The Regional Review

Volume V - No. 6

December, 1940

Interpretative Statement : III

Colonial National Historical Park includes within its authorized boundaries not only areas associated with the outstanding people and events of colonial Virginia history, but also sites of especial significance in our national history. The Spaniards settled Florida in 1565, and Raleigh sent colonists only 20 years later to what is now North Carolina; but Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America, may be called rightfully, as is inscribed on the Jamestown Tercentary Monument, "the cradle of the United States." The victory of Yorktown, October 19, 1781, fulfilled the promise of July 4, 1776, and by assuring American independence, may be named the beginning of our national era. The 174 years between 1607 and 1781 are the years of development for Virginia, one of the most important of the 13 colonies, and the story of those years may be traced at Jamestown, Williamsburg, Yorktown, and some of the great plantations of Tidewater Virginia.

The development of Jamestown Island, in its final form, will emphasize two things. Of greatest national significance and human interest is the story of the founding of the colony in 1607, and the successful surmounting of the perils and privations of the years immediately following. The building of' the first palisaded fort and the crude huts inside it, the adventures of Captain John Smith among the Indians, the terrible winter of 1609-1610, "the Starving Time," the friendship of Pocahontas for the colony and her marriage to John Rolfe, the massacre of 1622, the starting of tobacco culture, the first meeting of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the arrival of the young women from England, the arrival of the first Negroes---in short, the incidents and events of the first decade at Jamestown, always will be of outstanding interest and importance. Each of these played its part in the establishment of this first permanent English colony in America, and many are of additional significance as the beginning of American social, political, and economic institutions.

Trumbull's surrender of Lord Cornwallis
Trumbull's surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown

But the story of Jamestown does not stop at this point. Of equal importance in the final development will be the history of the entire seventeenth century, the depicting of the growth and decline of the town from 1607 to 1699, the telling of the life of the people who lived and worked there. During those 92 years Jamestown was in many ways Virginia. It was the capital, the port of entry, the most important town. There the indignant colonists met and "thrust out" Governor Harvey. There Sir William Berkeley and Nathaniel Bacon, Jr. had their dramatic meeting in 1676, when a royal governor was forced to defer to public opinion and the popular will. Until the final abandonment of the town in 1699 most of the important events in Virginia history took place at Jamestown or had some connection with it.

It will be the aim at Jamestown to present the entire story of the town throughout its existence. This will mean showing, by exhibits in the ground, trailside exhibits, and the museum, how the town was arranged, what it looked like, who lived in it, what they did, and what happened there from 1607 to 1699. Using technical terms, it might be described as a historicosociological study of a seventeenth century Virginia community.

Williamsburg, although not actually a part of Colonial National Historical Park, is associated chronologically and geographically with the development of the area, and influences the determination of the developmental policy as a whole. Through the work of the Williamsburg Restoration there is presented the flowering of the cultural and political life of Virginia in the eighteenth century. Capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1779, center of the social life of the colony, the residence of the royal governor, seat of the College of William and Mary, its restoration today displays in unexcelled fashion several of the most important aspects of the life of the period that was Virginia's greatest.

Another important aspect of colonial life, which will be told in Colonial National Historical Park when land acquisition is completed, is the story of the Tidewater tobacco plantation, the economic unit upon which so much was based. Bellfield, Greenspring, Carter's Grove, and Rosewell are outstanding examples which will permit the development of the story of tobacco culture, Virginia's chief source of revenue, and of the plantation social unit, which was largely responsible for the course of political and social life of the period.

The development of Yorktown, again, will emphasize two things. Of considerable interest and importance is the history of colonial Yorktown, port of the colony from 1691 until the Revolution, commercial center, residence of some of Virginia's outstanding merchants. With its many colonial buildings still intact, including America's first custom house, and its waterfront, it is well adapted for telling the story of the commercial history of Virginia during the eighteenth century, the logical continuation of the story of the tobacco plantations told elsewhere in the park.

map of Colonial NHP

Of greatest significance at Yorktown, however, is the story of the siege of 1781. The re-creation in part of the colonial appearance of the town, and the reconstruction of the fortifications, encampments, and roads used during the siege, will provide graphically and interestingly an explanation of the military aspects of the final decisive battle of the American Revolution. The development of the Moore House, where the Articles of Capitulation were drawn, and of Surrender Field, where the British laid down their arms and surrendered their flags, will permit of the development of the significance of that surrender for the United States.

The victory of Yorktown, by assuring the independence of the 13 colonies, unleashed the forces which made the United States what it is today. Its political, economic, and social results are unsurpassed in importance by those of any other single event in American history. It will be the aim of the development at Yorktown not only to tell how the American Revolution ended, but also what that ending meant to the world of that day on this continent and abroad.


The Jamestown Island museum of Colonial National Historical Park has just acquired the culturally significant Wirt Robinson collection of more than 20,000 items of Virginia Indian remains, one of the most representative groups of artifacts ever assembled in the state. The collection will be placed on exhibit eventually as an interesting part of the story of the early American colonists.

The late Colonel Robinson, an instructor in the natural sciences at the United States Military Academy, spent his vacations at his home near Wingina, on the James, and collected most of the objects from Indian sites of the neighborhood. His extensive notes will be photocopied as a permanent record of the collection. The area which supplied the artifacts was occupied, at the time of the settlement of Jamestown, by Siouan-speaking Indians and has been identified on Captain John Smith's map as the village or district of Monahassanugh. The inhabitants chipped native stone for weapons and many of their carefully worked arrowheads and spearheads are in the collection. There are crudely chipped stone hoes, pots and dishes of clay, and several massive vessels of sandstone. Beads and gorgets are well represented, as well as pottery discs which, it is believed, were used as counters in games.

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Date: 04-Jul-2002