Yorktown Virginia: Where the American Revolution Was WonJanuary 19, 2011 No Comments
Although we generally think of 1776 as the year of American Independence, the Revolutionary War actually raged for another five years. In spring 1781, British forces under Lord Cornwallis took up a defensive and well-fortified position in Yorktown. That fall, under cover of darkness, an alliance of French and American troops was able to overwhelm Cornwallis’ army. The unlikely victory at Yorktown effectively ended the war. The Articles of Capitulation were signed on October 19, 1781 and a public surrender ceremony was performed. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 made the end of the war official.
Yorktown Victory Center
The Yorktown Victory Center is part of the Historic Triangle attractions, which also include the Jamestown Settlement and Colonial Williamsburg. Various ticket packages are available, some of which are only sold on the official website. Visitors are welcome to use the complimentary Historic Triangle shuttle bus system.
The Victory Center features an elaborate and very well-done museum that uses historical artifacts to explain the circumstances of the Battle of Yorktown and the Revolutionary War in general. Adults and children with an interest in history will want to spend several hours in the museum. The displays are eye-catching and appropriate for smaller children as well, although they may not have the attention span to spend a great deal of time inside.
Outside, a living history area depicts a typical Revolutionary War soldiers’ encampment. Costumed interpreters are on hand to explain the roles of various members of the camp. Of particular interest is the hospital tent, in which your family can learn about the various remedies used for common illnesses and injuries. A small farm is also located nearby, where costumed interpreters explain the daily life of Americans in the 1780s.
Operated by the National Park Service, the Yorktown Battlefield is the actual location where the historic battle occurred. There is a small admission fee for adults, while children under age 16 are admitted free. Admission is included in some Historic Triangle ticket packages, and holders of certain National Park Passes are admitted free.
Plan to spend most of a day at the battlefield. If you have a car, two separate audio tours give you the opportunity to explore the park at your own pace. The first tour visits the original and reconstructed earthworks, including Redoubts 9 and 10, taken by the American and French armies on the night of October 14, 1781. The second tour visits the various encampments, including Washington’s Headquarters. Both tours invite you to pause the narration at various points and get out of the car to explore.
A variety of ranger-guided walking tours depart from the visitor center throughout the day. Tours include a walk along the Siege Line, artillery demonstrations, and even a guided walk through the modern city of Yorktown. A Young Soldiers program allows kids to interact with a costumed interpreter to learn about the daily life of Revolutionary soldiers. Note that not all programs are offered during the winter.
Yorktown’s downtown waterfront district is a small but thriving complex of shops and restaurants. Enjoy a renowned Hot Brown sandwich at the elegant Riverfront Restaurant or grab an ice cream cone from a local vendor. Take a daytime or sunset cruise on the Schooner Alliance, rent a Segway or simply stroll the mile-long boardwalk.
Whatever you decide to do, the waterfront district is a great place to get away from historic sightseeing and simply burn off some steam. A variety of concerts, festivals, fireworks shows and other special events take place throughout the year, drawing locals and tourists alike.
Tips for Parents
Yorktown is an excellent spot for hands-on history. Kids are invited to ask questions and participate in activities at both the Victory Center and the Yorktown Battlefield. A mix of self-guided and ranger-led activities allows parents to tailor the day to their kids’ interests and attention spans. A stop by the waterfront allows the whole family to simply relax and recharge.
Note that the weather in Yorktown is often brutally hot during the summer and quite cold in the winter. Dress appropriately for the season, and monitor weather forecasts. Most activities take place outdoors, making Yorktown a great choice for a mild, sunny day. Note that the earthworks at the battlefield are relatively fragile. Keep your kids on the marked paths and do not allow them to climb or play on the earthen walls.
Also note that some of the terrain is uneven, so make sure everyone is wearing sturdy shoes rather than sandals or flip flops. Although the battlefield is heavily monitored by the National Park Service, there are some areas of natural growth. Respect warning signs regarding snakes and other natural hazards.
All of Yorktown’s tourist spots are accessible via the free Historic Triangle shuttle bus from Colonial Williamsburg or Jamestown. The shuttle is reasonably convenient, but if you have a car you may prefer the flexibility of driving. The roads are well marked and there is plenty of free parking at each location.