Visiting Jamestown and Yorktown one discovers a remarkable historical coincidence.
One place is where America’s history started. The other is where America’s history as an independent country started.
Jamestown’s founding in 1607 was 13 years before the more famous arrival of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower, though admittedly its story and overall importance to American history is somewhat forgotten.
This year is seminal in the telling of the Jamestown story, as 2019 marks both 400 years of American democracy and 400 years since the first Africans arrived and the start of a dark, uncomfortable chapter in the country’s history.
Needless to say, there are a significant number of commemorative events planned, including a ceremony in July marking the country’s first-ever representative assembly that met over the summer in 1619.
Jamestown Settlement, located about a mile away from the actual site of Jamestown, isn’t just a museum. Beyond the exhibits and artifacts on display are reconstructed life-size villages that offer an immersive, hands-on experience of life in the earliest years of Jamestown. There is even a small Indian village, giving visitors a glimpse of those who were forever changed by the colonization of the New World. If that wasn’t enough living history there are also replicas of the three ships that sailed to Jamestown in 1607.
Twenty miles away in Yorktown is where American independence from Britain was secured in 1781 with Washington’s monumental victory over Cornwallis. Yes, hostilities continued until 1784 but for all practical purposes the American Revolution was won here.
As at Jamestown there are two attractions to see.
The National Park Service-controlled battlefield is, of course, a must. but the nearby American Revolution Museum at Yorktown tells the full story of the American Revolution and not just what happened in Yorktown.
The $50 million museum, which opened in 2017, continues outside its gorgeous halls and galleries at a recreated Continental Army encampment with interpreters dressed authentically in military uniforms of period. The daily artillery and musket firings may sound kitsch, but are actually quite the spectacle.
How to get there
Two airports, Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport and Norfolk International Airport, are within driving distance of Yorktown and Jamestown. Meanwhile, Washington is about three hours away by car.