Yorktown's Main Street
Historic Resource Study
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Development in Yorktown proper focused along Main Street, as would be expected since it was the principal axis of the town. This was true even when Berthier made his billeting plan after the damage wrought by the British and the allied artillery. He delineated 79 structures in the upper town (another 45 on the waterfront) with 34 of them on, or almost directly on, the Main Street. They were about evenly divided on the two sides of the street — 19 on the water side and 15 on the land side. [1]

There follows below a brief discussion of town development by lot insofar as possible, with references to detailed studies where they have been made. The direction is southeastward from Lot No. 3. [2]

Lots 3 and 6:

Town Lots 3 and 6 on the river side of Main Street early in Yorktown's history came to be included in a significantly large block of property put together by William Buckner, one of the town's first leading citizens and developers. He acquired his first two lots in November 1691 and increased his holdings to six (Lots 1-6) by 1700. Lot 3 was one of his first purchases [1] and evidently he satisfied the building requirements since it remained in his possession. Buckner went on to acquire adjacent lots and to use the Yorktown waterfront "Common" area between his lots and the river. Here he had warehouses and a wharf. There was also his windmill for grinding grain not far away on Windmill Point overlooking Yorktown Creek and York River.

William Buckner died in 1716 and bequeathed to his "Eldest sun William all my Houses & Land in York Town." [2] William survived his father by only six years and the Yorktown property then passed to his younger brother, John, who proceeded to occupy and use it for a quarter century. [3] When he died in 1748 these holdings went to John's "beloved Nephew Griffin Stith of the Eastern Shore in Virginia." This included the "Six Lotts in York Town my wind Mill with the Lot of Ground it stands on and my warehouses under the Hill to him and his Heirs forever." [4]

Two dwelling houses and other construction were noted as on the property in 1781 and probably existed in Buckner times. Since he was well established on the Eastern Shore, Stith elected not to occupy his Yorktown property. It is on record that he leased a part of the six-lot holding to Seymour Powell, who was already in occupancy, in November 1751, for a yearly stipend of £10 Virginia currency. The lease covered "One Dwelling House lying and being in the Town of York together with the Outhouses, Lotts and Garden to the said Dwelling House belonging." Powell's lease was independent of a lease for another part of the property involving "the Houses with the appurtenances in the Possession of Benjamin Moss." [5]

In November 1767, (as shown on record five months later), Stith elected to sell his Yorktown property. For the sum of £375 he sold to Nathaniel. Littleton Savage his "Six lots of Land lying in the Town of York with appurtenances," excepting only "about 12 or 15 feet square part thereof inclosed with a Brick Wall in Possession of the Hon. William Nelson Esq." [6]

Savage retained the property only two years, selling in 1770 to "Thomas Lilly mariner." Lilly, with "Lucy his wife," found it necessary in July 1772 to place a mortgage on his holdings. [7] The two year mortgage was drawn for £837.11.1 sterling in favor of "Francis Ceal, Merchant of London." It covered the "six Lotts of Land with the appurtenances . . . whereon the said Thomas Lilly now lives." There is no record that this deed of trust was discharged, though evidently it was since it was subsequently sold by Lilly to Corbin Griffin in October 1793, with the usual and customary warranties of title. [8] Evidently Lilly had moved to newly formed Mathews County across the York River and on the other side of Gloucester County. Lilly's losses on these six lots in 1781 were heavy, including: [9]

1. "A new dwelling House 40 by 20 brick chimneys & Cellar flush." — £300

2. "A Kitchen 22 by 18 brick chimney" — £50

3. "A stable for 6 Horses with a Chair House" — £50

4. "A dwelling house 24 by 16 wth a shed & 2 fire places" — £60

5. "damage done the lotts all the enclosure destroyed and the well fill'd up" — £50

The placement of the various structures on the six lots is not known; however, it would seem most likely that at least one dwelling unit would have faced on Main Street. With the siege over, this formerly visible part of Yorktown was all gone. Consequently Berthier made no note of it on his billeting plan of the town.

Lot 7:

This half acre just across Main Street from Lot 6 was not initially conveyed, it seems, until May 1708. It went then to Joseph Walker who evidently did not meet the building requirements and forfeited his interest. Ten years later the town trustees disposed of it again, this time to Philip Lightfoot on November 17, 1718. [1] Presumably he did the necessary building since, except for a "fourty foot Square at the West Corner of the said Lott," [2] the property remained in his hands.

Philip Lightfoot devised his part of the lot to his son, Armistead, in June 1748. Later, however, in 1778 and again in 1801 there is reference to the lot (with the exception of a parcel) as belonging to Armistead Lightfoot's estate. [3] The lot passed as a single parcel in 1806 when Mathew and William Gibbs of Gloucester sold it to Charles Harris, who then owned adjacent Lot 13 which was described as where "the house of the said Charles Harris now stands." [4]

No specific reference seems to mention a house on Lot 7, though as previously mentioned, evidently Philip Lightfoot did erect at least the minimum here. [5] Berthier did not indicate a structure here though probably the British would have destroyed it had there been one. It would have interfered with their works due to its position in front of the main line. [6]

Lot 12:

This half-acre parcel facing on Main Street, though earlier assigned to one Jeffery Overstreet, was seemingly not developed prior to 1706. Overstreet lost the lot because of failure to develop it. It was reassigned by the town trustees on May 12, 1706, (a transaction recorded on September 24 of the same year), to Miles Cary. [1] At the same time, Cary acquired adjacent Lot 18, which, though first taken up in 1691, had also been forfeited. These two lots were destined to have a common history for the next century, especially after they descended from Miles Cary to his son, Wilson, who sold them to William Nelson, a nephew of "Scotch Tom."

In 1781 the British line went along the "cross street" (Buckner) edge of Lot 12. It did not destroy any development there since this part of the lot at that time very likely was a garden. (For a more detailed account of the continuing history of this particular lot, see Lot 18 described later.)

Lot 13:

One Owen Davis, "Planter," obtained a deed to Lot 13 from the town trustees in 1691 and evidently built a house upon it, for he retained possession of it until he sold it to William Buckner on February 25, 1695. Buckner, however, did not hold it long, disposing of it in May 1698. He sold this half acre, with "all that his cottage or tenement in Yorke Towne known by the name of the Smith Shopp," to Thomas Bowcher, "Merchant." Just three years later, in December 1701, Bowcher, "Merchant of Warwick county," in turn sold it to Miles Cary, "Gent of Warwick county." The deed repeated "all that his house and Seller on Tenement in Yorke Town known by the name of Smyths Shopp." [1]

The property descended from Miles to his son, Wilson Cary, who in July 1728 sold it to Robert Ballard for £40 sterling. [2] Ballard, it seems, made his home here and when he died prior to July 1740 he died intestate and his various properties passed to his three daughters — Jane, Henrietta, and Charlotte. The home lot (No. 13) evidently went for life to his widow, Jane, who soon remarried and continued to live on the property with her husband, Matthew Hubbard. [3] Eventually this home lot fell under the joint ownership of the three daughters.

One of the daughters, Charlotte (the youngest), married Nicholas Dickson who joined her in residence on Lot 13. It was in June 1756 that Dickson bought the one-third interest that resided with Henrietta, Charlotte's sister, who now was the wife of William Powell, a planter. [4] It was stated that the home and lot was "in the Tenure and Occupation of the said Nicholas Dickson who hath lived on the same for some years."

Presumably Dickson also went on to acquire the interest belonging to the third sister, Jane, though the transaction seems not to be on record. It would appear that at death he passed ownership of the lot to his son Beverley Dickson. It is of special note that when Beverley offered the property for sale in May 1773 he described it as the site of "A Dwelling house in the said Town [of York], pleasantly situated on the Main Street, Where Mrs. Robinson now lives, with convenient Outhouses, and two lots adjoining." In any case, in 1778 Beverley Dickson, then a resident of Williamsburg, sold Lot 13 and adjacent Lot 14 with general warranty for a sizeable £300 to Robert Gibbons of Yorktown. [5] The same was true as well when Gibbons sold the two lots to Charles Harris in 1801. [6]

From the foregoing it is clear that Lot 13 was developed early in the town's history as the site first of a "Smyths [likely blacksmith's] Shopp" complete with cellar. Later it was more residential in character, serving as the site of the home of Robert Ballard and his family, and was in use in the decades prior to the Revolution. It is evident from the sale price that buildings still existed here in 1778. After the siege, however, it appears that the structures on the property were all gone, or of little value, since Berthier showed nothing here at that time. This lot was in close proximity to the British line and any buildings there may have been sacrificed. If so, there was new construction afterward, since it is of record that the house of Charles Harris was standing here in 1806. [7]

Evidently a section of the main British line went along and curved across the northwest side of this lot as it came along the southeast side of what became Buckner Street and crossed Main Street from Lot 12. The Civil War works followed a similar course and the Confederate gate in this end of town was at this point. This is shown in a Brady photograph looking through the gate toward the south. [8] This view shows a building just within the gate on the inland side of Main Street, a building that may exhibit something of a colonial character.

Lot 18:

This section was originally purchased by Ralph Flowers, a planter, in November 1691, but when he failed to develop it he forfeited title. It was not owned again until 1706 when the trustees awarded it to Miles Cary. Cary developed it sufficiently to retain title, and when he died it passed to his son, Wilson. [1] In July 1728 Wilson Cary, gentleman, sold this and adjoining Lot 12 to William Nelson, merchant, for £100 Virginia money. This William was a nephew of "Scotch Tom" Nelson and consequently a cousin of "Secretary Thomas" and "President William" Nelson, "Scotch Tom's" sons. Presumably the two lots already supported a single development which was to continue for almost a century. [2]

William Nelson, the nephew, according to the records, became known as the "Elder," on Senior, to distinguish himself from his cousin, William. [3] He had come to Yorktown some time in the 1720's from the Barbadoes with the intent of pursuing his mercantile interests. [4] In the deed to Lots 12 and 18, in 1728, he is listed as a merchant.

Evidently he ran into financial difficulties and was forced to mortgage his Yorktown properties, the mortgage going to his uncle, Thomas, and his cousin, William, who became sizeably indebted for nearly £500 sterling to the London merchant firm of Messrs. Haswell and Hunt. [5] The mortgage specified that it included "The dwelling house of said Wm Nelson the Elder in the town of York together with all outhouses, Kitchen, Milkhouse, Storehouse, Stable, Gardens, Orchards, Tenements & Lotts of Land together with certain slaves." [6] This mortgage was evidently discharged in February 1747. However, William, Senior, was unable to recoup his losses, leaving only a small estate when he died in Yorktown in 1749. [7]

From all indications, his cousin, William, took over the management of his affairs and undertook the care of his children. [8] It was in the fall of 1755 that "William Nelson, Jun." advertised Lots 12 and 18 and the development on them for sale. Previously the property had been under lease. The announcement read: [9]

To be sold at Public Sale, on the 24th of this Instant October, before Mr. Doncastle's Door, in Williamsburg, Two convenient Lots and Houses, in York-Town, whereon Doctor George Riddell lately lived, near the Court House: There is a large Dwelling-House, store-House, Kitchen, Stable, all convenient Out-Houses, and a very good garden on the same.

It was noted also that the "above Lots and Houses have rented for Thirty-two Pounds for several years past." This advertisement may have been successful, as a sale did occur within six months.

William Nelson, in April 1756, sold the lots and development to Robert Burwell and his wife, Elizabeth, "in Joint tenancy." When Elizabeth died, Robert Burwell became "seized of the whole by reason of survivorship." Quite cleanly this property "in the Town of York near the Courthouse" continued to be developed and to increase in value. When the Hon. Robert Burwell, Esq., came to dispose of it in May 1773, it brought £1000 current money of Virginia. The purchaser was Corbin Griffin, "Doctor of Physic." [10] Earlier, Griffin had announced his intention to dispose of Yorktown property, which by description seems to have been Lots 12 and 18 with their developments: [11]

To be Sold, my Houses and Lots in the Town of York, which formerly belonged to the Honorable Robert Burwell, together with a large and well furnished medicinal shop. The houses are in very good repair, with all convenient outhouses, and in every respect well fitted for a family.

Dr. Griffin would remain in ownership and residence for almost a quarter century through the period of the Revolution and postwar years. He sold it in October 1795 to Thomas Griffin. The deed, in the amount of a token five shillings, specified that it covered the lots and the "Houses and Tenements in the town of York, which the said Corbin Griffin purchased of Robert Burwell and on which he now lives . . . reserving a full, free, and uninterrupted use of the said Tenement for his natural life." [12]

It is significant that Corbin Griffin elected to insure this property in the newly formed "Mutual Assurance Society against Fire on Buildings of the State of Virginia" in April 1796. It described the buildings on the property and gave their general relationship to each other on a plot plan sketch which was a part of the policy. [13]

1. The dwelling house, constructed of wood and covered with a wooden roof, measured 60 by 27 feet. It had three chimneys, two small and one large, and was valued at $2,600. The long axis was along the cross street (now Ballard) which separated it from the courthouse property.

2. The kitchen, also of wood and covered with a wooden roof, measured 34 by 20 feet and was valued at $200. It had a large chimney and stood 26 feet from the north corner of the residence.

3. Some 27 feet beyond the north corner of the kitchen stood a 26- by 24-foot structure designated as "Quarters." Built of "wood cover'd with wood," it also had a chimney. It was valued at $100.

