GUIDE TO THE YORKTOWN PENINSULA -- RICHMOND -- JAMES RIVER -- NORFOLK
WILLIAMSBURG This ancient city is built at the upper extremity of the Yorktown peninsula, and in fact makes a part of it, one of its streets dividing the counties of York and James City, some of the houses being built in each shire. It is, however, the county town of James City county. Its population by the census of 1880 was 1480, of whom 879 white and 601 colored. It is distant about fifty-eight miles from Richmond, twelve from Yorktown, sixty-eight from Norfolk, and seven from Jamestown. It is built upon a ridge of land, or rather table plain, of some elevation, about half way between the York and James rivers, which are respectively about five miles distant. Two creeks, which empty their placid waters into these large rivers, flow within two miles of either side of the town. It became the seat of government of Virginia in 1698, under the rule of Francis Nicholson, an old worthy, who combined excellent taste with arbitrary notions of rule and a temper not of the most conciliating or agreeable order. Formerly the abode of high dignitaries and gentry of the province, it maintained its importance until the capital was transferred to Richmond in May, 1779, upon which it gradually lost its population and its consequence ; but it still retains an air of serene and antique dignity, which renders it one of the most interesting remains of the colon ial period—perhaps unique in its almost entire absence from the innovations of modern civilization. Its site on the backbone of the peninsula renders it more salubrious than other towns in this part of Virginia, which have from earliest days been noted for a peculiar malaria arising from the low marshy grounds, which seizes upon the unacclimated with unerring and relentless grip. Two roads now connect it with the James river, at the foot of each of which are landings; of the main road at King's Mills, five miles distant, and of the other at the Grove lower down the peninsula, and seven miles distant. There are wharves at the King's Mills, but no buildings. At the Grove there still remains a fine old mansion once the residence of the Burwells, an old Virginia family, the tombs of many of whom are to be found in an enclosure near by. The property has since changed owners. This house is well worth a visit. The large size of its halls, the profusion of hand carving in its ornamentation, and the extent of the wainscoting, which in the main story covers the walls from the surbase to the ceiling, and the wide fireplaces, attest the state of its owners, and show that hospitality was easy with such environment. On the other side of the town a drive of six miles leads to Bigelow's Mills. Here also the buildings are down, only a chimney remaining, and there is no longer a landing on this stream until Yorktown itself is reached. The country which connects it with Yorktown is less monotonous than at the extremity of the peninsula. There are more elevations and a richer cultivation. Oak and hickory abound, and the roads are lined with hedges of cedar. But the rivers are not visible from the habitations, though a fine view may be had of both the York and James from the top of the highest public buildings.
The city is of peculiar construction, and differs from any other on the continent in many particulars. The original purpose was to lay it out in an alphabetical form, the streets being opened to form a monogram of the letters W and M, in honor of William and Mary, the reigning sovereigns, though this has not been strictly conformed to except in the main arteries. The main street, which bears the lordly name of Duke of Gloucester street, runs east and west, dividing the town into two parts, and forms the central line of the monogramatic figure. Some faint idea of the original plan may be detected by those who know, in the angular junctures of the streets which project from the head of this main artery, but it does not appear to the uninstructed. Indeed, the plan was abandoned as impracticable. The Duke of Gloucester street is a magnificent avenue, three-quarters of a mile long and one hundred and sixty feet wide, perfectly straight and level, and skirted on either side with rows of fine old trees. It was never intended to progress further, being faced at each end in the old time by an imposing structure. At its head at the east end of the street was the old capitol building. Two buildings of this name have stood on the same site. The first, erected in the earlier days of the colony, was built in the form of the letter H, with a portico in the middle. A cupola surmounted the edifice. Destroyed by fire in 1746, it was replaced by a second structure, which was the scene of many stirring events in the Stamp Act troubles, and in the uprising of 1775. Here Patrick Henry electrified the continent with his half-expressed regicidal threat. It was destroyed by fire in 1832. On the site of the capitol a Female Academy was erected, which was quite a flourishing institution before the late war, but has since been destroyed. The ruins of this building still remain. Near the capitol stood the Clerk's House, connected with the House of Burgesses, which is now, with additions, used as a residence. From behind the capitol grounds York street runs out at an angle and leads to Yorktown.
