Up Close and Personal in my Ancestor’s Home–The American Revolutionary War

Towns of Petersburg, Blandford, and Pocahontas and the suburbs of Ravenscroft and Bollingbrook become one town called Petersburg. (My 7th paternal great grandfather’s home.)

The colonial town of Petersburg, Virginia, was established by law in 1748.

Petersburg elected John Banister (father-in-law of my 7th great grandfather), as it’s first mayor in 1781.

It achieved the dignity of cityhood in 1850.  Bristol Parish, resulting from increasing population in the area was established in 1643. Fort Henry appeared in 1645-46. In 1733 Colonial William Byrd wrote of founding the towns of Petersburg and Richmond.

Old Blandford Church

By 1737 if not earlier, a brick church gave evidence of the locality’s coming of age.

Blandford Church

Blandford Church

The church which has become known as Blandford Church which may have overlooked the nascent towns of Petersburg, and Blandford, and possibly Pocahontas as well, all close beside the Appomattox River.  BollingTombatBlandford

Within the cemetery in the churchyard, you will find the Bolling tomb.  Robert Bolling was originally buried at Kippax Plantation in Virginia, but the Bolling family removed all the male Bollings to Blandford. This is the vault where Colonel Robert Bolling rests. It is in the northeast corner of the graveyard. It is across from the cemetery office. The building itself has undergone a complete renovation with a lucite covering at the entrance.

As the 18th century progressed and millions of acres of Southside Virginia and northern North Carolina saw English settlement for the first time Petersburg became the center of the North American tobacco trade.  Appomattox Tribesmen and English “woodsmen” would bring large quantities of deerskins for the English market.

During the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), Petersburg was the principal staging point for operations on the southern front.  And it’s here where my Bolling ancestors got to experience wartime battles up close and personal.

Enter British Major General William Phillips (1731 – May 13, 1781).

Somewhere in the outermost parcel of old  Blandford Church, in Petersburg, Virginia, lays the hidden body of  Major General William Phillips, a British officer who died on 13 May 1781  at Bollingbrook Mansion west of Petersburg on East Hill, and the home of the widow Mary Marshall Tabb Bolling, wife of my seventh great-grandfather, Robert Bolling, Jr.  The house today is now known as Centre Hill and remains open for tours.

Events Leading to the Battles in and around Petersburg, Virginia

British General Charles Cornwallis

British General Charles Cornwallis

March 15, 1781 – At the Battle of Guilford Court House, North Carolina, British forces win a technical victory, but are so badly mauled that they must cease operations. Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis (second in command to Major General William Phillips) decides to leave the Carolinas and invade Virginia. His rationale: Virginia is the largest, most populated, and wealthiest colony; Virginia is providing supplies and reinforcements to rebel forces in the Carolinas, and the Virginia economy, particularly tobacco exports, is sustaining the war effort. Cornwallis believes that if he can defeat Virginia, American resistance to the British Crown will collapse.

The Battle of Blandford (or Blanford), also called the Battle of Petersburg, took place near Petersburg, Virginia on 25 April 1781.  Two thousand five hundred British soldiers under Major General William Phillips forced one thousand militia under Major General Baron Von Steuben to retreat across the Appomattox River during the Battle of Petersburg.  Phillips captured Mary Bolling, mother of Captain Robert Bolling IV, and her three daughters and used their home “Bollingbrook,” as his headquarters.  Phillips died on May 13 and was secretly buried in Blandford Cemetery.

You see, in the course of his troops’ movement down river from Richmond, Virginia,  Major General William Phillips fell violently ill with a fever, which is believed to have been either malaria or typhus.

The following is an excerpt from Charles C. Mann’s 2011 Book:  “1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created,” which explains how General William Phillips might have come into contact with this life-taking illness: 

[“Chesapeake Bay is the remains of a huge, 35-million-year-old meteor crater.  The impact-fractured rock at the mouth of the bay lets in the sea, contaminating the groundwater with salt.  Few Indian groups lived in the saltwater wedge, presumably for just that reason.  Jamestown was bordered and undergirded by bad water.  That bad water, the geographer Carville D. Earle argued, “led to typhoid, dysentery, and perhaps salt poisoning”.  By January 1608, eight months after landfall, only thirty-eight English were left alive.'”]

A few days later, Phillips ordered Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis, in North Carolina, to meet him in Petersburg. Phillips’ army arrives there on 9 May.  However, Phillips had become so ill that turncoat General Benedict Arnold took command of his army.

