Shortly after the revolutionary conventions held in the spring and summer of 1775, Culpeper County lieutenant James Barbour began organizing a 300-man battalion in the counties of Culpeper, Orange, and Fauquier. Yowell Meadow, then called Clayton's Old Field, was the first encampment Barbour used for mustering his troops.
Barbour's assemblage gathered at Yowell Meadow (Clayton's Old Field) in makeshift tents and plank huts. They wore similarly colored shirts emblazoned with Patrick Henry's famous phrase "Liberty or Death!" and hats festooned with bucks' tails.
They had also created an equally inspiring name and banner under which to rally. The Culpeper Minute Men, as they called themselves, proudly flew their flag decorated with a coiled rattlesnake. Underneath the menacing beast were the words "Don't Tread on Me!" and to either side was their battle cry "Liberty or Death!" The uppermost portion of the flag showed just who would react with such a stinging blow-it read "The Culpeper Minute Men."
The image of the rattlesnake had been printed many years earlier by Benjamin Franklin in a carton entitled "Join or Die" and at various other times in his newspaper(s). This strong graphic must have captured the feelings of many Americans seeking relief from British rule.
The Culpeper Minute Men soon marched to Williamsburg and in October 1775 took part in a defensive campaign to prevent a British landing there. Of their actions at Williamsburg one commander wrote to Thomas Jefferson that "the life and Soul of this Corps is Capt. Green's Company of Riflemen from Culpeper, who in three Reliefs of about 22 at a time, scour [sic] the Rivers, and have in various attempts, prevented a landing of the enemy."
In December of the same year, the Minute Men engaged the British a second time. Their performance in the battle of Great Bridge near Norfolk supported what Thomas Jefferson had been told earlier. With help from reinforcements, the Minute Men soon pushed the British troops under the command of Lord Dunmore out of Norfolk and helped liberate the city. Three weeks later, Dunmore began an eleven-day bombardment of and assault on the city during which the Minute Men lost their first two soldiers. Dunmore's intention was to destroy as much of the city as possible and bid a hasty retreat up the Chesapeake Bay, which he did with success.
On February 14, 1776, the Minute Men were disbanded due to a shortage of firearms. Their reputation, however, continued to live on the battle flag they created. To this date, it has evoked patriotism in Americans and fear in oppressors.
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