little River Turnpike. Nearby there is a pool of water still known locally as Champe's Spring. According to local tradition, after the war Champe resided in a log cabin on the old Military Road near the old Ketoctin Baptist Church and on lands afterward owned by Robert Braden. Then he removed to Kentucky where it is believed he died in or about the year 1797.

The narrative from the notes of General Lee is as follows:

" When General Washington was called by President Adams to the command of the Army prepared to defend the country from French hostility, he sent to Lieutenant-Colonel Lee to inquire for Champe, being determined to bring him into the field at the head of a company of infantry. Lee sent to Loudoun County, where Champe settled after his discharge from the Army, and learned that the gallant soldier had removed to Kentucky, and had soon after died."

Source: Legends of Loudoun by Harrison (1938).

The Carolina Road

Carolina RoadWhat one may call the Appian Way of Piedmont was undoubtably an aboriginal trail which, perhaps began as a buffalo path, and was followed habitually by the Indians in their north-south journeys. It ultimately became known as the Carolina Road and served as a great highway between the north and the south. It owes its origin to a beaten trail made by the heavier animals of the forest.

The Shenandoah Hunting Path

Shenandoah Hunting PathThe first record of the "Susquehannock Plain Paths" was noted in the Virginia Act of 1662. Later, from about 1686 until 1742, that part of the road between Brent Town and the Rappahannock was also known as the "Shenandoah Hunting Path", a nam which is still occasionally heard. Europeans Settled the Shenandoah

Captain Harper was Robin Hood

Robin Hood There was a portion of the old Carolina Road which was called "Rogue's Road" on account of the many bold robberies committed along its route by the famous gentleman of the day, Captain Harper, who regularly patrolled it and terrorized all those who resided nearby. The women were afraid to venture out on this road alone. A rather pretty story was told in this regard. A young Virginia maiden was walking the road alone one evening about twilight, hurrying from a visit to a neighbor, when a dashing cavalier road up and reigned his horse beside her. "Are you not afraid to walk this road alone on account of Captain Harper and his band?quot; he asked. "No," replied the maiden, "for I have always heard that Captain Harper was a gentleman." The dashing horseman looked at her a moment and then walked his horse beside her until she reached the gate leading to her home. And then, raising his hat and bowing, said: " Captain Harper bids you good night" and digging the rowels into his steed, vanished as he came. Source: Legends of Loudoun: An Account of the History and Homes of a Border County of Virginia's Northern Neck by Harrison Williams.

Squatters

old log cabin The first settlers to Loudoun County were a rough and sturdy folk, those first poorer arrivals were illiterate for the most part. Their poor living conditions from birth provided self-reliance in meeting the problems of existence on a sparsely settled land and wholly ignorant of the relative comforts of life enjoyed by the prosperous planters in tidewater. They built rude cabins of logs in such places as seemed best to them, paying scant attention to land titles and being in fact, for the most part, mere squatters on their holdings; and there they planted small patches of corn and beans which, with the abundant game in the woods and fish in the streams, provided their liberal and hearty fare. It has been traditional that these earliest pioneers found many open spaces burned over before their arrival; for so prevalent had been the Indian habit of firing the woods, that historians have suggested that had the coming of the Europeans to Virginia been delayed for a few more centuries, its great forests would have vanished before their arrival. As a result, they found the timber far inferior in size and beauty. Indeed it has been asserted that in clearing ten acres of land there could hardly be obtained from it sufficient material to enclose it.

Irishman, Asa Moore founded the Town of Waterford

The town of Waterford was, according to tradition, founded by an Irishman, one Asa Moore, who is reputed to have built his, the first house there in 1732, naming the new settlement for the place of his nativity. Later it received many English, Scotch-Irish, Germans and, particularly, Quakers to whom it largely owed the prosperity and progress it was then to enjoy. Irish and Scottish Immigrants Scotch-Irish Immigrants to the Northern Neck

The Irish in Virginia

old log cabin In the first half-century following the founding of Jamestown, few Irish were to be encountered in Virginia. The Colony was overwhelmingly English with, it is true, occasional Welsh, Irish and Scotch here and there; but these were accidental and the basic and dominating race of the settlers was so wholly Anglo-Saxon that the few others were submerged and lost in the English flood. But between 1653 and 1660, hundreds of unfortunate Irish, resisting Cromwell, were shipped as political prisoners and little better than white slaves to Virginia and the other Colonies. Again, after the defeat in 1690 of James II and his Irish supporters by William III at the Battle of the Boyne and the resultant Treaty of Limerick the next year, great numbers of the Irish were banished or condemned to transportation and of these many were sent to Maryland and Virginia where as servants or labourers on the land, their services were in demand. While the majority thus transported were ignorant peasants, feudal vassals of their lords, the "Kerns and gallowglasses" of Macaulay, numbers of the nobility and gentry were exiled as well, of which we have already recorded a prominent example inDaniel McCarty. Inasmuch as those transported were so treated as punishment for their uprising in favour of James and against the de facto English government of William, they were stigmatized as criminals, although, as shown, their offense was purely political. But Irish offenders against the penal laws other than political were also from time to time condemned to transportation and as the demand for labourers by wealthier planters in Virginia grew and until negro slaves later were generally available to them, there was also much kidnapping of wholly innocent Irish who, too, were taken to the Colonies and sold into servitude. Among this heterogeneous mass of unfortunates there were undoubtedly many who were disorderly, depraved and vicious and who, we know, subsequently gave great trouble to the Virginians; but to classify all the Irish forcibly transported as criminals or lawless would be as unjust as it would be untrue. It well may be borne in mind that to most of the English, they were a strange, impulsive and foreign people and equally or even more damning, Romanists in an intensely anti-Roman community. As such, we may well believe, they seldom enjoyed the benefit of a doubt of their inherent depravity. Source: Legends of Loudoun: An Account of the history and homes of a border county of Virginia's Northern Neck by Harrison Williams.

