The first man in America that drew a sword for his Majesty
Feeling their rights were threatened by Parliament, which in 1774 closed Boston Harbor in reaction to the Boston “Tea Party,” most of Virginia’s gentry united behind the patriot opposition to British actions on the eve of the Revolution. However, for Jacob Ellegood Jr. the “distresses of [his] poor unhappy native country” did not justify the overthrow of legitimate political authority in the colonies. In his opinion, the “factious men” who made shadowy attempts to form independent governments through “Committees and Congresses” had “incurred the guilt of actual rebellion.” He believed that if the Revolution proceeded, it would destroy the British Constitution and lay waste to the laws of the country. To Jacob Ellegood his duty was very clear, and he proudly became “the first man in America that drew a sword for his Majesty,” King George III.
Jacob was born in 1745 or 1746 in Princess Anne County, Virginia (now the city of Virginia Beach), the son of Jacob and Ann Ellegood. Jacob’s grandfather, William Ellegood, had been a native of Northampton County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, but had moved across the bay to Princess Anne County in 1704 after purchasing land there. Jacob’s father rose into the ranks of the ruling planter elite during the 1720s and 30s, becoming County Sheriff in 1733, and later serving as a Colonel in the militia, vestryman in Lynnhaven Parish, and member of the House of Burgesses in 1736-1749. However, when Jacob Sr. died in 1753, Jacob Jr. was still a minor, and thus his inheritance was held in trust. Jacob left for England in 1754 to receive a proper education, and remained in England until the later 1760s.
When Jacob returned to Virginia, probably in 1766 or 1767, he immediately began expanding his property in Princess Anne County. By 1770, he had amassed almost 2,000 acres of land, mostly on two plantations he called “Rose Hall” and “Chappell.” On March 3, 1768 he married Mary Saunders, and soon after he had succeeded to most of the County positions his father had held. Although never a Burgess, Jacob did become a Colonel in the militia, a vestryman at Lynnhaven Parish like his father, as well as a County Justice.
Jacob never sympathized with the American radicals or the independence movement. As was the case in most Virginia families during the Revolution, Jacob’s political allegiances were shared by his entire kinship group. His eldest sister Margaret had married James Parker, a prominent Norfolk merchant. Parker originally served in 1775 as Dunmore’s mercantile supplier, but he later joined the British Army as a Captain, and became a quartermaster. Parker’s business partner, William Aitchenson, was married to Rebecca Ellegood, another of Jacob’s sisters. A County Justice in Norfolk from 1759, Aitchenson tried to remain neutral, but was constantly suspected of being a Loyalist. John Saunders, Mary Ellegood’s brother and Jacob’s legal ward, became a staunch loyalist. Finally, Jacob’s first cousin Fernella had married Neil Jameson, an important merchant for the British in New York City during the war.
When in 1775 Virginia’s Royal Governor Lord Dunmore fled Williamsburg and began raising troops in the vicinity of Norfolk, the Revolution began in earnest for Jacob Ellegood. At Dunmore’s request, Jacob raised nearly 600 militia, called “The Queen’s Own Loyal Virginia Regiment,” and on November 14, 1775, he received a commission from the Governor as Lieutenant Colonel Commandant of the Virginia Regiment. After an unsuccessful attack against American militia under Colonel William Woodford at the Battle of Great Bridge in December 1775, Jacob was taken prisoner while trying to flee to Northampton County. This effectively ended the Revolution for Jacob Ellegood, since he spent the next five and a half years as a prisoner of war. As an officer, Jacob was entitled to good treatment while being held captive. He was paroled to Williamsburg, and while not under formal house arrest, his movements were restricted and monitored within the town.
In February 1776 the Virginia Council voted to remove Jacob from Williamsburg to Hanover County (north of Richmond). By July 1776 the residents of Hanover Town complained that Jacob “behaved in a suspicious manner and that he has become very obnoxious.” The Virginia Council thus removed him from Hanover County to Winchester (the extreme northwest part of Virginia). The British tried to exchange prisoners for Jacob, but no bargain could be reached with the Americans. Jacob’s captivity in Winchester, which lasted a year and a half, placed him hundreds miles from his family at a time when they needed him.
In 1776, Patriot authorities seized the Ellegood estates, confiscating most of Jacob’s property (though not his land), and making no provision for an income to Mary Saunders Ellegood or her children. Jacob’s situation caused “many long and what were thought valuable friendships” to disappear, though Mary was able to find a few remaining friends in Princess Anne and Norfolk Counties who advanced her credit. She petitioned the Virginia Council in June 1776 that an “allowance may be made her and her children, out of her said husbands estate, as to this convention shall seem just and reasonable.” However, she did not receive compensation from the Virginia government until October of the following year.
