Coordinates: Queen's Creek is located in York County in the Virginia Peninsula area of the Hampton Roads region of southeastern Virginia in the United States. From a point of origin near the Waller Mill Reservoir in western York County it flows northeasterly across the northern half of the Peninsula as a tributary of the York River.
17th century: anchoring the palisade
As Jamestown in the Colony of Virginia was first settled by English colonists beginning in 1607 along the James River, the colonists had frequent and violent encounters with the Native Americans who had long lived there, and were increasingly squeezed out by the every-growing number of colonists, exacerbated by their cultivation of land-hungry tobacco as a cash crop to export after 1612.
Queen's Creek first came into a significant role in the colony as an important part of an important fortification in the 1630s.
The idea of a palisade or fortification across the peninsula was discussed as early as 1611. But, during the era of the marriage of colonist John Rolfe and Native Princess Pocahontas, who were married in 1614, there was a period of peaceful relations with the Natives, and nothing was immediately done in furtherance of the suggestion.
The idea of building a palisade was renewed around 1623, following the Indian Massacre of 1622. At that time, of the settlers in Martin's Hundred at Wolstenholme Towne, situated on the James about 6 miles (9.7 km) below Jamestown, seventy-three were slain, and the survivors were so alarmed and weakened that the settlement was temporarily abandoned. Governor Francis Wyatt and his Council wrote to the Earl of Southampton that they had under consideration a plan of "winning the forest" by running a pale between the James and York.
Dr. John Potts blazed the way by obtaining on July 12, 1632 a patent for 1,200 acres (4.9 km2) at the head of Archer's Hope Creek (later renamed College Creek), midway between the James River at Archer's Hope and the former Native American village of Chiskiack near the York River. On September 4, 1632, the General Assembly directed that the encouragement of land offered two years before to inhabitants at Chiskiack, should also be granted to all persons settling between Queen's Creek and Archer's Hope Creek.
In February, 1633, it was enacted that a fortieth part of the men in "the compasse of the forest" east of Archer's Hope and Queen's Creek to Chesapeake Bay (essentially all of the lower peninsula) should be present "before the first day of March next" at Dr. John Potts' plantation, "newlie built," to erect houses and secure the land in that quarter. Work on the palisade commenced by March 1, 1633.
With this labor, palisades, six miles (10 km) in length, were run from creek to creek, as the palisade continued to reach Queen's Creek, which drained the northern half of the nearby section of the Peninsula, with a watershed leading to the York River. The two creeks and the palisade in between created a barrier from river to river. At the high ridge at the midpoint, a settlement to be called Middle Plantation was made.
By 1634, the palisade (or stockade) was completed, providing some security from attacks by the Native Americans for colonists farming and fishing lower on the Peninsula from that point. Anchored at its center by Middle Plantation, the palisade is partially described in the following extract from a letter written in 1634, from Jamestown, by Captain Thomas Yonge:
"a strong palisade ... upon a streight between both rivers and ... a sufficient force of men to defence of the same, whereby all the lower part of Virginia have a range for their cattle, near fortie miles in length and in most places twelve miles (19 km) broade. The pallisades is very neare six miles (10 km) long, bounded in by two large Creekes. ... in this manner to take also in all the grounde between those two Rivers, and so utterly excluded the Indians from thence; which work is conceived to be of extraordinary benefit to the country ..."
After 1644, the Native Americans of the Powhatan Confederacy had been overcome and were no longer a threat, and the palisade fell into disrepair, with almost all traces eventually disappearing. However, Middle Plantation began to grow as a settlement, largely due to early efforts of the Ludwell brothers and Colonel John Page and his sons, who built fine brick homes and helped with the establishment of a fine brick Bruton Parish Church. The 1690s saw a quick rise to prominence as Reverend Dr. James Blair, Commissary of the Bishop of London in the colony, returned from a successful trip to London and a royal charter for the new College of William and Mary. Blair and the trustees of the College of William and Mary bought a parcel of 330 acres (1.34 km2) from Thomas Ballard, the proprietor of Rich Neck Plantation, for the new school, on the western outskirts of Middle Plantation, just a short distance from the almost new brick Bruton Parish Church, a focal point of the extant community.
