jjjb J. Matthew Hogendobler, DMD, MD, EBD
The Historic Preservation Commission of the City of Virginia Beach will hold its Annual Meeting at 6:30 this evening at Central Library to hear comments and answer questions from the public following a panel discussion about the status and plans of the “Cape Henry Historic Site.” While the borders of the site weren’t identified, the area from Pleasure House Point to the Atlantic is so steeped in the same history, it would be impossible to conceive of any discussion excluding the Lynnhaven Bay inlet. Countless issues and ideas, many of them decades in the making, have emerged and evolved over the years, and they are, at once, as significant to the nation and countries elsewhere in the world as they are to residents of Virginia Beach and the Commonwealth.
The 7:45 PM Q&A section of the meeting agenda does not appear to be limited in scope, although a speaker is planned earlier during the meeting, so discussions, if any, are likely to follow the lead and flow of the moderator, if not severely limited by constraints of time. Coupled with the number and array of related, yet unresolved issues already before the city, it is therefore appropriate to identify in advance of the meeting, some of the more recent proposals made by a handful of local, state, national and international interest groups and individuals, not only to increase public awareness, but to provide a voice to public opinion, especially to those individuals and organizations otherwise unable to attend.
The historical significance of Cape Henry extends well beyond the borders of the city or, for that matter, the nation. The connections between the United States, France, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain and, most especially, Great Britain, predate the birth of our nation and live -even today- in the documents with antecedent ties to former Princess Anne County.
Though by no means intended to be inclusive of all events which occurred on or near the shores of the southern promontory entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, over 5000 years of the presence of indigenous cultures notwithstanding, the time period being considered by the Commission likely begins historical recognition as King James, the First (of England) would have wanted: in 1607, when the Englishmen who journeyed to and landed at Cape Henry opened sealed orders and proclaimed Virginia (named centuries earlier) in the name of the King of England. (Accordingly, Capes Charles and Henry were named after the eldest two of his three sons.)
Such a starting point makes sense. After all, the King, to whose reign the most widely adopted translation of the Bible is attributed, officially established the first forms of government and religion for the first colony, Virginia, “the Old Dominion,” with borders which lay as far north as the country itself. But no such historical discussion would be complete without incorporating references to the actual documents of the time, and they should be laced with a basic understanding of the subjects granted the authority to act, by whom and why. [Visit America’s Holy Covenant for more information.]
There is probably no better expert than meeting speaker Dr. Bob Albertson, Virginia Weslyan College professor and president of the Order of Cape Henry 1607, to address some of these questions and provide a brief foundation for the actions of those first settlers. (Readers may wish to research the complex, faith-based history of the evolution in England of the Virginia Company itself, since, ultimately, it would result in three charters for the Colony, although none would survive for any appreciable length of time.) The formal establishment of an organized religion, represented in the cross planted on Cape Henry’s shore, provided a foundation for the first mandatory church services in Jamestown, the erection of the colony’s first church and the first meeting of the colony’s leaders, resulting in a representative form of government which survives in America today.
The next period of Cape Henry history occurred prior to 1775, during the remainder of the 17th and most of the 18th centuries, when the Chesapeake Bay, like other large seafaring lanes of travel into and out of the new world, witnessed untold masses of vessels carrying passengers and cargo to grow the thirteen colonies.
After awhile the call of the open sea became irresistible, and Blackbeard returned to piracy along the southeastern coast, ranging as far north as Pennsylvania in the eight-gun sloop Adventure. Tradition in the James River region maintains that he eluded British naval vessels by disappearing up Pagan Creek in the neighborhood of Smithfield, Virginia. Blackbeard’s Hill still dominates Lynnhaven Bay near Cape Henry. From its summit, pirate sentinels could scan the Chesapeake Bay entrance through the Virginia Capes.