4. There was another small structure some 15 feet off the kitchen's northeast end referred to as the "Smoke House." Measurements for it were not given, though it seems to scale perhaps 12 by 15 feet. No estimate of value was given.

5. About 30 feet northwest of the dwelling house on Main Street was Griffin's Medical Shop. Again this structure, which measured 24 by 20 feet, was wood covered with wood. Its value was placed at $100. [14]

These evaluations placed on the building development on Lots 12 and 18 in 1796 totaled $3,000. [15]

It seems highly significant that the buildings shown on the 1796 insurance plot plan (in number, location, and arrangement) are essentially the same as those shown fifteen years earlier on the Berthier billeting plan of 1781. [16] Having survived the siege, these developments on Lots 12 and 18 would continue for several decades.

In 1812 deeds the houses and lots had come to be called the "White House." [17] In all likelihood the residence and principal structures were gone before August 1821, as the deed drawn at that time for a sale specified: "Two Lots on half acres of Land lying in the Town of York near the courthouse denoted in the plan of said Town by the figures 12 and 18 and known by the name of the white house Lot." [18] Even though there was the perfunctory legal clause "Together with the buildings, &c," the sale price of $110 would rule out anything of substance.

The property (particularly Lot 18) would see more construction, and it is now the site of the First National Bank of Yorktown which replaced a large two-story frame stone-apartment complex of more recent (c. 1900) times. [19] In Civil War years, according to a Brady photograph, a slight frame structure stood on the corner of the lot.

Lot 19:

This lot on the west corner of the intersection of Main Street and the cross street that became Ballard Street was initially taken up by Thomas Collier, a planter, in November 1691. He failed to build on the lot, however, and forfeited his title. [1] It was not until May 1706 that the trustees assigned it to Miles Cary who evidently performed what was required of him in regard to this as well as two adjacent lots (Nos. 13 and 20) acquired at the same time. They remained a part of his estate and he willed them to his son, Wilson Cary. Wilson, described as a gentleman of Elizabeth City County, sold them to Robert Ballard, a carpenter, in 1731. [2]

Evidently Robert Ballard further developed the lot since it was adjacent to his home on Lot 13. When he died intestate prior to July 1740, it appears that Lot 19 descended to his daughter, Jane (Mrs. William Dudley). In 1741 the lot was in "the Tenure of Wm Harwood" on a rental basis, indicating that the property constituted a developed home site. Its annual rental then was £16 as compared with £20 for Lot 13, the Ballard home site. [3]

In due course, upon the death of Jane Dudley, Lot 19 went to Charlotte Dixon and her brother, John Dixon, and remained in their possession until 1812. [4] At that point, Charlotte Dixon and John Dixon and Anne, his wife, sold the property to Charles Harris. Harris in turn sold to John R. Fox in 1823. [5]

This lot seemingly was developed and in use for several decades prior to the Revolution. Since Berthier shows no structures in the area of Lot 19, the inference is that nothing useful was standing here after the siege. It may be significant that in the property transfers in 1812 and 1823, mention is made of the lot without the customary language about structures, and the price was only $100 and $90 respectively.

The large two-story frame house that was dismantled here within the last several years had the characteristics of a middle on post-19th century dwelling.

Lot 20:

Though it is not located on Main Street, the story of Lot 20 has been summarized and is included in this report as an Appendix to make the data available to meet an urgent need. Its ownership does have some relationship in the 18th century to Lots 13 and 19 on Main. [1]

Lot 24: The Courthouse Lot

This half-acre plot on the east corner of the intersection of Main ("Broad") and the cross street that became Ballard was not initially dedicated to county purposes, having first been sold to one Thomas Jefferson, a planter, in November 1691. Jefferson either surrendered the land for some reason, or had to forfeit it through failure to develop. It seems significant that on the original lot "platt" of the town (which carries the names of the first grantees) only two structural symbols are sketched. One is on Lot 35 (originally assigned to Col. Edmond Jennings) where York Parish (Grace) Church was built about 1697, and the other is on Lot 24 where the Courthouse was constructed in this same year. The position of the sketches on the lots seems to suggest that they were added some time after the plan was prepared. [1] In any case, it was six years after the town was established that the York County Court met for the first time in its new courthouse on Lot 24, having been meeting regularly for some 65 years in various places.

The first court session for the county was convened on July 12, 1633 at Utimaria, the residence of Capt. John Utie, [2] which is situated near the York, up the river above King Creek, and now within the confines of the Naval Cheatham Annex (previously old Penniman). For a number of years the court meetings continued to be held at the homes of the different justices who composed the court. In due course York settlement concentrated on the point of land formed where Wormley Creek and the river join (now the Coast Guard Training Center). In 1658 the house of Capt. Robert Baldrey was rented for courthouse purposes and a county prison, stocks, pillory, and ducking stool were built close by. [3]

Some twenty years later, in 1677, the court was moved to the Handsford House at the head of Felgate's Creek for a three-year stay. Early in 1681 the court bought a house belonging to Andrew Reader, which was located not far away at the French Ordinary near the Halfway House. A short time later a prison was built near the courthouse.

Even though the town of York was laid out in 1691, the courthouse facilities at the French Ordinary continued in use. It took a petition signed by the inhabitants of the county to force a move. The Virginia Assembly, in September 1696, directed that "the justices or members of the said court [of York County] take care that an house suitable and fitt to hold courts in and as bigg in dimension att least as the present court house now is be errected built and finished at the charge of the county upon some certain place within the said limitts of York Towne" prior to October 31, 1697. [4] The deadline was met and presumably Governor Francis Nicholson made his promised "£5 sterling" contribution toward the cost of the structure. [5] On March 24, 1698 (after the courthouse had been established), the county court ordered the sheriff to remove to York "ye Standard of this County and all other implements & materialls yt are moveable & belonging to this County from ye Old Corthouse, ye prison stocks & pillory And yt ye Same be duly performed sometime betwixt this and ye next Cort."

This was the first courthouse building in Yorktown and it stood on Lot 24. Since that date Yorktown has been the center of county government except for those intervals of time between courthouses. In the course of the years, and including the structure now in use, there have been five courthouse buildings constructed on this lot. [6]

The First Courthouse: 1697-c. 1733

Following the Assembly action in 1696, the York County justices met in the home of Capt. William Buckner in December of that year to make arrangements for building the new courthouse. Lot 24 was the selected site. The contractor was William Cary who agreed to build it for 28,000 pounds of tobacco (on a total of 30,240 pounds including cask). Cary completed the building in the specified time and on September 24, 1697, in a meeting at the French Ordinary, the count adjourned to meet two months later at the new courthouse. [7]

Presumably the new structure was a simple framed one, possibly built of marl. [8] It did have a "Shingle" roof and when it was newly covered in 1703 it took only 6,000 shingles to do the job. [9] There is one item of particular interest regarding this structure and its associated buildings and facilities. It is a memorandum of February 12, 1707, which notes that Maj. William Buckner had agreed for 6,000 pounds of tobacco "to build a good substantial office of 16 feet Square to be weatherboarded with featheredged plank or good Oak boards Larthed & Plastered to be Sealed with the Same wth good windows well glaized to be Set in Such place as the Court Shall be appointed as also good Stocks & Pillory & other necessarys thereto with a Porch to the Court house Door of Seven foot Square & to joyn to the House wch he doth hereby promise to perform as soon as nails and Other Necessarys may be had to order thereto." [10]

Repairs and alterations were needed regularly at the Yorktown Courthouse. For instance, in 1713 William Buckner was paid more than 15,000 pounds of tobacco for building additions to the courthouse, tarring them, and mending the windows. [11] After more than three decades of use a move was instigated to replace the structure with a new one. Reasons for this action are not given, but since in these years the county, and especially Yorktown, was increasing in business and population, probably the old building was outgrown and there was simply a need for better quarters. In any case, the question of a new courthouse was raised late in 1730. [12]

The Second Courthouse: 1733-1814

The initial move to replace the first courthouse with a new structure came in December 1730 when the county court selected a committee from among its members to "receive Proposals" for erecting the new building. Some months later this committee was reconstituted with directions to contract for the construction of a "brick Courthouse" to measure 40 feet long and 24 feet wide "in the clear." However, this plan was abandoned in favor of a building rectangular in shape and it was decided to adapt "a new draught for the same" calling for a T-shaped structure. This was contracted to Robert Ballard and he completed the new courthouse about mid-July 1733. [13] When the site was excavated in 1941 it was found that the cross of the T was approximately 60 feet and the stem measured 52 feet in length. [14]

Though the contract price was a considerable £600, it was actually paid for in tobacco with the county court making three annual levies for the purpose. The total amount collected exceeded £122,000. [15] This would indicate an imposing structure, and in 1742 one English visitor did describe it in such terms: "The Court-House is the only considerable publick Building, and is no unhandsome Structure." [16]

Evidently the first floor in the new courthouse was of wood, later replaced with stone. An order was placed in July 1739 in "England for Stone to lay the floor of the Court house and of the two offices and for one Yard and one Ell according to the standard of England." [17]

From all indications the courthouse was a sturdy structure and, except for the floor, no major repairs were needed until after the Revolution and after the siege of 1781. The seat of local county government continued here through this period and consequently many significant area events and meetings of the war years (1775-1781) were associated with Lot 24 and the second courthouse that stood here for more than 80 years.

It is not known to what use the British put the structure during their occupation before and during the siege. Quite possibly it could have been a hospital. It served as such when the French troops were quartered here in the winter of 1781-1782. [18] In any case, British damage to the structure was severe, especially to the interior, all the windows being destroyed by the troops with damages estimated at £100. [19]

When the French departed there was thought toward repair of the courthouse and its associated structures on Lot 24. This required some time due to lack of funds, community disruption, and for a time, perhaps, even lack of will. Efforts would continue until 1794. The detailed listing of materials and work for the repairs, especially on the inside, revealed much information about the interior details and furnishings of the structure. [20]

There is no reason to suppose that this repair work changed the major lines of the building. It continued to present its T-shape with a body of brick (including a "brick gable end") and was covered with wood shingles. [21] The only structural alteration found on record came in 1807 when arrangements were made "to let the enclosure of the Piazza of the Courthouse of this County and the whitewashing of the said Courthouse." [22] The courthouse continued in use for another seven years until it was destroyed on March 3, 1814, by a fire that devastated a considerable part of Yorktown. [23]

The Third Courthouse: 1818-1863

After the destruction of the second courthouse building, the county resorted to meeting again in private homes, that of Matthew Wills and Willoughly Jordan. [24] There was action toward the construction of a third courthouse when in March 1816 the court named commissioners to contract for a new structure. On April 20, 1818, it was noted that the commissioners had reported the building's completion to the court. [25]

The contractor had been Richard Garrett, Jr., and the cost about $2,000. It was a brick building, two stories high, covered with wood shingles. The insurance policy taken out in 1818 described it as rectangular, measuring 44 feet long by 24 feet wide. The plot plan of the policy gave the relationship of the courthouse to the jail and clerk's office then standing. [26] It is known from two Matthew Brady photographs made in 1862 that the Main Street front of the courthouse had a shallow portico, or porch, and full-height columns on the front. [27]

This courthouse served Yorktown and the county until the night of December 16, 1863, during the period of Union Army occupancy of Yorktown, when a gunpowder explosion demolished the structure along with the record office and jail and the Swan Tavern just across Main Street. This is established in a court entry for May 1868: [28]

Ordered that the Clerk of the County Count make application to the proper authorities for the wooden unoccupied tenement erected in 1864, and formerly used as Military barracks, for a Court House for this county to replace the county Court-House which with the Record office, Jail, &c., while being used as Ordnance Storehouse by the United States forces, were destroyed by an explosion on the night of the 16th December, 1863."

Archeological excavations in 1941 found evidence in the ground of an impact strong enough to have moved below-ground foundations, amply sufficient for recording, thus indicating a considerable explosion. [29] The foundations of the third courthouse were not found but the evidence indicated that those of the second courthouse were in part utilized for the third. [30]

The Fourth Courthouse: 1876-1940

It was in August, 1875, that the Board of Supervisors for York County ordered that the bid of W. G. Smithers to construct a new courthouse for $5,865 be accepted. The new courthouse was ordered to be completed in February 1876. [31] A two-story brick structure in the shape of a rectangle, the building was dominated by high but small chimneys arranged on each side of the building. It served the county until an accidental chimney fire from the stack on the east corner gutted it on December 31, 1940, leaving the local government again without a home. [32]

The Fifth (Present) Courthouse: Dedicated in 1955

Though not identical in overall dimension (being larger), this courthouse is suggestive in shape and design of the second courthouse that existed in colonial and Revolutionary times. Information gleaned through the archeological and historical investigations performed by the National Park Service was made available to the architects. [33]

Other Development on Lot 24

This lot was usually rather full of buildings and structures closely linked with the functions of the county court. Like the courthouse, most had to be replaced from time to time. [34] In summary they were:

A. Prisons:

The First Prison: 1698-1737

Built in 1698 by Robert Harrison, it was criticized in the next year for its "insufficiency" and was often in need of repair. Even so it served for almost 40 years. It evidently was of wood and located in that part of the lot where later jails stood.

