I love history...American, New York, & European especially. I dig into David McCullough books and watch Ken Burns' documentaries in my free time. But certain things that we (as Americans) should know...I don't. Yorktown? Some battle. Jamestown? Some town.
When Colonial Williamsburg invited me down, I was especially excited to spend a few hours at these sites. Williamsburg, Jamestown & Yorktown make up the so-called "Historic Triangle." I learn better when surrounded by beautiful, clean things. When my desk is a mess, I can't work. The Yorktown Victory Center & Jamestown galleries are really beautiful. I believe we all learn better this way-things are laid out well, easy to understand and absorb, and hey, there's a great gift shop and cafe at the end too.
I love that the drive into both of these areas seems untouched-like you're seeing the same trees the settlers and soldiers saw.
How To: 25 minute drive from Williamsburg. Start at the Yorktown Victory Center, check out the model encampment and 1780's farm surrounding it, & then tour the nearby actual battlefied if you're interested.
What happened? To simplify it, America happened because of this battle. It was the battle that changed everything. The battle that was the turning point in the Americans winning the Revolutionary War against the British. 1781-The Siege of Yorktown was THE deciding battle & basically was the start of America as we know it today. Oh and let's thank the French too-we couldn't have done it without their help! Negotiations for peace ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, where America was recognized as free from Great Britain.
How To: You'll need more time here than Yorktown. A new visitor center opened in 2006. The galleries/museum building is huge, and you can spend an hour meandering or more if you watch the videos like "1607: A Nation Takes Root." After the galleries, you can tour the Powhatan Indian Village, the James Fort, and board one of the replicas of the ships that took settlers here (they seemed surprisingly small to me).
What happened? Cooking, flirting, games...a lot of livin'. Actually, there was a lot of starving, fighting, and disease unfortunately. Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in America and was settled 13 years BEFORE the Pilgrims came to Massachusetts.
Now I have to go figure out what happened at Bull Run.