Ultimately, the Council decided that Jacob’s long captivity at distant Winchester placed too much of a burden on him and his family, who had not seen each other at all during that time. In December 1777 they decided to remove him to “Petersburg where his wife and children may be enabled to visit him without that exceeding great expense and risk which could attend a journey in the mountains.” This placed him about a hundred miles from Princess Anne County. In June 1778, Jacob was removed to the plantation of William Hays in Dinwiddie County (south of Petersburg), and in April 1779 to a new location in neighboring Prince George County.
Finally in 1781, the Americans paroled Jacob to the British lines at Portsmouth so that he could negotiate with the British for back pay owed to him. While in Portsmouth, Jacob witnessed the French fleet at Lynnhaven Bay, just prior to their decisive encounter off the Virginia Capes before the Battle of Yorktown. Jacob thought that Cornwallis would prevail. In a letter to his friend Charles Stewart (a Loyalist merchant who left Virginia prior to the war), he expressed hope that his “unhappy country may once more know the blessing of peace and a British Government.” Of his personal experience, he could scarcely comprehend his fate. From the ranks of the ruling gentry, he had been a prisoner in his own country for more than five years.
When Jacob reached New York City late in 1781, he bought a house in Fredericton (later New Brunswick), Nova Scotia from Benedict Arnold, now a General in the British Army. He then petitioned the British Treasury for back pay as an officer in The Queen’s Own Loyal Virginia Regiment. The British granted Jacob full pay for 1775-1778, and half-pay for 1778-1782. Removing to England in 1782, he petitioned the Treasury in 1783 for the loss of his estates, which he calculated to be worth £8,903. However, the British government compensated him for less than half of this sum.
After the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, the Virginia government refused to allow Jacob to come home. Once again, he was forcibly separated from his wife and children, two of whom had died in his absence. In 1786, Mary made a final plea that Jacob be allowed to return, and the Virginia government agreed to let Jacob enter the state, though only for twelve months to transact lawful business. In 1788, Jacob returned to Virginia for the last time, and moved his wife and three remaining children, Jacob, John, and William, to Canada. In Nova Scotia the Ellegoods finally achieved a period of stability. Jacob was elected to the Assembly of New Brunswick in 1795 though he died a few years later in 1802. Until the 1790s, Jacob never lost the sense that he was a Virginian, and despite the hardships, remained fully satisfied, until the day he died, that he made the right decision to support the King.
Primary Source Documents: Jacob Ellegood
Unsigned Petition of the Loyalists of Princess Anne County: Printed in Peter Force, ed., American Archives Vol. III “A Documentary History”, Washington, D.C.: M. St. Clair Clarke and Peter Force, 1840), 1671.
We, the inhabitants of Princess Anne County, being fully sensible of the error and guilt into which this Colony hath been misled, under colour of seeking redress of grievances, by a set of factious men, styling themselves Committees and Congresses, who have violently, and under powers of Government, endeavoured to overturn our Constitution, have incurred the guilt of actual rebellion against our most gracious Sovereign. We have, therefore, taken an oath, abjuring their authority, and solemnly promising, in the presence of Almighty God, we bear faith and true allegiance to his sacred Majesty George III; that we will, to the utmost of our power and ability, support, maintain, and defend his crown and dignity, against all traitorous attempts and conspiracies whatsoever. And whereas armed bodies of men are collected in various parts of this Colony, without any legal authority, we wish them to be informed that, however unwilling we shall be to shed the blood of countrymen, we must, in discharge of our duty to God and the King, oppose their marching into this country, where their coming can answer no good end, but, on the contrary, must expose us to the ravages and horrours of a civil war. For that purpose we are determined to take advantage of our happy situation, and will defend the passes into our country and neighbourhood, to the last drop of our blood.
Jacob Ellegood’s Petition to the Virginia House of Delegates, 1778: (printed in Randolph W. Church, Virginia Legislative Petitions: Bibliography, Calendar, and Abstracts from Original Sources, 6 May 1776 – 21 June 1782, (Richmond: Va. State Library, 1984), 259.
To the Honourable Speaker and Gentlemen of the House of Delegates.
[Jacob Ellegood] has been near three years under confinement, and that for more then two years of that time he has been some hundred of miles removed from his family and friends during a great part of the time his family have been in the greatest distress as every thing was taken of the plantation some time in the year 1776, but many of the things have since been returned to Mr. Ellegood by order of his excellency the Governor . . . the humble request of your petitioner is, that he may be permitted to reside on his own plantation on parole, he promises on his part to pledge his word, honour, life and everything that is dear to him that he will neither do, nor say anything that shall give offense . . .