At the opposite western end of the Duke of Gloucester street, and directly fronting the capitol grounds at the other extremity, stands William and Mary, the oldest college in America, with the exception of Harvard. Founded in the reign of William and Mary, it has been the chief seat of learning in the Old Dominion, and from it were graduated nearly all of the great men who won for Virginia the name of Mother of Statesmen and of Presidents. The history of the liberal professions is full of the record of their eminence. The charter of the institution was obtained in 1693 by the Crown upon the personal appeal to Queen Mary of James Blair, who was delegated to visit England for the purpose by the Colonial Assembly, and King William gave "out of the quit-rents" two thousand pounds sterling towards the erection of the buildings. The college was then endowed in the same liberal manner by contributions from England, and the Assembly levied special taxes for the purpose. The first building was the Brafferton House, on the College Green. The original building, modeled by Sir Christopher Wren, was entirely destroyed by fire in 1705, with its library and philosophical apparatus, but a new building was commenced as early as when Spotswood was Governor in 1710, but not finished till 1719. No view remains of the first building, but it is believed to have been reconstructed on the original plan. It was described in 1729 as having a double front, one hundred and thirty-six feet in length; at the north end a large wing ran back, and a handsome hall, which was later matched on the other side by a chapel. This old chapel, erected in 1732, became the burial place of the magnates of the colony. Bishop Meade compared Williamsburg to the Court of St. James, and the chapel and parish church to Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's. A second building, facing the first, known as the President's House, was erected in 1732. This was partially burned in 1781 by the French troops on their march to Yorktown, an accident munificently atoned for by Louis the Sixteenth, who rebuilt it after the war and presented to it a library of several hundred volumes. In 1797 a statue of Lord Botetourt, a warm friend of the college, was erected on the College Green. In 1859 the college was again, a third time, destroyed by fire, its records, old seal and portraits being rescued by President Ewell, but within a year new buildings were already completed on the old site, though on a new plan. In 1861 the principal building was fired by a straggling body of Union cavalry and destroyed, but in 1865, at the close of the war, with the aid of distinguished Englishmen and liberal contributions from citizens of the Northern States, repairs were begun, the college reopened, and in the year 1869 the main building was restored and the Faculty reorganized. It is safe to pre-dict that with the regeneration of the peninsula, which will inevitably follow its increased facilities of communication with the North and South, William and Mary will recover its old rank among American colleges. In the vaults beneath the college chapel lie the remains of Lord Botetourt, the well-beloved Governor to whom the colony erected a statue, which, after various undeserved ill-treatment, is to be seen in the college grounds. Here also repose the bones of John Randolph, Attorney General of the Old Dominion, and 01 Peyton Randolph, President of the First Continental Congress. On the entry of Cornwallis into Williamsburg, on his retreat to Yorktown, the President's house was occupied by President Madison and his wife, who were summarily ejected to provide headquarters for the British General. It is charitable to suppose that the noble Earl, who was not indifferent to letters, was actuated by a desire to preserve the buildings from the ruin which would probably have befallen them from his unscrupulous soldiery, with whom rapine and destruction was the rule, and not the exception. This building escaped the fire which destroyed the principal building in 1861. Behind the college grounds is the fork at which the two roads diverge, one, the stage road, leading to Richmond; the other, a country road, to Jamestown. At the close of the last century, when stages were the only mode of conveyance, the time consumed in the journey to Richmond was fifteen hours. Leaving at eight o'clock in the morning, the weary passengers were not delivered at their destination until eleven at night of the same day.
