Saturday, June 15, 2024

Historic York River site honored in D.C. as a future national park

York River site gets NPS steward
This image of John Smith’s “Virginia” was originally published in London in 1612 and then in the 1612 Oxford publication of John Smith’s “A Map of Virginia.” (Photo courtesy

Federal and state officials celebrated Werowocomoco, an ancient town on the York River, as a new addition to the National Park Service Wednesday.

Werowocomoco, a 264-acre site in Gloucester County, is the former capital of the Powhatan Chiefdom, according to a release from Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

It is not currently open to the public. It will be managed by the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, which is part of the National Park Service.

The location is presumed to be the place where Capt. John Smith met the Powhatan chief and his daughter, Pocahantas.

“Werowocomoco is a place of unparalleled significance, not just for the Commonwealth’s Native community, but for the nation as a whole,” Gov. McAuliffe said in a release. “Werowocomoco will offer immense insight into untold history by showing us the complexity and depth of the Powhatan Chiefdom, and adds a new chapter to our shared American story.”

The National Park Service acquired Werowocomoco from The Conservation Fund, a national conservation non-profit organization, earlier this year, according to Angela Navarro, deputy secretary of Natural Resources. The Conservation Fund purchased the site and transferred it to the park service for permanent protection.

Wednesday’s ceremony at the U.S. Interior Department in Washington, D.C. marked the park service’s recognition that it will serve as a permanent steward of the site, she said.

Before the public event in Washington, tribal representatives met with state and federal officials to offer information about the sacred nature of the location and the historical and archeological importance of the project.

“This Department and the National Park Service have profoundly significant relationships with, and responsibilities to, American Indians,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a release. “We are duty-bound to steward places like Werowocomoco for all people in close consultation with tribes.”

Wednesday’s recognition caps more than a decade of efforts to preserve Werowocomoco.

Beginning in 2003, Virginia Native Americans worked with archeologists from the College of William & Mary to study and excavate the site.

In 2006, their efforts helped land Werowocomoco on the National Register of Historic Places.

Then-Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a conservation easement in 2013, protecting a key 50-acre archeological portion.

Wednesday’s announcement affects an area more than five times the size of the 2013 easement.

“To many Americans, Werowocomoco represents the intersection between two dynamic cultures,” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in the release. “But to many local Virginians, it is significant for the less-told story – the story of people who were here long before John Smith or my ancestors, and whose descendants are an important part of our America.”

A public planning process is slated to begin this winter by trail staff, who will consult with Virginia tribes.

Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley
Joan Quigley is a former Miami Herald business reporter, a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and an attorney. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post,, and Talking Points Memo. Her recent book, Just Another Southern Town: Mary Church Terrell and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Nation’s Capital, was shortlisted for the 2017 Mark Lynton History Prize. Her first book, The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy, won the 2005 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award.

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