The alarm of the British invasion was sufficient to throw the whole of Virginia into a panic, but especially the neighbourhood about Charlottesville, for it was inferred that one purpose of their coming was to attempt to liberate the Convention prisoners. The cantonment, therefore, was hastily broken up, and all the troops were marched over the mountains to Winchester, or northward into Pennsylvania, scarcely time for them to pack their few possessions being accorded to them. From this deportation the Merediths were excepted, for as political prisoners, no mention of them was made in the orders issued by Washington and the Virginia Council; and so Colonel Bland left them unmolested, the sole residents of the once overcrowded village of huts. The removal of the prisoners proved a needless precaution, for, after remaining but a few days, the British fleet retired, having effected little save to frighten badly the people, but the apprehension subsided as quickly as it had come.
The hope of quiet was a false one, for in a few months a second expedition, under the command of Arnold, sailed up the James River and captured and burned Richmond. To face this new enemy, to which the militia of the State were deemed inadequate, Washington detached a brigade under the command of Lafayette from the Northern army, supposing the movement, like the previous one, a mere predatory expedition, which could be held in check by this number of troops; and upon news that General Phillips, with reinforcements, had joined Arnold, he further despatched a second brigade under Wayne.
Meantime, the force under Cornwallis, after overrunning North Carolina, now suddenly swung northward and effected a juncture with the British force in Virginia, raising it to such strength that Lafayette dared not risk a battle, and was left no option, as the British advanced inland, but to fall back rapidly toward the mountains.
These latter events succeeded one another with such rapidity that the people of Charlottesville first heard of some of them by the arrival of Governor Jefferson and the members of the Assembly, to which place they had voted an adjournment just previous to their being forced to abandon the capital. Sessions had scarcely been begun, however, when word was brought that the enemy was within a few miles of the town, and once again they took to their heels and fled over the mountains into the Shenandoah valley, escaping none too soon, as it proved, for Tarleton’s cavalry rode into the streets of Charlottesville so close upon what was left of the government of Virginia that some of the members were captured.
The Merediths, two miles away at Saratoga, first heard the news of these latter events from a captain of militia, who, accompanied by six sullen-looking companions, rode up early on the morning of the raid and sharply ordered the three to mount the led horses he brought with him.
“I’m ridin’,” he explained, “to collect the horses and alarm the hundreds towards Boswell’s, and the county lieutenant ordered me to take you away from here. No, I can ’t wait to have you pack.”