Yorktown, named for the ancient city of York in Yorkshire, Northern England, was founded in 1691 as a port for shipping tobacco to Europe. The lawyer Thomas Ballard was the principal founder of the city along with Joseph Ring. It was called “York” until after the American Revolutionary War, when the name “Yorktown” came into common use.
The town reached the height of its success around 1750 when it had 250 to 300 buildings and a population of almost 2,000 people. It was the base of British General Charles Cornwallis during the 1781 siege, which was the last major battle of the American Revolutionary War.
Nine buildings, including the circa-1730 Nelson House, still survive from this period, as well as many of the earthworks dug by the besieging American and French forces. The Yorktown Victory Monument – commemorating the victory, the alliance with France that brought it about and the resulting peace with England – is located just outside the current town. Designed by New York architect Richard Morris Hunt, the monument was originally topped by a figure of victory sculpted by John Quincy Adams Ward, but that figure was destroyed by lightning in 1942. It was replaced by a figure of Liberty by Oskar J. W. Hansen in 1957. A memorial to the French war dead of the Yorktown campaign is being planned for construction at the French cemetery on the site of the battle.
Today, Yorktown is part of an important national resource known as the Historic Triangle of Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg, and is the eastern terminus of the Colonial Parkway. Yorktown is also the eastern terminus of the TransAmerica Trail, a bicycle touring route created by the Adventure Cycling Association.
Many military installations are located in the area around Yorktown :
Naval Weapons Station Yorktown serves as the point at which United States Navy vessels load and unload ordnance. There have been reports of nuclear weapons stored there. Cheatham Annex, a facility which includes the former town of Penniman, is also included as part of the base, which replaced the original mine depot.
United States Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown serves as a training school for the United States Coast Guard.
Also close to Yorktown are Camp Peary (in York County), the expansive Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipbuilding yards and facilities, and Fort Eustis Army base (both in Newport News) as well as Naval Station Norfolk at Norfolk and Langley Air Force Base in Hampton.