Saturday, December 18, 2010

Yorktown a disappointment at first

Attracted to my eyes was the tall Monument at Yorktown, celebrating victory in the American Revolutionary War. I later learned it had been installed in 1884.

Yorktown is situated along the York River in southeastern Virginia. Yorktown has several distinct areas. Yorktown Village or Historic Yorktown is set on the York River, near the George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge that spans said river to reach Gloucester Point. The area of Yorktown is one of the eight original shires formed in colonial Virginia in 1634. Yorktown, named for the ancient city of York in Yorkshire, Northern England, was founded in 1691 as a port for shipping tobacco to Europe. The lawyer Thomas Ballard was the principal founder of the city along with Joseph Ring. It was called "York" until after the American Revolutionary War, when the name "Yorktown" came into common use.

While I expected many old buildings due to its history, there were few. Historic Yorktown is comprised first of a small strip along the beach of the York River, Water Street, which contains several small restaurants, a park, a hotel, a pier, that has small shops and restaurants. These Shops and eateries make up the "Riverwalk" section on the waterfront and were opened May 2005. It was a delightful place to sit and view the area. One of the restaurants inside was a very good place where we ate.

From this vantage point we saw a cutter that had ported. A sign welcome us to board the ship and look through it at no cost. We discovered after boarding it was from Brazil and had sailed there after many days at sea.

Main Street sits above Water Street on a bluff, around which the architecture is almost exclusively original. The old court house, several small shops, the Nelson House, and the Yorktown Monument all sit along this road. Around the center of the town are residential streets. Also, architecturally of note is Grace Episcopal Church, situated on Church Street near the old courthouse of Yorktown. Colonial National Historical Park, which contains Yorktown National Battlefield and Yorktown National Cemetery, is located on the outskirts of the town. President's Park is a new attraction displaying large outdoor statues of the heads of each American President accompanied by biographical plaques.

However, the town is most famous as the site of the siege and subsequent surrender of General Cornwallis to General George Washington during the American Revolutionary War on October 19, 1781. Although it would last for another year, this British defeat at Yorktown effectively ended the war. It was the base of British General Charles Cornwallis during the 1781 siege, which was the last major battle of the American Revolutionary War. The Americans had tricked the British, led by Cornwallis, into thinking they were in New York; however, Washington's army mounted a surprise attack in Yorktown and cut off their escape path on the York River.

Yorktown also figured prominently in the American Civil War (1861–1865), serving as a major port to supply both northern and southern towns, depending upon who held Yorktown at the time. During the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, the town was captured from the Confederacy following the Siege and Battle of Yorktown and was then used as a base by the Union Army of the Potomac under General George B. McClellan.

Very little of the recent growth of York County has occurred close to Yorktown, which at this point is becoming much more of a historical colonial village, much like Williamsburg, under the guidance of the National Park Service.

In his Notes on the State of Virginia published in 1781–82, Thomas Jefferson noted that the York River at Yorktown "affords the best harbour in the state for vessels of the largest size. The river there narrows to the width of a mile, and is contained within very high banks, close under which the vessels may ride." During World War I, the western shore above Yorktown became a location of choice for the U.S. Navy, as about 13,000 acres, which straddled York, Warwick County and James City County were appropriated to create what was originally termed a "naval mine depot". The Navy continues to use it 90 years later.

After spending much of the day in Yorktown, we decided to drive to the place where the final battle between Washington and Cornwallis was held and where Cornwallis surrendered. To be honest to you I did not think the National Park Service has made a sufficient monument first such an event. There is nothing there but just a sign. Since this was the beginning of the birth of our nation and the ending of the Revolutionary War I expected more.

Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. Exodus 1:10 (KJV)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Most all of my life I wanted to visit the first settlement in America. We were staying the week in Williamsburg, we made sure that we had at least one day to see many of the places in this area that we wanted to visit.

Today, visitors to Historic Jamestowne can view the site of the original 1607 James Fort, the 17th century church tower and the site of the 17th century town, as well as tour an archaeological museum called the Archaearium and view many of the hundreds of thousands of artifacts found by Jamestown Rediscovery.

It is a long walk from the visitors center on a bridge over marsh land to reach the location. The first site you see is a very high tower as a monument to the location. Farther into the are is a large Statue of Captain John Smith and of Pocahontas. You will immediately see the ruins and the old church that the people worshipped in with a cemetery behind it.

