Today in 1781: Jefferson and the Virginia legislature flee from the British

4 Jun

As I mentioned on Saturday, 1781 wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s best year ever. He was in his first and only term as governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and with the Commonwealth’s economy limping along and its best-performing militia employed elsewhere, Virginia was an open field for the British. The government of the Commonwealth had recently moved the capital from Williamsburg to Richmond, hoping that a more inland location would make the capital more defensible. Alas, it was not to be.

A gent by the name of Benedict Arnold (ahemhem), who was in command of the British regulars sent to maraud along the James River, made its way to Richmond, and burned it to the ground. Separately, another detachment of British troops closed in on Charlottesville and Monticello. Governor Jefferson got wind of their coming just in the nick of time to saddle his horse and flee, a move which saved his life but haunted his political career for the rest of his life.(1)

Of course, it was 1781, and the British’s triumph would not last for long. In the following October, the Americans trapped Lord Cornwallis in a little town on the York River… But that’s a story for another day!

As a matter of interest, you can still tour Richmond’s Capitol, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson (2).

(1) Ellis, Joseph J. (1997), American Sphinx. New York, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
(2) OF COURSE IT WAS. I mean, what colonial-era building HASN’T been designed and/or blue-printed by Thomas Jefferson?!

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