By SARAH JAQUAY
“Jamestown was the first successful (emphasis added) English settlement in America,” National Park Service Ranger Jeremiah Edwards explained to a group of interested travelers. We were seated in front of the Tercentenary Monument on Jamestown Island, the marker denoting Jamestown’s 300th anniversary in 1907. It was a sunny, breezy day and a perfect time to explore the two other angles of Virginia’s Colonial Triangle. After experiencing Williamsburg, we wanted to complete the Colonial Triangle at Jamestown and Yorktown National Historical Parks. Edwards explained there were earlier attempts at establishing permanent British settlements in America, but they failed; most notably Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke Colony (on Roanoke Island in today’s Dare County, NC) founded in 1585. But those colonists mysteriously disappeared in short order.
In 1607 a group of 104 Englishmen arrived in Jamestown to “expand the empire and give honor and glory to King James,” notes Edwards, “unlike the folks at Plymouth Colony who were fleeing religious persecution.” King James granted a royal charter to the Va. Company to explore the New World, but there was no funding from the Crown. (There’s always a catch!) Historians speculate why the
men chose Jamestown Island. Edwards says, “It probably wasn’t the best place to expand the empire, but I think they were sick of being on that boat!”
The colonists were settling in until Powhatan, chief of Va.’s Tidewater tribes, attacked two weeks later. They quickly built a triangular fort where Jamestown National Historical Park is now located and Captain John Smith became their leader. Relations between Powhatan’s tribes and the British deteriorated even more. In 1609 what’s known as “the starving time” began when Powhatan ordered anyone caught outside the fort be killed. The starving time reduced the number of colonists to 60. Powhatan is probably best known for being Pocahontas’s father. Edwards explained Pocahontas (which means “playful one”) was one of Powhatan’s favorites so she enjoyed greater freedom to roam. She was tricked aboard an English re-supply ship whereupon she was immediately held for ransom in exchange for weapons and British prisoners held by Powhatan. Her captors converted Pocahontas to Christianity and taught her to speak English. In 1614 Pocahontas married English widower John Rolfe. Whether Pocahontas was a victim of “Stockholm syndrome” will never be known as information historians have about Pocahontas is only from the writings of others. But many believe she and John Rolfe truly loved each other. In any case, their marriage ushered in a seven-year period of peace between the colonists and Native Americans.
“By 1615 the Jamestown experiment is failing and needs new investment,” Edwards explained. The next year Pocahontas traveled with the Rolfe family to England to help get support for the Colony. Sadly, Pocahontas died in Gravesend, England before she could return to her beloved Jamestown. By 1620, the “Bride ships” arrived from England (it finally dawned on the Va. Company that to be successful, the colonists needed women willing to marry.) By 1621, however, Jamestown had only about 1,500 settlers of the approximately 8,000 who came between 1607 and 1621. In the late 1600s, Virginia’s capital moved to Williamsburg due to disease and a fire that destroyed many of Jamestown’s structures.
Next we drove along Virginia’s picturesque 23-mile Colonial Parkway that connects Jamestown Island with Yorktown, site of the Revolution’s last battle. The defeat of General Cornwallis’s army here led to the Treaty of Paris officially ending the American Revolution and recognition of the U.S. in 1783. We wandered among the interesting exhibits in the Visitors Center and learned how our french allies, particularly General Rochambeau’s ground forces and Admiral De Grasse’s fleet trapped the British on the peninsula and prevented them from escaping by land or water. America had virtually no navy then and I began to realize without De Grasse’s blockade, we might be having tea and crumpets every afternoon instead of coffee or Cokes.
Visitors may drive around Yorktown Battlefield and stop at various points, including Redoubts 9 and 10 that were captured after violent hand-to-hand combat. (Alexander Hamilton led the assault on Redoubt 10.) Taking those redoubts allowed the Americans and French to get their cannons close enough to bombard the British constantly. Walking the grounds of Surrender Field where the British laid down their arms (and where Cornwallis feigned illness so he wouldn’t have to face General Washington) is very affecting.
After touring the Battlefield we needed refreshments so we headed for Mobjack Bay Coffee Roasters & Petite Cafe in the charming village of Yorktown. Located in the historic Cole Diggs House (circa 1726), this adorable cafe offers freshly-brewed concoctions, sandwiches and pastries. Mobjack’s companion business next door is Little York Confectionary. It’s a certified National Park Service partner that will offer historian-led tours of Yorktown Battlefield and village later this summer aboard the Yorktown & Co. Steamer wagon.
We wanted to visit the highly-rated American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, but we ran out of energy no amount of caffeine could cure. After a good night’s sleep, we hit the road to visit friends in Virginia Beach recalling our favorite spine-tingling moments of history in Va.’s Colonial Triangle all the way to the Atlantic.
If you go: There are many hotels on the grounds of Colonial Williamsburg and the town, but we liked the Hampton Inn Williamsburg-Central at 718 Bypass Road for its amenities (breakfast, indoor and outdoor pools) plus its easy access to both Va.’s scenic Colonial Parkway and Williamsburg’s Historic District. Our favorite eatery was the Blue Talon Bistro in downtown Williamsburg. Please see www.visitwilliamsburg.com and https://www.nps.gov/colo/index.htm for more information about: Williamsburg attractions, Va.’s Colonial National Historical Parks at Jamestown and Yorktown plus interesting stops along the Colonial Parkway.