York County

York County, highlighted in map of Virginia

York County was originally named Charles River County, and was one of the first eight counties created in 1634. Nine years later it was renamed, shifting the honor of the name from King Charles I to his younger son James, the Duke of York. Charles I was still recognized in the colony by the name of Charles City County.

In the 1650's, Virginia had only 500 blacks in a population of 14,000. Though the overall colonial population was 3% black then, York County was 15% black.1

Yorktown was the major port in Virginia during the 1600's. Many of the early deliveries of slaves were made to the town wharves.

most cargo destined for Williamsburg in the 1700's was shipped to Yorktown, the colonial capital's port on the York River
most cargo destined for Williamsburg in the 1700's was shipped to Yorktown, the colonial capital's port on the York River
Source: National Park Service, Yorktown - Mid-18th Century

Lord Cornwallis chose to fortify Yorktown in 1781 and wait for reinforcements from New York City. They were supposed to arrive by ship and unload at the port. After the French Navy blocked the reinforcements in the Battle of the Capes, Cornwallis was trapped and forced to surrender to a combined American/French force.2

Lord Cornwallis fortified Yorktown, but could not withstand a siege by the combined French and American armies in 1781
Lord Cornwallis fortified Yorktown, but could not withstand a siege by the combined French and American armies in 1781
Source: University of Michigan, William L. Clements Library, Sketch of the posts of York Town and Gloucester Point shewing the French and rebel attacks upon the former in October, 1781

The responsibility for the Yorktown Trustees to manage the waterfront ended in 2003,. The 2003 General Assembly passed legislation to eliminate the Yorktown Trustees and to transfer property under their control to the County of York.3

The trustees had been established in 1691 by the House of Burgesses to help govern port cities. Today, elected councils govern incorporated towns and elected supervisors govern counties and the unincorporated areas in counties, and the role of the five court-appointed Yorktown Trustees was an anachronism.

colonial Yorktown waterfront
colonial Yorktown waterfront
Source: National Park Service, Colonial Yorktown Waterfront (Sidney King painting)

colonial Yorktown street
colonial Yorktown street
Source: National Park Service, Main Street Yorktown - East (Sidney King painting)

Yorktown, rather than Newport News, could have become the destination port for a railroad competing with the Norfolk and Western
Yorktown, rather than Newport News, could have become the destination port for a railroad competing with the Norfolk and Western
Source: Map showing proposed routes of the Richmond and Southwest Railway (by Jedediah Hotchkiss, 1875)

the George P. Coleman Bridge, linking York and Gloucester counties, is the only bridge that crosses the Rappahannock River
the George P. Coleman Bridge, linking York and Gloucester counties, is the only bridge that crosses the Rappahannock River
Source: Virginia Department of Transportation, Coleman Bridge

Links

power plant at Yorktown, with one oil-fired unit and two coal-fired units, viewed from Gloucester across the York River
power plant at Yorktown, with one oil-fired unit and two coal-fired units, viewed from Gloucester across the York River

References

1. Collier, Christopher and Collier, James Lincoln, the Paradox of Jamestown, 1585-1700, Marshall Cavendish, New York, 1998, p.76
2. Croghan, Laura A., "'The Negroes to Serve Forever': The Evolution of Blacks's Life and Labor in Seventeenth-Century Virginia," Masters Thesis, William and Mary, 1994, p.3
3. "An Act to provide for the transfer of the property, duties, rights, and contractual obligations of trustees of unincorporated areas," HB2087, Virginia General Assembly, 2013, http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?031+ful+HB2807ER (last checked August 8, 2018)


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