The Second Prison: 1737-1863

The second jail on Lot 24 was built by William Rogers for £160 in the summer of 1737. This particular building was to have a long life and to survive both the siege of Yorktown and the fire of 1814 (though repairs followed each disaster), only to be destroyed in the Civil War explosion in 1863 previously mentioned. Evidence points to the assumption that it was of wood frame construction around which in 1823 a brick wall enclosure was erected two stories high to allow exercise space for prisoners. [35]

The Third Prison: 1889-c. 1955

Lot 24 was without a jail during the next quarter century until the Board of Supervisors in January 1889 accepted the new "Jail Building and also the cages for the Jail." The brick structure stood until it was removed in connection with the construction of the present courthouse. This was to be the last jail on Lot 24. [36]

B. Clerk's Offices:

The First Clerk's Office: 1708-1808

As previously noted, the first such office called for in February 1708 was a 16-foot square frame structure. Prior to this it appears that the court records were kept at the home of the clerk of the county court. The new office, built by William Buckner, seems to have been ready before the end of 1708. Though small and of frame construction, there are no records to even suggest that it was replaced before 1808. If this is true, it had a century of use for record and office purposes.

The Second Clerk's Office: 1808-1863

This office was accepted for use in September 1808, at a cost of $540. It was a brick building with a slate roof and window shutters and was located near the northwest corner of the courthouse lot. It was described in insurance records of 1838 as a two-story building, 15 by 29 feet. It continued to stand until destroyed by the explosion in 1863.

The Third Clerk's Office

There was a considerable lapse of time between the second and third clerk's offices. The latter was a small brick building covered with stucco and it served until the construction of the present courthouse which includes office and record space for the clerk of court. [37]

C. Other "necessary instruments of justice":

Instruments for administering justice included a pillory and stocks, a whipping post, branding irons, and a ducking stool — the latter conveniently located not on Lot 24 but "on the waterside." The first of these items were brought over from the old courthouse near the Halfway House soon after the first courthouse on Lot 24 was built, as previously noted. By 1701 and again in 1707, it was necessary to replace them; in 1735 new stocks and pillories were ordered built. The last reference to items of this sort apparently was a court order of September 15, 1806, directing that the committee of justices appointed to rebuild the jail also "cause to be immediately erected near the said Jail a good and sufficient whipping post, stocks and pillory at the expense of the this County." [38]

Lot 25:

This strategically located half acre on Main Street directly across the street from the courthouse, was initially assigned to Charles Hansford, "Gent.," by the town trustees in November 1691. He, however, did nothing to develop it and when it was reassigned to Daniel Taylor, "Gent.," in January 1706, it was noted that the "Said lot was formerly taken up by Charles Hansfond and by him deserted." Taylor held the lot only 18 months, then disposed of it to James Sclater. Evidently it was Sclater and his wife, Mary, who satisfied the building requirements, since they retained possession until they sold it to Benjamin Clifton almost 10 years later (September 1716). It was in August 1719 that Clifton disposed of it to Thomas Nelson and Joseph Walker. [1]

Nelson and Walker proceeded to build the Swan Tavern sometime within the next three years. It was noted on March 18, 1722, that they "have built a Tenement commonly called the Swan of which lot and tenement they are now joint tenants." This language is from a deed which dissolved the "joint tenancy and vest in Thomas Nelson and Joseph Walker each, one moity of said lot and all buildings there on a severalty." [2] The Thomas Nelson half descended to his son, William, who also acquired the remaining portion from the heirs of Walker. [3] In due course William Nelson, in March 1761, deeded the entire property to his son "Thomas Nelson, the younger son and Heir apparent of said William Nelson." At the time, the "Swan Tavern" was in the occupation of James Mitchell. [4]

The Swan Tavern was for 130 years the leading hostelry of Yorktown. With its desirable location near the capital of the colony and in a port of considerable commercial enterprise, people came here from all parts of Virginia and elsewhere. Thus the Swan Tavern was meeting the needs of travelers twenty years before the Raleigh Tavern of Williamsburg had opened its doors for a like service to the public. All during its existence the Swan remained to Yorktown what the Raleigh was to Williamsburg, a noted place of public entertainment and accommodations. [5]

As one author has noted:

The original Swan Tavern, serving the needs of man and beast in Yorktown from 1722 until 1863 was, perhaps, the scene of more pertinent activities directly touching and shaping the lives of the local colonists than any other building in the thriving river port with the possible exception of the Court House, occupying the opposite street corner. Here, at the crossing of Main and Ballard streets news and events from Gloucester, the Eastern Shore, England and the northern colonies paused for comment and speculation in its swing up from the river before spreading over the peninsula and on through Virginia by way of the Capitol at Williamsburg. At the sign of the Swan, seafarers, tobacco traders, merchants and all the varied types and classes of traveling eighteenth century found rest and refreshment. [6]

The Swan Tavern also had its role in the development of Freemasonry in Virginia. It has been noted that "The Lodge at Swan's Tavern Yorktown, Virginia was warranted on the 1st of August, 1755 with the number 205. . . . It paid its two guineas as Constitution fee at the meeting of the Grand Lodge [of England] of the 4th of December, 1755." [7] There are no records specifically for this lodge, not even a roll of members. It is listed in Albert F. Calvert, Old Engraved Lists of Masonic Lodges, which includes a page from the 1764 list. There is the number 205 next to a sketch of a swan with the word "Tavern" above it. Then there are columns carrying the notations "In York Town Virginia," "1st & 3d Wednesd," and "August 1, 1755." It is not known how long this lodge continued; seemingly it was a casualty of the Revolution. In any case, it was defunct by 1780. A new Yorktown Lodge was granted a charter by the Grand Lodge of Virginia in February of that year. [8]

During the course of its history the old tavern changed hands and management numerous times. Among those who owned and operated it were Thomas Nelson, Scervant Jones, Lawrence Gibbons, Matthew Wills, William Nelson, and lastly Robert Anderson. [9] Of all these owners, none is quite so picturesque, perhaps, as the Rev. Scervant Jones who for a quarter century preached at the Powder Horn in Williamsburg.

An old Swan Tavern Ledger Book [10] gives interesting sidelights into the accounts and business of the tavern during the last quarter of the 18th and the first three decades of the 19th century. From it we learn that bills quite frequently ran up into large figures and, even when paid, were not always settled for in cash. Planks, brown sugar, butter, rum, and all manner of farm produce, as well as the hiring of slaves, the freighting of articles by ship, and the schooling of children were received in payment along with some actual cash. Methods of accounting were not always exact, judging from a number of entries listing ferriage paid by the keeper and other items of purely personal interest. [11] A notation of prices gives an insight into the economic condition of the times, for the fluctuation of paper money during the Revolution is seen in the listed price of brandy. In 1776 it was sold at 4 shillings per gallon, in 1778 it had risen to 32 shillings; a year later it was £8, yet by 1786 the price had returned nearer its normal level, being entered in the books at 6 s. [12]

According to notes compiled from the ledger, from 1813 to 1825 the total tavern accounts amounted to $4,623.01. The most prosperous period for the Swan, in all probability, was before the Revolution when Yorktown was at its peak. After the turn of the century the records show that its owners on occasion gave mortgages and deeds of trust against the establishment. It was in the execution of a deed of trust that William Nelson acquired the property in 1826 from the estate of Matthew Wills.

In connection with the operation of the Swan in 1828 by Lucy, wife of Matthew Mills, an interesting document has been uncovered in the York County Records. The document is a bond for a tavern license and throws some light on the requirements for keeping a tavern almost l50 years ago:

Know all Men by these presents that we Lucy Wills and Folmer M. Hubbard are held and firmly bound unto William B. Giles esquire Governor on chief Magistrate of the Commonwealth of Virginia in the just and full sum of $150, to which payment well and truly to be made to the said Governor and his successors we bind ourselves and each of us and each of our heirs exors and admors jointly and severally, firmly by these presents, sealed with our seals and dated this 10th day of March 1826. . . .

The license stated that Lucy Wills had permission to keep an Ordinary, and proceeded to outline the conditions under which she might keep it open:

"If therefore the said Lucy Wills doth constantly find and provide in her said Ordinary good wholesome and clean lodging and diet for Travellers and Stableage, fodder and provender on pasterage and provender as the season shall require for their horses, until the next May term of the County of York, and shall not suffer or permit any unlawful gaming in hen house nor suffer any person to tipple and drink more than is necessary then the above obligation is void or else to remain in full force and virtue. [13]

The last owner of the old Swan Tavern was Robert Anderson, a man well known in lower Virginia. His advertising card posted on the front of the tavern fixed him as a man of business with not too much toleration, for it read: [14]

. . . visitors are to state their names and residences and be prepared to pay their fare in specie change, without regard to age. . . . Rooms for public meetings, court martials, taking depositions, and such like assemblages, will be charged for by the day. As the house is not intended to be a place of lazy, unprofitable resort, mere loungers are requested to keep away, and all who come only to idle their time at the fire in winter, or to gulph down ice water in summer, will be charged 25 cents each. Rude, noisy or intoxicating persons will not be tolerated on any terms.

In spite of his attempt to put the tavern on a paying basis, evidently he failed, for in July 1852 it was closed as a place of public entertainment. Eleven years later, in December 1863, the building was wrecked by the explosion of the Union Army magazine in the courthouse across the street, thus ending the story of one of Virginia's fine historic taverns. [15]

Evidently Lot 25 stood vacant until it was acquired by Samuel A. Bent in September 1873. Some time prior to 1880 he built another house of public entertainment on the lot which became known as the "Bent Hotel Lot." Bent died about 1889 and the property descended to his children. [16] The Bent Hotel burned in 1915 and a "mercantile establishment" that followed it had disappeared before 1929. [17] It was thus an empty site when the National Park Service began its work in Yorktown in 1930. It became one of the first sites to be studied in depth historically, archeologically, and architecturally. Some excavating was done in 1932 but in the main this archeological search was chiefly from 1933-1934.

It was reported that:

Six main foundations were excavated on the Swan Tavern lot — those of the second tavern, built in 1880; the first tavern; the kitchen; stable; smokehouse; and a sixth building that would appear to have been the dairy. These were identified from the Insurance records and drawings, which in the case of this lot are extensive and consistent on the number and location of the main buildings and dependencies. [18]

The results of the archeological study [19] and the historical data from wills and inventories (particularly that of James Mitchell in 1777), some contemporary accounts and descriptions, and limited pictorial references led to the decision to reconstruct this tavern. [20] Construction followed in 1934, with the work largely under the supervision of Clyde F. Trudell who worked from plans drawn by William H. Haussman. The Peters Construction Company of Norfolk, Va., did the contract building. [21]

Lot 30:

This half acre of land on the north corner of the intersection of Church and Main Streets [1] had a good location next to the courthouse and very near the parish church in Yorktown. It evidently saw busy times in colonial days and into the Revolution. When Alexandre Berthier detailed the buildings in Yorktown late in 1781 he noted five, possibly six, structures that were then standing here. [2]

This lot went initially, in 1691, to John Rogers, "Gent.," who evidently developed it since he was still in ownership in 1706 when he sold it to Thomas Mountfort. It then was described as a lot "wth all Housing & Utilences" and as a "lot and its appuntencies." [3] In some way Rogers regained possession of the property and in September 1710 he sold it once more, this time to John Wills. This was lot "number 30 together with the messuage or tenement thereon and appurtences." [4]

Wills retained Lot 30 only three years, subsequently selling it to Edward Powers. Powers died in 1719 and by will bequeathed "the house & Lott in York Town whereon I now live to my loving wife Elizabeth Powers." It was intended, too, that in due course it would go to "Elizabeth Moody & Ishmael Moody children of my sd wife." And this is the way that it descended. [5]

When Ishmael Moody died in 1748 his will was found to read: "I give and bequeath to my son Edward Moody my Houses and Land in Yorktown whereon I now live." This was Lot 30 and evidently he had acquired his sister's rights in this and had full ownership. Ishmael's estate inventory for his Lot 30 development was rather extensive and established that his half acre was full of buildings. [6] There was an ordinary, two stories high, that had at least 5 rooms in addition to a "Bar Room," a "Billiard Room" with a "Loft, and a "Cellar." There was mention of the (1) "back House" which had an upstairs; (2) "Lower House" which had a "Large Room" as well as an "Up Stairs" and a cellar; and (3) "the New House." This totaled four major structures and in addition there was a kitchen, a washhouse, an old and a new dairy, and evidently two meat houses.

In December 1767, Edward Moody and his wife, Elizabeth (now of Chesterfield County), sold Lot 30 and its development for a handsome £500 to John Gibbons who would continue the operation on the lot. When he died (his will was filed in October 1783) he bequeathed his Yorktown property ultimately to a cousin, Robert Gibbons, and his heirs. [7] Within three years these heirs sold it to Samuel Eddens with this description of the houses then standing:

Houses, Viz that part or parcel of Building known by the name of the new House and formerly occupied by Messrs Cabarrus & Co. as a Store house, also two old houses on the same Lot opposite to the Courthouse with that part of the Kitchen occupied at present by Monsieur Guenette. [8]

This deed to Eddens in 1786 concerned only five-eighths of Lot 30, the west corner of the lot having come under separate ownership some time prior to December 1786. In November 1789 Eddens sold the five-eighths of Lot 30 to Francis Moss. There was reference again to the "new house" which the Cabarrus Company had formerly occupied as a storehouse, and to "one old house on the lott opposite to the Courthouse, with that half of the Kitchen to the same belonging." [9] Evidently time was taking its toll of the buildings on Lot 30, for none of the colonial and Revolutionary structures would survive into modern times.

