241 years since the Raid on Richmond

Featured Raid on Richmond

An actual map of Benedict Arnold’s attack on Richmond, 1781.

Benedict Arnold is known to American history as a traitor — a man who turned on the American revolutionaries to lead several deadly assaults for British forces, including one known as the Raid on Richmond.

1700s map of Benedict Arnold's attack on Richmond, VA

This map shows Benedict Arnold’s plans to attack Richmond. | Photo via Boston Library

On this day in 1781, the then-British Brigadier General Benedict Arnold and his army landed at Westover Plantation in Charles City. The next day, Jan. 5, he and 1,200 British troops began their occupation of Richmond.

At the time, Thomas Jefferson was the governor of Virginia + moved the colonial capital inland from Williamsburg to Richmond. He believed the Commonwealth wouldn’t have to worry about a naval assault so far up the James.

Jefferson and the American army ended up having to scramble — moving about 200 militiamen to the city while the government leaders fled to Charlottesville.

Benedict and his troops were initially not violent. He sent a message to Jefferson saying that if the British were allowed to take local tobacco stores without incident, they wouldn’t destroy the city.

Jefferson refused. So over a period of two days, the British set fire to dozens of buildings and local tobacco factories. Due to strong winds + Richmond being built entirely of wood, there was no stopping the flames.

That wasn’t the only damage — over 42 ships were loaded up with stolen goods before Benedict’s army continued towards the city of Portsmouth.

If you’d like to learn more about this days-long raid, Richmond National Battlefield Park is partnering with Historic St. John’s Church for its annual event discussing the capture of Richmond.

A painting of Benedict Arnold as an American general.

Benedict in American regalia. | Photo via Brown University

Starting at 10 a.m. this Sat., Jan. 8, National Park Service Ranger Berk Dunkerly will go deeper into the legacy of Arnold’s attack. There will also be speakers + reenactors will highlight those everyday Richmonders living life in the 1700s when the war showed up on their doorstep.
Starting at 10 a.m. this Sat., Jan. 8, National Park Service Ranger Berk Dunkerly will go deeper into the legacy of Arnold’s attack. There will also be speakers + reenactors will highlight those everyday Richmonders living life in the 1700s when the war showed up on their doorstep.

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