Colonial National Historical
P.O. Box 210
Yorktown, Virginia 23690
WELCOME to Yorktown
On October 19, 1781, a British army under General Charles Lord
Cornwallis was forced to surrender to General Washington�s
combined American and French army. Upon hearing of their defeat,
British Prime Minister Frederick Lord North is reputed to have
said, "Oh God, it's all over." And it was. The victory
secured independence for the United States and significantly
changed the course of world history.
Yorktown was established by Virginia's colonial government in
1691 to regulate trade and to collect taxes on both imports and
exports for Great Britain. By the early 1700s, Yorktown had
emerged as a major Virginia port and economic center. A
well-developed waterfront boasted wharves, docks, storehouses and
businesses. On the bluff above, stately homes lined Main Street,
with taverns and other shops scattered throughout the town.
Yorktown had 250 to 300 buildings and a population of almost 2,000
people at the height of its success around 1750. The American
Revolution had entered its seventh year when, in 1781, British
general Lord Charles Cornwallis brought his army to Yorktown to
establish a naval base. In the siege by American and French forces
that followed, much of the town was destroyed. By the end of the
Revolution, less than 70 buildings remained in Yorktown and the
1790 census recorded only 661 people in town. Yorktown never
regained its economic prominence. A fire in 1814 destroyed the
waterfront district as well as some homes and the courthouse on
Main Street. Additional destruction came during the Civil War
Siege of 1862 and the occupation by Union troops that followed.
Today, there are still some tangible reminders of Yorktown's
historic past that have survived, giving much of the town a
colonial atmosphere. During your visit to Yorktown, stop at the
Nelson House on Main Street, the home of Thomas Nelson, Jr., a
signer of the Declaration of Independence, and commander of the
Virginia Militia during the Siege of Yorktown. For hours of
operation, see Yorktown Programs and Activities.
As you stroll the streets, you have the opportunity to imagine
Yorktown as it once was--a thriving tobacco port--that witnessed
the last battle of the American Revolution.