The west corner of Lot 30 holds a particular interest since it was involved with the reconstruction of what was thought to be the site of the Corbin Griffin Medical Shop. [10] It is known now that this shop was not here, but was located down the street beyond the courthouse. The basic error came in assuming that two insurance policies related to Lot 30 when in truth they were coverage for structures on Lot 18. The suggestion came, too, from the fact that Corbin Griffin acquired this corner section with a house on it, but not until he was well established on Lots 12 and 18. [11] He acquired this corner plot from Francis Moss and his wife, Sarah, for £50 "current money." [12]

All that parcel of land on part of a lot lying in the Town of York adjoining the Courthouse lot and denoted in the plan of the said Town by the No. [30] containing 31 feet in front on the main Street beginning at the Courthouse lot and 44-3/4 feet back which said Lot was sold to Francis Moss by Samuel Eddens in 1789 together with the house standing on the aforesaid parcel or part of lot.

The purchase price would indicate a sound, smaller structure but there is no mention here of two medical shops nor was it mentioned in later deeds of record. This parcel, 31 by 44-3/4 feet, continued for some time to have a separate identity. In 1850 when it was sold by Washington Rowe to James L. Walker it was described as "a certain House and lot in the Town of York contiguous to and adjoining the Courthouse lot, which said House and lot the said Washington Rowe derived by Deed from Nathaniel Taylor." [13] Rowe had bought it in March 1847 from Taylor, who for some time resided on the Ranger part of Lot 30. Taylor had purchased the parcel, "said house and Lot," from Thomas, the son of Corbin Griffin. [14] It is not known just how long the house stood on this parcel. A small frame structure does show here in one of the Brady photographs and it seems to be in some disrepair. [15] Also in an insurance policy of 1850 covering the courthouse property a structure is noted on the site 50 feet from the courthouse itself and is described as "Rowe's wood building." [16]

It was in January 1935 that the first archeological work was done on Lot 30, on the Griffin west corner of the half acre. It continued with some interruption until September, having been extended to cover the northwestern two-thirds of the lot. [17] In total a good many foundations and fragments and numerous artifacts were uncovered. However, findings in the Griffin corner of the lot were rather unfruitful and confusing and "the archeological evidence for this location is very poor." [18]

After considerable discussion [of where precisely to locate a reconstruction] it was finally decided to erect the Shop by centering it on a . . .fireplace foundation . . . and laying it out from there, a location which, it was admitted by all concerned, at best only approximated the original location. [19]

It is obvious from this and the various data that the site selected was arbitrary.

With no insurance drawings; no help to be gleaned from wills, inventories, contemporary drawings, or descriptions of the original; and with little information provided by foundations on artifacts found during archeological research, it was necessary that the new structure be of period type only. It would draw for comparative data on survivals elsewhere and contemporary inventories and descriptions of other shops of this time period.

Plans were drawn for a typical medical shop of the 1781 period and a contract was let to E. C. Nuckels of Richmond in November 1935. Completion came in March 1936 and the first occupant of the building was the Yorktown Post Office.

Lot 31:

This nicely located lot on the west corner of Main and Church streets had to wait some 15 years for development, although it was initially awarded in 1691 to one William Patison. Due to failure to develop the land, Patison forfeited it. In May 1706 the trustees assigned it to Michael MacCormack for the customary 180 pounds of tobacco. [1] A year and a half later, when he sold the northwest half of the lot to John Brooks, it was detailed that his "now Dwelling house" was standing on the half which he retained. Later in 1708 MacCormack sold the remaining half of the lot to Brooks including the "one Messuage on tenement thereon." [2]

It is of some interest that Elizabeth Brooks in a verbal will expressed the desire to have Mr. Thomas Nelson, or some other person, "Endeavour to Secure ye Lott & houses for her Child & that all her Estate should be kept together for her Child [John] till he come of Age." Seemingly this did happen as John Brooks, "Marriner," disposed of Lot 31 to Thomas Nelson in 1724 through his attorney, John Gibbons. [3]

A decade later, in 1735, Thomas Nelson deeded this lot and its improvements for a token 15 shillings to William Nelson, Jr., his "Son and Heir apparent." A quarter century later (1761), William Nelson deeded this same property (along with Lot 25 and the Swan Tavern) on the same terms to his "Son and Heir," "Thomas Nelson the Younger." At the time of this transfer of Lot 31, it was stated that it was then "in the occupation of William Stevenson and Alexander Maitland." This could well indicate two businesses in operation on the half acre and likely two structures to accommodate them. [4] Thomas Nelson, Jr., retained ownership of Lot 31 for more than a decade and in May 1773 disposed of it by sale for a substantial £ 550 to William Reynolds. [5]

William Reynolds seems to have been a native of Yorktown who received his business education in offices of the London firm of John Norton and Sons. It was late in 1771, on early in 1772, that he returned to Yorktown and set himself up as a merchant. [6] In May 1772 he rented a storehouse from John Hatley Norton in Yorktown. Then he began to acquire property in various parts of the town. Three months after taking title to Lot 31 he wrote: "I have made a purchase of a lott & Houses more conveniently situated for business & for less money & am now commenced Housekeeper. . . ." [7] It seems significant that he noted "a lott & Houses."

William Reynolds had returned to Virginia with a tidy sum to invest in trade and it is reasonable to assume that he bought a storehouse in keeping with his means and needs. It is a fact that, soon after his purchase of Lot 31, a building on that lot became known as the Reynolds Brick Storehouse.

For a number of years, Reynolds tried his fortune in trade. In the beginning, his chief connection was with London, but gradually he shifted the emphasis to the West Indian commerce and even bought interest in a number of trading ships. His correspondence indicates that he contemplated an extensive business based on wide trade relations. He toured Virginia seeking freight for his ships and sale of his goods. At the same time, he remained in the circle of social and political Virginia enjoying the theatrical performances of the day, the lotteries, court meetings, and Assembly meetings. In spite of his capital, his influence, and his position, the records indicate that he was not really successful commercially. Whether it was a result of the Revolution, lack of ability, poor management, or due to some unknown cause, Reynolds gradually withdrew from his large business, selling his ships and even his storehouse on Lot 31. He himself indicates that the Revolution was in large part the determining factor.

Early in 1779 William Reynolds, Merchant, and Mary, his wife, sold a part of the Lot 31 holding: "all that House and Ground whereon it stands commonly called and known by the name of William Reynolds's brick store house situate on the main street and on the Lott now in the occupation of the said Reynolds." This sale was to James Eyma & Company for "£1200 current money of Virginia" and included only the north corner of Lot 31. The east corner and the rear part of the lot remained in the ownership of Reynolds who evidently resided in a home on it. [8] The storehouse would be sold by James Eyma of Martinique through Reynolds in 1783 to John Moss, and by Moss to John C. Gunther in 1784, in each instance being noted as "Mr Reynolds's Brick stone." [9] One of the bounds of the house and site continued to be the part of Lot 31 which "continued in the occupation of the said Reynolds." Reynolds remained in ownership of this, the larger part of Lot 31, until he sold it in 1792 to John Hatley Norton, then of Winchester in Frederick County, for £600. The Norton purchase included Lot 29 as well. [10]

The housing here owned by Reynolds and by James Eyma and Company suffered little damage from the siege in 1781 although the storehouse was used in the months following as a French barracks. In 1783 Reynolds wrote to Arthur Lee seeking compensation for eight months of French occupation. When Berthier made his survey of existing housing in Yorktown he located two buildings of substance on Lot 31 facing Main Street and a small structure just behind the inside one. He also located another large L-shaped structure on Church Street with two smaller units behind it in the south corner portion of the lot.

Insurance records relating to Lot 31 cover only the Reynolds Storehouse. [11] The first was issued to James Belvin in 1838 and covered a two-story brick dwelling 40 by 20 feet contiguous to four wooden buildings. In later policies it was normally described as a "Dwelling of Brick and covered with wood, one and a half stories high," except that in 1853 and 1860 it was noted as a "Dwelling and Storehouse." There is no doubt that this all related to the same single structure. An 1865 reference noted the building was "Reported to be destroyed probably in December, 1863 by enemy." Probably it was another casualty of the courthouse explosion.

There is only a meager historical record on description of the house erected by MacCormack on the east corner of Lot 31, although the building clearly was there and stood a long time. It is not known when it disappeared, but it was gone by 1886, since it is not present in a photograph made about that time showing the full extent of the Main Street frontage of Lot 31. At this time two slighter structures stood here. On the east corner was a "Bar Room" and on the north corner two small frame structures in considerable disrepair stood between it and Brent's Hotel on the Swan Tavern site. [12] Prior to the establishment of Colonial National Historical Park, the Chandler Building with Carters Drug Store [13] had replaced these on the Main Street front of Lot 31. These gave way to an open lot and Park acquisition allowing archeological study here early in the 1930's.

The archeological study of Lot 31 began in 1933 following the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Most of the half acre was explored, although the southeast corner of the lot had to await the removal of a building. This then housed the Yorktown Post Office which was moved to the period type Medical Shop across Main Street early in 1936. In the archeological exploration:

Foundations of two brick buildings were excavated, one of them on the northeast corner of the lot, at the corner of Main and Church Streets, identified by the historical records as the MacCormack House; the other on the northwest corner of the lot, adjacent to the Swan Tavern, and identified from the historical records as the Reynolds brick storehouse. . . . Portions of two small buildings were also uncovered, but not identified. The excavations in the fall of 1936 served only to relocate the foundation extending under the old post office . . . to locate an old well; and an unusual cache of an early type of glass wine bottle. [14]

With the fruits of the historical and archeological research in hand, thought went to the possible reconstruction of the Reynolds Brick Storehouse. Lack of full agreement on the architectural detail and interpretation of some of the findings caused the matter to be shelved for the moment and it has not been reactivated. [15] Later in the 1930's the east corner of the lot became the site of a National Park Service temporary museum and information center which was open until the exigencies of World War II led to its closing.

Lot 36:

This half-acre parcel on the east corner of Church and Main streets, directly in front of the lot on which York Parish Church was built, was among those lots assigned by the town trustees in November 1691. [1] It was deeded to William Digges of Bellfield Plantation fame, but he failed to develop it and forfeited his title. It remained unoccupied for another eight years before it was reassigned to Robert Leightenhouse, a one-time schoolteacher, provided "said Robert should within twelve months after said grant build and finish on said Lott a good house to containe at least 20 foot square and he failing so to do said lott should be lyable to ye choice of any other but said Robert failed to build such house said grant became void and said lott lyable to the choice of any other." [2]

Now a new element entered the picture. Leightenhouse's widow, Elizabeth, married Mungo Somerwell and evidently he began to develop the lot. [3] But he also died within several years, whereupon Elizabeth successfully sought to get title to the lot from the town trustees. This was in payment of the usual 180 pounds of tobacco but "in consideration also of the several buildings and improvements on ye said Lott made by Mungo Somerwell decd late husband of said Elizabeth." Now, in May 1707, she had title to "Lot 36 with the buildings."

Elizabeth soon married again, this time to Edward Powers. [4] When Elizabeth herself died, however, the property went not to Powers but to "Joseph Mountfort as heir at Law of ye said Elizabeth." It was Mountfort who sold the property in June 1716 to Phillip Lightfoot for £80 sterling. At the time it was a rental property "in ye tenure and occupation of Mary Smith" who evidently operated an ordinary here as she had obtained the proper license the year before. [5] It would remain in the Lightfoot family as a property parcel for almost seven decades. It is interesting that Philip Lightfoot, after his death in 1748, left in his will Lot 36 and other properties to his son, William, including the storehouse which he had bought from Joseph Mountfort. [6] Quite clearly the Somerwell House had varying uses even in Colonial times and would have others.

The Lightfoot ownership ended in 1783 with the sale of the property to John Moss for a tidy £300. [7] Berthier, on his plan of 1781, delineated three structures on the Main Street edge of Lot 36 — the T-shaped Somerwell House, a small structure east of it, and a larger one beyond that. No outbuildings were shown even for the Somerwell House, so perhaps there were none that were considered usable.

John Moss proceeded to build a store on the eastern half of the lot and in 1798, since he was now a resident of Richmond, he sold to John Moss of Yorktown:

a certain Store house with the Ground (only) it stands on lying in the Town of York and Called and known by the name of Moss's store lying on the main Street with the appurtenances. [8]

John Moss of Richmond retained the remainder of the lot except for the storehouse and site plus "a small passage between the said Store house as far as it extends and no further." This he sold to Peyton Southall in July 1804. Southall restored a single ownership to Lot 36 when he purchased "Moss'es store together with the reversions" in December 1812. [9]

In the first half of the 19th century a number of fire insurance policies were taken out to cover the property, the earliest of them being taken out in 1817. [10] At that time the dependencies shown on the western part of the lot in association with the Somerwell House were of the type normally associated with dwellings of the Somerwell House style and period. In 1817 they were noted on the plot sketch of the lot as:

"Dwelling," brick covered with wood — 39 by 42 feet
(Though listed as one story, later policies are consistent at one and one-half stories.)
"Kitchen," wood covered with wood — one story, 18 by 24 feet
"Stable," wood covered with wood — one story, 16 by 16 feet
"Dairy" — shown in symbol block but not described
"Smoke House" — shown in symbol block but not described

These structures continued to appear on most later policies through 1853, as did a "store-wood covered with wood" 25 by 44 feet (given as one and one-half stories except in 1817). Likely this was the store that Moss built in the southwest corner of the lot prior to 1798. Except for the year 1817, the store was noted as "Store and Dwelling." In 1846 the Somerwell House was shown as then unoccupied. It is of particular note that a policy of 1823 indicated that at that time both the east and west sides of the rear wing of the Somerwell House had porches. "This is the earliest and only known documentary evidence of either of these spaces having been covered." [11]

Though all aboveground traces of the Somerwell House dependencies had long ago disappeared from the scene prior to the acquisition of this portion of the lot by the National Park Service, it was possible in the 1930's to make a search for underground remains. There is this thumbnail report of the archeological investigation to locate and identify Somerwell House dependency sites: [12]

Using the available insurance data as source material the near of the Lightfoot [Somerwell] lot was investigated by excavations starting July 8, 1935. . . . After but four days of exploratory endeavors the chimney of the kitchen (or a chimney #2,860 — #2,859 [13] that was found at the site supposedly occupied by the former kitchen building) was discovered and uncovered, also during the same four days the foundation of the smokehouse was located and uncovered (No. 2,851 — No. 2,854) and the site of the stable (No. 2,849) was located and cleared revealing the brick rubble floor. The evidences of the stable yard were cleanly discernible in trenching revealing the soil strata.

