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A new sign at Freedom Park marks the area where hundreds of British and Continental soldiers met in a brief skirmish in the summer before the siege at Yorktown.
The sign features a brief primer on the Battle of Spencer’s Ordinary, which occurred on June 26, 1781. About 400 British troops under the command of Lt. Col. John Simcoe engaged about 670 Continental troops led by Col. Richard Butler in what at the time was open farmland.
The county received a donation from the Williamsburg chapter of the Virginia Society, Sons of the American Revolution to pay for the sign. A ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Freedom Park Interpretive Center to commemorate the sign’s installation. The sign is located on the sidewalk leading from the parking lot to the interpretive center’s building.
The clash was a small one during the lead up to the nearby Battle of Green Spring in July 1781. The British troops involved in the fight were part of the army of British Lord Charles Cornwallis, while the Continental troops were part of an army fighting under the Marquis de Lafayette, according to Alister Perkinson, the park coordinator for Freedom Park.
The British detachment was foraging near Spencer’s Ordinary, a small tavern in the area. When Lafayette learned of the British foraging detachment, he ordered Butler to lead a small force against it.
“There was no victor claimed on either side,” Perkinson said.
Conflicting reports make it difficult to determine the number of casualties incurred by either force. Neither side was able to find a decisive advantage during the fight, which lasted less than a day.
At the time, the eponymous tavern functioned much like a small bed-and-breakfast would today, Perkinson said. It was owned and operated by Mansfield Spencer, who also had a 120-acre farm. Some of that farm makes up the current footprint of Freedom Park.
“They probably only offered lodging to one or two guests at a time, accommodating them in the family home,” he said.
The fate of the tavern after the war is unclear. In 1803, much of the land in the area became a settlement for freed slaves. That community lasted for about 50 years before the land started to be used for logging, which was its primary use for more than a century.
Today the land is the site of Freedom Park, a 600-acre public park with more than 20 miles of mountain bike trails, two multiuse trails, the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, the Freedom Park Interpretive Center and three re-created cabins from when the land was a freed slave settlement.
Saturday’s 11 a.m. commemorative ceremony is free and open to the public. Martha McCartney, a research historian and author, will give a talk about the battle and its significance.