On the grounds of the Great Bridge Battlefield & Waterways Museum, at Battlefield Park, you can enjoy the meandering historic trail that walks you through the Battle of Great Bridge. This includes information on Revolutionary War Hero, William "Billy" Flora. Also, the story of Lord Dunmore's Ethiopian Regiment is told.
Battlefield Park and Great Bridge Battlefield & Waterways Museum
The Battle of Great Bridge was fought at this site. It was the earliest land battle of the Revolutionary War in Virginia. Black people who were enslaved fought alongside the British with the promise of liberty. Fighting for the patriots, William “Billy” Flora, a young black man who was born free, became a hero of this battle.
The Ethiopian Regiment – Fighting for Liberty from Slavery during the Revolutionary War
In November 1775, Lord Dunmore, the British governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation promising freedom after the war to any enslaved person who could make it to the British lines. The proclamation led to the formation of the Ethiopian Regiment, most likely the earliest black fighting force during the Revolutionary War.
At the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9, 1775, the Ethiopian Regiment fought for their liberty. By the summer of 1776, at least 800 blacks "willing to bear arms" had joined Dunmore's force.
It is difficult to estimate how many black people served in the Royal Army, but whatever the number, they were prepared to support the side that held out the greatest hope to improve their lot.
The Ethiopian Regiment wore sashes inscribed with the battle cry Liberty to Slaves. Dunmore and the British soon left Virginia in defeat. Some historians say across the South, the prospect of armed, trained former slaves fighting alongside the British proved more threatening to white society than British redcoats.
William “Billy” Flora
William “Billy” Flora, determined to fight for his country, is widely acknowledged as a hero of the Battle of Great Bridge, December 9, 1775. His courageous actions led to the Continental Army’s victory and the British eventual retreat from Virginia.
Born in 1755, Flora was 20 at the time of the battle. During the fight, he was the last of the patriots to retreat across the bridge. Under heavy fire, he bravely stopped and pulled up enough of the bridge’s planking to stop the British advance. His actions resulted in one of the first land victories of the war.
Flora served in subsequent battles. He was among the troops that overwhelmed and captured Lord Charles Cornwallis and his army at Yorktown in 1781. After the war, Flora operated a successful cartage and livery stable based in Portsmouth, VA. He purchased freedom for his wife and two children and is believed to be the first black man to own land in Portsmouth.
Parking is available on site.
More on the African American Heritage Trail
Explore the full list of Chesapeake's African American Heritage Trail locations.