Popularized tales of Grace Sherwood (1660–1740), the only “witch” in the Colony of Virginia ever to have been tried by water and convicted, have never ceased to captivate locals, both young and old. Best recalled by Louisa Venable Kyle as The Witch of Pungo in her book of the same name, Sherwood was a resident of Princess Anne County and a “woman of good standing with the Lynnhaven Parish Church,” in which she was married in 1680. Townsfolk accused her of using witchery on cattle and crops, of tormenting various citizens while in the form of a black cat, of causing women to miscarry and of sailing one evening in an eggshell to England. (The original transcript of the trial resulting in the naming of “Witchduck” is believed to be on file, still, at the office of the Clerk of Court.)
This was truly a Colonial American era, which folklore undoubtedly remembers best, but in the former Princess Anne County in the former Colony of Virginia, it was not without an assist (or many) from a governor, a city, its mayor, school children, hospitals, authors, artists, residents and guests. Though a map still might be needed these days to find Blackbeard’s Island, located in the Baylake Pines area, the famed pirate’s only treasure is currently estimated to be worth a disappointing $650,000. And, as for a state bewitched by the injustice of trials by water, Grace White Sherwood was exonerated by Governor Tim Kaine at 10:00 on the morning of July 10, 2006 (the 300th anniversary to the minute of her conviction). Absolved by the Mayor, she was immortalized the following year with her story, struck forever in bronze by the city’s 5th grade students, a state historical marker and her likeness.cast in a statue situated on land donated by Sentara Healthcare.
For the re-buffs of fanciful history, countless maps and journals exist from this same period, documented by the explorers, the geographers, and the surveyors, like George Washington, himself, years before the first mention of rebellion among the colonists. No memorial to the history of Cape Henry would be complete without considering them or, for that matter, the cultures indigenous to the area, including their burial grounds and archeologically documented civilizations.
“There’s too much emphasis placed on the historical rather than the prehistorical in Virginia,” stated Julian H. Lipscomb, a Shore Drive resident and former member of the Archeological Society of Virginia. Quoted in a 1973 article appearing in the Virginia Beach Sun, Lipscomb commented on its membership: “There’s a joke among them that most Virginians think the earth was created in 1607, but surface evidence and digs prove that unrecorded Indian sites existed on the Pungo Ridge (which extends from north Virginia Beach to Hilltop, to Oceana and down through Pungo) at least as far back as 4,000 to 6,000 B.C. Many of our modern settlements here are situated atop old Indian sites.”
So it was that, on April 26, 1997 (the 390th anniversary of the settlers’ first landing), working with Jamestowne’s chief archeologist and director, Dr. Bill Kelso, and Nansemond Indian Chief Emeritus Oliver Perry, the City of Virginia Beach properly returned the last 64 souls of Great Neck Point’s Chesepioc Chesapeake Indian tribe to their rightful burial ground. A brief but solemn ceremony, officiated by then Mayor Meyera Oberndorf, marked the occasion with a plaque to watch over their spirits and guarantee remembrance of the area’s last-known victims of genocide.
According to Ben Swenson, author of “First Landing State Park and the Last Trace of a Vanquished Nation,”
The Chesapeake Indians unearthed as Virginia Beach grew weren’t given a proper burial for nearly twenty years. Their remains sat on shelves at Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources in Richmond. They might have stayed there forever; there are still Virginia Indian remains held in museums awaiting repatriation.
Referring to the area’s unique freshwater as “sweet water,” Lipscomb, who still rues the state’s absence of an historical museum to preserve and publicly display its artifacts, proffered a clue as to why the area was so inviting throughout history, particularly to those who would contribute in very significant ways to the defeat of the British in ending the Revolutionary War. “It’s particularly good in [First Landing] State Park,” he said. “Especially valuable in the days of sailing vessels, it was transported in wooden carriers [and] didn’t turn foul like regular water. With [this] water on both sides [of the ridge], it’s a most desirable building area today just as it was for the early inhabitants.”
Lipscomb’s citations undoubtedly include references to the next period of historical significance of the area – the era of American revolution against King George, when at least one of the heroes in American history, the Comte de Grasse, would select “Lynnhaven Bay” as his temporary residence. Cited among the reasons for his decision to moor the large fleet of French naval army vessels were the abundance of oysters and access to fresh water in shallow springs.
