Puslapio vaizdai
[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic]


ONE hundred years ago, the eyes of a few States along the Atlantic sea-board were turned anxiously toward "Little York," a small town situated on the curve of York River just above where its white current mingles with the green waters of Chesapeake Bay. There was being fought the death struggle between Great Britain and her revolutionary colonies,-between the Old and the New.

Affairs had assumed a gloomy aspect. The army of the South had been defeated and driven back into Virginia, barely escaping annihilation by forced marches, and by the successful passage of the deep rivers which intersect the country through which it retreated; Virginia, the backbone of the Revolution, had been swept by two invasions; and Cornwallis with his victorious army was marching triumphantly through her borders, trying by every means he could devise to bring his only opponent, a young French officer, to an engagement. Had "the boy" proved as reckless as the British VOL. XXII.-63.

commander believed him, the end would have come before De Grasse with his fleet anchored in the Chesapeake. He was no boy in the art of war, however, and at length Cornwallis, wearied of trying to catch him, retired to York, and intrenching himself, awaited reënforcements from the North. Just at this time, Providence directed the French admiral to the Virginia coast, and the American general, finding himself suddenly possessed of a force such as he had never hoped for in his wildest dreams, and knowing that he could count on the new reënforcements for only a few weeks, determined to put his fate to the touch, and win if possible by a coup de main. With this end in view, he withdrew from New York, and came down to Jersey as if to get near his ovens, a move which misled the British commander, who knew that a good meal was a sufficient inducement to carry the hungry American troops farther than that, and did not suspect the ulterior object until he learned that Washing

[Copyright, 1881, by The Century Co. All rights reserved.]

[graphic][merged small]

ton was well on his way to Virginia. In the last days of September, the colonial general arrived before York and threw the die. Before the end of three weeks, the British troops marched out with cased colors, prisoners of war. The details of the surrender included an act of poetic retribution. When General Lincoln had, not long before, surrendered at Charleston to Cornwallis, the British marquis appointed an inferior officer to receive his sword; this affront General Washington now properly avenged by appointing General Lincoln to receive Cornwallis's sword.

When the British prime minister received the intelligence of the surrender, he threw up his hands, exclaiming: "My God! it is all over!" And it was all over-America was free. A hundred years have passed by since that time, and with natural pride the

people of these United States are preparing to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the great event which secured their independence. Once more the little sleepy Virginia town, which has for a century lain as if under a spell, awakes with a start to find itself the center of interest.

Had the siege of Yorktown taken place a dozen centuries ago, the assailants, instead of hammering the fortifications down as fast as they were repaired, might have been forced to wait until the grim ally, starvation, compelled the besieged to capitulate. Even at this day the place gives evidence of its advantages as a fortified camp. High ramparts and deep fosses, which might have satisfied a Roman consul, surround it on three sides, and on the fourth, a precipitous bluff above the deep, wide York which could be defended by a handful. These fortifica

tions bear witness to a later strife. Magruder began them in those early days of 1861, when each side thought the Civil War sport for a summer holiday; and later on, when the magnitude of the struggle was understood, McClellan strengthened them. Together with the few antique brick buildings with massive walls and peaked roofs, which have survived the assaults of three successive wars, and of that more insidious destroyer, Time, they give the place the impressiveness of an old walled town. All new ways and things seem to have been held at bay.

The town is about one hundred and seventy-five years old. It looks much older, but repeated wars have an aging effect, and fish diet is not recuperative. Its

founder was Thomas Nelson, a young settler from Penrith, on the border of Scotland,-and for that reason called "Scotch Tom." Scotch Tom's dwelling, known as the "Nelson House," still stands, with its lofty chimneys and solid walls-towering among the surrounding buildings; an enduring preeminence which would probably have gratified the pride which tradition says moved him to have the corner-stone passed through the hands of his infant heir. The massive door and small windows, with the solid shutters, look as if the house had been constructed more with a view to defense than to architectural grace. Within, everything is antique; modern paint has recently, with doubtful success, if not propriety, attempted to freshen up the old English wainscoting;

[graphic][merged small]
[graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Harrisons, and all the gay gentry of the Old Dominion. Up the circular stone steps, where now the dust of the street lies thick, blushing, laughing girls have tripped, followed by stately mammas over whose precious heads the old-time "canopies" were held by careful young lovers, or lordly squires whose names were to become as imperishable as the great Declaration they subscribed. Coming down to a later period, a more historical interest attaches itself to the mansion. George Mason and Washington and Jefferson have slept here; Cornwallis established his head-quarters here during the last days of the great siege, when his first head-quarters, Secretary Nelson's house, had been shelled to pieces. Lafayette, no longer the boyish adventurer with a mind wild with romantic dreams of the Cid, and chased like a fugitive by his sovereign, but the honored and revered guest of a mighty nation, returning in his old age to witness the greatness of the New World toward which his valor had so much contributed, slept here and added another to the many associations which already surrounded the mansion.

Scotch Tom, having built his house, died and was buried. His tomb is one of the two antique monuments which, in spite of war and weather, still remain notable relics of old York. It stands in the uninclosed common near the old church on the bluff, not a stone's throw from the center of the town. On the four sides, cherubs' faces, elaborately carved, look forth from clouds. Once, a crown was being placed on the

head of one; another was, trumpet in mouth, proclaiming "All glory to God," but the ascription has disappeared. The weather and the vandal have marred and wasted the carving; but enough yet remains to show that on it some noted sculptor had used his utmost skill. The coat of arms on the top shows the fleurs de lis as his crest, while the inscription and heraldic insignia declare the founder of Yorktown to have been a "gentleman." At his feet, beneath a less imposing tomb, lies Scotch Tom's oldest son, William Nelson, called "President" Nelson from having been President of the King's Council, and at his feet, in turn, sleeps, in an unmarked grave, the President's oldest son, General Thomas Nelson, the most illustrious of the race-signer of the Declaration of Independence, War Governor of Virginia, and one of the most brilliant of that body of great men who stand, a splendid galaxy, in the firmament of history. "The old store," which for two generations yielded the Nelsons a vast harvest of golden guineas, stood on the open space now called "the common." It survived the siege, but was destroyed in the war of 1812. The customhouse, however, where their goods were entered, still stands a score of yards off, with moss-covered peaked roof, thick walls, and massive oaken doors and shutters. This is one of the most notable relics of York, for it is said to have been the first custom-house erected in America. In the colonial period, it was the fashionable rendezvous of the gentlemen of the town and surrounding country. There the young

« AnkstesnisTęsti »