The Port of Yorktown is the historic seat of York County in southeastern Virginia. Part of the Chesapeake Bay Waterway and York River, the Port of Yorktown is about 22 nautical miles across the Chesapeake Bay (40 kilometers or 25 miles west-southwest) of the Port of Cape Charles. The Port of Yorktown is also 31 nautical miles across the Bay (39 kilometers or 24 miles north-northwest) from the Port of Norfolk. The 2010 Census reported a population of 195 in the unincorporated census designated place of the Port of Yorktown and a population of almost 65.5 thousand in York County.
The Port of Yorktown was created by the State's General Assembly in 1691, although people had been living there since the 1630s. York County is one of colonial Virginia's eight original shires. Today, the Port of Yorktown is part of the "Historic Triangle" that also includes Williamsburg and Jamestown in the Colonial National Historical Park.
Named after England's ancient city of York, the Port of Yorktown was created as a port in 1691, primarily for sending tobacco to Europe. Until the American Revolution, it was known as York. The Port of Yorktown's peak came in the middle 18th Century when almost two thousand people lived there, and the town held almost 300 buildings.
The Port of Yorktown is best known as the site of the surrender of General Cornwallis to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War in 1781. While the war continued into 1782, the siege and British defeat at the Port of Yorktown was the last major battle signaling the end of the war. Nine buildings remain from that era as well as many earthworks that were dug by American and French forces that besieged Cornwallis' base in the Port of Yorktown.
The Port of Yorktown was also important during the American Civil War when it was used as a port supplying both Union and Confederate towns depending on which side controlled the port at a given time. The Port of Yorktown was captured by Union troops during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign and then used as a base for General George B. McClellan's Union Army of the Potomac.
After it was created as a port, the Port of Yorktown became an important colonial shipping center. The restored 1706 Colonial Custom House is considered by many to be the birthplace of the United States' tariff system.
By the middle 18th Century, the Port of Yorktown's commercial role had decreased with the decline of the tobacco trade in tidewater Virginia.