At the northern extremity of the town on Scotland street, and near the western angle of the Palace Green, was the old colonial palace of the Governors of the Dominion. It is said to have been "a magnificent structure furnished and beautified with gates, fine gardens, offices, walks, a fine canal, orchards," and over the building a "good cupola or lantern illuminating most of the town." When it was destroyed is not known. That which became famous in the days of the Revolution, and was generally styled Lord Dunmore's Palace, was an edifice with a front of seventy-four feet and a depth of sixty-eight, and the grounds three hundred and sixty acres in area, were beautifully laid out. In the reception room were portraits of the King and Queen. The wings were still standing at the time of the last war, but were torn down by the Union troops for the bricks, with which barracks were erected. On the foundation of the old building now stands the Grammar and Mattie school. Whence the latter name, no local antiquary has information. The school was endowed by one Mrs. Mary Wha'ey, before the Revolution, and is devoted to the education of poor boys; but no building was put up until 1870, when the college assumed control of the funds which had before been managed by the church wardens, and the benevolent intentions of the founders were, after a century of delay, finally carried out.
On the Palace Green stands the old residence of Chancellor Wythe; a stately building which Washington made his headquarters in September, 1781, when he visited the camp of Lafayette in advance of the allied army who were already in motion by land and water to force the Yorktown stronghold where Cornwallis lay penned in his lair. It is a large two-story building, fronting on the long, narrow common. By whom erected is now a matter of some doubt, but from its construction it probably antedates the entrance of George Wythe (from whom it now takes its name) into the Virginia House of Burgesses. Above the centre of the main street, also on the north side, there is a still more extensive common, known as the Court House Green. Here, behind a triple row of magnificent trees, elms, maples and aspens which face upon the green, stand four houses, three of which colonial, and the homes of distinguished Virginia families, magnates in their day. One, the old residence of William Wirt, now occupied by Dr. Charles Washington Coleman; another, the Peachy house, has now passed from their hands. That of the Carys, who had residences also at Alexandria and Carisbrook, has been burned; and a third, of greatest interest, was the home of Edmund Randolph, Washington's Secretary of State, from whom it passed to his kinsman, St. George Tucker, then to Beverley Tucker; it still remains in the Tucker family. To the papers of St. George Tucker, masses of which are preserved in this ancestral home, recently investigated by George Washington Coleman, Jr., a young scion of this distinguished stock, is owing the discovery of the location of Washington's headquarters, and there is reason to hope that additional clues found in the same documents may lead to the discovery of those occupied by Lafayette and Rochambeau.
At the corner of the Duke of Gloucester Street and the Palace Green is Christ Church, Bruton Parish, now the oldest church in use in Virginia, the Isle of Wight church alone being of earlier construction. It is built of dull red bricks, alternately glazed, and has high arched windows, and three oriel windows in addition, all of plain-glass. The church is cruciform, and it has still preserved through all the vicissitudes of time and circumstance the old communion service vessels given by Queen Anne and King George, consisting of a gold cup and pitcher and a silver chalice. There are two mural tablets. In the churchyard contiguous lie the remains of a long line of the dignitaries and aristocracy of the Colony. Among them are those of the Brays, Millingtons, of Governor Nott of the Dominion, of the Blairs, Ludwells, Sir Th unas Lunsford, and others, some famous in their day and generation, but forgotten, others well remembered. Many are covered by handsome tombs with armorial bearings and quaint devices and inscriptions. These tombs are not of solid stone but of a hard concrete. Most of them are broken as if by the action of lightning.
On the square fronting on the main street is an octagonal structure of brick, with a high pointed roof, known as the Old Magazine or the Powder Horn. It was built by Gov ernor Alexander Spotswood in 1716, and was designed for the storage of ammunition for his famous exploring expedition over the Blue Ridge Mountains with the bold band who assumed the name of the Knights of the Golden Horse Shoe. It is now used as a stable. The removal of the powder from the magazine by Lord Dunmore, as did similar attempts in Massachusetts and New York, aroused the people, who, with Patrick Henry at their head, marched upon the city. Dunmore shortly fled to Portsmouth and sought protection from the British vessels on the station.
Important among the modern buildings is the Virginia Eastern Lunatic Asylum, the lofty towers of which afford an extensive view of the peninsula. It stands on Francis Street. It was in the grounds of this institution that the statue of Lord Botetourt found safety as a refugee during the late war, at the close of which it was returned to its original site in front of the college grounds. Nearly on the same street is the Six Chimney lot, the former home of Martha Washington.
