How to Find Hip-Hop Icon Alexander Hamilton in Greater Williamsburg
The Founding Father achieved military glory here. Walk in his footsteps for a taste of the exciting drama.
More than 200 years after his death, Alexander Hamilton has joined the pantheon of rock-star Founding Founders thanks to an unlikely Broadway hip-hop hit, the musical Hamilton.
Hamilton and his buddy, the Marquis de Lafayette, had some of the most dramatic moments of their history-making lives in the Greater Williamsburg area. Today, you can visit the places where it all happened more than two centuries ago, well before the nation’s first Treasury Secretary became the pop star he is today.
Such as Yorktown, for example. As the site of the last major battle of the American Revolution, it earns a spotlight in the play’s song and dance number "Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down).” The title refers to the ballad played by the British as they marched away following the surrender of Lord Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis on Oct. 17, 1781.
We negotiate the terms of surrender
I see George Washington smile
We escort their men out of Yorktown
They stagger home single file
Tens of thousands of people flood the streets
There are screams and church bells ringing
And as our fallen foes retreat
I hear the drinking song they’re singing…
The world turned upside down
At Yorktown, Hamilton commanded a battalion of 400 men that on Oct. 14 stormed British Redoubt No. 10, one of two stubborn enemy outposts. The other was Redoubt No. 9, attacked by French troops under the command of Lafayette. Accounts from the time say Hamilton's men took the redoubt in just 10 minutes, with nine killed and 31 wounded. The French soon seized their position as well. The clashes were turning points in the Battle of Yorktown. With the capture of the positions, Gen. George Washington was able to move his artillery into more effective positions, shelling Yorktown, pinning down Cornwallis, and leading to his capitulation.
You can visit those redoubts today — as well as the fortifications, cannons, and historic scene of surrender — by driving through the National Park Site, the Yorktown Battlefield or joining a guided tour. Also visit the neighboring American Revolution Museum at Yorktown for a look at the Revolutionary period, from Colonial unrest to the formation of the new nation through films, exhibits, and living history areas with costumed interpreters.
The battle provided Hamilton with the military glory he had long sought since his commissioning in March 1777 as an aide to Washington. Later, in 1781, a frustrated Hamilton requested to be assigned to a combat unit. Washington relented.
Hamilton's battalion left Annapolis on Sept. 15, 1781, and arrived south of Williamsburg on Sept. 20, encamping for four days before moving into the city where preparations for the attack were made. Lafayette was at the center of those plans. Today, a Lafayette re-enactor can be seen daily riding his horse and rallying the troops at the magazine in Colonial Williamsburg.
In Hamilton, he gets a star turn in "Guns and Ships:"
I go to France for more funds
I come back with more Guns
And so the balance shifts
We rendezvous with Rochambeau, consolidate their gifts
We can end this war at Yorktown, cut them off at sea ...
That's just what they did. The ships, under the command of Comte de Rochambeau, kept British boats from the harbor, making escape impossible for Cornwallis and his troops.
Hamilton is among other Founding Fathers in the permanent galleries of the new 80,000-square-foot American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, which debuted in mid-October during the annual Yorktown Victory Celebration. The outdoor living history areas with costumed historical interpreters will be completed in early 2017, and a grand opening celebration from March 23 to April 4, 2017, will officially launch the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.
Special effects will help bring to life “The Siege of Yorktown” experiential theater located within the permanent exhibition gallery space. During the eight-minute film, the audience will experience smoke, wind, smells (gunpowder, sea water, and coffee), and rumbling seats from the thunder of cannon fire.
In addition, Hamilton is one of the principal characters in the new museum’s first special exhibition, “AfterWARd,” opening June 1, 2017. The exhibition will tell how four veterans of the Siege of Yorktown went on after the Revolutionary War to help shape the America we know today.