June 13, 2003
British Redcoats Seize Williamsburg, Declare Martial Law as Colonial Williamsburg Weekend Re-enacts 1781 British Occupation
British occupation forces invade Colonial Williamsburg and impose martial law during “Under the Red Coat,” a popular three-day re-enactment June 27-29. The occupation by troops under the command of Gen. Lord Cornwallis re-creates the hardship and loss of liberties suffered by the town’s residents during the summer of 1781.
The special weekend re-enactment begins at noon Friday as the 17th Light Dragoons, accompanied by a patrol of light infantry, enter the Historic Area near the Capitol. After removing the American flag from the Capitol and replacing it with the Union Jack, the patrol proceeds to Market Square and secures the area for an encampment of the occupation troops.
More British army units converge on the town throughout the afternoon. Martial law is declared at 5 p.m. and the terms of occupation are read to the citizens as the townspeople congregate and deal with the implications of the occupation including the loss of personal freedom. Dragoons patrol the streets for patriot sympathizers.
Guests are encouraged to experience the occupation by visiting the British encampment and observing the soldiers and their commanding officers as Cornwallis plans a trap near Williamsburg for the advancing Continental Army units led by the Marquis de Lafayette. While Cornwallis prepares his battle plan, his troops drill and pursue various activities in camp throughout the weekend.
When they are not patrolling the streets of Colonial Williamsburg and keeping the patriot citizenry in line, the redcoats perform military drills and other duties. Gun crews practice with an assortment of artillery batteries, while surgeons care for the wounded in a military field hospital.
The re-enactment draws to a close late Sunday afternoon as Cornwallis marches his troops out of the city to meet Continental Army forces on the field of battle.
Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that operates the restored 18th-century capitol of Virginia. Known worldwide as the nation’s largest living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg recently was recognized as the “Best Historic Site” by readers of Southern Living magazine for the seventh straight year. Colonial Williamsburg is conveniently located 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information or reservations, call toll-free (800) HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s on the Internet at www.colonialwilliamsburg.org.
Lorraine C. Brooks