Near Williamsburg, and to the westward up the peninsula, is Green Spring, once the residence of Sir William Berkeley, the site of which is now covered by a new building. Seven miles below Williamsburg, in the direction of Yorktown, and near the York River, are still to be seen the remains of a small brick building, built for a hunting lodge by the Earl of Dunmore, the last Colonial Governor of the colony. A rather amusing incident attaches itself to this dignitary, and also throws some light upon the misapprehension in England as to the American war. Such was the confidence of the friends of Administration in the ability and power of Cornwallis to conquer the southern States, and restore the authority of the King, that Dunmore was already on his return to take possession of the palace from which he had been ignominiously driven, and was bringing with him, not only his plate and furniture, but a kennel of hounds for his favorite pastime, when he heard of the capture of Cornwallis, the overthrow of the British dominion in Virginia, and its approaching collapse in all the States.
All the streets of Williamsburg bear ancient names. King, Queen, Prince George, Henry, Botetourt, Nassau, Colonial, Scotland, England, Francis, Waller, Nicholson and York are among the chief of the high or by-ways, all subordinate to the great central avenues. There are now two hotels in Williamsburg, the City Hotel, kept by Mr. Bowry, and the Merchants' House, kept by Mr. Dickinson, each of which will accommodate about thirty people in a plain manner.
Hitherto Williamsburg has only been accessible by the highways already mentioned, or by stages from the river landings, but before the Centennial ceremonies open the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad will have earned a right to its name by connecting the western river with the bay. The terminus of this new construction will be at Newport News, from which branch tracks will be laid to Williamsburg and to Yorktown.
This building, which figures in Washington's journal of the siege of Yorktown, is, as its name indicates, half way be tween York and Williamsburg. Here is the point where the French and American troops separated on their march from the camp at Williamsburg to the investment of York. The French continued on the main road, while the Americans, filing off to the right, moved on the southern road. It is an humble frame building, and for many years was used as a store-house, but is now a residence, and in decent condition.
The town of York, or Yorktown, as it is now generally called, lies on the York river, about twelve miles from its mouth. It is distant from Williamsburg twelve miles. Opposite, to the northward, on the other side of the stream, which is here about two-thirds of a mile wide, is Gloucester, the shire town of the county of that name. Above and below the tongue of land on which it is situated, the river expands to a width of two miles. These towns are respectively about seventy miles distant from Richmond, the the capital, and thirty-six from Portsmouth and Norfolk, the first of which was, in the last century, and the second is now, the chief seaport of the State. York was one of the original counties into which Virginia was divided in 1634. Its situation, on the bank of the beautiful river, elevated about thirty feet above the water-line, is extremely picturesque. Perched on a high cliff and surrounded by earthworks, the relics of two sieges, it reminds one of some river castle of the middle-ages, with its donjon-keep and walled fortifications, protecting the petty bourg within and dominating the stream. The country between it and Hampton, at the foot of the peninsula, is, with the exception of two or three slight elevations, absolutely flat. York was established as a town in 1705, and laid out in streets by Mr. Thomas Nelson, the founder of the Virginia family of that name, who emigrated from Penrith, Scotland. He is familiarly known in history as "Scotch Tom." Originally the town was well enough built, but time and two wars have left but little even of ruin to attract attention. Before the revolution it had all the commerce of Virginia, and loaded six or seven vessels every year for England with tobacco. The transfer of the seat of government from its neighbor, Williamsburg, to Richmond, and the siege, gave York a fatal blow, and at the close of the last century its population had dwindled to «ight hundred souls, of which two-thirds were blacks. Since the late war it has still further declined. The census of 1880 reported it at 250 all told, of which 87 white and 163 colored.
