Major Events Timeline
For a full listing of all encounters please visit- Lyman, Mike and William Hankins. Encounters with the British in Virginia During the War of 1812.
The USS Chesapeake is fired upon by the HMS Leopard off the shores of Norfolk Harbor, June 22, 1807. Courtesy of Navy History and Heritage Command.
June 22, 1807: The USS Chesapeake-HMS Leopard Affair, off Norfolk
The USS Chesapeake under the command of Commodore James Barron was hailed by the HMS Leopard off the waters of Norfolk. British Captain Salusbury P. Humphreys requested to board the ship and search for British "deserters", often a prelude to the impressment of American sailors. Upon Barron's refusal, Humphreys ordered his crew to fire broadsides into the Chesapeake's unprepared hull, killing three and injuring eighteen others. This event nearly caused the War of 1812 to arrive five years early and led to the court martial and suspension of Commodore Barron (who in 1820 dueled and killed Commodore Stephen Decatur over comments regarding his conduct during the incident).
Read more: Tucker, Spencer. Injured Honor: The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair.
June 18, 1812: The United States Declares War
Following a close vote in Congress, President James Madison declares war on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The War of 1812 has begun.
July 10, 1812: First English Vessel is Captured, Hampton Roads
A Norfolk privateer, the Dash, captures the HBM Whiting in the waters off Hampton Roads. However, the US Government decided that the capture was improper as the captain of the Whiting was not aware that war had been declared and the vessel was returned.
Read more: Cranwell, John & William. Men of Marque.
February 4, 1813: The British Blockade Begins, off Virginia Beach
In order to strangle American merchant activity and the movements of US naval vessels, the British navy begun a blockade off of Virginia Beach by Lynnhaven Anchorage which was not halted until the end of the war in 1815. The USS Constellation arrives in Norfolk where she will remain for the war.
Read more: Healey, David. 1812: Rediscovery the Chesapeake Bay's Forgotten War.
February 11, 1813: The British Attack Virginia Militia
The first engagement between British troops and Virginia militia occurs. By the end of the war, over forty of such engagements will have occurred.
March 4, 1813: Admiral Cockburn Arrives
Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn arrives in Hampton Roads and takes command of the British squadron.
Admiral Cockburn. Early 19th century portrait depicting Washington, D.C in flames
March 18, 1813: British Capture US Vessels, Newport News
The morning of March 18, 1813 British troops in two frigates capture six vessels, sailing downstream as far as Warwick River.
April 3, 1813: British Capture US Navy Vessels, Lancaster County
HMS San Domingo (74-gun) and consorts capture four schooners, Arab (7), Lynx (6), Racer (6) and Dolphin (12), at the mouth of the Rappahannock River at Carter's Creek. Throughout the war, the British Navy continued to capture US vessels in the Chesapeake Bay.
April 27, 1813: Americans Capture York
American forces capture York (now Toronto, Canada) the capital of the British colony and burn public buildings causing British outrage.
June 17, 1813: British Capture US Revenue Cutter Surveyor, Gloucester County
HMS Narcissus (32-gun) under Lieutenant Crire and Lieutenant Savage entered the York River in Chesapeake on the 17th of June and captured the US Revenue schooner Surveyor (6-gun) which had only 25 men onboard, 5 of whom were wounded. The men were applauded for their heroism.
June 22, 1813: The Battle of Craney Island, Portsmouth/Norfolk
The Battle of Craney Island was a decisive American victory which saved Norfolk and Portsmouth, important shipyards, from being taken by British forces. Despite being outmanned, the Virginia militia, the crew of the USS Constellation, and a regiment of light artillery under the command of Captain Arthur Emmerson bravely fought invading British forces and caused their retreat.
Read more: Hallahan, John. The Battle of Craney Island: A Matter of Credit.
June 25, 1813: British Forces Burn and Plunder Hampton, Hampton
In retaliatory action against US forces, British forces plundered and burned Hampton three days after their loss at Craney Island.
Admiral Cockburn and the British Landing Party burn and loot Havre-de-Grace, Maryland in May 1813.
June 26, 1813: British Invasion Attempted, Isle of Wight County
British launches attempt to enter Pagan Creek, but are turned away by US artillery and infantry stationed and holding strong.
July 24, 1813: Torpedo in Lynnhaven Anchorage
Elijiah Mix attempts to blow up the HMS Plantagenet with a torpedo in Hampton Roads. In March 1813, Congress had passed the so-called Torpedo Act, which made it lawful for "any person or persons to burn, sink or destroy any British armed vessel of war… and for that purposes to use torpedoes, sub-marine instruments". A torpedo at this time referred to an undersea device, explosive floating mine, and wide variety of potential weapons.
Read more: Toll, Ian. Six Frigates. (pp. 421-422)
September 13, 1813: Oliver H. Perry's victory on Lake Erie
February 10, 1814: USS Constellation Attempted Escape, Norfolk
The USS Constellation, who had been blockaded by a much larger British force for over a year, attempted to escape on February 10th. The USS Constellation sailed up the Elizabeth River but was forced to return the next day by a British squadron.
