Monday, May 13, 2013

York River: Historic Yorktown Part 1

 


York River at Yorktown

The second primary British highway into Virginia after the James River, the York River forms the northern boundary of the Virginia Peninsula before flowing into Chesapeake Bay north of the mouth of the James. Population spreading out from Jamestown quickly flowed up the York shortly after starting to spread along the James River.

Yorktown was established as a port town in 1691 due to its strategic location and natural harbor, and flourished through the mid-eighteenth century when it reached a peak of 250-300 buildings and a population of almost two thousand people. But the geography that built its success also doomed it.

In 1781, British General Lord Charles Cornwallis established a naval base at Yorktown, which the American and French forces promptly laid siege to in what became the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. The town suffered much damage in the process. The "Great Fire" of 1814 destroyed the waterfront as well as the courthouse and some of the homes on Main Street. Then in 1862, Yorktown suffered its second siege and battle during the Peninsula Campaign, and became a base for US General George McClellan's Army of the Potomac.

Homes and public buildings were built atop a bluff along Main Street, while wharves, warehouses, small stores, and taverns lined the waterfront on the York River. The historic section of Main Street is similar to Colonial Williamsburg in that it has become a pedestrian historical park in the midst of a modern town, except on a smaller scale.

Historic Yorktown is part of the Colonial National Historical Park, which also includes the Yorktown Battlefield and the Augustine Moore House where the surrender of the British Army was negotiated.

To see National Park Service historical pictures of Yorktown, click here and here.



Historic Main Street in Yorktown


The Carrot Tree Restaurant is located in the Cole Digges House. Cole Digges (1691-1744), a prominent merchant and member of the Governor's Council, built the house in the 1720's and also had two small shops on the lot with a warehouse on the waterfront. His Yorktown properties were inherited by his son, Dudley Digges. Cole Digges was the son of Councillor Dudley Digges and grandson of Governor Edward Digges.

Cole Digges House

Dudley Digges lived in his father's house for a time, then built this house on Main Street. He served as Lieutenant Governor to his neighbor, Governor Thomas Nelson.

The Dudley Digges House serves as the home of the superintendent of Colonial National Historic Park.




 
Cannonball damage to the Dudley Digges house during the 1781 Siege of Yorktown.
 



 
1834 painting "View of Yorktown" showing the Revolutionary War damage.
 
 
Arrow at far left points to Dudley Diggs House.




Old Custom House


The Nelson Family

The Nelson family of Virginia was headed by Thomas ("Scotch Tom") Nelson, 1677-1745. Scotch Tom emigrated from England in 1705, settling on Main Street where he built the Nelson House about 1730. Scotch Tom was a prosperous merchant with a store on Main Street and a warehouse with it's own wharf on the waterfront.

Scotch Tom's son President William Nelson (1711-1772) married Elizabeth Burwell and built an H-shaped home diagonally across Main Street from his father. William Nelson served as justice of the York court and Burgess from Yorktown before being appointed to the royal council by the King, of which he was president for a time.



The William Nelson House Site across (on the river side of Main) the street from the Thomas Nelson Jr. House. The house was destroyed in the 1814 fire.


Continue to Part 2: Nelson House and Gardens, Waterfront






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