The little town, which contained not more than sixty buildings, strung sparsely along a single street, was terribly dilapidated by the siege of 1781. The houses, some of which were quite elegant, were literally honey-combed by the balls. The troops found the town in dire confusion, rich furniture and costly books were scattered about the streets, and bodies of men and carcasses of horses lay neglected in every direction, half buried in the ground, which was thrown into mounds by the force" of the shells, so that it was hard to find a spot where a man could have been in safety from the searching fire of the allied batteries. The most important residence in the town was the house then recently constructed by Secretary Thomas Nelson. Jr., who had a few months previously succeeded Jefferson as Governor of Virginia, and was now present with the army of Washington in command of the militia of the State. It is of tradition that the oatriotic gentleman, presuming that his house would afford shelter to the British officers, offered a reward of five guineas to every gunner who should strike it with his fire. When the Duke de Rochefoucauld visited the town in 1796, he found hardly any of the remains of the batteries visible, or of the parallels, or even of the two redoubts which the French and Americans carried in such brilliant manner. Some of the British entrenchments, in advance of the town, could be more easily distinguished. The Nelson house still showed the marks of the balls, which had pierced it through and through, and the ground about it was all torn up in great holes by shell. The Nelson house was once more a scene of surpassing interest in 1824, when Lafayette, in his last visit to this country, made it his headquarters. Here he was entertained with old Virginian hospitality. On this occasion a curious incident occurred. In making the preparations for his reception, a box of candles, black with age, was discovered, marked Cornwallis' Stores, to the light of which the company danced till they were burned out. A few were preserved, some of which were presented to Colonel Nicholas Fish, of which one was given by his son, the Hon. Hamilton Fish, to the Metropolitan Sanitary Fair, and sold for its benefit. Others will no doubt throw light on the approaching Centennial. The Nelson house, built of brick, the massive construction of which has enabled it to withstand the ravages of time, is still in the possession of the family, and will no doubt play an important part in the approaching ceremonies of the Centennial. A hole made by the cannon ball near the roof is still visible. The interior has been much defaced. The balustrade around the staircase was entirely destroyed by the Federal troops, during the late war, whose desire to secure historical souvenirs too often took the form of Vandalism, and the wainscoting is badly damaged. After the disaster of Big Bethel the Nelson house served as a hospital for the wounded Union troops captured by the Confederates. When Lossing visited it, while engaged upon his Field Book of the Revolution in 1848, he was enabled to distinguish the lines cast up by the British on the south and easterly sides of the town. They extended in irregular lines from the river bank to the sloping grounds in the rear of the village, toward the Pigeon quarter, in the form of the figure V. The mounds varied in height from six to twelve and fifteen feet; The redoubts and the lines of the parallels were also visible. The old Nelson house, in which Cornwallis had his headquarters, is no longer stand ing. It was on an elevated situation, at some distance from the house occupied by Secretary Nelson, and which still remains. There is a tradition, which Lossing accepts as true, that Cornwallis was driven by the heat of the American ire to take refuge in a cave in the bluff on the river bankHere, in an excavation in the bank, lined with green baize, he held council with his officers. The bona fide cave is about a quarter of a mile below that which is pointed out as Cornwallis' Cave. This is in a marll bluff in the river bank; a chamber, twelve by eighteen feet in size, with a narrow passage leading to smaller excavations. It was nearly at the termination of the trench and breastwork of the British fortifications, which were still prominent, at the time of his visit, on the bank above, but the correctness of the site he entirely discredits. The town was reduced to forty dwellings at this period. Chief among these was then the ancient Swan tavern, the oldest inn of Virginia. This has disappeared, and on its site an ordinary frame building has been erected, which is known as the York Tavern or Bent's Hotel. The only other public house is Clarke's Hotel, an old brick building. The two together have about a dozen rooms, and cannot accommodate over twenty guests.
The field of the surrender of the army of Cornwallis is about half a mile from the eastern limit of the town on the south side of the road which leads to Hampton. Trumbull who in 1787 took the portraits of the French officers at the house of Jefferson, Minister at Versailles, with whom
he was then residing at Paris, visited Yorktown in 1791, and made the sketch of the place of surrender which appears in the great picture in the rotunda of the Capitol at Washington.
A key appended to the picture, numbered from its left to its right, the most prominent figure being General Lincoln in the centre of the field, gives the following numbers and names —no doubt in the order of their appearance on the occasion.
