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The History of Hampton Roads

The first colonist arrived in Hampton roads in April 1607; an event now known as the ‘First Landing’. The next important events in Hampton Roads history were the battles of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). These involved Craney Island, at the mouth of the Elisabeth River in Portsmouth, and Norfolk in 1812. By the 1830’s the entrance to Chesapeake Bay was being defended by Fort Wool and Fort Monroe. You can visit Fort Monroe today for an interesting day trip!

Fifes and Drum march through Williamsburg

Hampton Roads was a very important area during the Civil War (1861-1865) as Richmond was the capital of the Confederate army. The Union took control of Hampton Roads, Norfolk and the lower James River a few months after the famous Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862 – a battle of the first American iron-clad warships, off Sewell’s Point.

President Abraham Lincoln

As the confederacy neared collapse, on February 3rd, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln met with three confederate leaders to discuss a Peace agreement in a meeting called the ‘Hampton Roads Conference’. The conference ended in failure however, with the confederates refusing to compromise on their demands of total independence.

The Civil War ended soon after this conference.

Site of Hampton University

During the civil war, African-American refugees sought refuge at a camp near Fort Monroe. Here they were declared contraband of war by the union generals, so their owners could not demand them to be returned. They grew into the first self-contained African-American settlement in North America and an oak tree near the site became known as the Emancipation Oak. A school was founded on the site and that school is now Hampton University.

To gain a true appreciation of the 18th century Colonial period, the best place to visit is Colonial Williamsburg.