Jamestown, located on Jamestown Island in the Virginia Colony, was founded on May 13th 1607. It is the first permanent English settlement in what is now the United States of America, following several earlier failed attempts, including the Lost Colony of Roanoke. It was founded by the London Company (later to become the Virginia Company), headquartered in London. Located in James City County when it was formed in 1634 as one of the original eight shires of Virginia, Jamestown was the capital of the Colony for 83 years, from 1616 until 1699. At that time, the capital was relocated to Middle Plantation, about 8 miles distant. (That small community, which had also become home to the new College of William and Mary in 1693, was renamed Williamsburg in 1699). The London Company's second settlement, Bermuda, claims the oldest town in the English New World, as St. George's, Bermuda was officially established (as New London) in 1612, where James Fort, in Virginia, is said not to have been converted into Jamestown until 1619. Jamestown ceased to exist as a settlement after the transfer of Virginia's capital to Williamsburg in 1699, existing, today, only as archaeological remains, whereas St. George's has continued in use throughout.

Jamestown, which was originally also called "James Towne" or "Jamestowne", is located on the James River in what is currently James City County in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The site is about 40 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean and the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay and about 45 miles downstream and southeast of the current state capital city of Richmond. Both the river and the settlement were named after King James I of England, who was on the throne at the time, granted the private proprietorship to the Virginia Company of London's enterprise.

Despite the leadership of John Smith, Chaplain Robert Hunt and others, starvation, hostile relations with the natives, and lack of profitable exports all threatened the survival of the Colony in the early years as the settlers and the Virginia Company of London each struggled. However, colonist John Rolfe introduced a strain of tobacco which was successfully exported in 1612, and the financial outlook for the colony soon became much more favorable as colonists developed a profitable tobacco monoculture. Two years later, Rolfe married the young Indian woman Pocahontas, daughter of Wahunsenacawh, Chief of the Powhatan Confederacy, and a period of relative peace with the Natives followed. In 1616, the Rolfes made a public relations trip to England, where Pocahontas was received as visiting royalty. Changes by the Virginia Company which became effective in 1619 attracted additional investments, also sowing the first seeds of democracy in the process with a locally-elected body which became the House of Burgesses, the first such representative legislative body in the New World.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, various European countries were competing to establish colonies in the portion of the "New World" presently known as North America.

Throughout the 17th century, Jamestown was the capital of the Virginia Colony. Several times during emergencies, the seat of government for the colony was shifted temporarily to nearby Middle Plantation, a fortified location on the high ridge approximately equidistant from the James and York Rivers on the Virginia Peninsula. Shortly after the Colony was finally granted a long-desired charter and established the new College of William and Mary at Middle Plantation, the capital of the Colony was permanently relocated nearby. In 1699, the new capital town was renamed Williamsburg, in honor of the current English king, William III.

For the 350th anniversary in 1957, Jamestown itself was the site of renewed interest and a huge celebration. The National Park Service provided new access with the completion of the Colonial Parkway which led to Williamsburg, home of the restored capital of Colonial Williamsburg, and then on to Yorktown, the other two portions of Colonial Virginia's Historic Triangle. Major projects such as the Jamestown Festival Park were developed by non-profit, state and federal agencies. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and Prince Philip attended. The 1957 event was a great success. Tourism became continuous with attractions regularly updated and enhanced.

During 2007, Jamestown commemorated America's 400th Anniversary, with new accommodations, transportation facilities and attractions. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip joined America's festivities on an official state visit to Jamestown in May, 2007.

I continue to be fascinated with the history of our marvelous country and found this area to add greatly to my knowledge of our early days in North America.

14 O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14 (KJV)

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Williamsburg a must for history buffs

I had always wanted to go to Williamsburg, but must tell you from the offset that I was disappointed at the beginning I was going to see. First, I felt the rebuilt community was somewhat artificial, but later saw how much the city fathers had sought to restore the city to what it was originally.

The Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg stretches over 301 acres, and includes 88 original 18th-century structures. Hundreds of houses, shops and public outbuildings are reconstructed on their original foundations. Some buildings are open to the public, while others are private residences and administrative offices. A flag at a building's entrance indicates that the site is open

Mere brick and mortar contained the combustion of ideas that were catalyst to the American Revolution. The opulent Governor's Palace was the embodiment of British order in the colonies. The Capitol was witness to the vote for America's move to independence. We entered into this building and hear a lecture on the times it was active and found he really knew what he was talking about and listened intently to his information.

