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Military Encampment

Many a soldiers' camp dotted the countryside around Virginia's capital at the beginning of the Revolution. Colonial Williamsburg portrays them seasonally at a tented compound near the Capitol.

Called the Military Encampment, it represents bivouacs like one made May 3, 1775, west of the city by an angry company of Hanover County militia commanded by Patrick Henry. Twelve days before, under Governor Dunmore's orders, a squad of royal marines had stolen into the capital before dawn and spirited 15 half-barrels of gunpowder from the colony's Magazine.

Henry intended to require Dunmore to pay for his temerity, in cash or otherwise. The bill was £330. Henry halted at Doncastle's Ordinary, encamped his volunteers, and made his demand. Militia from more distant Albemarle and Orange Counties were marching to join the confrontation.

Richard Corbin, the governor's receiver general, paid up promptly. His son-in-law, Carter Braxton, arrived in camp the next day with a bill of exchange for the full amount. Firebrand Henry reluctantly took the counsel of cooler heads, accepted the note, and dispersed the men.

Today volunteer visitors march and practice 18th-century musket drills under the jaundiced eye of a traditionally hard-bitten sergeant. Of course, like their weapons-poor predecessors, the recruits substitute sticks for flintlocks. But behind a bulwark, a real cannon guards the compound–and frequently is fired.

Dunmore, by the way, declared Henry an outlaw May 6. Three volunteer companies escorted Henry to safety across the Maryland border.