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The Land

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Civilian volunteers work to excavate a 7- to 9-million-year-old whale skeleton at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown-Cheatham Annex, through a joint effort between the base and volunteers from the College of William and Mary and the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

PALEONTOLOGY - No other locality in the State has furnished so many species or has received so much attention from paleontologists. The "Yorktown formation"* has its typical development in these regions where extremely fossiliferous strata (marl) in the high bluffs have long been known to contain a variety of well-preserved specimens. The beds that outcrop here extend through the adjoining counties and are exposed along many of the small streams. It is one of the most fossiliferous formations represented in the entire series of Atlantic Coastal Plain sediments and for years the beds exposed here, especially at Bellfield, old Black Swamp Creek, and Indian Field, have been favorite collecting grounds for workers in Tertiary geology. While the fauna is distinctly molluscan in character, consisting mainly of large and small bivalves badly worn and mostly fragmentary, yet numerous vertebrate bones may be collected along the cliffs at any time. Recent discoveries of whale vertebrae and the lower jaw of a walrus are f especial interest. Among the species represented in the locality are: - Melina maxillata, Pecten jeffersonius, P. clintonins, Glycymeris subevata, Venus tridacnoides, V. rileyi, etc.

INDIAN FIELD - At the time of the arrival of the whites, the region about the site of the Mine Depot was occupied by the Chiskiack Indians of the Algonquin race, whose chief town was established at a place now known as "Indian Field". The name of the tribe meant "wide land", "Bread place", which is quite descriptive of the locality where the Indians resided. This broad expanse of open level land, bordering on the river and surrounded by luxuriant pine groves, was, in 1612, an Indian wigwam village. The chief or werowance of the tribe living here was named "Ottahotin" (under Powhatan). On the river are now six sets of officer's quarters including the residence of the Inspector of Ordnance in Charge. The Indians called this river "Pamunkey" but the English at their coming gave it the name of "Charles River" in honor of Prince Charles afterwards King Charles I. It later was renamed "York" in honor of the Duke of York, soon to be King James II.

The first known visit of a white man to York River was in 1606 when it is reported that a ship sailed up that broad thoroughfare and was kindly received by the powerful Indian Chief Powhatan at Werowocomoco (meaning King's House), a place which has been satisfactorily identified as Purton. "Purton" is merely a variation of "Powhatan", some few miles up and across the river from Indian Field. The next year 1608, Captain Christopher Newport sailed from Jamestown, Virginia, made a visit to Powhatan and often thereafter the Jamestown people repeated these visits but no real settlement by the white people was made on the York River until 1630.

The need of a settlement in this region was felt, however, and as early as 1611 Sir Thomas Dale, Deputy Governor, in a letter to the Earl of Salisbury, recommended a fortified place at Chiskiack (Indian Field). Then after the Indian Massacre of 1622, then the Chiskiack Indians, deserted Indian Field and surrounding territory and moved to the Pyanketank River, the idea of "winning the forest" by running a pale (palisade or barrier for defense purposes) from the James River to the York River and the planting of a settlement on the latter took a strong hold on the Colonial Governor, Sir Francis Wiatt, and his Council. This scheme was regarded as the best means to ward off an Indian attack and it was agreed to build palisades defended at intervals by stock houses. Nothing was done, however, until the coming of Governor Sir Henry Harvey, when the project, so long delayed, was carried into execution. At a meeting of the Council on October 8, 1630, as appears from a deed recorded at Yorktown, an order was entered offering as an encouragement "for securing and taking in a tract of land called the forest, bordering upon the chiefs residents of Pamunkey King, the most dangerous head of ye Indian enemye" 50 acres to every person who would settle the first year on Charles River and likewise 25 acres to every person the second year. At the same court two tracts of 600 acres each were granted to John West, brother of Lord Delaware, and Captain John Utie, later commanders of the new settlement.