The Somerwell House itself did survive its vicissitudes and continues into the present time in its restored form. It is one of the earlier Yorktown survivals and evidently, as we have seen, was initially the work of Mungo Somerwell sometime in the very first years of the 18th century. It has been speculated because of its architectural characteristics that the Somerwell House may represent two stages of construction, the leg of the T being built first, and the top of the T, close along Main Street, representing an addition, although both were rather close to each other in point of time. "The character of brick masonry displayed on the rear wing certainly presents many earlier details than that of the front wing." [14] Clyde F. Trudell also concluded that "it is possible that the dwelling was struck during the bombardment of the town that came with the Siege." This, he points out, may explain many of the puzzling patches in the brick walls that show decided evidence of very early repair that may have been necessary by the passage of cannon balls." [15]

Though the fabric of the house remained reasonably intact, its visible exterior form came to be lost after later additions which included a full-length porch on the front and a long extension of the back extending toward Grace Church. It has been reported [16] that:

During the Civil Wan, a stable was moved behind and joined to the rear wing and the structure thus enlarged was used as a hospital for the Federal Troops. [17] After the Civil War the entire structure was made into a hotel and in quite recent years (about 1870) the stable addition was added to by a long, rambling, two story frame structure of bedrooms and an additional full story was added over the stable portion which was originally but one story in height.

Actually the 1870 date is too early for the realization of the long, full two-story extension on the rear, though there was a sizeable addition here in 1881 at the time of the Yorktown Siege of 1781 Centennial observance. This was then a relatively long and low dormered (not a full two-story) extension with a porch trailing behind it. At this time, too, the structure already had a porch across the front. This same situation was true about 1903 when a postal card view was published. The extensive rear section had, however, been fully extended and raised to its full two stories prior to the winter of 1917-1918 when a sailor in Yorktown (Everett R. Gardner) photographed it. [18]

From all indications, the Somerwell House and its appendages, in good repair, were able to serve some of the visiting public during the Centennial celebration in 1881. The same was true of another structure built about this time — a large two-story frame building which was erected parallel to Main Street on that part of Lot 36 southeast of the Somerwell House. [19] The Somerwell House continued for some time to be a principal Yorktown hotel, being known at the turn of the century as the "Old English Tavern" and then as the Yorktown Hotel. In 1881 it had been known as Dawson's Hotel. [20]

The old brick house, with its later multiple frame additions, was still functioning as a hotel when taken oven by the National Park Service. It was used by Colonial NHP initially as an administration building and also as dormitory quarters for the staff until the completion of the reconstructed Swan Tavern in 1934. There were repairs to the structure in 1932; however, its full restoration did not come until 1935-1936. [22] At this time it again became Park Headquarters, and it continued to serve in this capacity for some 20 years. [23]

Lot 37:

In August 1692, Capt. Thomas Mountfort was granted a license to keep an ordinary "Att Yorke Town for the ensuing year." [1] This evidently was a stand on Lot 37, probably the first ordinary to be established within the limits of the town. Mountfort had been assigned Lot 37 in November 1691 under the name Thomas Mumford, and obviously proceeded with his development without delay. [2] He seemingly continued to operate here until November 1707 when his petition for a license was denied, the county court deeming his development "insufficient." [3] It appears that after prospering for a time his fortunes then declined. There was mounting competition during this period, as is shown by the fact that Mountfort in November 1694 sued Thomas Sessions, now an innkeeper, for £50 damages for "illegally contriveing invegeling of ye plts Servant named Walter Turner from his Service being then book keeper att his Ordnary Att Yorke Towne." [4] To have had a bookkeeping business must have been profitable at this time.

A court appearance on the part of Mountfort's wife, Rebecca, may suggest some decline in business standards at the Mountfort place. In January 1709, after Capt. Thomas Mountfort's death, she had been indited by a Grand Jury "for keeping Tipling on the Sabbath day & Entertaining evill persons in her house." In her court appearance being very Penitent & Submissive & assureing the Court She would not offend in the like nature," the case was dismissed. [5]

Lot 37 decended to Joseph Mountfort, "son and heir at law" to Captain Thomas. [6] In June 1711, Joseph Mountfort disposed of the half acre with its development to Micajah Perry of London, who a year later, through his attorney in Yorktown, William Buckner, sold it to Edward Powers, an innkeeper. [7] Three years later some legal involvement surfaced, though in the end Powers received a clean title.

John Dozwell and his wife, Rebecca, formerly Mrs. Thomas Mountfort, sought a one-third part "of one Messuage two Cottages & half an Acre of Land wth the appurtences." Rebecca's claim was based on this being "her dowry by the Endowmt" of her former husband now deceased. It developed in the case also that Powers, after his purchase of the lot, had "expended considerable Sums of money in building" on Lot 37. [8]

After seven years, in February 1719, Powers sold the half acre for £110 "with the buildings" to Phillip Lightfoot who added it to his growing list of holdings. When he died near mid-century, this parcel was devised to his son, Armistead Lightfoot. [9] There is no record of Armistead Lightfoot's disposition of the lot and its development; however, it does appear that it had become a part of the estate of Seymour Powell prior to 1789. [10]

At the time of the siege of Yorktown, or just after the surrender of the British, Berthier detailed two large structures, and possibly a third, on Lot 37. One was on the extreme north corner of the half acre and one was near the east corner. Between these and facing on Main Street was the larger building, a T-shaped structure. [11]

These structures did not survive for long, if at all, into the 19th century, though other structures did follow on their sites. On acquisition of this property the National Park Service removed all structures except two which are still standing. One (which may be all, on in pant, on adjacent Lot 43) was built in quite recent times as a private law office and now (1973) is under a use permit and houses a pewter and gift shop. The second is also a gift shop, emphasizing pottery and brass.

It is this second shop, "The Yorktown Shoppe," that is of some passing interest. [12] Seemingly it took form sometime in the last half of the 19th century. It was not standing when Brady did his Civil War photography in Yorktown. It was, however, in being and already a bit aged when a photograph that included it was made in the late 1870's. [13] Old-timers recollect that it may have been erected by some member of the Halstead family. For the next forty years it operated as a store and/or office as need arose. In the early 1930's it was acquired by Mrs. A. Y. Burcher, [14] and was given new underpinnings and a new roof which replaced the original shingles. From then until 1965 it housed Mrs. Burcher's "The Spinning Wheel Antique Shop." The rear portion of the building was added to the shop sometime in the 1950's to provide more space. On the exterior this lacks some of the atmosphere inherent in the original two-story section.

Lot 42:

Thomas Pate became the first person to develop Lot 42 located on the north corner of Main and the cross street that later became Read Street, although it was initially granted to one John Seabourn, a carpenter. Pate, a ferryman and sometime ordinary-keeper at the site of Yorktown even before the town was laid out in 1691, acquired Lot 42 from the town trustees in 1699, and when he disposed of the half acre in April 1703 through "Deed of Guift" it was described as "my House & Lott in Yorktown." [1]

It is believed that the house standing here today is the house that Thomas Pate built, though all dependencies and other structures on the lot have disappeared. Berthier in 1781 showed the L-shaped form of the Pate House along with three small structures facing Main Street some little distance to the northwest. It may be that two of these are the "two Shops" that stood here in 1799 along with the Pate House itself, then described as "the Brick Store house." [2]

Through the years this veteran structure saw a variety of uses and was privately restored as a residence in 1925. [3]

Prior to the acquisition of the Pate House and its immediate surroundings as a part of the Blow Estate in Yorktown in 1966, the larger part of Lot 42 had been acquired and made a part of Colonial NHP. Also, the large two-story store and dwelling, as well as the sizable barn of John S. Deneufville dating back some 60 years, had been demolished. Colonial NHP photograph No. 16,293 shows the Deneufville House and store prior to its demolition.

Lot 43: The "Old Customhouse" Lot

At the outset it is well to note that colonial Virginia had no publicly owned and operated customhouses in the present-day sense. Appointments for district customs collectors (there were six districts in colonial Virginia at this time) usually went to well-to-do planters, on merchants. A collector normally established his office in his residence or store, if these were convenient for ship masters to reach. If not, he opened an office some distance from his home and named a deputy to run it. Thus the "custom house," or "office," of the period was a privately-owned facility. It was the place where the collector kept the seal and district records and from which he issued clearances and other official papers. Its location could, and did, vary with the individual collectors. [1] Richard Ambler and then his sons, John, Edward, and Jaquelin, found it necessary to establish and maintain a district office when they were named, successively, to the post of customs collector for the York River District. They chose a location in Yorktown.

Richard Ambler was a successful merchant and became a well-established Virginian. He married Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward Jaquelin of Jamestown, and in time (1739) inherited a sizable estate there including the mansion whose ruins still dominate the east end of the site of old Jamestown. He also became the Collector of Customs for the York River District, an office that was financially worthwhile and that carried some honor and distinction. [2]

Yorktown was a busy port with considerable trade, reaching its peak prosperity in the decades prior to the Revolution, and as Collector, a post which he held for many years prior to his death in 1766, Ambler was well situated to keep a finger on its pulse. Undoubtedly his office was a news exchange point of considerable proportion not only as it related to local conditions but to world affairs as well. It must have reverberated with the salty talk of the sea as well as the vernacular of the Virginia gentry and tradesmen. He knew ship captains and shipowners and was familiar with their cargoes and destinations.

The Yorktown station served a relatively large area and was one of the most important customs districts in colonial Virginia. Its extent was more on less described and defined about 1770 in a document that is preserved in the British Museum. [3]

This District in Width about 35 Miles and reaches Inland about 75 Miles, Navigable for Large Vessels not more than 45 on 50 Miles. A good and Safe harbour the Whole way up, How the boundaries of this District were Originally Settled not able to say, but from long usage it Comprehend to the Southd a Small River Pocosin, York River, Mockjack Bay with 4 Small rivers on Creeks, which empty themselves into that Bay — To the Northd the little River Peankatunk— Pocosin to York 5 Miles Milford Haven, is another River Peankatunk is 30 Miles from the office, 12 only from Urbanna on Rappahanock.

In all the Rivers are many harbours Bays & Creeks, and landing places at almost every door — Great part of the Navigation of this Port is employed to the Several foreign Ports in Europe, with Cargoes of Wheat & flower [flour] &c Lumber to the West Indies, from all which places their is no doubt that large Quantities of foreign Manufacture & produce are introduced — The principle place is York Town where the Custom House is Established; Rn every harbour Vessels from 50 to 100 tons load — The Oppertunities for Smuggling Cannot be interupted but by a Water Guard.

Richard Ambler, born in York, England, in 1690, was the son of John Ambler, one-time sheriff of Yorkshire, and Elizabeth Burkadike. He migrated to Virginia as a relatively young man and within a short time, by 1720, had settled in Yorktown and entered the mercantile field. He prospered in this business and soon was building property holdings in Yorktown and elsewhere. His first purchase in Yorktown, on January 11, 1721, for £30 current money, was the strategically located Lot 43 at the intersection of Main and Read streets which had good access to the waterfront and harbor. [4] This lot came to be the location of both his residence and his still-surviving storehouse.

Needing additional space, Ambler purchased in 1726 a part of adjoining Lot 44 as well as Lot 45 just beyond. Three years later he acquired Lot 34 on the bluff overlooking the river. Other property acquisitions and adjustments followed, including a ten-acre tract adjoining Yorktown on the west side and, more particularly, the use of an area on the Yorktown waterfront. This later was adjacent to his Lot 34 holding and was in the beach area that separated the original town lots from the river. This being a "Town Commons" area, it was necessary that a special patent be obtained from the Virginia Council. This, along with the right to survey the land, was granted to him on August 15, 1728, in this language: [5]

Richard Ambler of York Town Esqr by his petition setting forth that between the land appropriated for the said Town & the River there lies a beach of sand which at high tide is overflowed, but nevertheless may with some expense & labour be made convenient for building warehouses for the securing merchandizes of great bulk and weight, which through the steepness and height of the bank cannot easily be conveyed into the town that the petr is desirous to erect a warehouse on the said Beach adjoining to that place called the Church landing, & praying that eighety foot square of the said beach may be granted him by patent for the purpose aforesaid, with power to enlarge the same by making a wharf into the river wch may be of great benefit to the trade of that Town. . . .

