Situated along the York River in southeastern Virginia, Yorktown was founded in 1691 as a port for shipping tobacco to Europe.
By the mid 1700s, the town reached its height of success with a population of almost 2000 people and a few hundred buildings - Yorktown had emerged as a major Virginia port and economic center. A well-developed waterfront boasted wharves, docks, storehouses, and businesses. On the bluff above, stately homes lined Main Street, with taverns and other shops scattered throughout the town.
As the American Revolution began its seventh year when (in 1781) British general Lord Charles Cornwallis brought his army to Yorktown to establish a naval base. In the siege by American and French forces that followed, much of the town was destroyed. By the end of the Revolution, less than 70 buildings remained in Yorktown and the 1790 census recorded only 661 people in town.
The hope that Yorktown would regain is economic prominence was all but a distant dream following a fire in 1814 which destroyed the waterfront district as well as some homes and the courthouse on Main Street. In the mid 1800s, Yorktown was further battered during the Civil War Siege of 1862 and the occupation by Union troops that followed.