Location: Fort Story, Virginia
Webpage: National Park
General Description: Cape Henry Memorial serves two historical purposes. First, it was the first landfall of the English colonists, who, after landing on April 26, 1607 and setting up a cross, used the location to explore up the James River to find a better location protected from the Indians and Spanish and establishing the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown. In 1935, the Daughters of American Colonists erected a stone cross at the approximate location of the landing to commemorate the event. Cape Henry also overlooks the site of the sea battle, the Battle of the Virginia Capes, that was critical to the success of General Washington capturing General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781. The sea battle was between a French fleet commanded by Rear Admiral Francois Joseph Paul, the Comte De Grasse and English fleet commanded by Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Graves. As allies of the Americans in the Revolutionary War, Admiral Paul brought much needed supplies to General Washington in August, 1781 from the West Indies. Knowing that French Admiral de Barras had also sailed from Rhode Island to join with them off the coast of Virginia, Admiral Graves set sail from New York with 19 ships of the line. On September 5, Admiral Graves found the French fleet of 24 ships of the line at anchor off of Cape Henry. Respecting the rules of war, Admiral Graves waited until the French fleet could set sail before engaging them. After hours of maneuvering, the two lines of ships opened fire with only the front and center of the fleets fully engaged. Consequently, the fleets were evenly matched although the British suffered more casualties and damage. At sundown they disengaged, but remained within sight of each other for several days. On September 13, de Grasse broke off and returned to the Chesapeake, while Graves returned to New York to outfit a larger relief fleet. While not decisive, the sea battle kept reinforcements and supplies to arrive for Cornwallis and without the ships to evacuate, he surrendered his troops on October 17, 1781, two days before Graves was able to set sail again from New York. Thus ended the military engagements of the Revolutionary War with a major victory of the Patriots over the British. A state of Admiral de Grasse and a granite memorial honor their contributions to American Independence.
1) Cape Henry Memorial is located within Fort Story, which is an active military base for the Joint Expeditionary Forces. Therefore, be prepared to have your vehicle searched and to be restricted to only the main road to the historical site. Be sure you have your registration and proof of insurance and not have any firearms or alcohol in the vehicle.
2) There is not much to see at the Memorial except for a couple of signs, the concrete cross, and statue of Admiral de Grasse. Although part of the National Park System, the Memorial is not manned.
3) Within a couple hundred yards of the Memorial is the oldest federal lighthouse. Constructed in 1792, just over 10 years since the Revolutionary War, the old brick lighthouse is still in excellent condition. It has been replaced by a more modern lighthouse located nearby and for a small fee you can climb the old lighthouse to look at the view over the military base. We decided not to climb all of the steps, however, so I cannot comment on the view.
4) The Memorial takes less than an hour to visit.