One of the only bridges from Norfolk to Williamsburg was at the aptly named village of Great Bridge. Lord Dunmore, eager to maintain an advantageous position, ordered his soldiers to build a fort on the Norfolk side of the Elizabeth River.
Called Fort Murray, the structure housed approximately 100 men to defend the critical bridge. Meanwhile, patriot forces, ordered by the Virginia Assembly, sought to confront Dunmore.
Mid-to-late November witnessed a thwarted patriot ambush at Kemp’s Landing and Dunmore’s taking of Norfolk. Responding to rumors that Dunmore planned to advance on Suffolk, a patriot detachment was sent to engage and arrived in Great Bridge by Nov. 28. By Dec. 7, reinforcements brought the number of patriots close to 900. Opposite, Dunmore’s forces, composed of the Ethiopian Regiment and loyalist soldiers, stood closer to 400.
The clock ticked. It seemed like neither side wanted to make the first big move. That all changed on the morning of Dec. 9, 1775.
Determined to break his enemy’s defenses, Dunmore ordered Fort Murray’s artillery to begin bombarding the patriot works, followed by an attack of British grenadiers. Upon attack, the alarm was raised by patriot sentries on the bridge. One of these sentries was William Flora, a free Black man from Portsmouth who became regarded as a hero of the battle.