7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Friday, September 12, 2014

GWYNN'S ISLAND ~ A Refuge For Two Royal Governors

There is an island in the Chesapeake Bay, 4 miles long and 3/4 miles wide that was the scene of one of the first naval battles of the Revolutionary War. It was the outpost that the last Royal Governor of Virginia, John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunmore, used as his base of operations before fleeing the colonies forever.
Gwynn's Island
Gwynn’s Island is less than half a mile from the Virginia mainland, on the shores of the Piankatank River in what is now Mathew’s County, VA.

After Dunmore and his ships bombarded Norfolk in January of 1776, he retreated and occupied Portsmouth using it as an operating base for raiding for several months.
Lord Dunmore then sailed 40 miles up the Bay, along with 2,000 soldiers, marines, loyalist friends and hundreds of members of the Ethiopian Regiment. This regiment was made up of escaped slaves that he had promised freedom if they pledged their allegiance to the Crown. On May 27, 1776, with a fleet of nearly 100 ships, he invaded Gwynn’s Island. There, Dunmore and his men confiscated some of the islander’s homes, and plundered their businesses and other personal property. Now entrenched, the British built redoubts along the shore to fortify themselves. That summer, Gwynn’s Island would also briefly become the refuge of the last royal governor of Maryland, Robert Eden who fled Annapolis in his ship, HMS Fowey, before eventually departing for England.  

General Andrew Lewis was sent to dislodge Dunmore. He set up fortifications on the mainland at what is now known as Cricket Hill and mounted his guns.  Opening fire on Dunmore’s ships, he caused considerable damage. Overwhelmed, the last royal governor of Virginia was forced to evacuate the island and sailed for England.

Gwynn’s Island was originally established as a hunting ground by the Powhatan Indians. It was also explored by Captain John Smith. It was in this locale that Smith was stabbed by a stingray. He remained on the island while he recovered and named it Stingray Island. Coincidentally, the island is somewhat shaped like a stingray.

Sir Hugh Gwin, a Welshman and part of the Virginia Company of London, received a royal grant and settled the island to establish a plantation and trading post given its location in an expanding shipping lane in the Chesapeake Bay. He received additional land grants for property on the adjacent mainland. Gwin settled his family there in 1643. Soon additional families received land grants as well. Those names of the original settlers are still common in the surrounding area and the island’s population today.
The name Gwynn can be found around the island spelled numerous ways.
Gwynn's Island Museum

One Sunday afternoon, I went to Gwynn’s Island, to satisfy my curiosity. I wondered how the British could hope to remain out of harm’s way on an island so close to the Virginia shore. At that time, ferries were the means of travel to the island. Later, in 1939, a bridge only a third of a mile long was built to join the mainland to the island. With a protected harbor suitable for ship anchorage, Gwynn’s Island has a proud history of boat building. Its location also favors watermen involved with the seafood industry.

The Seabreeze Restaurant

The island has farmland, homes, a marina, restaurant, two post offices and a fascinating museum. There have been numerous  archaeological excavations around the island and some of their findings are housed at the museum. Apparently, the Powhatan Indians were not the first residents. 
mastodon molar

An immense mastodon upper third molar and tusk were found on the island. The museum also showcases many arrowheads and a copy of the Cinmar Blade, the oldest known man made tool found in the Americas. The original Cinmar Blade from the island is housed in the Smithsonian Museum.


  1. I'd love to go to Gwynn's Island sometime, Janet! Thanks for the great post! This is such neat info. I've heard about this somewhere, maybe at Colonial Williamsburg or in the Daily Press but I love your post with all the details! Great day trip!

  2. The Seabreeze Restaurant is a fun "local" type of place, too.
    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Wow, that is some interesting history you don't hear in school. I agree, that island is awful close to think he could stay there. Thanks for sharing!

  4. That is what astounded me, Susan. So close you could actually swim to it. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Great Information. Thanks for sharing, I didn't like history when I was a youngster, but find it so interesting now!

  6. Thanks for your comment, Deanna. I think the more we learn about history, the more fascinating it becomes.
    “Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.”
    ― Edmund Burke

  7. Truly a fascinating history there, Janet! Great post.


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