Monday, November 21, 2011

Champe Rocks

Champe Rocks marker in Pendleton County, WV (Click any photo to Enlarge)Pendleton County, WV

Marker Text: Near Champe Rocks is the home and grave of Sergeant John Champe who was sent by General Washington and Major Lee to kidnap Benedict Arnold, the traitor, from within the British lines. The daring plot almost succeeded.

Location: On U.S. Route 28 & WV Route 55 (northbound) approximately six miles north of Seneca Rocks. Erected by the West Virginia Historic Commission in 1963.

  Yesterday, I wrote about John Champe who lived in Loudoun County, VA during the American Revolution and the marker “A Revolutionary War Hero.” John Champe a notable sergeant-major of Maj. “Light Horse Harry” Lee's celebrated partisan legion, earned honorable fame as a result of Lee's "Memoirs of the War", which told of Champe's patriotic and heroic adventure as a fake "deserter" to the British ranks in order to capture the traitor Benedict Arnold.

Champe Rocks marker with the Rocks in the background  Champe Rocks is named for John Champe because he reportedly lived for a short time in the narrow river plain near these rocks. The Champe Rocks are two sandstone masses that rise on the east side of the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River, six miles north of Seneca Rocks along State Route 28 & 55 in Pendleton County, West Virginia. Champe Rocks can be seen from this marker. They stand some 900 feet above the valley floor and overlook the narrow river plain.

  Following his mission to capture Arnold failed, George Washington discharged Champe from any further military service and he moved back to his home near Aldie, VA. Champe became doorkeeper and sergeant-at-arms for meetings of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and Trenton in 1783.

Champe Rocks marker looking south on Routes 28 & 55

Photo taken looking south of Routes 28 & 55.  Champe Rocks is to the right of the marker.

  Unfortunately, the secrecy surrounding the daring venture, and the continued silence needed to protect Champe from retaliation by British forces, prevented this brave patriot from an honest vindication. Harassed and hounded by his own countrymen who considered him a traitor, Champe eventually left Loudoun County.

  Though before Champe left Loudoun County several years after the war, he performed an act of kindness that ensured that his heroics would outlive him. A British traveler, Capt. Cameron, knocked on the door of Champe's cottage near Aldie, seeking refuge from a thunderstorm. Strangely, Champe during his mission to capture Arnold had been assigned to Cameron's company, a part of Arnold's British legion, upon his arrival in New York.

  Cameron was impressed by the generosity and friendship extended by this American to the unfortunate party, and while at first the two men didn't recognize one another, both knew they had seen the other's face somewhere. Upon discussing this coincident they discovered, to their great surprise, their respective histories. Champe told his guest how he tried to capture Arnold. Cameron wrote the story in his diary and eventually sold the tale to a British publication. The publication of this story helped to restore Champe's reputation and explain to the world his daring act of heroics for the revolutionary cause. Champe himself never saw his story in print. He died at age 46 in 1798.

Champe Rocks marker with the Rocks in the background  Champe like many revolutionary war veterans moved further west to new lands and opportunities. Champe lived here in Pendleton County for a short time and the marker states he is buried near here which is probably not correct. One account states he died and was buried in Craig County, Virginia and another account states he died near Morgantown, WV and is buried near there. My research did not reveal any definite location and his grave might be lost to history. Traveling through Virginia, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia a person can find the graves of many Revolutionary War veterans in many community and church cemeteries. There are many of these veterans graves that are unknown or unmarked. According to some accounts Champe is reported to have moved as far west as Kentucky. If anyone knows the location of the Champe's grave I would appreciate your sharing that information.

  During the Civil War era, Champe's exploits were memorialized in the name of a Confederate infantry company -- Champe's Rifles was organized in Aldie in May 1861 -- and by a republishing of Lee's "Memoirs" in 1869 by his son, Robert E. Lee, the Confederate commander. Robert Lee was a toddler when his father, while imprisoned for indebtedness, was writing "Memoirs."

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