William Flora: "Amidst a Shower of Musket Balls"

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William "Billy" Flora was mentioned in an editor's note to an 1853 article about the Battle of Great Bridge which was fought in Virginia on December 9, 1775. 


Note.—Our collector adds a note, which we give in his own words, as follows: 

“Many years before I read the foregoing account of the glorious victory at the Great Bridge, Captain Tho. Nash, late of Gosport, Virginia, had verbally given me a history of the affair, as he was one of the faithful and courageous soldiers who were engaged in it; and since I have read it, I have concluded that Captain N. was the only person on our side that was hurt on that glorious day, as I have often heard him speak of the wound which he received in his hand in the action. He has been dead many years, but is still remembered with honor by all who knew him.

Captain Nash informed me that at this famous battle, Billy Flora, a colored man, was the last sentinel that came into the breast work, and that he did not leave his post until he had fired several times. Billy had to cross a plank to get to the breast work, and had fairly passed over it when he was seen to turn back, and deliberately take up the plank after him, amidst a shower of musket balls. He was probably the very sentinel who is mentioned in the account as having fired “eight times.” Billy Flora was well known in Portsmouth and the surrounding country, and was always greatly respected for his good conduct during the revolutionary war, and for his remarkable civility afterwards. He was a true patriot to the last. I recollect that when the troops of Norfolk and Portsmouth were under arms in service for a few days. in 1807, in consequence of the cowardly attack on the frigate Chesapeake by the British ship Leopard, Billy Flora made his appearance with his gun on his shoulder, and offered his services; observing that he had brought with him the same musket which he had fought with at the Great Bridge, and he would be "buttered" (the only oath he was ever known to make) if he was not as ready to use her again as on that glorious day. After the Gun Boats that were then at the Navy Yard were in readiness to defend the harbor if required, Billy volunteered to act as a marine under Commodore Decatur, who was then very busy in making suitable preparations to meet the British, and he remained on board one of the boats, until the services of the men were deemed no longer necessary. Billy Flora died in Portsmouth, in a good old age.

I have also heard Capt. Nash mention the names of all whom he remembered as present at the battle of Great-Bridge; among whom were the Wilsons, the Butts, Cunninghams, Tatems, Portlocks, Etheridges, Strokeses, Creekmores, Curlings, Porters, Trusses, Brannans, Brookses, Williamses, Foremans, Sykeses, Denbys, and many others. I have heard him speak particularly of Capt. Wm. Porter, Wm. Wilson, Sear, John Brookes, John Brannan, and Jonathan Deaby, who were afterwards citizens of Portsmouth. The last five named gentlemen I recollect very well. I have been informed by the Rev. Jesse Nicholson, that Brannan was also in the battle of the Cowpens. 

J.J. [editor]



Editor's Note on pages 5-6 in "The Battle of Great Bridge" published in The Virginia Historical Register & Literary Companion, Volume 6, 1853. Digital copy accessed through the University of Pittsburgh. 

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Related Battles

Virginia | December 9, 1775
Result: American Victory
Estimated Casualties