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What is: The entrance to a waterfront parking lot, Yorktown, Virginia

What was: We mostly know of Yorktown as being the location of the last major conflict in the Revolutionary War. However, in the 18th Century Yorktown’s waterfront was a major harbor — the center of commerce. In 1691, Yorktown was made the official port for the Colony of Virginia. Wharves, tobacco warehouses, ship chandleries, grogshops lined the waterfront.  Up the hill was the main street where the Customs office and merchants lined the street. A diverse array of merchants and sailors, planters and inspectors, travelers and laborers made it a busy place.

From 1619 to 1774 more than 390 vessels brought captured Africans (on average carrying 125 captives/vessel) to Virginia delivering to major trade ports like the one here, as well as to plantations directly along the York, James and Rappahannock Rivers. Between 1698 and 1750 over 80 percent of captured Africans (about 31,000) were disembarked in the York River district.

In front of you is what was known as “The Great Valley,” one of the few natural openings in the marl cliffs of Yorktown.  It was used as the main roadway to connect the harbor to the main street, about a city block up the hill.  The slaves would be herded up the hill to the slave market on Main Street. Source: Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project.