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The Ludwell Blog

News and research on the life, community, and worldview of Colonel Philip Ludwell III.
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Remember the Battle of Yorktown? Its Prelude Occurred on the Ludwells’ Green Spring Lands

banastre tarleton, battle of green spring

Banastre Tarleton of the British Legion: The “Green Dragoon”

The Battle of Yorktown is famous: it was the decisive battle of the Revolutionary War, leading to American Independence, and ended on this day (October 19) in 1781. Yet, if the more obscure Battle of Green Spring three months earlier had not transpired the way it did, Yorktown may never have happened.

The events around the Battle of Green Spring occurred on and adjacent to Green Spring plantation on July 6, 1781. Prior to the war, the last owner to inhabit the property was Philip Ludwell III, who passed away in London in 1767. His son-in-law William Lee, one of the United States’ first diplomats in Europe in the 1770s and 1780s, inherited Green Spring but could not inhabit it until after the war, in the early 1780s.

So why are we discussing the Battle of Green Spring on the anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown? Those familiar with Revolutionary War history will recognize the name of Banastre Tarleton, a British officer who was feared for his brutality and was leader of the famous British Legion – green-uniformed dragoons (cavalrymen) who nearly captured Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson at his Monticello home in May 1781. Stated Tarleton after the war, if the Americans under Major General Lafayette at Green Spring had been pursued during their retreat:

“the army of the Marquis de la Fayette must have been annihilated.”

battle of green spring, lafayette, ludwellAs the American forces retreated, Tarleton urged his commanding officer, Major General Cornwallis, to pursue them. If those thousands of troops under General Lafayette and Brigadier General Anthony Wayne at Green Spring had been neutralized, said Tarleton, it

“would have prevented the combination which produced the fall of Yorktown and Gloucester.”

Green Spring Plantation recreation National Park Service

View of Green Spring Plantation from the causeway (now forested) to the front of the manor house. Courtesy National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Jamestown Collection. This is a conceptual rendering only.

Green Spring: Plantation and Battle Site

The lands on which the Battle of Green Spring was fought would have been familiar places to Philip Ludwell III and his father and grandfather. Lafayette’s and Wayne’s army pursued what they thought were the remnants of Cornwallis’ British army, marching south past the plantation toward Jamestown (a few miles south of Green Spring).

In reality, Cornwallis had laid a trap, hiding his army and letting the Americans make use of the 400-yard-long causeway (see image above) that ran from the Green Spring mansion south toward Jamestown, the original capital of colonial Virginia on the north side of the James River.

battle of green spring, ludwell, jamestown ferry

Today’s James River ferry, mid-river looking north to ruins of Jamestown and Cornwallis’ embarkation point.

Lord Cornwallis, who was to surrender his army over three months later in nearby Yorktown, effectively ending the war, had given indication to the Americans that his army had already crossed the James River, leaving from an embarkation point that is still a much-used public ferry (State Route 31) operated by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

At a previously scheduled moment, the British surprised the Americans, who were outnumbered 3 to 1. Only a daring bayonet attack by General Wayne’s forces bought them enough time to retreat from the trap.

Green Spring: Colonial Plantation, the Seeds of Yorktown, and an Unusual Spiritual Place

green spring plantation, structure s, first orthodox chapel in america

Off left edge of photo: possible location of Philip Ludwell’s private Orthodox chapel (“Structure S”), Green Spring. Archaeological ruins are under the topsoil.

After he returned to Virginia in 1738 from London in his early twenties, Philip Ludwell III represented Jamestown in the colony’s legislature, the House of Burgesses – the first legislative assembly of elected representatives in North America. The other plantations he owned were Rich Nick, roughly east-northeast of the Battle of Green Spring, and Chippokes, on the other side of the James River from Jamestown. Rich Neck’s lands are now adjacent to Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary, and Chippokes is a state park.

And the soldiers on that day? Both British and Americans would have marched over the Green Spring property – a place which served in the mid-1700s as a spiritual home for the private religious services of the first known Eastern Orthodox convert in America, and unwittingly witnessed the seeds of the future United States.

Top image: From Wikipedia

Tarleton image: From Wikipedia

4 Responses

  1. As with all things having to do with Ludwell, this is simply fascinating. Thank you. “Structure S” is perhaps the most intriguing detail so far. The photo caption says that ruins are under topsoil. Could not they be located with ground-penetrating radar? In an earlier post you mentioned the many boxes from the 1955 excavation that could be inspected. Any plans for that?

    Keep up the great work.

    1. ACPL

      Thank you, Deacon Nicholas for your support and interest! We have not investigated how effective ground-penetrating radar would be. That might be an option. But, there are archaeologists and Park Service personnel in the Williamsburg area who are quite familiar with the layout and location of the ruins below the surface, including the location of Structure S. And, we assume that the archaeological maps from the 1950s are somewhere in Park Service files. At this point, we are focused on raising and building awareness and interest in this topic. With our application for 501c3 status, we plan to build fundraising efforts in order to support possible efforts in analyzing the artifacts that were excavated in the 20th century and that are in the possession of the National Park Service at Jamestown. We believe more is to come!! – NK

  2. John Reeder

    Hello Nicholas,
    You mentioned a daring bayonet attack by General Wayne’s forces. Was that the ‘Battle of Cowpens” in Colonel John Eager Howard led his troops in a bayonet attack and turned British forces from their advance to a retreat? In that battle, John (one of my ancestors) held the swords of seven British officers. He was a gallant soldier and was later offered a position in General Washington’s cabinet, but turned it down. He served in many governmental positions later in life in the State of Maryland.

    1. ACPL

      Dear John, thank you for sharing this interesting information. The bayonet attack that I refer to was at the Battle of Green Spring, which you can read about here ( under the “Battle” subheading. After receiving your comment, I took the opportunity to read about Colonel Howard’s exploits, and see that he served at the battles of Hobkirk’s Hill and Ninety Six in South Carolina, where my wife’s great-grandfather also served. -NK

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