He was not, however, "to encroach upon the publick landings, on the Streets leading through the said Town to the River side." In this Ambler was following the pattern of other leading Yorktown merchants such as Phillip Lightfoot, Thomas Nelson, Cole Digges, and John Ballard because the five-acre "Comon Shore of noe value" (so designated on the 1691 survey) represented useable ground and the only access to the river, shore, and harbor. [6]

That he was a leading merchant undoubtedly influenced the selection of Richard Ambler as Customs Officer. It would indicate, too, that he had attained an influential, or at least a very substantial, position in this port town. His property buildup reached beyond Yorktown to a "Plantation in Caroline," to another in Hanover County, still another in Warwick County, and a fourth on "Pohatan swamp" in James City. There was, too, the sizable inheritance at Jamestown that came to him through his wife, an inheritance that five years later, in 1744, he substantially increased by purchase to embrace the western half of the Jamestown peninsula. Perhaps his granddaughter, Elizabeth Jaquelin Ambler, writing in 1798, did have good insight into his personality. [7] She described him in these terms:

An honest Yorkshireman amongst the English is proverbial; for what reason I cannot undertake to say; whether, because they abound, on that they are rare, is of little consequence; that our Grandfather Richard Ambler was one, is a fact that his whole neighborhood could testify. He was saving, and thrifty, this perhaps was another characteristic of his Country, nevertheless he was a painstaking, money getting man; and at the age of 43 [34] discretely married our Grandmother the inheritor of the ancient seat of Jamestown . . . .

His marriage in 1724 to Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward Jaquelin and his second wife, Martha Cary, brought him into an estate at Jamestown that had been built up for several decades by two owners — Richard James and William Sherwood. Richard Ambler's marriage was a fruitful one in family matters as well and nine children (six boys and three girls) followed in the years between 1731-1750 although only three were to survive him, all sons — Edward, John, and Jacquelin. There must have been stress and high value on education in the Ambler family. John was educated at Wakefield Grammar School in Yorkshire, at Cambridge, and at Inner and Middle Temple, joining the English bar in 1757. Edward also attended Cambridge, while Jaquelin pursued his studies closer to home, at William and Mary.

Richard Ambler was assured of prodigy through Edward who married Mary, the daughter of William Cary of Ceeley's in Elizabeth City County, and Jaquelin who married Rebecca, the daughter of Lewis Burwell. It was she whom Jefferson called his Belinda. [8]

John, in 1766, died unmarried of "consumption the hereditary weakness of his family" while seeking a cure in the Barbadoes, though his body was brought back for interment at Jamestown. According to his niece, Elizabeth Jaquelin, John Ambler was "a man of most erudition and elegance . . . he was not only a great scholar, but a Gentleman of great refinement." [9] Such is indicated, too, from his lengthy and laudatory epitaph. He had succeeded his father as Collector for the York River District, but death cut his tenure short as it did his attendance in the House of Burgesses where he had been through several sessions.

Richard Ambler died early in 1766 and his somewhat detailed will tells something of the man and his concern for, and his fairness in providing for, the security of his surviving sons. [10] To John went the larger share of the Jamestown properties and to Jaquelin various Yorktown, Jamestown, and outlying properties; to Edward fell the family seat on Main Street in Yorktown and the business-related properties as well as others in the country. A specific provision was: "I give my said son Edward and his Heirs forever my dwelling house wherein I now live together with the Lots of Land whereon that and my Out houses and Stable stands also the Garden ground adjoining. I give him likewise my Storehouse situate on the bank near the River." This bequest included, too, "all the furniture of my said dwelling house, that is to say my Plate Beds Bedding Tables Chairs and all other Utensils belonging to my said dwelling house Kitchen and Stable My Stock in trade I mean all the Goods and Merchandise in the Store on hand and also the Goods and Merchandise now sent for and expected in at the time of my death likewise all the Debts due to me by my Store book a list of which shall be taken..." Richard had been hopeful and requested that Edward and Jaquelin would "carry on Trade in partnership." To this end he gave "all my Bonds and Obligations which are not Entered in my Storehouse" to them equally.

The joint trading arrangement did not materialize. With John Ambler's early death, Edward inherited his brother's interest at Jamestown. He moved from Yorktown to Jamestown and took John's seat in the House of Burgesses. He was, however, destined to an early death, at 35, but his widow and children continued on at Jamestown until the Revolution.

Jaquelin remained Yorktown-oriented, however, and evidently laid plans to continue his father's mercantile business with a proper establishment. He made an adjustment with Edward, the year after their father's death, that put him in ownership of the family residence and the brick storehouse ("Customhouse") on Lot 43 as well as related properties. [11] He served as county sheriff and succeeded to the Collector's post after the demise of Edward, who followed John's short tenure, and in time he became the Naval Officer of York River as well. Jaquelin was a recognized revolutionary leader who attained Council of State membership in 1780. He was also named Treasurer of Virginia, an office he held until his death in 1798. [12]

Although the Ambler residential complex in Yorktown did not match the elegance of that of some of their neighbors, notably the Lightfoots and the Nelsons, it did rank as one of the finer establishments in town. The improvements on Lots 43, 44, and 45, as described in the Virginia Gazette in 1773, [13] clearly indicate this, embracing as they did a dwelling house, "a very commodious one, with four room above and four below" as well as "a large brick storehouse," a kitchen, stables, washhouse and necessary houses, all in good repair. There was also a well cultivated garden.

When the Revolution broke, Jaquelin felt insecure in this port town and moved his family into the interior of the state for safety reasons. His property was taken oven for troop use and the buildings served as barracks. The result was the complete destruction of his garden, fences, and outbuildings, and his house was damaged to the point that it "put it out of his power to make it a comfortable residence for his family." Consequently, for £1000 sterling he sold the property in 1778 to Thomas Wyld, Jr., who, after extensive repairs, operated an ordinary in the dwelling until he was forced out by the British in 1781. [14]

After the British came the French who wintered in Yorktown after the decisive victory culminating on October 19, 1781. The billeting officer for the unit that remained after the allied American and French armies departed, surveyed the town and carefully noted its housing. The "Customhouse" featured prominently on his plan, undoubtedly reflecting good housing for troops at that time. The brick storehouse got more favorable attention than did the Ambler residence which was also duly delineated. [15]

The sale from Jaquelin to Wyld was never consummated. When the purchaser sought to pay in depreciated currency, a law suit ensued and it was not resolved until 1793. The decision was made by Ambler, who recovered the property, to sell it again, in 1797, to Alexander Macaulay, a merchant of Yorktown. [16] In 1818 an insurance record for the property described the residence as a wooden dwelling, two stories high and 46 feet square, and the brick store was listed as two stories, measuring 46 by 24 feet. Also listed were a kitchen of wood (16 by 20 feet), another brick one-story kitchen covered with wood (20 by 22 feet), a stable (28 by 22 feet), and an undimensioned smokehouse. [17]

The date of construction of the "Old Customhouse" is like that of many old buildings of the period, difficult to fix with exactness. There are several possibilities, yet the most logical seems to be that it was built by Richard Ambler soon after he purchased the property (Lot 43) in January 1721. The architectural style, the substance of the building, and the needs of Ambler all indicate this. It was strategically placed for trade and storehouse purposes on Main Street at its intersection with Read, a primary connection between the upper and lower levels of Yorktown.

This particular town lot had been assigned initially to a Capt. Daniell Taylor, who forfeited it when he failed to build the required minimum "twenty foot" structure. On September 24, 1706, it went for 180 pounds of tobacco to George Burton of Mulberry Island who must have satisfied the minimum building requirements for the property. It descended to his daughter, Ann, and her husband, Christopher Haynes, of Mulberry Island, who conveyed it to "Richard Ambler of the Parish of Yorkhampton, County of York, merchant." [18]

Richard Ambler's principal Yorktown residence adjoined his storehouse and it actually stood in the area of the present "Customhouse" garden and faced on Main Street. This house, in ruins, was photographed by the ever-present Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. This view shows also the solid old storehouse which still survives together with the ruins of the "covered way connecting House & Store." It is reported that the storehouse served, at least for a time, as Confederate General John B. ("Prince John") Magruder's headquarters prior to the withdrawal of the Southern Army from Yorktown in early May 1862. In post-Civil War years the old building was used for various purposes at different times. It was a store during at least two separate periods, a private school for Negro children, and, about the time of World War I, a bank — the Yorktown Branch of the Peninsula Bank of Williamsburg.

Yorktown was without a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution until 1922 when, in February, Mrs. George Durbin Chenoweth completed her work as Organizing Regent and went on to serve as Regent of the new chapter, a post which she held for the next quarter century. It was Mrs. Chenoweth who in October 1922, presented the project of acquiring and preserving the colonial brick building in Yorktown known as the "Old Customhouse." Funds were pledged by various individuals and society chapters toward the purchase price. Interest grew in Virginia and there were contributions from other chapters and states. The "Old Customhouse" was purchased on April 29, 1924, and thought then turned to the restoration of the building. [19]

Funds came to hand for the entire restoration project which also embraced the brick wall enclosing the lawn and the adjacent dependencies (a utility building and necessary house, both in period design). With Mr. Duncan Lee of Richmond as architect and Mr. E. C. Wilkinson, also of Richmond, as contractor, work began on June 1, 1929, and was completed in November of the next year. Virginia's Governor, John Garland Pollard, made the dedicatory address in exercises on November 15, 1930. It became, and continues as, the Comte de Grasse Chapter headquarters. [20]

Clyde Trudell has given a pithy and meaningful thumbnail sketch of the architecture of the building.

The thick brick walls are laid up in a careful pattern of Flemish bond with a checkered field of glazed headers broken at mid-height by a shallow, projecting brick belt-course. A neat cornice of graceful mouldings and wood modillions lends elegant embellishment to the eaves. At the corners the roof is framed with hips that pitch away to the ridge at a pleasing angle providing a most happily proportioned crown for the mass of the building. Fenestration of both stories is provided by large, eighteen-light windows with heavy shutters while access to the interior is gained through handsome panelled doors of the period. The pine woodwork of the interior has been left unpainted in its natural color, a practice not uncommon during the early 18th century, for both pine and walnut. [21]

It is of note that all of the extensive interior woodwork, while not original, is of old material and that even the bricks in the garden wall are of very old manufacture and are laid in harmonizing Flemish bond. Ambler's storehouse is the only colonial and Revolutionary survivor on Lot 43. [22]

Lots 46 and 47:

It remained for Thomas Nelson to first develop Lot 46, probably immediately after it had been assigned to him by the town trustees on March 4, 1707/8. Two earlier holders of the lot, Thomas Chisman in 1691 and John Owen, a "Prince George County merchant," in 1705, had failed to meet the building requirements and thus forfeited ownership. [1] It was a strategic location for Nelson since it was at the head of the "Great Valley," a principal connection between the town proper and the waterfront where he quickly developed interests. It was also directly across Main Street from Lot 52 on which he built his home, the Nelson House, that still stands. Lot 46 would remain in the Nelson family for well over a century. This parcel became part of a larger block of property that embraced Lots 47 (also on Main Street) and Lots 84 and 85, behind the two on the river side of Main. This became the home seat of Thomas's oldest son, William.

Adjacent Lot 47 on the east corner of the intersection of Main and the cross street that became Read Street was also strategically placed, since this cross street was another principal connection between the upper town and the waterfront. The first to receive this lot from the town trustees was Daniel Parke, in 1691. He forfeited it because he failed to develop the half acre. Fifteen years later the town trustees reassigned it, this time to Charles Cox, an "Inholder of Bruton Parish." [2] Evidently he proceeded to develop the lot since he remained in ownership for almost a quarter century and realized a good price in its sale, £110 "current money." It was purchased in March 1729 by Thomas Nelson, "Merchant," and was described as "on the northeast side of Main Street and next adjoining to the Storehouse of said Thomas Nelson" which he had built on Lot 46. [3] Thus the Cox development was integrated into the growing Nelson estate and the main house and some of its dependencies would survive into this century until about 1910 when fire destroyed them. [4]

With Lots 46 and 47 now in hand, Thomas Nelson added Lots 84 and 85 to his holdings in 1731. On the death of Nelson in 1745 this two-acre block of property in the middle of Yorktown passed to his oldest son, William, who built his home here. It faced Main Street in the ample space between the storehouses which his father had built on Lot 46 and the former Cox development on the northwest side of Lot 47. William would live here the rest of his life, highly successful in the continuation and expansion of his father's business and in political and related affairs. A long-time member of the Council of Virginia, which he sometimes headed, he became known as "President Nelson" and his home as the "President Nelson House." [5]

It was William that inherited his father's home across the street on Lot 52, subject to a life interest by his stepmother who lived on until 1766. It was at this point that William wrote of his own home "which I have built I have lately added to" and concluded that it was best for his needs "being more roomy & fit for my family." [6] Consequently he established his oldest son, Thomas Nelson, Jr., in the home his father had built. When William died in 1772 he bequeathed his property on the river side of Main Street to his son, Hugh. This included "the House I now live in" ["likewise all the furniture of my House"], "the lots and Gardens thereto belonging together with the store garden, but not the storehouses." These last were left to Hugh and his brother, Thomas Nelson, Jr.: "as tenants in common and not as joint Tennants, my Store Houses in York Town and at the Water Side." [7]

Alexandre Berthier detailed development on this property to the extent of describing the "President" William Nelson home, a large H-shaped structure midway between Read Street and the Great Valley. East of it were two rather large structures, evidently the Nelson storehouses. To the west on the corner was the old Cox House plus a small dependency behind, and even farther back was a larger structure aligned with the cross street. [8]

Insurance policies of 1796 and 1810 [9] give more structural data. The Nelson home with its H-shape had a front section on Main measuring 51 by 30 feet and a section behind measuring 51 by 33 feet. The two sections were connected by the cross of the H which measured 27 by 9 feet. The home was a "Dwelling" of "Brick Covered with wood two stories high." There was no reference to the Nelson store, or stores, to the east; perhaps they were excluded from coverage and were not close enough to the home to be sketched on the insurance plat. The only structure shown to the east is a small wooden building noted as being some 10 feet from the cross of the H and as having a "brick floor & underpinning." Near it was a "Constant well." Only fifteen feet away to the west was the old Cox House, built of brick covered with wood. Behind it and mostly along the cross street were four smaller structures, all one story, three of them brick covered with wood, and one wood covered with wood.