Map of Tangier Island within the Chesapeake Bay
Courtesy of Tangier Island Cruise and Ferry
April 5, 1814: British Capture Tangier Island, Accomack County
British forces capture Tangier Island, of great strategic importance, and build barracks, infirmary, and breastworks. The island is occupied by the British until mid-January 1815 and was the location of embarkation of British troops attacking Baltimore. It was also used as a training center for escaped slaves, referred to as Colonial Marines, who were granted freedom and protection in return for service.
May 8, 1814: British Capture Schooner, Matthews County
The British capture a merchant schooner belonging to Isaac McKeinen from Baltimore which had been left unguarded.
May 30, 1814: Engagement at Pungoteague Creek, Accomack County
British admiral, Sir George Cockburn, lands at Pungoteague Creek with 500 marines and battles the Eastern Shore and Accomack County militias. The British breaks off the engagement and retreat to Tangier Island, both sides claim victory.
June 25, 1814: Engagement at Deep Creek, Accomack County
500 British troops arrive in barges to attack Camp Chesconnessix. Major Tom Wilson, with thirty-two men under his command, fires and retreats. No lives are lost.
July 5, 1814: Battle of Chippewa, Canada
July 20-26, 1814: British Raids along Nomini Creek, Westmoreland County
1,200 British troops raid Westmoreland County and plunder homes. British burn neighboring plantations and remove slaves. Admiral Cockburn declares that poison has been given to his troops.
July 25, 1814: Battle of Lundy's Lane, Canada
August 3, 1814: British Burn Kinsale, Westmoreland County
Historical Marker: At sunrise on 3 August 1814, about three hundred British marines under the direction of Admiral Cockburn in thirty-two barges landed at Mundy Point. Overwhelmingly outnumbered, Capt. William Henderson and thirty Northumberland militia opposed the enemy until his forces were forced to retreat down the road to Richmond Court House. During the pursuit, British forces traveled ten miles inland and burnt several dwellings. Afterwards, the British turned their attention to the nearby small town of Kinsale which they also burned.
August 7, 1814: British Occupy Wicomico Church, Northumberland County
Historical Marker: Ten British ships and smaller vessels appeared on the Coan River and sent three barges to capture three American schooners situated within two miles of Northumberland Court House. The Lancaster County militia repulsed the attack until British reinforcements arrived. Before leaving, the British seized the schooners and destroyed property at Northumberland Court House.
August 24, 1814: The Burning of Washington D.C.
With troop numbers swollen with newly arrived Napoleonic War veterans, the British capture and burn the new capital, Washington D.C. following the American loss at the Battle of Bladensburg.
Still from the History Channels' documentary of the burning of the Capitol in 1814
Courtesy of the National Park Service
August 27, 1814: The Surrender of Alexandria, Alexandria
After burning the capital, the British threaten Alexandria with the same fate. Alexandria, a prosperous port, surrenders and is plundered by British troops for four days. The British troops remove the city's huge supply of flour, tobacco, and other goods and take twenty-one American merchant vessels as a prize.
September 1, 1814: Fort Belvoir Established, Fairfax
Captain David Porter, along with Virginia and Alexandria militia, hastily fortifies a battery on the land of what is now US Army base, Fort Belvoir, to fire on the British as they sail downriver from Alexandria. However, the British respond by bombarding the battery and it is destroyed in four days. The British regain their dominance over the Chesapeake Bay.
Read more: Fort Belvoir in the Antebellum Period
September 11, 1814: Battle of Plattsburg, Lake Champlain
September 12, 1814: Attack on Fort McHenry, Maryland
The British begin an attack on Baltimore at Fort McHenry and North Point but are repelled by the American forces and withdraw. Francis Scott Key pens the "Star Spangled Banner."
October 4, 1814: British Invade Northumberland County
Historical Marker: Two British detachments of 3,000 infantry invade Northumberland County from the Coan River. After initially resisting, the outnumbered militia retreated. The British captured ammunition, arms, and personal property before debarking
November 30, 1814: British Occupy Tappahannock, Essex County
Admiral Cockburn shelled Tappahannock from November 30-December 2nd with a force of eight schooners, outnumbering the Essex Militia who possessed a single cannon. The British force thereafter attacked plantations along both sides of the Rappahannock River.
Read more: Essex County Museum and Historical Society
December 6, 1814: British Engagement at North Farnham Church, Richmond County
The British land by Sharp's Landing and march to North Farnham Church in a plan to occupy Warsaw. They are met by Virginia militia who engage the British troops. One militiaman is killed and the captain of the regiment, Captain Shackleford is wounded and captured. The British return to their ships and twelve intoxicated British soldiers are taken as prisoners.
December 24, 1814: Treaty of Ghent Signed
The Treaty of Ghent was signed between the United States and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and ended the War of 1812. Due to transatlantic distance, US Congress does not ratify the treaty until February 17, 1815 after the Americans, under the command of General Andrew Jackson, soundly defeat British troops at the Battle of New Orleans.
January 8, 1815: Battle of New Orleans
General Andrew Jackson defeats a large British force at the Battle of New Orleans. Neither side is aware that the Treaty of Ghent has been signed.
February 17, 1815: Congress Ratifies the Treaty of Ghent