The Colonial Port of West Point VA–Expanding the Historic Triangle
History is a symphony of echoes heard and unheard. It is a poem with events as verses. ~Charles Angoff
The quaint, historic Virginia river town of West Point has a long, complex and significant multicultural history for hundreds of years as a port of entry, port of delivery and port of departure. Along these shores, Indigenous tribes fought to retain their ancestral lands. Africans arrived in bondage during the transatlantic slave trade. Indentured servants came ashore hoping for a new life in a new world. As dreams were deferred, this port also became a point of escape. Goods critical to an ever evolving colony and village were imported and exported.
Later in its history, people traveled for business and pleasure. Immigrants arrived searching for the American Dream. The rivers were a source of life to be celebrated and also a final resting place for many who deserve our remembrance.
The Forgotten Colonial Port
For many people, “West Point” conjures up one of two images—a military post on the Hudson River in New York or a mill town in Virginia where the York River is formed by the confluence of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers. Part of the confusion may be related to the fact the land where the contemporary Town of West Point VA now stands (incorporated in 1870) has been a part of various counties at different points in its history.
Currently, West Point is part of King William County which was formed in 1702 from part of King and Queen County; the land was once part of New Kent County which was created in 1654 from York and James City Counties. In 1634, Virginia was originally divided into 8 shires.
In April of 1691, West Point, Virginia was included in an Act for Ports as a port of entry:
West Point (De la Warr) was not annexed to the Port of Yorktown until 1799. Prior to that time, there were two ports on the York River–upper (West Point) and lower (Yorktown).
REACH Consulting and the Beverly Allen Historic Preservation Foundation are working with the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project to have the early port recognized by UNESCO. The research and documentation have been submitted for the designation. The future plan is to work with community partners to establish a marker, public art space and ceremony of remembrance.
Visit these websites to learn more and follow the series about the early West Point port:
- Wade in the Water (video)
- Beverly Allen Historic Preservation Foundation Virtual Exhibits
- REACH Forgotten Port Series
- Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project
The organizations hope to engage all communities and stakeholders in the region to create an innovative, inclusive, interactive outdoor experience designed to honor the past, celebrate the present and look forward to the future. The goal is to work with local, regional, state and national partners to create a space where all voices are heard.
As more and more documents are digitized, historians have the opportunity to engage the next generation in new discoveries. American Evolution and our understanding of the past continues. Perhaps in 2019, our vision of the historic triangle will expand as we collaborate to tell every story.
Editor’s note: Want to experience what life was like during early America? Visit the American Adventure exhibit today.