BELLFIELD - The six hundred acres of land granted to John West extended eastward in the Mine Depot from Poli's Point on Felgate's Creek taking in what was then and is still known as "Bellfield", which was used during the war as an Aviation Training Camp and considered by naval flyers as one of the best landing fields in the country. The abandoned hangers and buildings are being salvaged as occasion arises for use of material. Here his son, John West, the founder of West Point up the York River, was born in 1633, who was the first child of English parents born in the York settlement.
In 1650 the older West sold the property to Edward Digges Esquire (later Governor Digges), a son of Sir Dudley Digges, Master of the Rolls to King Charles The First. This plantation is noted as the scene of one of the first attempts by the Colonists to raise silk worms for the production of silk designed to compete with the Orient. He employed two Armenians to help him but the industry proved a failure. To this day there is left on this estate to remind us numerous mulberry trees transplanted from abroad, the leaves of which served as food for the silk worms.

A massive tombstone still attests the presence of Edward Digges' grave near the site of the original home. The estate continued in the Digges' family for over one hundred years during which time it was noted for its flavored plant of sweet-scented tobacco known as the "E. Dees" and which never failed to bring in England "One shilling on the pound when other tobaccos brought not threepence". The original Bellfield house was a seventeenth century structure of brick but has long since disappeared, another of wood erected near its old foundations. The house being of no value, is occupied and rapidly going to decay. Naturally this is a particularly revered spot to Virginia antiquarians being from 1654 to 1656 the home of Governor Edward Digges, one time Colonial Governor of Virginia. The burying ground, a short walk from the house, holds four well-marked graves.

(1) S
To the memory of
Edward Digges Esq.
Sonne of Dudley Digges of Chilham in Kent Kn t & Bar t Master of the Rolls in the rain of K. Charles the First. He departed this life 15th of March 1674 in the LIII d year of his age, one of his Mag ty Councill for this his colony of Virginia. A gentlemen of most commendable parts and ingenuity, the only introducer and promoter of the silk manufacture in this colony. And in everything else a pattern worthy of all Pious Imitation. He had issue 6 sons and 7 daughters by the body of Elizabeth his wife who of her conjugal affection hath dedicated to him this Memorial.
(Governor of Va. March 30, 1655 - March 13, 1658, succeeding Richard Bennet)


(2) (Arms)
Sub hoc marmore Requiescat in Pace
Dudleius Digges Armigor
Susannae Digges Juxta Depositao
Amantissimus
Vir et virtute et Pro sapia vere Inclytus
Qui hujusco Coloniae
Primo Consiliarii Deir ad Auditoris
Dignitatem erectus est
Obiit omnibus desideratus XVIII Jan
Anno Dom MDCCX
Aet at suae XLV
Justorum Animue in Manu Dei sunt
(Dudley son of the Governor)

(3)
Hic subtus inhumatum Corpus
Susannse Digges Filiae Gulielmi
Cole Armigeri
Noc Non Dudlei Digges
Armigeri
Conjugis Fidelissimao Quae ex hoc
Vita decessit IX o KAL Decemb r Anno
Sautis MDCCV. A Etatis suse XXXIV
(Susanne Cole of Denbigh, Va.,
Dudley's wife)

(4)
This monument was erected by Colonel Edward Digges to ye memory of a most indulgent Father the Honble Cole Digges Esquire who having been many years on his Majestys Honorable Council for this Colony sometime, President of YE same died in the year of our Lord MDCCXLIV


Digges ever to extremes untaught to bend
Enjoying life yet mindful of his end
In three the World an happy meeting saw
Of sprightly humor and religious awe
Cheerful not wild, facetious yet not mad
Tho grave not sour though serious never sad
Mirth came not called to banish from within
Intruding pangs of unrepented sin
And thy religion was no Studies Art
To varnish guilt but purify the Heart
What less than felicity most rare
Need spring from such a temper and such care
Now in the city taking great delight
To vote new laws or old interpret right
Now crowds and Business quitting to receive
The joys content in Solitude can give
With equal praise then shown among the great
And grace the humble pleasures of Retreat
Displayed thy Dignity in every scene
And tempted or betrayed to nothing mean
Whate'er of thee was mean beneath it lies,
He ret unstained is clamed by the skies
(Honorable Cole Digges)


An interesting feature in connection with the old Digges' estate is an ancient shell deposit (marl) near the river whichindicates that in the Miocene period this section of land formed the bed of the ocean. Geologists frequently visit here for the purpose of studying and securing samples of prehistoric mollusks. About 1795 Bellfield was sold by William Digges of Newport News to William Waller and finally came to Colonel Robert McCandlish. It was still in the hands of the McCandlish family when commandeered by the Government.