There are no additional insurance policies covering this property until 1838 and by this date the William Nelson home, which Hugh had inherited, was gone — a casualty of the 1814 fire in Yorktown. It had been reported then that "the houses belonging to my Uncle Hughs estate the old Store and Grannery near it are all burnt." [10] These later insurance policies do continue the story of the Cox House and the buildings behind it. [11]

The first of the dependencies is given as a "Smoke house" measuring 15 by 15 feet; the second as a 15 by 15 foot Kitchen (noted as "Store house & Kitchen" in 1846); the third as a 30 by 16 foot "Lumber house" (but as "Kitchen" in 1846, as "Store house and U.S. Collectotors office" in 1853 and as "Office" in 1860); and the fourth as a "Stable" of wood. At various dates other small structures appeared within the lot — a "Dairy," "Wood house," "Fowl House," "Corn Crib," and "Carriage House." Throughout these years the main unit, the old Cox House itself, is described as a one and one-half story brick "Dwelling & Store" measuring 20 by 40 feet. [12]

Lots 46 and 47 along with 84 and 85 today stand empty. The last structure to stand here, except for a Blow family gazebo, was a First National Bank building of 20th century origin which was demolished by the National Park Service following the Bank's removal to its new quarters at the corner of Main and Ballard streets. [13]

This vital block of property was also related to fortification in the Civil War, though it apparently had not been during the Revolution. [14] The tract would need serious archeological study, [15] in the opinion of the writer, before any development should be attempted here. It is also his view that the historical treatment in this report does not exhaust all elements of the story, but is only a brief, though substantive, survey.

When the old bank building, which obviously occupied a part of the Cox House site, was being demolished, limited observation and notation were possible on the part of park Museum Curator J. Paul Hudson. Architectural and artifactual material findings were, however, very meager as bank construction had been highly disruptive here.

Lot 48:

This half-acre parcel, the south corner of the intersection of Main and Read Streets, was acquired by Thomas Nelson in 1709 just three years after he secured Lot 52 on which he built his home. The half-acre had, in 1707, first gone to William Cary who forfeited it when he failed to build on the lot. [1] It would remain in the Nelson family for a number of generations in association with the home that Thomas Nelson built and that came to be the home of his grandson, Thomas Nelson, Jr.

It appears that the southeast side of the half acre became involved with some of the Nelson House dependencies and the well and the northwestern side served in part for garden use all through its historic period. [2]

Lot 52:

Evidently Lot 52, strategically located near the head of the Great Valley that gave easy access to the waterfront, was first conveyed by the town trustees to James Darbisheire in July 1699. He, however, left no mark on the property since, failing to build on it, he forfeited his title. Thomas Nelson obtained a deed from the trustees on August 2, 1706, and in 1711 or just before, he built on the site a stately brick home that still stands today. This residence also became the home of his noted grandson, Thomas Nelson, Jr., and later generations of the family. It remained Nelson property into the early part of this century. [1]

Lot 56:

This half-acre lot on the land side of Main Street was at the head of the Great Valley which led directly down to the waterfront and to the York River. In March 1692 it was assigned by the trustees to Thomas Sessions, a carpenter. He satisfied the construction requirements and retained ownership by building, it is believed, the brick home that still stands today. [1] Presumably he also opened an ordinary in his house in due course. When, in August 1699, he secured adjacent Lot 57 from the trustees, it was noted that it adjoined "upon ye lott he now dwelleth upon" and in the deed he was identified as an "Inholder." [2] However, when he and his wife, Hester, disposed of the lots and development by sale in January 1702, he was again listed as a carpenter. [3]

Sessions sold to Robert Snead, Gentleman, and there was reference to Snead's House (formerly that of Sessions) three months later. Snead added on a store and storehouse under the hill on the waterfront at the mouth of the Great Valley adjacent to the landing here which was already "Comonley Called Sessions Landing." [4] Snead did not remain in ownership long, selling to John Penton, merchant, in October 1703. He in turn sold to John Martin, another merchant, just a month later. Then in June 1705, Martin sold it back to Penton. In each instance the conveyance was for Lots 56 and 57 and "the Store and Store house and Still house" under the hill. In September 1708, it was Penton's turn to sell again. Through his power of attorney vested in Michael Archer, the sale went to Nicholas Phillips. It involved Lot 56 where Thomas Sessions had built his home either in 1692 on no later than 1693. This also included the storehouses "under the hill" but not Lot 57. [5]

The property remained in the Phillips family for nearly 40 years. When Nicholas died in 1715 it passed to his son, William, in these words: "I give & bequeath to my Son Wm. Phillips & ye male heirs of his body lawfully begotten for Even that my Lott on half acre of Land & warehouse under ye bank situate in York Town lately in ye tenure & occupation of Jno. Penton & his under tenants." [6]

It was not William Phillips, however, but Thomas, his brother, who in March 1746 sold Lot 56 for £140 to John Norton of King William County, a merchant. [7] And so another merchant was based here. After almost 20 years he disposed of half of his lot to still another merchant, George Wilson, for £125 current money of Virginia. It was the inland half of the lot and had no face on Main Street. [8] It would appear that John Norton went on to regain the ownership of all of Lot 56 and that George Wilson [9] came in some way into possession of Lot 57 just behind it. John Norton then sold his lot (No. 56 — noted in 1763 as his "Store Lott") and its improvements to Matthew Pope in 1766 and he, in turn, bequeathed it to Mary, the wife of Robert Carter, by will probated in 1792. It was in 1796 that Robert Canter and his wife sold it to Thomas Nelson for £500. [10]

Alexandre Berthier noted a building of some substance in the Session House location with a smaller one behind having some kind of little appendage. And behind this, facing the cross street, there was another structure of substance, all within an enclosure of some type. By interpretation all were seemingly on Lot 56 which remained in Nelson hands until May 1821. At that time the property was sold along with adjacent Lot 60 to Dr. Frederick B. Power. It was then described as "A house and lot in the Town of York situate as follows, the house on the NW corner of the square next to Thomas Nelson's house. . . ." [11]

It was Power who took out the first insurance coverage now of record on the property. This was in 1838 and the plot plan and description showed the "Dwelling of Brick" to be one and one-half stories covered with wood. Its measurements were 46 by 26 feet and its value was placed at $1,700. At that time it was occupied by William S. Malecote who was still living there in 1846. There was, in addition to the dwelling, a kitchen entirely of wood beyond the south corner of the dwelling, and near it a smokehouse. Opposite the kitchen and smokehouse on the cross street was a larger structure "of wood entire" noted as a "School House." [12]

The policy issued in 1846 repeated in most respects the data that was given in 1838, though by 1853 the dwelling (cited as measuring 50 by 27 feet) was now occupied by Frederick W. Power as heir of Frederick B. Power. He was still in residence in 1860. In 1853 the building formerly noted as a "School House" was shown to have measured 20 by 14 feet. [13] There is no data here on elsewhere before this date suggesting appendages to the Sessions House such as the now existing rear porch and the additions on the south corner of the house as well as the front entrance. It is true, however, that the front entrance porch is shown in a Brady photograph made in 1862 [14] and looks much as it does today.

After the Civil War, evidently to clarify the title, the court ordered the sale of the property to W. D. Shurtz, who in 1879 conveyed it to Fanny B. Nelson. This same woman, Fanny B. Nelson Mercer, sold it to her first cousin, Conway Howard Sheild, in 1901. [15] It remains in that family at the present time and this is why the Sheild House name has come to replace Session House in some quarters in more recent times.

In a little folder published in 1931 [16] it was noted:

When the town was garrisoned during the War Between the States, this house was the headquarters of the Federal General Negley [Brig. Gen. Henry M. Naglee] who used the parlor for his office. Neither history nor tradition can recall the story of the part the Sheild House took in the siege of 1781.

In the register kept in the Sheild House are recorded the autographs of many distinguished visitors including those of President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, President and Mrs. Warren G. Harding, Lady Astor, Franklin Roosevelt, and President Herbert Hoover.

Lot 60:

The little brick house standing between the Session House and Smith Street today was put here in more recent times and presumably is on Lot 60, the only structure on this half acre. Actually this house of colonial type was built from material brought to Yorktown from "Dewsville" which was built about 1792 in King and Queen County. This was the home of Thomas Frederick Dew, a president of the College of William and Mary, who later died in France. It was put together in Yorktown by the late Admiral and Mrs. John J. Ballentine and is sometimes called "Captain Ballentine's Dwelling." [1]

Berthier, on his billeting plan done late in 1781, shows this lot as empty space at that time. Insurance policies covering adjacent Lot 56 indicate that this same condition pertained in the two decades prior to the Civil War. It was not always thus, however, though the story is a bit unclean.

In September 1699 the town trustees conveyed Lot 60 to Alexander Young, who at the same time took title to adjacent Lot 61. [2] It would follow that he satisfied the building requirements for each of the two lots since when he died two years later he disposed of his developed property:

I Give to my son Andrew all my Houses and other appurtenances thereunto belonging in York Town to him and his Heirs forever Lawfully Begotten of his body But in default of such Heirs to come to Jno Young and his Heirs for want of such Heirs to Jane Young and Her Heirs for even Lawfully begotten of her Body.

It was also his wish that:

my House in York Town bee Rented out untill such tyme that my son Andrew comes of age and ye Rents to be disposed of Towards Double covering this house and what Remains overplus to come to my Daughter Jane. [3]

Evidently Jane did come to enjoy some financial renumeration as her guardian, Maj. William Buckner, sued and received a judgement in May 1707 covering her "ye Rent of a certain House and Lot in York Towne." [4]

Evidently Andrew died before coming of age and his brother, John, second in line, received the Alexander Young estate. When in February 1720 John died, his will directed that his "Estate" go to his own "beloved Daughter Jane Young." It was his further wish that "my whole Estate be appraised & Sold & the produce kept for my sd Daughter" until she came of age. [5]

Lot 60 along with Lot 61 came into the ownership of Thomas Frayser by conveyance from John Martin and Jean, his wife, in 1735. Thomas died "seized in Fee" of the two lots which came to Frayser's two daughters, Mary (who married Thomas Tomer of Charles Parish), and Rebecca (who married Daniel Presson). In the division of Frayser's estate there is specific mention of his "Lots including the Houses" and his "Lots and Houses." A partition was arranged, with Lot 61 going to Rebecca and Lot 60 to Mary. [6] This partition was in April 1763, and in the next month Thomas Tomer and Mary sold Lot 60 to John Norton for £100. This sale price surely suggests developed property at that date, even though the half acre on Main Street was "adjoining the Store Lott" (Lot 56) of Norton. [7]

It would appear that John Norton sold Lot 60 as well as Lot 56 to Matthew Pope in 1766, in which case he would have been in ownership during the Revolution, including the year 1781. By will dated in October 1791 (recorded on June 18, 1792) [8] Pope bequeathed "my dwelling House and Houses, and all the Lotts of Land also my Household and Kitchen furniture except the furniture of the bed chamber below Stairs what little plate I have, and a Glass Epern" to "Mary Nelson second Daughter of the late General Nelson of York Town." His "surgical Instruments" he willed to "Doctor Augustine Smith" who later located across the street on Lot 64.

In 1796, Mary (now Mary Nelson Canter) and her husband, Robert, conveyed the lot to Thomas Nelson, Jr., it being "all that messuage on Tenement situate in the Town of York with the houses," etc., for £500. [9] Thomas died seized of the lot prior to 1810 leaving no will. His heirs sold it in May 1821 to Frederick B. Power. [10]

Lot 64:

This half-acre parcel at the corner of Main and present-day Smith Street near the head of the "Valley" down which Comte de Grasse Street now nuns is dominated by Hornsby House. This three-story brick home of colonial Georgian style was designed by Joseph Geddy and built in 1933 for the late J. W. Hornsby. It is now the home of Mr. and Mrs. Willets H. Bowditch. Mrs. Bowditch (formerly Marion Hornsby) is the daughter of the builder. [1]

In March 1692, Edward Hill of James City County took title from the town trustees to Lot 64 on Main Street at the corner of Main and the cross street now named Smith. When he failed to develop it, however, he forfeited title. It was awarded again in August 1699, this time to Thomas Pate, a planter. He too seemingly lost title since there appears to be no further record of this. But in October 1705 the trustees reassigned it once again, this time to John Andrews "of Kikotan in Elizabeth City [County]," a "Brazier." [2] He evidently satisfied the building requirements.