From an archived copy of the 1985-1986 City Directory:
The first Battle of the American Revolution in Virginia took place in Princess Anne on November 16, 1775. Lord Dunmore, who had situated himself off the coast of Norfolk, declared martial law early in November. News reached Dunmore that the local militia were assembling to guard the roads over which the Royal troops had to travel for a rendezvous with him. He decided to march on Great Bridge, a gathering place for the Virginia militia. Finding no militia and learning there was a force stationed at Kemps Landing in Princess Anne, he marched overland to the village. Only one volley of shots was fired by the British, but it was enough to scatter the untrained group of farmers and merchants. The volley touched off the tinder of revolt throughout Virginia.
Though the new federal government’s first structure, the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse, would not be completed until after the war, transport of Rappahannock River stones from the Fredericksburg area quarry to Cape Henry began after Virginia and Maryland realized a need for navigation in 1720, and by 1775, over 6000 tons of aquia “freestones” had been transported to the Cape. Any inhabitant standing atop the pile of massive boulders would have been able to witness either of the two sea battles between the British and the patriot French, both of which occurred in and just outside the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. [See The Lighthouses Act of 1789.]
What is surprisingly not well known about the Cape Henry area is the meeting which took place aboard Ville de Paris in Lynnhaven Bay just one month before the Siege of Yorktown. With six of the patriot commanding generals in attendance, the French fleet would be enlisted and the final military strategies for the “Trapping of Cornwallis” designed. (It was the only time the three Commanding Officers recognized on the nation’s first monument, erected in Yorktown, would be in the same place at the same time.) [Click on the image above and follow the links in order to view copies of Washington’s actual journal entries in preparation for his visit with De Grasse, to get a glimpse of the fabric Washington designed (including his unique 6-pointed star) for his Commander-in-Chief flag, to read Dr. Robert Selig’s unpublished historical study of the visit of Washington and Rochambeau to Lynnhaven Bay (commissioned and ordered “not for publication” by the Commonwealth of Virginia), and, maybe, to discover an interesting link between Cape Henry and Jean Audubon, father of the famed French ornithologist.]
It is a popularly maintained misconception that July 4, 1776 marked the date of our nation’s independence. (Not even the patriot victory at Yorktown formally guaranteed it.) Only in 1783, with the signing of the Treaties of Paris and Versaille was America formally granted its sovereignty by the British and French. But not even then (nor since) would America (or Americans) enjoy untethered separation from countries like England, for it began its sovereignty indebted to the King, never to realize an independence either “free” or “clear.”
Article VI, Section 2 of the U. S. Constitution exists to document and authorize international treaties with perpetual provisions. It was included because of the agreements in existence at the time; among them, the Treaty of Alliance and Treaty of Peace, the latter of which would evolve into the regularly renewed Social Security Administration agreements with the United Kingdom, available to view among both countries’ official documents posted online: United Kingdom United States.
No land force can act decisively unless it is accompanied by maritime superiority.
There is no disagreement among historical scholars of the American Revolutionary War that Patriot victory would not have been possible, at least not yet, without the participation of France, in particular the French Armées Navales under the command of Lieutenant Général François-Joseph Paul, marquis de Grasse Tilly, comte de Grasse, and there is little doubt that historic victory occurred because of the secret strategy meeting of the Patriot generals in Lynnhaven Bay the month before.
That it was a Frenchman who liberated Americans from subject servitude is one accomplishment about which the entire nation of France is quite astonishingly proud, even to this day; although the number of American statues, monuments and plaques honoring the Revolutionary Fleet’s giant (at 6′ 4″ he was an inch taller than Washington, to whom he referred as mon petit general), pales by comparison and large margin to similar memorials in France, remembering the man who acquired “immortal glory for having ensured l’Independance des ETATS- UNIS d’AMERIQUE.”
Among the many obligations
that the United States have gained
visa-vis the men of the French Army and Navy
who have taken such a noble part in our establishment,
that which you have acquired will be profoundly engraved
in the spirit of its sons in indelible character,
with gratitude and deep respect.
