This past July, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources approved 13 new commemorative historical markers to be placed around the state. The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities has been involved with projects involving four of the sites and people, including what is titled “Early English Christmas at Kecoughtan” in Hampton, Hanover Tavern in Hanover, an homage to George Teamoh in Portsmouth, and the Valentine Museum in Richmond.
The Kecoughtan marker, located in present-day Hampton, marks the site of a holiday feast celebrated in 1608 between the Kecoughtan Indians and a group of English settlers led by Captain John Smith. Smith’s party had been on their way from Jamestown to the Indian capital at Werowocomoco and was temporarily detained by a storm, lodging with the Kecoughtan for several days. In addition to its own work with Encyclopedia Virginia (EV), VFH provided funding to several projects that deal with the history of Jamestown, including Virtual Jamestown and its accompanying traveling exhibit, “Beyond Jamestown: Virginia Indians Past and Present”.
In Hanover, another sign marks the site of a tavern originally built in the 1750s and replaced in 1791 with a new structure that remains today. The tavern played a prominent role in the area’s social life, from the time it was built until the railroad diverted business in the nineteenth century. Its famous visitors have included Patrick Henry–the subject of VFH fellow and EV contributor John Ragosta’s studies–and George Washington, the subject of VFH affiliate fellow Henry Wiencek’s book An Imperfect God (2003). In fact, Patrick Henry’s in-laws were the ones who built and owned the original Hanover Tavern. Today, what was once the Hanover Tavern building houses the Barksdale Theater, established in 1953, the oldest continually-operating dinner theater in the United States. The Hanover Tavern is also notable for the fact that several enslaved African Americans who worked there participated in Gabriel’s Conspiracy in 1800.
Another marker, in Portsmouth, pays tribute to George Teamoh, a man born enslaved in Virginia, who rose to prominence in his community and was later elected to the General Assembly. After his owner sold his family, Teamoh, a skilled ship’s carpenter and caulker, was was hired out to the captain of a mercantile bound for New York. He escaped in 1853 by jumping ship, and traveled to Massachusetts. After the end of the Civil War, Teamoh returned to Portsmouth and became a central community leader. During Reconstruction, Teamoh served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1867 and served in the Virginia Senate from 1869 to 1871. Rafia Zafar, a VFH fellow in 1989 who is also Teamoh’s great-great-granddaughter of Teamoh, spent her residency editing Teamoh’s autobiography. She and her co-editors, F. N. Boney and Richard L. Hume, published God Made Man, Man Made the Slave: The Autobiography of George Teamoh in 1992.
The Valentine Museum and Wickham-Valentine House in Richmond are also the subjects of new markers. The Wickham-Valentine House, built for attorney John Wickham and his family and later bought by Mann S. Valentine II, served as the original location of the Valentine Museum, established at the bequest of Mann Valentine. The museum opened in 1898 to display Valentine’s archaeological and ethnographic collections and was one of the first museums in Richmond. The museum has since expanded to include the Edward V. Valentine Sculpture Studio and the house’s garden. Today, it is known as the Valentine Richmond History Center and houses Richmond history collections. VFH provided several grants to the Valentine Center in the late 1980s to fund the center’s exhibits on the history of African American life in Richmond, a ground-breaking curatorial project at a time when southern culture, and American culture in general, was reluctant to address the topic. The new markers join more than 2400 markers that have been created since 1927 to commemorate specific events, sites, and people. For further information about the markers, read the press release here.