When John Andrews's will was probated in March 1718, it was found that he had left his Yorktown property to his brother, William Andrews, and to his sister, Elizabeth Smith. There was the "desire & intent" that William should come here (from "Cote near Deirses in Wilkshire") and sell all of his estate, dividing the proceeds between his sister and himself. This included "my houses Lots Negroes & all other my Goods [and] Chattles." [3]

William Andrews, Nansemond county clerk, in September 1719 performed what had been requested of him by selling to John Gibbons, a planter, Lot 64 along with Lot 65 and the development on them. The price was not a large one, only £72, indicating lesser development. [4] John Gibbons in his will dated in March 1727, and proved two months later, left to his "Son John my two lots in Yorktown which I bought of Parson Andrews (64 & 65) to him and his heirs." Should John die without heirs, Gibbons wished to have the lots sold, with "the produce" to be equally divided between three other children. [5]

In January 1771, John Gibbons and his wife, Mary, sold Lot 64 along with Lot 65 just behind it "with the appurtenances" to Richard Brown. The purchase price of £350 indicates that a great deal in the way of improvements must have been involved. [6] Brown was in ownership at the time of the siege, after which Berthier drafted his billeting plan which shows a larger house here with a smaller one near it. Since, however, the structure was aligned with the cross street (now Smith Street) and was back from Main, the likelihood seems to be that it was on Lot 65, rather than Lot 64, although it may have been partly on each lot. It is true that Berthier shows little in this end of town except the Secretary Nelson development. It should be kept in mind that this was the section, the southeast end of town, that took the heaviest shelling from allied cannon. Perhaps few useable buildings were left. Berthier crowded his scale here and was not as careful with the street plan, omitting one of the cross streets (present Bacon Street). [7]

Despite the Berthier plan, when Richard Brown drew up his will in August 1792, a will that was probated in April 1795, he bequeathed to his son, James Pride Brown, his "Houses and Lotts in the Town of York." Evidently James Pride died intestate and his interest descended to his brother, Bennett Brown. It was in January 1800 that Bennett and his wife, Mary C., of Amelia County, sold Lots 64 and 65 to Doctor Augustine Smith, for the relatively low price of £100 "lawful money of Virginia." In another deed which conveyed to Smith the dower interest still remaining to Rachel, the widow of Richard Brown, another £25 was involved. In this deed it was stated that the property, Lots 64 and 65, included "a Dwelling House Out Houses and lots." [8] It is not clear just when this development disappeared. In any case, the construction of the Hornsby House complex probably destroyed any remains, even those that may have existed below ground.

Lot 68:

This half-acre parcel was assigned to Edward Moss, Jr., in November 1691. Evidently he satisfied the building requirements since he remained in ownership and it descended to his son, John Moss, with a dower interest going to his widow, Elizabeth. It was in January 1722 that John and his wife, Elizabeth, along with his mother sold the parcel to John Trotter. [1] Trotter died seized of Lot 68 which he by will bequeathed to his daughter, Elizabeth. Elizabeth married Maurice Langhorne, a gentleman of Warwick County. In November 1759 the Langhornes sold the lot to Thomas Trotter, merchant. The purchase price was low, only £21 10s, although the property was described as consisting of "One Certain Messuage Tenement and Lott." Thus it continued to be a developed property. [2]

Berthier shows nothing on this site on his billeting plan. There is also seemingly a hiatus in its chain of title in this period. At some point prior to 1799, however, it became the property of Abraham Archer who mortgaged it along with Lots 81 and 83 to William Cary acting for William Arthurs of London who held a £71 indebtedness against Archer. In September 1801, Thomas Archer (to whom Lots 68 and 69 had descended), sold two-sevenths of these lots to Augustine Smith. The low price of £6 would suggest that this acre (two lots) was at this time essentially undeveloped property. This Archer-Smith deed probably was voided since there was more debt involvement. [3]

William Arthurs of London challenged Archer in court and the court ordered that the property be sold. Arthurs purchased it, and in December 1817 conveyed it through his attorney, Thomas Griffin, to Samuel Stuart Griffin. [4]

Today Lot 68 is dominated by a framed colonial type designed home. This was built by L. R. O'Hara of Yorktown sometime after his acquisition of the lot in October 1917. [5]

Lot 72:

This half-acre parcel was the southeasternmost lot on the land side of Main Street and was initially allotted to Col. Lawrence Smith who surveyed Yorktown in 1691. This is shown in a deed of November 1709 when the trustees gave Colonel Smith's son, Lawrence, a title to it with no monetary consideration being recited. The deed related that Lot 72 had been "built upon by him [Colonel Smith] as required by law hence this deed is made to Lawrence Smith son of Col. Lawrence Smith." [1] This second Lawrence also had a son, Lawrence, to whom he willed the property in March 1737 (probated one year later in March 1738), this parcel being: "one Lott or half acre of Land lying in York Town joining upon Mr. Robert Reades Lotts upon the South side of the Main Street." [2] It would remain in the Smith family for another 35 years and then see a succession of owners.

It was in June 1772 that Lawrence Smith, merchant, and Demaris, his wife, sold Lot 72 along with adjacent No. 73, to John Hatley Norton, Gentleman, for £100 suggesting that housing was present. Three years later Norton disposed of these two lots along with No. 74, which he had also acquired, to Nathaniel Littleton Savage of Northhampton County for a substantial £1,000. This clearly indicates that the heaviest development, certainly the most valuable, was on Lot 74, while the other two lots were probably satellite parcels. All three were located along the southeast edge of the town. The deed for Lot 74 specified that it included "all houses thereon" which formerly were owned by Edward Cary "late merchant of this said Town." [3] The Berthier plan is not at all helpful in this instance.

N. L. Savage retained ownership only two years, selling the property in November 1777 for the amount of purchase — £1,000. The sale was to Robert Nelson of King William County. A decade later, September 1786, Robert Nelson sold the three lots and their improvements to Thomas Nelson, Jr. [4] There is no record of later disposition of these properties, though William Nelson, who died prior to 1850, was seized of Lot 72. In some litigation that grew out of the settlement of his estate there was a court order naming a special commissioner to sell this lot. In January 1852, it was sold by conveyance to Robert Anderson who added it to his growing holdings in and about Yorktown. [5]

At the time of the acquisition of Lot 72 by the National Park Service in 1958, the parcel was totally devoid of development and was used as a garden plot. [6] It now serves as a parking area for people visiting the Yorktown Monument to the Alliance and Victory directly across the street.

Lot 77:

This half-acre parcel on Main Street on the east side of the Great Valley was initially, in November 1691, conveyed to David Stoner, a planter, by the town trustees. But since he did not build on the land, his title lapsed. Perhaps this had something to do with his public notice of May 24, 1692, that he intended to leave Virginia "for ould England." [1]

It was not until June 1706 that Lot 77 was reassigned, going by action of the town trustees to Miles and Emanuel Wills who presumably proceeded to erect the required housing. They retained possession until they sold it to William Stark, a merchant, for £30. [2] A decade later, in January 1731, Stark and his wife, Mary, sold it to Cole Digges and it later descended to his son, Dudley, the builder of the restored house that stands on the lot today. [3] When Dudley Digges built this house it seems that he dismantled the earlier 36 by 18 foot frame house with cellar which was evidently built by Miles and Emanuel Wills soon after they were assigned the lot in 1706. This had stood in the space that now exists between the Dudley Digges House and Main Street. [4]

Alexandre Berthier shows the Digges House facing on Main Street. It is one of the few structures which he delineated in the southeast end of town. Near it on the east side, presumably on adjacent Lot 79, another structure of about the same size is shown. This building is difficult to interpret since there appears to have been no house here at that time except the Digges House outbuildings, [5] of which there were five — kitchen, granary, smokehouse, stable, and well house. [6] These were on Lot 79 and would have to have been erected after Dudley Digges acquired this adjacent half acre in 1755. [7] None of these outbuildings survived into modern times; only the main dwelling itself remains.

This Dudley Digges Main Street residential property descended to Dudley's daughter, Elizabeth, by deed in 1787. She (then Mrs. Elizabeth Nicholson) did not dispose of it until 1821, [8] when in June she sold it to Maj. John R. West of Yorktown. He subsequently made his home here and for some time the house was known as the West House. In the following years other names were associated with the house as well. [9]

Lot 79:

This half acre faced on Main Street, its southeast side against the ravine down which later Comte de Grasse Street would lead to the waterfront. In November 1691 the trustees conveyed it to John Myhill, Gentleman, though he would forfeit it. The next assignment of it by the town trustees was to William Gordon in June 1706. [1] He built a home here to which there is specific reference in 1719 in a deed involving Lot 64 directly across Main Street from it, "Lot 64 being opposite to the Lott & now dwelling house of Wm Gordon." [2] Earlier, in July 1714, Gordon had entered into a partnership with some of his neighbors [3] along Main Street "for digging & stoning a Well to be placed in ye Lott of Wm Gordon." It was to be "on ye South side of ye sd Lott adjoyning to ye Main Street" and involved only the small area "where the well is to be digged containing by estimation Ten foot Square." [4]

When Gordon died in 1730 he left his Yorktown property to his daughter, now Mrs. Mary Dowsing, but with a life interest going to his wife: "I give unto my well beloved wife Margaret Gordon the use and possession of my Town Lott and Houses and Storehouses at the River side. . . for her better support and maintenance during her natural life." [5]

In the next quarter century this lot evidently remained rather active, as is recited in the deed by which Dudley Digges purchased it in April 1755. [6]

All that Lott or half acre of Land with a Well thereon Dug which formerly belonged to one Robert Dowsing and was purchased by one Mordecai Booth of one John Daily and afterwards purchased by James Pride aforesaid of the said Mordacai Booth.

Evidently the Gordon home on Main Street had disappeared even before Pride made his purchase from Booth in 1749. There was reference to the lot "with a Well thereon Dug" but no mention of housing on it. [7]

Having acquired Lot 79, Dudley Digges proceeded to develop it in conjunction with his Yorktown residence which he built on adjacent Lot 77. From this point, in the main, these two lots have a common story. [8]

Lots 81 and 82:

These half-acre parcels on the river side of Main Street, together with Lots 80 and 82 behind them, constitute the two-acre tract on which the Yorktown Monument to the Alliance and Victory was built, its cornerstone having been laid in 1881 at the time of the Yorktown Centennial. Each lot did have its earlier separate history, though surviving data is meager indeed.

Initially Lot 81 was assigned by the town trustees to Joseph Shropshire, "Batcheler," in November 1691, but the transaction was not made of record until September 1692. However, for failure to improve the land, it was "by him Lapsed." In May 1707 it was assigned again, this time to William Tunley. [1] Almost a year later (March 1708) Tunley transferred it to Charles Cox, "Inholder," for "10 £ Sterling money of England." The deed of transfer from the trustees was made a part of the "deed assignment assigning said lot to Charles Cox." This unusual arrangement may indicate that Tunley had begun to build here as required and consequently merited some reimbursement. [2] After this there seems to be no further court record dealing with this property until 1799 when it was in the possession of Abraham Archer.

Lot 83 was the last half-acre parcel on the river side of Main Street and its southeast side bounded "upon the old field" adjacent to the town in this quarter. In November 1691, the trustees assigned it to Robert Read, "Gent." [3]

The next record dealing with Lot 83 appears to be that drawn on July 18, 1763. At this time Augustine Moore, "Merchant," and Lucy, his wife, sold it to another merchant, Lawrence Smith, for £68. It was detailed that this half acre "at the lower end" of Yorktown had been devised to "Lucy Moore by her Mother the late Mrs. Mildred Smith decd" by her will of December 1753. [4]

In May 1784 Lawrence Smith disposed of it by sale to Abraham Archer for £100 "current money of Virginia." Both the £68 in 1763 and the £100 in 1784 suggest a value of more than a half acre of ground. The Berthier plan, however, shows no development in the vicinity of Lots 81 and 83. [5] When Archer filed his claim for damages done by the British, one entry was for £12 10s. to cover "1 Lot Ground on the Hill about 1/3 of it very much Cut there being a Battery erected on it." [6] He made no reference to a house here, whereas he did deal with damage to his "Houses under the Hill." [7]

On July 1, 1799, Abraham Archer gave a deed of trust to William Cary to cover his £71 indebtedness to William Arthurs of London. It covered Lot 81 and also Lots 83 and 68 including "all that messuage, tenement and buildings together with all the grounds, gardens and lots thereto belonging and all houses and improvements thereon situate in the Town of York being the same whereon the said Abraham Archer now lives." Archer's dwelling seems likely to have been on Lot 81, though adjacent Lot 83 is also a possibility. [8]

In any case, Cary planned to advertise "the time and place" for the public sale of this Archer property. It was agreed that "out of the proceeds" he would "first pay all reasonable charges attending such sale and the debt above mentioned (£71) Virginia currency to William Arthurs of the city of London and the residue thereof to the said Abraham Archer." [9] Archer died early in 1801 and there is no indication that a sale took place at this time, though there is a record of one some 15 years later. In a deed for the property in December 1817 from Thomas Griffin, attorney for William Arthurs, to Samuel Stuart Griffin it was noted that the court had ordered a sale and that William Arthurs had bought the property himself. The value of the property is not given, but it was sold to Griffin for $600. [10]

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Last Updated: 22-Jan-2010