Learning Our History – Part 2 – Yorktown

After visiting Williamsburg, Learning Our History – Part 1 – Williamsburg and feasting at Dog Street Pub Lunch in Williamsburg we were ready for more explorations into our early American and Revolutionary history. Next stop, Yorktown.

Yorktown was established by Virginia’s colonial government in 1691 to regulate trade and to collect taxes on both imports and exports for Great Britain. By the early 1700s, Yorktown had emerged as a major Virginia port and economic center. A well-developed waterfront boasted wharves, docks, storehouses and businesses. But Yorktown will forever go down in history as the place where British General Lord Charles Cornwallis and his army surrendered to General George Washington’s American force and its French allies at the Battle of Yorktown on October 19, 1781, it was more than just military win. The outcome in Yorktown, Virginia marked the conclusion of the last major battle of the American Revolution and the start of a new nation’s independence. Yorktown is the official birthplace of the then new country, America. Today, it is a historic tourist destination, visited by millions every year.

Our first stop in Yorktown was the American Revolutionary Museum, located at 200 Water St, Yorktown, VA 23690. Their phone number is (757) 253-4838. It was fascinating to learn more about the makings of America. The museum presented everything beautifully. There were videos, artifacts and living history portrayals and re-enactments too. We felt like we had stepped back in time, back to the days of the Revolutionary War.

These are all the flags from the original 13 colonies.

When you first walk in, you are greeted by “The Wings of Victory”. The Winged Victory of Samothrace, also called the Nike of Samothrace, is a marble Hellenistic sculpture of Nike (the Greek goddess of victory), that was created in about the 2nd century BC. 

The display and presentation of the Revolutionary War uniforms, from both the British and the Colonials, was very impressive and informative.

We learned how George Washington and his men got secret information out without it being detected by the British. Ingenious secret codes were used by everyone to help spread the information. When the women were doing the washing, if they put red out on the clothing lines it meant the Red Coats were near. Each red item represented a troop. For instance, one red sock meant there was one troop, two red socks meant there were two troops near by, and so on. We also got to see some of the secret code keys and learned how they were used to relay information. Only the messenger and the recipient had the keys to unlock the codes. Without the keys, they just looked like regular letters. There were many other ways of dispersing the information too. All of these crafty ways of spreading the word helped us win the war. Without them, who knows what might have happened.

As fascinating as all of this was though, I was really impressed with the living portrayals and re-enactments.

The encampments. Each encampment had around 400-500 men. Six men to a tent. Talk about tight quarters.

The largest tent was for the most senior ranking officer. They were easy to spot.

The General’s tent was the largest of all.

Each tent assigned one person to cook for the rest of their tent mates. This was a typical war time “kitchen”. I have cooked in many different kitchens in my day, and am comfortable in them all, but I think even I would be very challenged to cook in this “kitchen”. A big fire pit was created, with a moat around the hot spot to keep the flames away from the tents and the munitions. A lot of women followed their men from camp to camp and a lot of women did some of the cooking as well. We don’t realize how much the women contributed to the war efforts as they actually did. If you look behind the lady (at Larry’s foot), there is a box. These boxes were used to cook the food during the day, since it often took hours to cook. There was a box for each tent and they would be inserted into the hot spots to cook the food.

The surgeon’s tent was where all the medical needs were taken care of. They were very rudimentary, offering little in the form of medicines or equipment. There was usually only one “surgeon” per encampment, if they were lucky enough to even have one.

The munitions tent was where all the weapons were stored.

And the weapons themselves. These muskets were considered the best of their time. These were built for “speed” and not necessarily for accuracy, but their speed, at best, would be about 15-30 seconds in between each firing, all the while each soldier was being fired at and was in a constant cloud of smoke and confusion.

The typical life of the times was harsh and brutal at best. No one had an easy time of life in the Revolutionary days.

The homes people lived in were usually just one room homes, with either an attic or basement or both that served as sleeping quarters. These houses were often for very large families too.

The kitchens were separated from the house. Based on the look of it, they were communal kitchens too. Everyone grew their own food and shared it with the community.

Tobacco was the main cash crop of Virginia. This is a typical tobacco barn.

The Colonials were made of strong fibers in those days. They had so little but fought so hard and over came all obstacles that were thrown their way. And because of those battles fought and the hardships that were endured and the obstacles that were overcome, we became the United States of America. Thank you to all and for all your efforts.

Author: ajeanneinthekitchen

I have worked in the restaurant and catering industry for 35 years. I attended 2 culinary schools in Southern California, and have a degree in culinary arts from the Southern California School of Culinary Arts, as well as a few other degrees in other areas. I love to cook and I love to feed people.

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