Yorktown History

Yorktown Battlefield Banner Image

Yorktown’s history considerably precedes 1781.  The present location of the charming town was first occupied by the Native-American population for at least 10,000 years prior to European arrival.  The town is located at the most narrow crossing point of the York River, and natives likely used this point to travel from "the Peninsula" to the "Middle Peninsula". 

For centuries, the County of York has figured prominently in both the political and economic history of the Peninsula, the Commonwealth, and the Nation. The port of Yorktown, which remains the seat of government, was the site of the final battle of the American Revolution where on October 19, 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrendered his British Army to the combined American-French forces under Washington and Rochambeau. Yorktown also figured prominently in the Civil War, serving as a major port to supply both northern and southern towns, depending on who held Yorktown at the time.

After World War II, one of the nation's largest and most diversified military-industrial complexes emerged in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News MSA, spawning numerous small precision machine, metal fabrication and technical research companies. The influence of the early waterman remains active; seafood processing, ship building, and ship repair prosper.

Today, Yorktown is part of an important national resource known as the "Historic Triangle" (Yorktown, Jamestown, and Williamsburg). The County of York successfully blends contemporary living with the appreciation and preservation of a rich community heritage.

  1. 1600s
  2. 1700s
  3. 1800s
  4. 1900s - Present Day
  5. Civil War
In 1620, Captain Nicholas Martiau, was sent by King James I to build forts in Virginia, specifically at York, and to complete the great log palisade between College and Queen Creeks.

York's Fort

York's fort was initially built just a short distance down river from the present Yorktown, and a small settlement developed there because of the fort's guarantee of safety. This village also became a receiving port and mercantile center for the growing population. The site is now part of the United States Coast Guard Reserve Training Center .

York Town

Martiau's early settlement and bringing of other settlers had qualified him to receive several grants of land, one of which is the present location of Yorktown. Sadly, Martiau did not live to see the town develop on his personal landholdings. He died in 1657, but his grandson sold 50 acres of the land for the establishment of "York Town" in 1691. The town's creation established Yorktown as the principal location for securing tobacco, good, wares and other merchandise. The port, wharves, warehouses and other appropriate buildings for the conduct of commerce were situated at the riverfront.

Surprisingly, the town's original 50 acres did not include the land immediately adjacent to the river-land that today features a park, several restaurants, a motel, beaches, a museum, and a few residences. That land became valuable as the town developed and in 1738 was purchased and added to the town. This parcel was overseen by the Yorktown Trustees, a board created in 1738 which still administers this land's affairs today.