May 10, 1781 – Cornwallis and his army enter Virginia.
The following day, from the heights on the north bank of the Appomattox River, a French ally, Major General Lafayette shelled the British army in Petersburg, including Bollingbrook, the home in which Phillips lies dying. Major General William Phillips died of the contagious fever during this bombardment). His final words — uttered after a shell struck the Bolling’s home and killed an African-American servant named Molly — are reputed to have been “Won’t that boy let me die in peace?” On the morning of the 13th Major General William Phillips died. Late that same evening, his body was taken to Blandford Church Cemetery and buried in a secret location.He and Molly were said to have been buried together, to prevent identification.

Colonial Heights, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic) (Marker Number 26-.)

Lafayette At Petersburg Marker Photo, Click for full size

Lafayette at Peters Marker–By Craig Swain, November 22, 2008

Inscription: From this hill Lafayette, on May 10, 1781, shelled the British in Petersburg.

Inscription on the stone under the marker:

Headquarters of General Lafayette 1781, Frances Bland Randolph Chapter D.A.R. 1903.Erected 1927 by Conservation & Development Commission.

Location. 37° 14.465′ N, 77° 24.389′ W. Marker is in Colonial Heights, Virginia. The marker is at the intersection of Jefferson Davis Highway (U.S. 1 / 301) and Arlington Avenue, in the median on Jefferson Davis Highway. Click for map. The marker is in this post office area: Colonial Heights VA 23834, United States of America.

Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker.Lee’s Headquarters (a few steps from this marker); Violet Bank (about 400 feet away, in a direct line); Lee at Violet Bank (about 400 feet away); Magnolia Acuminata (about 500 feet away); Colonial Heights War Memorial (approx. 0.2 miles away); Pocahontas (approx. 0.4 miles away); The Battle at the Bridge (approx. 0.4 miles away); Concrete Bunker (approx. half a mile away). Click for a list of all markers in Colonial Heights.

Also, see . . .  Lafayette’s Virginia Campaign. The campaign was a prelude to the battle of Yorktown, leading to the American victory in the Revolutionary War. (Submitted on December 24, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.)

Lafayette At Petersburg Marker Photo, Click for full size
By Craig Swain, November 22, 2008

Headquarters of General Lafayette - 1781 Photo, Click for full size
By Craig Swain, November 22, 2008

Headquarters of General Lafayette – 1781

Placed by the Frances Bland Randolph Chapter, D.A.R., 1903.

Credits. This page originally submitted on December 24, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.

May 20, 1781 – Cornwallis assumed overall command of all British forces in Virginia. His campaign of economic and military destruction began.  And, he marched his troops into Petersburg, uniting his forces with Arnold’s, but kept his headquarters at Bollingbrook until he departed on 24 May.

Then Governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, described William Phillips as a brilliant soldier, artillerist, and leader, and “the proudest man of the proudest nation on earth.” By whatever description, Phillips’ final claim to fame was to have conducted one of the British army’s most successful campaigns in the American Revolution.  In fact, Phillips’ issued standing orders to his army that private property and individuals not be taken in arms, but protected by his troops.  Because of his view against wanton destruction, Phillips saved Petersburg from war’s common devastation following the great battle fought in Petersburg on 25 April 1781.

Major General William Phillips

Major General William Phillips

And finally, in 1914, overdue recognition was given to Phillips’ burial site by the Francis Bland Randolph Chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).  The DAR erected a memorial outside the south wall of Blandford Church, which simply states:  Sacred to the memory of Major General William Phillips of the British Army who died at “Bollingbrook” May 13, 1781, and whose remains lie buried in this churchyard—Erected by the Frances Bland Randolph Chapter D.A.R., 1914.

Phillips Monument at Bollingbrook

Phillips Monument at Bollingbrook


My tree on ancestry.com
My January visit Petersburg, VA
HMdb.org (Historical Markers Data Base)

One thought on “Up Close and Personal in my Ancestor’s Home–The American Revolutionary War

  1. FB Comments from Lyle Staples on this post.

    Lyle wrote: “Wonderful history lesson. Bollings are still finding their final resting place in the Bolling tomb in Blandford Cemetery. General Alexander R. Bolling, Jr., a relative of yours, who died in Texas on October 6, 2011, came to rest there on November 12, 2011, after a memorial service at Christ & Grace Episcopal Church in Petersburg. The 82nd Airborne Division’s Golden Brigade of Vietnam veterans participated in the memorial service. General Bolling was the initial commander of the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, in Vietnam in 1968 after the Tet Offensive. He had been replaced by General Dickinson by the time I served with the Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division at Phu Loi from June 1969 through November 1969, in the Phu Loi Base Defense Tactical Operations Center. General Bolling was beloved by those under his command. I hope to get a copy of his book on the Bollings of Virginia and finally read it this summer.”


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