June 28, 2013

On the road to Yorktown and independence

Let's spend today strolling around Yorktown, shall we?  It's a charming little town that I first visited with my daughter on our spring break vacation, and we loved how easy it was to stroll around the small town, admiring the original colonial homes and also the beautiful independent shops located in many of the historic buildings. Yorktown is situated along the York River and has several distinct areas. Yorktown Village or Historic Yorktown is set on the York River near the George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge that spans the river to reach Gloucester Point.

 Historic Yorktown is comprised first of a small strip along the beach of the York River, Water Street, which contains several small restaurants, a park, a hotel, and a pier.
Main Street sits above Water Street on a bluff, and in this area the architecture is almost exclusively original. The old court house, several small shops, the Nelson House and the Yorktown Monument all sit along this road. Grace Episcopal Church is situated on Church Street near the old courthouse of Yorktown.  Colonial National Historical Park and Yorktown National Battlefield are located on the outskirts of town, and we will visit them tomorrow.  With the approach of July 4 it seems fitting to examine how the Battle of Yorktown helped secure our independence.
General Washington and Admiral Francois De Grasse, who helped Washington during the siege of Yorktown in the American Revolutionary War.  He set sail with 3,000 men from  Saint-Dominigue, landing the 3,000 French reinforcements in Virginia.  He immediately afterward decisively defeated the British fleet in the Battle of the Chesapeake in September 1781, and then drew away the British forces and blockaded the coast until Lord Cornwallis surrendered, ensuring the independence of the United States of America.
One of my favorite buildings is the 300 year old Grace Episcopal Church.  The first photo is from the 1930's, followed by a few of my photos of the church and graveyard.  I have a fascination with really old cemeteries...I hope that isn't a creepy character fault!  I find the old tombstones and their carvings really interesting (and usually quite sad).
File:Grace Church Yorktown Virginia by Frances Benjamin Johnston.jpg

Leaving the church we strolled by a home with an interesting side yard decoration.  Can't say that cannons are too common in my neighborhood!
While the side yard may have been a tad militaristic, the backyard welcomed us with a lovely colonial garden, complete with a charming sundial and a "French-American" floral salute:

The Nelson house is one of the most commanding in the historic homes area, built in approximately 1730.
The Nelson House served as a hospital for both Yankee and Rebel troops during the Civil War, and is reputedly the most haunted home in Yorktown.  Sightings of a Revolutionary War era British soldier, as well as numerous Civil War soldiers, have bene recorded over the last two hundred years.
"He Gave All For Liberty"
Here's a lovely tavern on Main Street.  I love the hanging sign with a white swan depicted. 

One minor disappointment was that many of the charming little antique and colonial wares shops that were abundant when my daughter and I visited had been hit by the economy over the last few years, and most of them were now gone, leaving the beautiful historic homes sadly empty and boarded up.  But with views like the one below, looking back towards the York River from Main Street, our stroll was a lovely one indeed.

There were a number of poems written about the battle of Yorktown, so the first one I am sharing is by  Quaker abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier, titled simply "Yorktown."

FROM Yorktown's ruins, ranked and still,
Two lines stretch far o'er vale and hill:
Who curbs his steed at head of one?
Hark! the low murmur: Washington!
Who bends his keen, approving glance,
Where down the gorgeous line of France
Shine knightly star and plume of snow?
Thou too art victor, Rochambeau!
The earth which bears this calm array
Shook with the war-charge yesterday,
Ploughed deep with hurrying hoof and wheel,
Shot-sown and bladed thick with steel;
October's clear and noonday sun
Paled in the breath-smoke of the gun,
And down night's double blackness fell,
Like a dropped star, the blazing shell.
Now all is hushed: the gleaming lines
Stand moveless as the neighboring pines;
While through them, sullen, grim, and slow,
The conquered hosts of England go:
O'Hara's brow belies his dress,
Gay Tarleton's troop rides bannerless:
Shout, from thy fired and wasted homes,
Thy scourge, Virginia, captive comes!
Nor thou alone: with one glad voice
Let all thy sister States rejoice;
Let Freedom, in whatever clime
She waits with sleepless eye her time,
Shouting from cave and mountain wood
Make glad her desert solitude,
While they who hunt her quail with fear;
The New World's chain lies broken here!
But who are they, who, cowering, wait
Within the shattered fortress gate?
Dark tillers of Virginia's soil,
Classed with the battle's common spoil,
With household stuffs, and fowl, and swine,
With Indian weed and planters' wine,
With stolen beeves, and foraged corn, —
Are they not men, Virginian born?
Oh, veil your faces, young and brave!
Sleep, Scammel, in thy soldier grave!
Sons of the Northland, ye who set
Stout hearts against the bayonet,
And pressed with steady footfall near
The moated battery's blazing tier,
Turn your scarred faces from the sight,
Let shame do homage to the right!
Lo! fourscore years have passed; and where
The Gallic bugles stirred the air,
And, through breached batteries, side by side,
To victory stormed the hosts allied,
And brave foes grounded, pale with pain,
The arms they might not lift again,
As abject as in that old day
The slave still toils his life away.
Oh, fields still green and fresh in story,
Old days of pride, old names of glory,
Old marvels of the tongue and pen,
Old thoughts which stirred the hearts of men,
Ye spared the wrong; and over all
Behold the avenging shadow fall!
Your world-wide honor stained with shame, —
Your freedom's self a hollow name!
Where's now the flag of that old war?
Where flows its stripe? Where burns its star?
Bear witness, Palo Alto's day,
Dark Vale of Palms, red Monterey,
Where Mexic Freedom, young and weak,
Fleshes the Northern eagle's beak;
Symbol of terror and despair,
Of chains and slaves, go seek it there!
Laugh, Prussia, midst thy iron ranks!
Laugh, Russia, from thy Neva's banks!
Brave sport to see the fledgling born
Of freedom by its parent torn!
Safe now is Speilberg's dungeon cell,
Safe drear Siberia's frozen hell:
With Slavery's flag o'er both unrolled,
What of the New World fears the Old?

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