Blandford Octr. 19th 1778 Jacob Ellegood
Letter of Jacob Ellegood to Charles Steuart, October 16, 1781: (from Charles Steuart Papers, 1762-1789 at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation).
. . . Oh, my good friends what mighty changes has your once favorite country of Vira. [Virginia] gon[e] through. The very face of the country and even the very genius of its inhabitants are quite alter’d. Many long and what were thought valuable friendships are now intirely desolv’d and persons that thought themselves a few years ago the best of friends are now the most inveterate enemys even the very near and dear tie[s] between father and son are in many instances quite don[e] away . . .
. . . I am sure there has no one given more convincing proofs of Loyalty than I have yet as a Virgia. [Virginian] I cannot but feel for the distresses of my poor unhappy native country, a country I once thought it my greatest happiness to be a native of – but now alas! that country which still contains all that is near and valuable to me in this life I durst not approach but at the peril of that verry life which I received from it . . .
. . . when I reflect that I was for five years and four months a prisoner in that very country that gave me birth and that I had not even the small indulgence that is granted to the unhappy slaves of that country I sometimes bring myself to think it altogether a dream and that such a thing could not happen . . .
. . . I sometimes think it impossible that human nature can be capable of so much fortitude especially in that sex [female], not all the trying calamitys they have suffer’d has seem’s to have alter’d them in the least . . . Mrs. Ellegood’s behaviour on all her trying occasions do[e]s her the greatest honour . . . I hear she has been plunder’d of everything. God only knows if it be true how she is to subsist . . .
. . . there is nothing that gives me so much pain as my eldest sons education being neglected . . . was my son but at a good school I shoul[d] be much happier he is now turn’d of twelve a time of life that ought not to be lost . . .
. . . I left York Town about 7 weeks ago Lord Cornwallis had a fine army Gloster-Town [Gloucester] was well fortified our works at York verry strong we had accounts from his Lordship a few days ago he as well as his army were well and in high spirits . . . his Lordship is perhaps more beloved in the Army then almost any man ever was, he is truely an honour to his Country . . .
. . . almost every house in York is pulled down, poor Mrs. Riddle I feel for her. I was quartered at her house while I stay’d in York, her distress and many more must be horrid, that country for many miles round must be ruin’d . . .
. . . the bulk of the people [Virginians) are quite against continuing the war, and if we get the Command of the Bay and of course the river, a large army cannot subsist any time in that country – so that I think Mr. Washington will take himself of[f] as soon as the fleet gets in . . . God send them [Cornwallis’s army] success prays your friend and that my unhappy country may once more know the blessing of peace and a British Government . . .
. . . As for my own private affairs . . . my full pay as a Liet. Colo. Commt. [Lieutenant Colonel Commandant] of a Regiment .I must think I was certainly entitled too, and very small compensation for five years and a half confinement besides sacrificing every thing that was near and dear to me, I was the first man in America that drew a sword for his Majesty I am now the oldest Commission’d officer in his Majestys American Forcess and I am sorry to say I am the only one that has not received justice . . .
. . . why his Lordship [Dunmore] should have neglected me I can not say I cannot but think his Lordship will think my request reasonable as he knows how greatly I have suffer’d from my attachment to his Majesty . . .
Letter of Jacob Ellegood to Charles Stewart, March 23, 1782: (from Charles Steuart Papers, 1762-1789 at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation).
. . . I am happy to acquaint you that neither my sisters nor Mrs. Ellegood has suffered any great loss by the Rebels since the misfortune of our army there [Yorktown], they have the good luck still to meet with some friends. Lord Dunmore is at Charles Town, and is soon to be round here indeed we expect him every day, and feel much for his Lordship’s disappointment but I have still hopes to see him once more in his government . . . tho’ matters have not been so favourable for us sometimes past as I could have wished.
Jacob Ellegood’s Petition for Compensation from the British Government: (from the Public Records Office, London, England).
. . . I shall only beg leave to observe that I was the first native of America that raised a Corps for his Majestys service in the late war – Lieut. Col. Connolly and myself received our Commissions nearly at the same time and from the same authority [Governor Lord Dunmore] . . . I raised a very considerable body of men – I headed them myself at the Battle of the Great Bridge the day His Majestys 14th Regt. of foot suffer’d so much . . . I was more then five years a prisoner a considerable part of the time in close confinement . .
For Further Reading:
Isaac Harrell, Loyalism in Virginia (1926).
John Selby, The Revolution in Virginia (1988)
Robert Calhoon, The Loyalist Perception and Other Essays (1989).
Maya Jasanoff, Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (2012).