Jamestown, home of the first permanent English settlement in the New World;
Williamsburg, Virginia's capital from 1698 to 1780; and
Yorktown, where the last major battle of the American Revolution was fought in 1781.
For the kids, a major aspect of the trip was the fact that we were staying in a hotel.
Jamestown, founded in May 1607, followed at least eighteen failed attempts to establish an English settlement in the New World. Its settlers arrived on three small ships: Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery. These ships are featured on Virginia's commemorative quarter, and there are replicas of them at Jamestown Settlement.
The Virginia Company followed the first voyage with three supply missions. The last one, with seven ships, had famous connections. Its flagship Sea Venture's captain was Christopher Newport, who had been captain of Susan Constant on the 1607 sailing. The sailors encountered a violent storm near Bermuda, which was uninhabited and still unknown to the English. The fleet was scattered, and Sea Venture was wrecked.
Most scholars believe that this storm inspired Shakespeare's play Tempest.
Stranded on Bermuda, the crew spent nine months building two new ships from local materials and from what they could salvage from the wrecks. During this time, people were born and died there. Among those buried on Bermuda are John Rolfe's first wife and daughter. Captain Rolfe established tobacco as a trade crop in Virginia, successfully challenging what was then Spain's monopoly.
Rolfe also became involved with a Powhatan girl who had three or four names. She was named Amonute at birth, later earned the name Matoaka. Her people believed that if an enemy knew your name he could harm you, so she was introduced to the English traders as Pocahontas, a childhood nickname. She later acquired an English name; we'll get to that.
American school children have always learned how Pocahontas saved the life of Captain John Smith when she was about ten years old. This was the beginning of a lifelong infatuation for her. When Smith was badly injured and had to return to England for medical care, the local Indians were told he had died.
Relations between the English and the Powhatan became hostile, and Pocahontas was captured and held for ransom. She was captive for about a year. In that time, she learned English and converted to Christianity, taking the name Rebecca. She married John Rolfe, who took her to London, where King James I welcomed her as visiting royalty.
While she was in England, Pocahontas learned that John Smith was still alive, causing her great anguish. He was in no condition to start a family, so her marriage was in no danger; but she became a very unhappy woman indeed. With John Rolfe and their son Thomas, she was set to return to Virginia when she came down with a disease that proved terminal. She died in Gravesend and was buried there at St. George's Church. When the church burned in 1727, the location of her grave was lost. There is a monument near the right spot, but the whereabouts of her remains has been lost.
Edith Bolling Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson
Richard Byrd, polar explorer
Harry Flood Byrd, U.S, Senator and Governor of Virginia; Richard Byrd's elder brother
Edward Norton, American actor and filmmaker
These are documented, direct descendants of Pocahontas. Their lines of descent are shown in a companion article. That article also discusses the relationship, if any, that many other claimed "descendants" have to Pocahontas.
Godspeed's captain was Bartholomew Gosnold, whose name is well-known in New England history.
The Powhatan tribe didn't really live on Jamestown Island, as this reproduction would seem to imply. They were smarter than the newcomers in many ways. The swampy island was plagued with mosquitoes and brackish, un-drinkable water. Also, there were few deer of bear to hunt; these animals preferred the mainland, where they had plenty of room to move around.
The totems reminded me of our trip to L'Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland, in 2003.
The first encounters between the English and the Powhatan were not friendly. Of necessity, the settlers quickly built James Fort.
From time to time, skirmishes erupted between the settlers and the Indians. During these times, the seat of government was usually moved to Middle Plantation, a better-fortified place about halfway between the James and York Rivers.
In 1698, the state house at Jamestown burned down, and the capital was moved for good.
Middle Plantation's location was chosen because of the good farm land in the area, and as a defensive anchor for the colonists from England. The site is near College Creek, which drains into the James River; and Queen Creek, tributary to the York River. A palisade was built between the two creeks, effectively sealing off the lower Virginia Peninsula. In this way, a six-mile fence protected a peninsula that was ten miles wide. This fence was an integral part of Middle Plantation's layout.