Swarthmoor Hall, the Founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers)

Swarthmoor HallSwarthmoor Hall was the home of George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, and the place where the "Friends of Truth" and "Children of Light," worshipped. The locality is one he always loved and where he gained his most enthusiastic converts. There is an old-fashioned bridge and stream nearby, and the stump of a tree which offers a pleasant seat. The name, Swarthmoor, is said to have derived its name from the Flemish general, "Bold Martin Swart," or Swartz, a valiant soldier of noble family, who, in 1487, with Lord Lovel and the Earls of Lincoln and Kildare, encamped here with an invading army of 7,000 German and Irish troops, who had landed at the Pile of Fouldrey with the object of placing Lambert Simnel on the throne of England. Despite this tradition, the name has a much earlier origin, back to the time of Duke William of Normandy. At a later date, when the soldiers of King Charles had entered Furness and "plundered the place very sore," as the old chronicle has it, Colonel Rigby, the Parliamentarian commander, temporarily withdrew from Thurland Castle and started in hot pursuit; and we are told that the Roundheads, after stopping on Swarthmoor to pray, marched on to Lindale, a couple of miles further, where they fought with such vehemence and resolution that the unlucky Cavaliers were put to flight.

1730 Settlement of Germans in Virginia

Virginia encouraged settlements of refugee Europeans on her frontiers in an effort to form buffer groups between the inimical French and Indians to the north and the seated parts of her domain. In 1730 a grant of 10,000 acres on the Shenandoah River was made to one Stover for settlement by Germans who began to pour south from Pennsylvania and Maryland and soon the Valley was taking on that perceptible Teutonic colour with which it is still dyed. In 1731 there came to the present Loudoun the first colony of Germans from the Valley. Of all the early settling it is doubtful if any was more intelligently planned or more reasonably could anticipate success. Instead of a few individuals pioneering in haphazard fashion, there was a compact and homogeneous group of about sixty families, the men almost without exception artisans of various trades or peasants skilled in thrifty farming; and their lot had heretofore been so harsh and their fortune so adverse that the hardships inseparable from making a new home in the wilderness were, by comparison, a kindly dispensation of a hitherto hostile fate. Upon crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains, they settled the land between the Catoctin Mountains and the Short Hills, north of the present Morrisonville, which from that time on has been known as the German Settlement and than which no part of Loudoun County has been more industriously and providently farmed. Little those early Teutons spent on luxury or even comfort; a sound and certain living was their objective and the land and its increase, rather than ornate dwellings, received their uttermost effort. Even as late as 1853, Yardley Taylor remarked that their "farms are generally small and well cultivated and the land rates high." These settlers seldom went to much expense in building houses and built log houses. Yet if their houses were primitive, the occupants were generally prosperous and free from debt and in later years comfortable and commodious farmhouses have taken the place of the earlier cabins. These earliest Germans, having neither speech nor habits in common with their neighbours, developed a self-sustained and independent community wholly different and set off from those of others around them and to this day their locality measurably carries on its distinctive life. This seemed to be true everywhere that the Germans settled. Source:Legends of Loudoun


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Loudoun County Genealogy, Wills, Estates, Marriages, Minute Books

Oatlands Plantation

Loudoun County was created in 1757 from Fairfax County and was named after John Campbell, the Fourth Earl of Loudoun and Governor of Virginia from 1756 to 1759. Between 1720 and 1730 settlers were Quakers, Scots-Irish, Germans and others who removed south from Pennsylvania and Maryland into Virginia.

The Settlement of Loudoun County

After the Treaty with the Indians was settled by Gov. Spotswood, the Colonists had to be convinced and reassured of their safety. There had been other treaties wherein Indian promises were not always consistent. The first ten years following the treaty, or from 1722 to 1732, few and grants were given. Slowly there grew a steady increase in trappers and hunters to the cismontane region and then, gradually and cautiously, the landless men, the poorer whites from the lower settlements, the redemptioners or indentured servants who had fulfilled their contracts of service, began to make their way by Indian trail or through the untravelled woodlands. Very soon, however, there were purchases of substantial tracts by a more prosperous class who began to seat themselves upon their new possessions.

Loudoun County Wills, Estates, Marriages available to members of Virginia Pioneers

Wills

  • Loudoun County Wills abstracts (1761-1774)

Minute Books

  • 1780 to 1783 (no index)
  • 1785 to 1786 | Index
  • 1785 to 1788

Miscellaneous

  • Resolutions of the Revolutionary War
  • 1778 Loudoun County Militia
  • Court Orders 1778 to 1782

Indexes to Probate Records

  • Guardian Accounts 1759 to 1774

Traced genealogies and family histories of Loudoun County available to Members !

Littleton


Ridge Road in Loudoun County

Fry Jefferson Map of 1755 The old Ridge Road (over Broad Run) was built before 1755 and was one of the earliest highway bridges in the territory. A record of it was preserved on the 1755 edition of the Fry & Jefferson Map where a wooden bridge is shown at that point. The picturesque stone bridge that now spans the stream may not have been construted before 1820, at about which time that part of the road was improved by the Leesburg Turnpike Company. The popular legend in the region has it that the road was built by George Washington as a young man. Map of Loudoun County

Selma Mansion

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