That from and after the first day of October 1692, all ships, barques, and other vessels whatsoever, arriving into, or sailing out of this country for trade, shall unload and put on shore, and take from shore to load on board, all tobaccoes, goods and merchandises, at one or other of the ports mentioned in this act.
~ Virginia General Assembly, April 1691, legislation establishing Yorktown
Tobacco Road is an eerily quiet and remote footpath resting between the York River waterfront and the Yorktown battlefield. This rugged thoroughfare remained a vital link for both the port of Yorktown and Virginia’s early economy. The road delivered an easy route for exported goods, including thousands of pounds of tobacco. Upon the founding of the commercial port of Yorktown in 1691, the price for a half acre town lot was 180 pounds of tobacco. Tobacco was one of the most valuable currencies of the New World. The tobacco collected at the port would be used to pay taxes, fines and salaries of government and church officials, as well as purchase merchant goods.
Legends place British General Cornwallis and his troop’s headquarters in a bunker near Tobacco Road.
Between 1691 and 1781, fortunes were made at Yorktown in the tobacco trade. Bellfield Plantation, located four miles west of the waterfront, produced a very high quality tobacco. Ships came from Great Britain to get hogsheads of tobacco, which had been examined by government inspectors. By 1750, the amount of tobacco sent from Yorktown began to decline as crop yields on local plantations started to decrease. The town’s future potential was wiped out by the destruction and waste that came with the Siege of 1781, the “Great Fire” of 1814, and the Civil War’s Peninsular Campaign of 1862. The town never recovered from the devastation of the war and the port became a shadow of its former thriving self.