Within the newly secured town, a college was founded in 1693. It was named for Britain's monarchs, William III and Mary II. After Harvard, this is the oldest institution of higher learning in America today.
When Jamestown's state house burned in 1698, government was relocated to Middle Plantation, as it had been before. Aside from the better climate and good supply of water, the lawmakers now had the use of the college's buildings. This time, they decided to stay, building a new capital and renaming the city for King William III (Mary II died before the name change).
After the capital was moved to Richmond in 1780, Williamsburg slowly reverted to a very sleepy town. But many of the colonial buildings survived, and an ambitious restoration was begun in 1926, funded substantially by the Rockefeller family.
There's a unicorn guarding the gate.
Carriage tours are available. They begin and end beneath the Compton Oak, on the lawn behind the courthouse.
The original hangs in Buckingham Palace. William, the namesake of Williamsburg, assumed the throne when James II died, ruling jointly with James's daughter Mary II. Also in Williamsburg, the College of William and Mary was founded during their reign.
Re-enactors perform all along Duke of Gloucester Street throughout the afternoon. We saw scenes from the American Revolution. This lady is distraught because the British have taken her husband prisoner and she doesn't know where he is. Also, she has no way to make a living, so she wanders the streets begging.
Slaves debate the pros and cons of fighting with the British, who have offered them freedom as a recruitment incentive. But they're not sure the offer is genuine, and there is always the possibility that the British will not win the war. What then?
Recruiting for the Continental Army. After the new soldiers were mustered in, the whole crowd followed them down to the court house, where we heard one last speech and watched the men march off to war.
As a practical matter, the American Revolution ended here in October 1781. These trenches are near the British lines at the scene of the last major battle in America's War of Independence. Here, George Washington's army defeated that of General Charles Cornwallis. Cornwallis tried to retreat across the York River to Gloucester, but treacherous weather made even that humiliation impossible.
If the George Coleman Memorial Bridge had been there in 1781, Cornwallis might have had an easier time of it.
There is a much larger version of this photo here.
Early in October 1781, French and American forces closed their grip on the besieged British army in Yorktown and bombarded the town with their combined artillery. Incessant shellfire drove townspeople to seek shelter under the bluff and forced the British commander, Lord Cornwallis, to move his headquarters to a nearby cave. The end came quickly with the British surrender on 19 October. Yorktown returned to peace, but never to its former prosperity.
The American general on the white horse is Benjamin Lincoln. Lord Cornwallis feigned illness to avoid the ceremony, sending his second in command, Charles O'Hara, to surrender to the Americans. Rather than accept Cornwallis' sword from him — a snub — Washington designated his own second in command for that job. Washington is on a brown horse in the background.
The faces of the French officers in the left flank and the Americans on the right are painted from life. Trumbull travelled extensively for two years to get all the sittings he needed, including a trip to Paris where he painted the French officers in Thomas Jefferson's house. The artist's brother Jonathan Trumbull is fifth from left in the right side of the painting. He was Washington's personal secretary, and was the only man to serve as governor of both a British colony and an American state (Connecticut).
The scene of the Battle of Yorktown, viewed from behind the British lines.
There is a much larger version of this photo here.
He saw the town's rise in the early part of the 18th century.
If he lived there today, he'd have a good view of the monument that commemorates Washington's victory here in 1781.
The provisional Articles of Peace concluded November 30 1782
and the definitive Treaty of Peace concluded September 3 1783
between the United States of America
and George III King of Great Britain and Ireland
His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States
viz New Hampshire Massachusetts Bay Rhode Island and
Providence Plantations Connecticut New York
New Jersey Pennsylvania Delaware Maryland Virginia North Carolina
South Carolina and Georgia to be free sovereign and independent States.