It is appropriate, then, that international observance of the treaties be celebrated in and commemorated annually by the City and residents of Virginia Beach, where the greatest contribution of the French occurred. On this premise, the City has previously recognized De Grasse with the naming of a street in the Municipal Center area and by supplying benches, light poles and flowerbeds at the foot of his statue in Cape Henry Memorial Park, a part of the Colonial National Park Service, located on JEB Fort Story.
Several proposals have been made to the City in order to further the recognition on behalf of a nation grateful to France (and noted in the quotations, above, capturing the words of Washington himself). Sufficient explanation of each exists, at least to educate the public as to the ideas which could be discussed, albeit briefly, during the April 3rd meeting. Not one of them is any more or less important than the others.
I consider myself
infinitely happy to have
been of some service to the U.S.
Reserve me a place in your memory.
- Relocating the Statue of “Amiral” De Grasse. It has been proposed by the National Park Service that a more accessible, more apropos venue than on JEB Fort Story could be considered to showcase the statue donated to the City by former Norfolk resident, the Baron de Lustrac. The creation of an “Homage to De Grasse” park has been suggested in alliance with W3R-US® – forever reserving a place for the comte de Grasse in our memory. (Incidentally, he was never an Admiral.)
- Placing a national marker at the southeastern most point on the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail. Lynnhaven Bay is on the route shared by both George Washington and Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, Patriot Commander of the French Army. W3R was signed into federal law in 2009. Since then, every state which represents a section of the historic trail.has worked to appropriately recognize the respective trail segments’ historical significance. (For one, it would benefit the City’s exposure and likely inure to an increase in tourism revenue.) Virginia is no exception; however, decisions remain about the manner, if at all, in which to mark the southeastern most point on the national historic trail, the location of that vitally important meeting of the six generals aboard Ville de Paris.
- “Twinning” Virginia Beach and Tilly. It is difficult to imagine Virginia Beach “sistering” with any other city in the world without first considering the city of Tilly, France, the hamlet home of the final residence and cardinal resting place of Amiral Joseph Paul, the Comte de Grass and Marquis de Tilly. [Click on the image above to view the actual email thread resulting in the selection of Tilly by the queried historians. (You may be surprised at what else you learn when you do.)] Share your opinion in an email to Director Ruth Fraser and members of the Sister Cities Association of Virginia Beach.
- Becoming the nation’s home for annual commemoration of the anniversaries of the signing of the Treaties. It has been said about our earliest official historical documents, that all evidence of surviving relevance from the predecessors of our nation was written, signed, sealed and delivered (like the decisive 1781 Battle off the Virginia Capes, the meeting of the three Commanders-in-Chief, and the naval contributions to the Patriot victory at Yorktown).. MORE
- Creating a memorial at the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse so visitors may observe from the same vantage point as that during the actual battles. Only one area in Cape Henry exists, topographically, as it did in the 18th century: the large dune in the “Desert at Cape Henry.” † ‡ [Click here to view Charles Hatch’s The Old Cape Henry Light booklet, and on the image above for details of an hexagonal, brick, perimeter fence with memorial observation deck proposed to Preservation Virginia in 2009 by the Norfolk Chapter SAR.]
- Nationwide Centennial Commemoration of the Order of Cape Henry 1607 for the 100th Pilgrimage to the Cross. Proposed to be sponsored by the City of Virginia Beach, the National Park Service, the Jamestowne-Yorktown Foundation, the British Consulate, Old Donation (former Lynnhaven Parish) Church, Christian Broadcasting Network and members of the ancestral, indigenous native American tribes in combination with ceremonial ribbon-cutting ceremony, etc. for the grand opening of the “Homage to Washington, Rochambeau and De Grasse Park” during the weekend of Friday, April 26 – Monday, April 29, 2019.
For additional reading, see the brief synopses: The History of Lynnhaven Parish, Virginia’s First 70 Years in Pictures, Virginia’s History, History of Virginia Beach, First 100 Years in Hampton Roads: 1510-2013, The Beach: The History of Virginia Beach, Virginia (Full Text, Digitized) and The Colonial Background of the American Revolution. Also see March 30, 2014 Virginian-Pilot article.