“Give me liberty or give me death.”
Those were the famous words spoken by American patriot Patrick Henry inciting colonists to prepare for war with Great Britain.
Patrick Henry Jolly, fifth great-grandson of Henry, reminded sixth-grade students at Halifax County Middle School of the meaning of those words in a Monday morning program in the school gymnasium.
The main goal of the program was to teach the students the role Halifax County residents played in the American Revolution, during the army’s famous “Crossing of the Dan” led by Gen. Nathanael Greene.
“These people who participated in the Crossing of the Dan were people just like you and I,” explained Anne Raab, regent of the Barryman Green Chapter of the Virginia Daughters of the American Revolution. “They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things.”
Jolly, dressed in Revolutionary War-era attire, told the students the story of Greene’s army’s famous crossing of the Dan River near South Boston on Feb. 14, 1781. He recounted Greene’s decision to “race to the Dan” to head off the British army led by Lord Charles Cornwallis, a turning point in the American Revolution.
Jolly noted that the citizens of Halifax County were instrumental in Greene’s success, by rallying together to replenish the army’s supplies and provide food and shelter to the weary soldiers. He added that Greene’s unique strategy and his army’s bravery were both crucial to the success of the Crossing at the Dan.
“The battle is not to the strong alone, but it’s to the vigilant, it’s to the brave,” Jolly said. “It was during that whole event [the Crossing of the Dan] that Nathanael Greene demonstrated that principal: being active and strong and brave.”
Both the British and the American armies were racing northward across the Carolinas when Greene decided to cross over into Virginia to get more recruits and supplies before crossing the Dan River. The American army headed off Cornwallis at the pass and ultimately weakened his army.
Greene achieved this feat by sending 700 of his men as a decoy toward the upper fords of the Dan River upstream from Dix’s Ferry in Danville, while his main army took the shorter route and crossed the swollen Dan River, with boats at Irvin’s Ferry and Boyd’s Ferry in Halifax County. The first British troops arrived just as the last of Greene’s army finished crossing the river and were unable to cross the river without boats.
“Greene knew that he had to get to Boyd’s Ferry and keep Cornwallis from going across that river,” Jolly said. “He thought outside the box. He thought differently, and he achieved success.”
Following Jolly’s lesson, Gary Lee Hall, president of the Dan River Chapter of the Virginia Society, Sons of the American Revolution, gave a history of the American flag. Monday’s program concluded with a flag folding demonstration by the Halifax County High School JROTC.
Dawn Miller, principal of Halifax County Middle School, urged the sixth-graders to use the information they learned in the program to prepare for an essay-writing contest on the Crossing of the Dan. Contest winners will be recognized during the 239th Anniversary Commemoration of the Crossing of the Dan on Feb. 15 at The Prizery, 700 Bruce St., South Boston.