Celebrating the 234th Anniversary of the Victory at Yorktown

Written by: Lynn Young, President General
January 7, 2016

The morning after our full day in New York, I rode with Bana and Davis Caskey to Yorktown, Virginia for the Yorktown Day festivities as a guest of the Comte de Grasse Chapter, Kim Claytor, Regent.  Organized in 1922, the chapter is named for French Admiral Francois Joseph Paul, Marquis de Grasse-Tilly, Comte de Grasse, one of the chief architects of the victory at Yorktown.

Established by the Comte de Grasse Chapter in 1922, the Yorktown Day activities are always held on October 19 with one of 13 organizations serving as hosts. This year the Sons of the Revolution hosted the event with Matson Roberts, General Treasurer, serving as Emcee of the Yorktown Day Association Dinner at the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown Victory Center.  It was a pleasure to bring greetings on behalf of the National Society.  In my remarks, I stated that “One week ago today we celebrated the 125th anniversary of our founding.  Our Founders had a vision for an organization to honor the memory and spirit of the men and women who achieved American independence. It was here at Yorktown that the victory was secured and you are to be commended for not only honoring the memory and spirit of the men and women who achieved independence, but ensuring that the victory will not be forgotten.”   

It was a pleasure to greet the Speaker, Dr. Andrew O’Shaughnessy, Director of Jefferson Studies at Monticello and the 2014 recipient of the NSDAR Book Award for “The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, The Revolutionary War and the Fate of the Empire.” He is very grateful for our award and most deserving. Additionally, Dr. O'Shaughnessy will be speaking at a DAR Library Lecture this Saturday, January 9 at Headquarters! Learn more here

Monday morning was cool and crisp, but the temperatures did not deter a large crowd gathered for the day’s activities which began with a coffee at The Custom House, sponsored by Comte de Grasse Chapter.  Kim, Historian General Bana Caskey, Virginia State Regent Ginnie Storage and I had the pleasure of welcoming guests as the Fifes and Drums of York Town, a youth group of musicians in Regimental uniforms, played behind us. 

Yorktown was the largest deep water port between Charleston, SC and Philadelphia, PA and the British established a Customs Collector position to collect the taxes on all goods arriving in the colonies, located in The Custom House, built about 1720. The Custom House was used as barracks for the British troops until the surrender and used by the French troops after the war.  Civil War photographer Matthew Brady photographed the ruins of the Custom House in 1865.

The chapter was organized in 1922 in order to save the dilapidated Custom House and was finally able to raise funds to purchase it two years later. The restoration slowed during the war years but the house is now in excellent condition. The Custom House also hosts a museum and has been open to the public on Sundays and patriotic holidays for several months each year since 1930 at no charge.  I could not help thinking that if not for the DAR, this important piece of our colonial history would have been lost.

We briefly left the coffee to participate in a wreath laying at grave of Gov. Thomas Nelson, who replaced Patrick Henry in the Second Continental Congress. He signed the Declaration of Independence and succeeded Thomas Jefferson as Governor of Virginia in 1781. Like many of our founding Fathers, his personal fortune was destroyed by the Revolutionary War as he used much of his personal funds to support the French fleet.

We returned to the Customs House for the coffee before finding our way to the Parade viewing stand.  The parade featured the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, high school bands, the Fifes and Drum Corps of York Town; local groups, military as well as Virginia DAR, C.A.R., and SAR members.

The ceremony took place in front of the impressive Monument to the Alliance and Victory. In fact, Congress resolved in 1781 to build the monument, but it was 100 years later when the corner stone was finally laid.  The 98 foot high monument overlooks the wide harbor of the York River.  The Ceremony began with a parade of flags, the National Anthems of France and the United States and placements of wreaths by the thirteen organizations.  The very large wreath of the National Society was the last to be placed and was carried by two Park Service Rangers while I followed. Dr. Andrew J. O’Shaughnessy again spoke and shared how the British learned of the victory.

While some opted for Brunswick stew, we returned to the Custom House for a reception and a tour of the historic museum.  Kim shared with me that the Daughters recently had a very special guest when Captain Yann Cariou of the L’Hermione paid a captain’s call.  The L’Hermione is the reproduction of the frigate that is best known for bringing the Marquis de Lafayette to America in March 1780, bearing the news of the arrival of an expeditionary French corps under the Comte de Rochambeau.  The ship docked in Yorktown on June 6, 2015 and the Captain signed the guest book and toured the museum.  He saw the china on which the Marquis de Lafayette had once dined on his return to Yorktown in 1824 and commemorative items from the frigate De Grasse. He presented a marvelous treasure to the “aux filles de la Revolution,” a beautiful tape de bouche which historically served as a stopper closing the mouth of artillery to keep out sea spray.

The day spent commemorating the French-American alliance was an extraordinary end to our historic trip celebrating our 125th anniversary, honoring our immigrant ancestors as well as those who fought for our freedom.  I am deeply grateful to all who continue to honor the memory and spirit of the men and women who achieved American independence.

Connect with DAR

Stay Up-to-Date

Subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Search, Subscribe, & Send us a comment

Get Involved

Historic Preservation,
Education, Patriotism

Through restoring historic properties, funding scholarships and supporting our troops, DAR makes a difference in local communities.