The most important spy of the American Revolution, James Armistead, at the request of the Marquis de Lafayette, posed as a runaway slave to General Cornwallis. In this way, he was able to gather vital information on important troop movement, aiding George Washington in winning the war. For his service, he was granted his freedom and a lifelong pension. Afterward, he took the name of his friend, the Marquis and was thereafter known as James Lafayette. During his 1824 visit to America, the Marquis caught sight of James Lafayette in a Richmond crowd and stopped his carriage to embrace him.
During the holiday season, Andrew Sproule will be playing Father Christmas. A much older cousin to Santa Claus, Father Christmas spread good cheer and merriment and was actually banned, along with Christmas festivities both in England and America for a time. But the colonists here in Portsmouth and throughout the colony of Virginia paid no heed, rebellious even then. In that s spirit, Mary Veale and the Colonials offer you not only Father Christmas, but Colonial Carolers, as well. Joining Mary Veale are James Lafayette and Billy Flora with your Christmas favorites and perhaps some you have not yet heard.
Born to free black parents and the owner of a livery stable at the corner of London and Middle, Billy Flora was both respected and well-liked by the Portsmouth citizenry. A hero of the Battle of Great Bridge, he fought under Colonel William Woodford. A fellow sentry at the bridge reported Flora was the last to cross as the British advanced. As he retreated from his post, under heavy fire from the British line, he scampered over the breastwork, pulling its plank behind him. This made it impossible for the British to reach the colonials. The only casualty on the American side survived to speak very highly of Flora and his courage.
Mary Veale was the beloved housekeeper of Portsmouth's founder, Colonel William Crawford. Although she preceded the Colonel in death, he left property to two of her sons, George and Thomas. In his will, he mentions his fondness for her as the reason. To pass the time, Mary is always ready with a song for the children or a bawdy tune for the grownups. Or she may tell a story about the Colonel or interest you in some forgotten colonial custom. She is the "Mary" in Mary Veale and the Colonials!
Visionary and founder of Portsmouth, Colonel William Craford, commissioned prominent surveyor Gresham Nimmo to lay out his new city using many of the same elements and street names as the cities in England. Gresham can answer questions like, "Why are some streets so narrow and others so wide?" He can tell you why the Colonel chose to use so much land, a very precious commodity, on High Street. And why he bothered naming the squares. He even knows a bit about the Colonel himself.
Andrew Sproule immigrated from Scotland at the ripe old age of 32. A well-respected and wealthy merchant, Sproule had a reputation for being disheveled in appearance, although his properties were well kept and his wife, Catherine conducted herself as a proper colonial lady. He served as a British Naval Agent, and his shipyard became Norfolk Naval Shipyard. At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, he fled with fellow Scot, Lord Dunmore and died just five days later of a broken heart.
WIfe of Andrew Sproule, Arch Tory and founder of the Gosport marine yard, Catherine found herself at the very center of the American Revolution and sadly, on the wrong side. Her husband was a friend and fellow Scot to the despised Lord Dunmore. She suffered Dunmore and his men being quartered in her home, and her eldest son, John Hunter, was pressed into service in the Queen's Own, a regiment formed to fight at Great Bridge. Forced to flee Portsmouth with seven other children, her home was burned and her belongings confiscated by the Patriots.
The Marquis de Lafayette came to join the American Revolution as a teenager and against the King's wishes. He invested his time, his blood, his fortune, and his influence into the Patriot cause. His friend, James Armistead Lafayette spied for him here, and our fair city of Portsmouth was one of his stops when he returned to visit the newly-formed United States of America in 1824. An archway commemorates his visit and ties to Portsmouth and its citizenry. His time in the America, and in particular his friendship with James, made him a staunch abolitionist.
The most famous female pirate to ever sail the seven seas, Anne Bonny was captured and sentenced in Jamaica to hang. Pleading her belly, her execution was postponed until the birth of her child. There is no record of her being hung or released. Legend has it that her wealthy father arranged for her quiet release and transport to the colonies. Anne was rumored to have disappeared into the Great Dismal Swamp. It is conceivable that a lass so tied to the water and sailing ships might have spent a portion of her time in the closest seaport: Portsmouth.