We went through the homes viewing the furnishings with knowledgeable costumed interpreters making history surround us. We even saw where Virginia's first signer of the Declaration of Independence, George Wythe, slept.

In the 18th century, Williamsburg’s taverns provided comfortable lodgings for travelers but today, Colonial Williamsburg’s historic dining taverns carry on these traditions by providing a relaxed and comfortable setting for diners to experience some of the flavor of the 18th century—through atmosphere, entertainments, and food.

As you walked the same streets as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Patrick Henry— you imaged walking alongside them.

Due to my inability to walk I rented a wheelchair and was wheeled about my Jean Lowe, who with Jim, whom we had traveled with for a long trip to Virginia. As we slowingly spaced our way saw practicing tradesmen make Colonial Williamsburg a living town, ringing with clanging hammers and tinged with the smoke of industry.

Nearly half way through the area we heard a preacher preaching. We stopped and listened for awhile thinking this was part of the tour. Then we saw his shirt and two fellows with him were from a local church. He was calling for a return to the convictions of the early era of the village.

It was very hot so we found a place where we could get out of the sun and eat as well. It was one of the buildings that belonged to the 18th century and the food reflected that period. The servers were also dressed for that period and a man visited each table with some historical information.

Williamsburg was originally known as Middle Plantation, a 1632 fortified settlement located on high ground on the Peninsula between the James and York rivers, it was renamed Williamsburg after the capital of the Virginia Colony was moved there from Jamestown in 1698. The town received a royal charter as a city in 1722, and was the center of political events in Virginia leading to the American Revolution.

Colonial Williamsburg is also know for the College of William & Mary, established in 1693, the second-oldest university in the United States. The Historic Triangle of Virginia, which also includes Jamestown and Yorktown, is among the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with Williamsburg located in the center. The three are linked by the National Park Service's Colonial Parkway, a 23 mile-long National Scenic Byway which is carefully shielded from views of commercial development.

Prior to the arrival of the English colonists at Jamestown in the Colony of Virginia in 1607, the area which became Williamsburg was largely wooded. It was well within the territory of the Native American group known as the Powhatan Confederacy. In the early colonial period, the navigable rivers were the equivalent of modern highways. For ease of travel, and security from conflicts with the Native Americans, early colonial settlements were established close by the rivers.

Jamestown was the original capital of Virginia Colony, but was burned down during the events of Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. As soon as Governor William Berkeley regained control, temporary headquarters for the government to function were established about 12 miles away on the high ground at Middle Plantation, whilst the Statehouse at Jamestown was rebuilt. The members of the House of Burgesses discovered that the 'temporary' location was both safer and more pleasant environmentally than Jamestown, which was humid and plagued with mosquitoes.

At the outset of the American Civil War (1861–1865), enlistments in the Confederate Army depleted the student body of the College of William and Mary and on May 10, 1861 the faculty voted to close the College for the duration of the conflict. The College Building was used as a Confederate barracks and later as a hospital, first by Confederate and later by Union forces.

At the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862 the defenders succeeded in delaying the Union forces long enough for the retreating Confederates to reach the outer defenses of Richmond.

In the early 20th century, one of the largest historic restorations ever undertaken in the US was championed by the Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin of Williamsburg's Bruton Parish Church. Initially, Dr Goodwin had just aimed to save his historic church building. This he accomplished by 1907, in time for the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Episcopal Church in Virginia. However, upon returning to Williamsburg in 1923 after serving a number of years in upstate New York, he realized that many of the other colonial-era buildings which remained were also in deteriorating condition: their survival was at stake.

Goodwin dreamed of a much larger restoration along the lines of what he had accomplished with his historic church. A cleric of modest means, he sought support and financing from a number of sources before successfully attracting the interest and major financial support of Standard Oil heir and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.

I really enjoyed the old church and visited a number of the graves, mainly because some of those early members were named Tucker which was the name of my grandmother. Interestingly, I had their genealogy on my Tucker database.

Today, Colonial Williamsburg is Virginia's largest tourist attraction a century after Dr. Goodwin's work began, this masterpiece of Virginia and United States history remains a remarkable work-in-progress.