‘LEGACY OF YORKTOWN’ EXHIBITION EXPLORES
INFLUENCE OF MANY CULTURES ON NATIONAL IDENTITY
“The Legacy of Yorktown: Virginia Beckons” tells the story of people who shaped Virginia society, from the Powhatan Indians to Europeans and Africans who began arriving in the 1600s. The Yorktown Victory Center exhibition focuses on individuals and groups who came to Virginia over a 200-year period beginning in 1607 and incorporates the theme of creating a new national government with the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
By the time the first English “immigrants” arrived in Virginia in 1607, the Powhatan Indians, a chiefdom of 30-some tribes living on the coastal plain, had developed a complex culture with a centralized political system. “Virginia Beckons” examines economic, political and religious motivations for immigration and how immigrants were changed by and influenced their new environment.
People coming from Europe to North America sought land, economic independence or the freedom to follow their religion. Virginia, with abundant land, deepwater ports and growing towns, drew many people south from New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore after their transatlantic journey. While many early immigrants to Virginia were lured by the promise of wealth from tobacco trade, later immigrants were often drawn by the economic growth of ports and western expansion in the 1790s.
An iron ingot, typical of those produced by
colonists at Germanna, is exhibited in this case.
In addition to artifacts representative of the Powhatan culture, objects brought to and made in Virginia by immigrants are exhibited to illustrate the stories of people who settled in Virginia’s Tidewater, Eastern Shore, Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley regions, and in Yorktown, Norfolk, Petersburg and Richmond.
Among 20 individuals profiled are 17th-century Eastern Shore tobacco planters Anna Varlett Hack Boot, a wealthy merchant born in New York to Dutch Huguenots, and Anthony and Mary Johnson, who arrived in Virginia from Africa in the early 1620s as servants or slaves and became free persons by the 1640s; English-born immigrants to 18th-century Yorktown, William Rogers, best known as a ceramics manufacturer, and Richard Ambler, who became tax collector for the Port of York; Olaudah Equiano, a slave who purchased his freedom in 1766; Jewish immigrants Moses and Eliza Myers, prominent citizens of Norfolk in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; Mary and William Cumming, Ulster Irish who arrived in Petersburg in the early 1800s;
Magdalene Verreuil Trabue Chastain of Richmond, born in the Netherlands, where her family had escaped from persecution in France, and a resident of England before settling in Virginia in 1700; Jacob Holtzclaw, a lay reader, schoolmaster and forge clerk who arrived in Virginia in 1714 and was instrumental in establishing the Germanna community on the Rapidan River between present-day Culpeper and Fredericksburg; Hans Jost Hite, who led the first European settlers from Pennsylvania into the Shenandoah Valley in the 1730s; Philadelphia-born Quaker Isaac Zane, Jr., who established Marlboro Furnace near Winchester about 1770; and Paul Henkel, a Lutheran minister born in North Carolina, founder of the Henkel Press in the early 1800s to serve the needs of the 30,000 German Lutherans in the Shenandoah Valley.
Scottish, Irish and German immigrants settled in Virginia’s
Shenandoah Valley in the 1700s.
A More Perfect Union
“The Legacy of Yorktown: Virginia Beckons” examines the discourse over what kind of government would set the course of the new United States and considers the irony of a society that promised freedom, equality and opportunity but enslaved many of its people.
Surrounding a central lighted glass beacon panel etched with the first three words of the preamble of the Constitution, “We the People…,” are stories of the struggles Americans faced from 1781 – the year of the momentous victory at Yorktown – until 1791, when the Bill of Rights became part of the new Constitution. The Articles of Confederation, framed in 1777 and adopted in 1781, served as the basis of government in the country’s early years.
Virginians James Madison, a Federalist, and George Mason, an anti-Federalist, were leading figures in debates over the proposed new Constitution that took place in 1787-88. Examples of public debate over the balance of federal and states’ power and controversy about the Constitution and the first 10 amendments – the Bill of Rights – include illustrations of Constitution Convention delegate Pierce Butler’s edited draft of the document and a published letter from Virginia Governor Edmund Randolph expressing his opposition to the proposed Constitution. A circa-1796 portrait of George Washington, a friend of Madison and supporter of the Constitution, is exhibited.
The final section of “Virginia Beckons” exhibits several symbols of the new nation’s ideals, including a 1795 abolition token, a butter mold from 1800 inscribed with the word “Liberty” and a creamware jug inscribed “Success to AMERICA whose MILITIA is better than Standing ARMIES.”
“The Legacy of Yorktown: Virginia Beckons” is located in the Mathews Gallery, named for museum benefactors, the late Nick and Mary Mathews. Both emigrated from Greece to America and operated a successful restaurant in Yorktown for several decades in the second half of the 20th century.
Administered by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, an agency of the Commonwealth of
Virginia that is accredited by the American Association of Museums.
©Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, P.O. Box 1607, Williamsburg,
Virginia 23187-1607 (757) 253-4838 or toll-free (888)593-4682; fax (757)253-5299