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A packed house learns the history of the Beeline March

By Staff | Jul 26, 2019

Tyler Shaw, right, is joined by living history presenters to show the difference between British soldiers and the frontiersman of the colonies in 1775. Toni Milbourne

SHEPHERDSTOWN — The Shepherdstown Community Club was joined by the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War and the Shepherd University History Department in commemorating the Beeline March of 1775, which began near what is now Morgan’s Grove Park and has led to Shepherdstown being noted as the birthplace of the United States Army.

“Beeline! A Celebration” was held at the Town Run Tap House and Community Pub on Sunday evening, and was opened with remarks from Mayor Jim Auxer.

“These men made the 600-mile march to Cambridge, Massachusetts at the request of George Washington,” Auxer said. “Shepherdstown’s role in American history solidifies itself as a hub of history in the Shenandoah Valley. It’s an honor to be mayor of this town.”

Dressed as a Virginia rifleman, Mosby Heritage Area Public Programs Coordinator Travis Shaw discussed the formation of four rifle companies commissioned in 1775, two of which were in Maryland and two in Virginia. Six additional companies were organized in Pennsylvania, and all marched to assist Washington in Cambridge.

“This event makes the Continental Army truly continental,” Shaw said.

Four veterans of the French and Indian War were selected to lead these companies: Michael Cresap, in Maryland, Thomas Price, in Maryland, Daniel Morgan, in Winchesterm and Hugh Stephenson, in Mecklenburg, which later became Shepherdstown. Stephenson’s men were delayed as they waited at Morgan Spring, while weapons could be locally produced to arm the men.

According to Shaw, flintlock rifles were the weapons of choice used by the frontiersmen. A bayonet could not be attached to the rifle, nor could it be reloaded for rapid fire, as the smooth bore rifles employed by the British soldiers could. These impediments often proved deadly to frontiersmen fighting for their independence.

“Once they were equipped, they set out on the Beeline March to Cambridge,” Shaw said, mentioning the men reached their destination in just 25 days, averaging nearly 25 miles per day. “They were greeted in Cambridge with huge fanfare. The psychological edge they brought was more powerful than the number of men.”

Following Shaw’s historic perspective of the Continental Army, Shepherd University Assistant Professor of History Ben Bankhurst spoke about “Impressions on Loyalism in the Greater Shenandoah Valley, 1775-1783.”

“Not all those in the backwoods were frontiersmen,” Bankhurst said. “Loyalists were everywhere.”

According to Bankhurst, somewhere between 60,000-100,000 Loyalists left the colonies to seek asylum in Canada. In addition, 15,000 enslaved African Americans also sought asylum elsewhere, as did nearly 3,000 free African Americans.

The Maryland Loyalism Project, a project coordinated between Shepherd students and students at Loyola in Chicago, has students working to digitize Loyalist papers and records from England to make them accessible to the public.

“I am intrigued by the strategies people employ in their memorials, how they recognize their property, family, slaves, etcetera,” said Shepherd University Student and the project’s digital coordinator Clair Tryon.

Living history presenters concluded the event, by answering questions and demonstrating the uniforms worn by the British Army and frontiersmen.