Jamestown to Yorktown
27 April 2012
April 26, 2012
Installment one- the early days and the Revolution
Two days ago we decided to take a road trip and do a couple of nights on terra firma. The idea was to stop at some history sites and basically get out of the boat for a night or two. This started what I now must admit was the first time in my life I achieved museum overdose. Day one was a short trip to the very beginnings of European history on the Continent. Armed with my handy dandy Senior Pass from the National Parks Service we got underway around 0900. The first stop was Jamestown which I mentioned before occurred 13 years before Plymouth.
Jamestown- established 1607 was actually a commercial enterprise under the charter granted by James I to whip over to the new land and set up a colony. They arrived (all 104 of the survivors of the little cruise) on May 13 and promptly started to die off. Seems someone forgot to mention that drinking brackish water ,feeding the local bugs intravenously, and not subscribing to Rosetta Stone software to learn the local language was not a good thing. Now here is where the real Capt. John Smith and the local cutie Pocahontas whipped up some legends. Back to the survival story- folks kept booking passage for the new world and yet by the summer only 60 of the 300 were still alive. Settlements of a couple dozen folks were set up around the original fort and settlement on James Island. Ok, so the locals (that would be the first Americans) tried to get along and deal with the new folks but things went downhill and when the discourse turned to snuffing out 347 settlers in 1622 the Crown decides to revoke the charter. After all a full one third of the settlers either starved or were used as target practice for arrows, spears and axes. In short, from 1607 on the settlement was a study in survival. As the tee shirt says, “Jamestown, 1607, When surviving wasn’t a game”. Like all such early colonies, this is a story of great spirit and dedication. The British flag flies over old fort grounds and Queen Elizabeth actually visited the place. There is an active archaeological effort in place to discover more graves and features of the place.
There is a very nice history trail called the Colonial Parkway which runs from Jamestown, through Williamsburg to Yorktown. Along the way, there are markers to show where folks did stuff. The next stop was Williamsburg. One could spend a few days there just walking around the “living history” part. There is a section that is about a mile by one half of original buildings where folks dress in period clothes, speak the language of the day and demonstrate life as it was. They won’t acknowledge any events beyond the era. One will not see watches or electronics. We drove around the old town and then got back on the Colonial Trail toward Yorktown. It is a short distance but if one stops to read all the markers, it takes an hour or so to get to Yorktown along the York River. Yorktown was under siege two times in its history: once by General Washington and a French General Comte Jena Baptist de Rochambeau against Lord Cornwallis in 1781 and once by Union General McClellan against Confederate Major General Magruder in 1862. Without the French blockade of the entrance to the Chesapeake, the final victory would not have happened. So there, we do own something to the French after all.
Needless to say, a former Infantry officer can appreciate the fortifications, the distances between muskets and the valor that must have been displayed by both sides. Methinks that Lord Cornwallis diminished his honor a bit by ordering a subordinate to surrender his sword. This was the last battle of the Revolutionary War and yet General Washington maintained a standing army until the formal end at the Treaty of Paris some two years later 1783. The end of hostilities was not permanent since three decades later the British came at us again. Standing on that field was definitely worth the effort to get there.
Next installment is about the Civil War. Day one saw us visiting three museums. I should say that Bear and Scurv enjoyed the wonderful weather whilst I stumbled around.