PENNIMAN- The thread of King's Creek is the western boundry of the mine depot. On th left bank of the creek is situated the six hundredacres granted to Captain John Utie. This property is now known as " Penniman", until recently owned by the Dupont Powder Works, and the scene of great activity during the war.

POLI'S POINT- At Polis Point lived, during the Civil war, Captain Paul N. Van Mate, of whom it is said went to war because he feared his wife more then the enemy. He was know by all as Captain "Pauly", hence the name " Pauly's point", Since corrupted.

RINGFIELD- In the angle formed by Felgate's creek and King's Creek, settled Capain Robert Felgate, a prominent ship captain from London, who made his will in 1640, leaving his estate to his brother, William Felgate, a skinner of London. At William Felgate's death, his widow Mary married in 1660 Captain John Underhill Jr., from the city of Worcester, England, who resided here until his death. From Underhill the property went to Joseph Ring, a prominent planter, who probably built the picturesque old brick building which was unfortunately destroyed by fire, since acquisition by the government -(December 14, 1920). This house was the residence of the first Inspector of Ordinance in Charge, who on October 1920, Moved to the new quarters at Indian Field. Antiquarians consider the loss of this building (probably of incendiary origins) most regrettable as it was judged a typical example of seventeenth century colonial architecture.

STONEY POINT- On the sight of the Seamen Gunners' Quarters (now used as Marine Barracks) was another of the o;d homes on the York known as "Stony Point". The plantation of 800 acres was owned, shortly after the revolution, by an Englishman named John Bracken who after serving for a long time as Professor of the Grammar School at William and Mary College, was president thereof for two, 1812-1814. This home was called "Bracken's Castle" but there are now no traces of it left.

There is an interesting bit of history concerning the naming of Stoney Point. A young lieutenant, James Gibbons, who was a gallant Revolutionary officer, on the 16th of July 1779, led one of the three advance parties of twenty men, known as "Forlorn Hopes", when General "Mad" Anthony Wayne carried the fortress of Stoney Point, N.Y., by storm. Of his twenty men, seventeen were killed or wounded. Thereafter he was known as the "Hero of Stoney Point.
This young soldier became Colonel Gibbons who resided here and later, until his death, occupied the post of Collector of Customs in Richmond, Virginia. To this day this spot is called "Stoney Point" in memory of Colonel Gibbons' bravery.
Shortly before the Civil War, Stoney Point was purchased by John Coupland, great grandson of Benjamin Harrison, signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The house, a large brick dwelling, was situated exactly upon the site the present Marine barracks and was surrounded by beautiful grounds and terraces which ran down to the river's edge. Mr. Coupland had only lived here a short while when his house was destroyed by fire. A young negro slave, whom he had brought from his mothers plantation in Alabama becoming dissatisfied, set fire to an old trunk in the attic and the beautiful old home became a mess of smoldering ashes. Later, Mr. Coupland erected thereon a frame house and sold the place to a Mr. E. J. C. Dalington, a gentleman from Pennsylvania, who came to Virginia for his health. There he resided during the Civil War and was greatly loved for his kindness to the wounded soldiers of both sides. Due to the Civil War, the terrain in this vicinity exchanged hands many times and an old resident of Stoney Point living today states that one of the first things she did upon arising in the morning was to look out the window to see whether the uniforms of the soldiers thereabout were of blue or gray. The old spring which furnished the home with delicious drinking water and was used by the soldiers during the Civil War is still flowing and lies just east of the Marine barracks.

 

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Painting by local artist Gail Duke depicting the arrival of Captain John Smith at the Kiskiak Indian village during the Christmas of 1608.

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