One day in June 1765, two sailors abandoned a five-year-old boy on a wharf at City Point (now Hopewell), Virginia, then returned to their ship and quickly sailed off. The boy did not speak English, but he was wearing good-quality clothing and appeared to say his name was Pedro Francisco. Initially he was placed in the Prince George County poorhouse as an orphan but was later taken up by a visiting gentleman, Anthony Winston, who brought him home to his plantation, “Hunting Tower,” in Buckingham County. When he was older, Peter began training to be a blacksmith and received only a rudimentary education – he still considered himself to be illiterate years later.
In 1776, when he was sixteen years old, Peter enthusiastically enlisted in Captain Hugh Woodson’s company of the 10th Virginia Regiment and thereby joined the Continental Army. Almost immediately he began to be noticed for his fighting abilities and his conspicuous bravery. Although he received serious wounds at the Battle of Brandywine, Pennsylvania, and later at Monmouth, New Jersey, he was always in the midst of the fighting and managed to kill a number of the enemy. At the storming of Stony Point in July 1779, Peter was the second man to make it over the fort’s wall. By now his exploits had spread his fame throughout the whole army.
When his three-year enlistment period ended in December 1779, Peter returned to civilian life in Virginia – but not for long. In the summer of 1780, after the war had moved to the South, he joined a militia company led by Captain William Mayo and marched to join General Horatio Gates’ army. Full-grown at 20 years of age, Peter was said to have stood 6 feet, 6 inches tall and to have weighed about 260 pounds. It was at the disastrous American defeat at the Battle of Camden in August that Peter’s exploits began to assume legendary status, when he is said to have saved a cannon weighing 1,100 pounds from capture by carrying it on his shoulder to safety. By 1781 Peter had reenlisted in the army, but this time as a cavalryman in a troop from Prince Edward County led by Captain Thomas Watkins. At the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in March, he was once again in the thick of the fiercest fighting and managed to kill eleven British soldiers before sustaining a severe bayonet wound to his leg.
While he was recovering from his wound back in Virginia, Peter happened to be at Ward’s Tavern in Amelia County in July when he was accosted by a group of nine of Banastre Tarleton’s dragoons returning east from a raiding foray. Unarmed, Peter managed to seize the sword of one of the men, and then singlehandedly killed that man and wounded and drove off the other eight. A furious Tarleton sent 100 men in pursuit, but Peter managed to escape. He later wrote, “This was the last favor I ever did for the British.”
After the war Peter Francisco became a successful planter and sometime tavern owner in Cumberland and Buckingham counties. In 1819 Congress awarded him a pension of $8.00 per month. From 1825 until his death in 1831, he served as sergeant-in-arms for the Virginia House of Delegates. So who was this giant man who once said he never thought he had done a good day’s work unless he had drawn “British blood”? In the 1950s researchers checking records on an island in the Azores group found a baptismal notice that a son, Pedro, had been born to Luis and Maria Francisco on July 9, 1760. Of all of the stories of bravery and daring that came out of the War for American Independence, few can match the story of Peter Francisco, the kidnapped Portuguese boy abandoned on a wharf in Virginia.