Yorktown's history dates to 1691, when the General Assembly at Jamestown passed the Port Act creating a new town on the York River, which unlike the James River, has a shoal-free, deepwater channel to the Chesapeake Bay. Yorktown quickly became a principal mid-Atlantic port and a center of tobacco trade. By the time of the American Revolution, it was a thriving town with several thousand planters, innkeepers, seamen, merchants, craftsmen, indentured servants, and slaves. Water Street, paralleling the river, was lined with shops, inns, and loading docks.
The Victory at Yorktown -- After a rather fruitless and exhausting march through the Carolinas, Cornwallis brought his army to Yorktown in hopes of being moved to New York by the British navy. Marching quickly from the north, George Washington's army of 17,600 American troops and their French allies laid siege to Yorktown on September 28, 1781. Meanwhile, a French fleet sailed up from the Caribbean and held the British navy away from the Virginia Capes, thereby cutting off Cornwallis' escape route.
On October 9, the allies began bombarding the British positions. Washington personally fired the first American round. At 8pm on October 14, the French stormed Redoubt 9 while the Americans made short work of Redoubt 10.
Just 2 days later, a desperate Cornwallis tried to escape with his troops across the York River to Gloucester Point, but a violent storm scattered his boats. On October 17 at 10am, a British drummer appeared on the rampart and beat out a signal indicating a desire to discuss terms with the enemy. A ceasefire was called, and a British officer was led to American lines where he requested an armistice. On October 18, commissioners met at the house of Augustine Moore and worked out the terms of surrender.
At 2pm on October 19, 1781, the French and Continental armies lined Surrender Road, each stretching for over a mile on either side. About 5,000 British soldiers and seamen, clad in new uniforms, marched out of Yorktown to a large field, where they laid down their weapons and battle flags. Gen. Charles O'Hara of the British Guards represented Cornwallis who, pleading illness, did not surrender in person.