Colonial Williamsburg® The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

June 1, 2007

Gen. Lord Cornwallis orders martial law as nearly 500 British army re-enactors cooupy CW June 29-July 1

Guests in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area witness a rare occurrence June 29 – July 1 as hundreds of British Army re-enactors take the capital city and subject the citizens of 1781 to martial law. “Under The Redcoat,” an annual weekend-long program, re-creates the occupation of the city by British Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis near the end of the American Revolution.

Guests see first-hand the trials and tribulations, hardships and loss of liberties suffered by the city’s 18th-century citizens at the hands of the world’s dominant military power of the time. The portrayal of a most difficult time in our infant nation’s history begins at 12:30 p.m. Friday as the 17th Light Dragoons -- accompanied by a patrol of light infantry -- enter the Historic Area near the Capitol. Forcibly removing the American flag from the Capitol and replacing it with the British flag, the patrol proceeds to Market Square and secures the area for an encampment of the occupation troops.

More British army re-enactors – almost 500 strong – converge on the town throughout the afternoon. Cornwallis declares martial law at 5 p.m. and an officer announces the terms of occupation to the citizens. British dragoons, searching for patriot sympathizers, patrol the streets as the townspeople congregate and cope with the realities of military occupation, including the loss of personal freedom.

Guests are encouraged to experience the occupation firsthand by visiting the British encampments to observe the soldiers as Cornwallis and his officers plan 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 military activities in camp through 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.

From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 30, the role of the women who traveled with the army is highlighted in “Following the Army” in or near Market Square in the Historic Area. Through demonstrations and explanations, guests explore how women supported the troops by nursing, teaching, mending, sewing and cooking for the officers.

The re-enactment draws to a close late Sunday afternoon as Cornwallis marches his troops out of the city to meet Lafayette’s Continental Army forces on the field of battle less than a dozen miles to the west of the city.

If confronted by British soldiers, guests are given the option of signing a oath of loyalty to King George that allows them unhampered passage through army checkpoints scattered throughout the town. “Under the Redcoat” is the first of two special re-enactment weekends in the Historic Area during 2007. Continental Army re-enactors flock to the Revolutionary capital to prepare for the siege of Yorktown, the final battle in the War for Independence, during “Prelude to Victory” Oct. 12-14.

Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture — stories of our journey to become Americans – while historic tradespeople research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution for its guests, it also invites them to interact with history. Williamsburg is located 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information or reservations, call toll-free 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg on the Internet at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281