The new school opened in temporary buildings in 1694. Properly called the "College Building," the first version of the Wren Building was built at Middle Plantation beginning on August 8, 1695 and occupied by 1700 on a picturesque site. (The present-day College still stands upon those grounds, adjacent to and just west of the restored historic area known in modern times as Colonial Williamsburg).
After the statehouse at Jamestown burned in 1698, the legislature moved temporarily to Middle Plantation, as it had in the past. Upon suggestion of students of the College, the capital was permanently relocated there, and Middle Plantation was renamed Williamsburg in 1699. Nearby, Archer's Hope Creek was also renamed. It became College Creek.
19th century: another defensive line
In the mid-19th century, during the American Civil War, Queen's Creek and College Creek again served as parts of another cross-peninsula defensive barrier, although the center section across land was located further east, and was of a different nature. Queen's Creek became the northern anchor of the Williamsburg Line. This was a series of 14 redoubts east of town, with earthen Fort Magruder (also known as Redoubt # 6) at the crucial junction of the two major roads leading to Williamsburg from the east. The design and construction had been oversee by the College of William and Mary's President Benjamin S. Ewell, who owned a farm in James City County, and had been commissioned as an officer in the Confederate Army after the College closed for the duration of the War in June, 1861.
The Williamsburg area saw combat in the spring of 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign, an effort to take Richmond from the east from a base at Fort Monroe. Throughout late 1861 and early 1862, the small contingent of Confederate defenders was known as the Army of the Peninsula, and led by popular General John B. Magruder. He successfully used ruse tactics to bluff the invaders as to the size and strength of his forces, and intimidated them into a slow movement up the Peninsula, gaining valuable time defenses to be constructed for the Confederate capital at Richmond.
In early May, 1862, after holding the Union troops off for over a month, the defenders withdrew quietly from the Warwick Line (stretching across the Peninsula between Yorktown and Mulberry Island). As General George McClellan's Union forces crept up the Peninsula to pursue the retreating Confederate forces, a rear guard force led by General James Longstreet and supported by General J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry blocked their westward progression at the Williamsburg Line.
At the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862, and the next day, May 6, the city fell to the Union. However, the retreating defenders behind the williamsburg Line had been successful in delaying the Union forces long enough for the retreating Confederates to reach the outer defenses of Richmond safely. A siege of Richmond resulted, culminating in the Seven Days Battles, and McClellan's campaign failed. As a result, the War dragged on almost 3 more years at great cost to lives and finances for both sides before its conclusion in April 1865. Much damage was done to the community during the Union occupation, which lasted until September 1865.
In the 1930s, the Merrimack Trail was as State Route 168 from Anderson Corner (near Toano in western James City County) to the eastern tip of the Peninsula to reach ferry services across the harbor of Hampton Roads to Norfolk. Its purpose was to supplement the capacity of parallel U.S. Route 60, especially as traffic volume grew with the development of Colonial Williamsburg. It featured a bridge across College Creek. Nearby, the new State Route 132 was built to provide access to the Colonial Parkway, the Visitor's Center of Colonial Williamsburg, and a planned non-commercially featured entrance to the Historic Area and downtown points, such as the brick colonial-style Chesapeake and Ohio Railway station (since restored and in use as the Williamsburg Transportation Center). Route 132 also bridged Queen's Creek, slightly upstream from the Merrimac Trail.
In the 1960s, Interstate 64 was built through the area. The bridges across Queen's Creek, which has grown wide by that point downstream, are among the largest along the highway in York County. Motorists in both directions are given a scenic view of the brackish creek, adjacent wetlands and waterfowl.
North of Interstate 64, Queen's Creek forms the border between the military reservations land of Camp Peary and the Cheatham Annex section of the Naval Weapons Station Yorktown. The former towns of Magruder and Bigler's Mill were located north of Queen's Creek in this area. The former town of Penniman south of Queen's Creek and north of King's Creek near their respective confluences with the York River. With the creation of the military reservations, the three towns joined history with other "lost towns" of Virginia. Many displaced residents relocated nearby, and some families and their descendents live in Grove in southeastern James City County.
- McCartney, Martha W. (1977) James City County: Keystone of the Commonwealth; James City County, Virginia; Donning and Company; ISBN 0-89865-999-X
- "Cast Down Your Buckets Where You Are" An Ethnohistorical Study of the African-American Community on the Lands of the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station 1865-1918