Collier-Mathew Raid of 1779

Lord Dunmore and his British troops evacuated Gwynn's Island in June, 1776. In August, 1776, the fleet sailed out of the Chesapeake Bay. For almost three years, Virginia was not invaded by British forces.

That changed in May, 1779. General Henry Clinton in New York lauched a raid on Virginia to destroy supplies that Virginia was sending to support George Washington's army.

Commodore George Collier led the fleet of six warships and twenty-eight other ships carrying troops. Maj. Gen. Edward Mathew commanded the 2,000 soldiers loaded on board, including some German mercenaries and American Loyalists.

It took five days for the British to sail from New York City to the Chesapeake Bay. They sailed past unfortified Craney Island and captured Fort Nelson at Portsmouth on May 10, 1779.

The British force burned the shipyard at Gosport, then overwhelmed the minimal resistance by Virginia militia to seize tobacco and burn more military supplies at Suffolk.

After two weeks, the expedition sailed back to New York City. The raid had accomplished its mission, to destroy military supplies. The raiders seized or burned tobacco that could have been carried past the blockade to France, where it might generate credit that could be used to acquire more supplies for the rebels. The troops were needed back in New York, according to General Henry Clinton.

Despite the easy success of the Collier-Mathew Raid of 1779, it was not until the end of 1780 that the British repeated it. That time, the invading force was led by Benedict Arnold.1

Benedict Arnold and William Phillips in Virginia, 1780-1781

The Chesapeake Bay: Avenue for Attack

Norfolk Naval Shipyard




1. Edward G. Lengel, ed., The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series, Volume 20, 8 April – 31 May 1779, University of Virginia Press, 2010,; Edwards Park, "Virginia’s Very Own Navy," Colonial Williamsburg Journal, Spring 2002, (last checked February 2, 2019)

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