1. Count Deux Ponts, Colonel of French Infantry; 2. Duke DE Lavai. Montmorency, Colonel of French Infantry; 3. Count CysTine, Colonel of French Infantry; 4. Duke DE Lauzun, Colonel of French Cavalry; 5. General Choisy; 6. Viscount Viomenii.; 7. Marquis De Saint Simon; 8. Count Fersen, Aid-ae-Camp of Count Rochambeau; 9. Count Charles Damas, Aid-de-Camp of Count Rochambeau; 10. Marquis Chastellux; Ii. Baron Viomenil; 12. Count DE BArrAS, Admiral; 13 Count DE Grasse, Admiral; 14. Count RoChambeau, General en chef des Francois; 15. General Lincoln; 16. Colonel E. Sievens, of American Artillery; 17. General Washington, Commander-in-Chief; 18. Thomas Nelson, Governor of Virginia; 19. Marquis De Lafayette; 20 Baron Steuben; 21. Col. Cobb Aid-deCamp to Gen. Washington; 22. Colonel Trumbull, Secretary to Gen. Washington; 23 Major-General James Clinton, N. Y.; 24. General Gist, Maryland; 25. General Anthony Wayne, Pennsylvania; 26. General Hand, Pennsylvania, Adjutant General; 27. General Peter Muhlenberg, Pennsylvania; 28. Major-General Henry Knox, Commander of Artillery; 29. Lieut -Colonel E. Huntington, Acting Aid-de-Camp of Gen. Lincoln; 30. Colonel Timothy Pickering, Quartermaster General; 31. Colonel Alex. Hamilton, Commanding Light Infantry; 32. Colonel John Laurens, South Carolina; 33. Colonel Walter Stewart, Philadelphia; 34. Colonel Nicholas Fish, N. Y.
On the occasion of Lafayette's visit in 1824 he was entertained by his old comrades, at a military breakfast, in the very tent Washington used in the peninsula campaign.
About a mile and a half below the town, on what is called the Temple Farm, are a number of old chimneys which indicate a settlement, all record of which is lost. It received its name from a building in the garden, which was erected by Governor Spotswood for a cemetery. On this farm, on the bank of the river, about a mile below the town, is the building known as Moore's House, in which the terms of the capitulation of the army of Cornwallis were arranged by the commissioners of the two armies. At this time the house was in the occupation of one widow Moore. In the Family Magazine for 1836, Moore's House is described as then existing in its primitive simplicity precisely as it was at the time of the surrender. "The same house—the same windows—the same clapboards—the same dormant roof— the same old kitchen—the same green pasture in front—and the identical beautiful York river stretching off with its mirrored surface in the distance." The message, however, had changed hands; it was owned by a Virginia planter; the soil was under cultivation; the house occupied by the overseer of the plantation. Lafayette Park, and present it to the nation at the close of the Centennial celebration. Fifteen acres have already been set aside as a site for the monument.
The Nelson House is the only object of interest in the town. The old Episcopal Church, built in 1696, The building was erected on a portion of the old site. During the late war the floor and roof were torn up, but, owing to the efforts of Mr. Aspinwall, the church has been repaired." The Court House is a new brick building. There are several other small brick residences scattered here and there. The rest of the houses on the main street are very ordinary buildings, mostly wooden. The cross streets, with the exception of Keyes street, are simply narrow lanes. At Keyes street the main street opens to the southward on the Centennial grounds of the Yorktown Association.
These, including the Temple Farm, about five hundred acres in extent, has been purchased by the Yorktown Monument Association, who propose to turn it into a park to be called Bauman's Map of the Siege is one of the most interesting known. Lost sight of for a long period, and extremely rare, it was reproduced in January, i88r, in the Yorktown number of the Magazine of American History. Sebastian Bauman, Major of the Second New York Artillery, and one of the four officers who commanded the American batteries, was a German by birth, but long a resident of New York city before the war. He enjoyed a high reputation, and was a trusted officer even at the time of Arnold's defection, when confidence was shaken. The drawing was made during the siege, engraved, dedicated to Washington and published by subscription in 1782.
one of the eight original shires into which Virginia was divided in 1634, is twenty miles long and five broad, and occupies a portion of the narrow peninsula between York and James rivers, the latter of which forms its south-western boundary. Its population, by the census of 1880, was 2,258, of which 779 white and 1,470 colored. Warwick Court House, about three miles north of the James, and seventy-seven from Richmond, south-easterly, is the county town.