Jefferson’s “Wall of Separation between Church & State”

The First Amendment in Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States, 1789.

The First Amendment is included in "Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States of America," published in 1789 in Richmond for the General Assembly of Virginia and believed to be the first public printing in the South of the Bill of Rights. Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection.

The Founding Fathers wrestled with the role of government in religion just as modern Americans do today. Many Americans mistakenly believe that the phrase “separation of church and state” comes from the First Amendment to the Constitution. The First Amendment states,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

This amendment contains two clauses regarding the rights of American citizens with regard to their religious beliefs. The first, the so-called Establishment Clause, says that the government cannot make a law creating an “establishment” of religion. Prior to the Revolution, the colonies existed under the Church of England as the established church. All citizens were forced to support this church even if they attended other churches, and there were many restrictions on office holding and voting for dissenters. The second part, the so called Free Exercise Clause, bars the government from interfering with the citizens’ free exercise of their religious beliefs.

So where does the phrase “separation of church and state” come from?  It is from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut on January 1, 1802.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

Jefferson was attempting to explain the intent of the First Amendment as making sure government could not interfere with an individual’s right of conscience or make a person support a church with which he did not agree. There are three primary interpretations of the First Amendment today:  Separationism holds that the First Amendment prevents the government from supporting or promoting any religion whatsoever.  Accommodationism holds that the government may support religion generally, as long as it treats all faiths equally.  Preferentialism holds that the First Amendment only prohibits the government from forming a national church, but does not prevent it from explicitly endorsing one religion.

Which of the three interpretations do you believe the constitution best supports?  We invite you to share your thoughts.

Rosie the Riveter’s Great-Great-Great-Grandmother  

Rosie the Riveter

Also known as “Rosie the Riveter,” this “We Can Do It!” poster was produced in 1943 for Westinghouse by J. Howard Miller.

During World War II, Rosie the Riveter was an iconic figure.  She represented the thousands of American women who joined the industrial workforce to make the weapons needed to fight the Germans and the Japanese.  

The concept of having women take on non-traditional jobs when the nation is at war is not a new one.  Even during the American Revolution women stepped in to fill male occupational roles, thereby freeing more men for military service.  From 1778 to 1783 the American government’s most important ammunition factory was located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Here, dozens of workers sat at 12-foot-long tables each day, making thousands of musket cartridges out of paper and filling them with gunpowder.  Of the 184 employees known to be involved in this work, 106, or well over half, were women.  Women probably excelled at this job, because forming and sealing the paper cartridges required a great deal of manual dexterity. Each woman at the Philadelphia Arsenal produced an average of 131 cartridges a day, or about one cartridge every five minutes.  As with Rosie the Riveter and most of her sisters, when the Revolutionary War ended the female ammunition workers of Philadelphia left the factory floor and moved back into more traditional women’s occupations.

Cornerstone Dedicated, Logo Adopted For American Revolution Museum At Yorktown

With a newly created logo on display, a cornerstone was dedicated May 10 for the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, which will replace the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, a museum of the American Revolution operated by the state’s Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

Dedication of cornerstone for new American Revolution Museum at YorktownUniversity of Virginia Professor A. E. Dick Howard, Virginia Secretary of Education Laura W. Fornash, and Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and York County leaders spoke before the unveiling of the 12- by 24-inch marble cornerstone for an 80,000-square-foot museum building that soon will begin to take shape.

“When we tell the story of the American Revolution, as it will be told in the new museum,” Professor Howard said in his address, “we’re also telling the story that resonates everywhere that people yearn for accountable government, the rule of the law, and the freedom of the human spirit.”

“School systems and museums have been long-standing partners in student education,” Secretary Fornash said.  “As new education models are tried and tested, and as reforms in our educational systems are implemented more broadly, the new American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will certainly be an example for what works in education.”

New logo for American Revolution Museum at YorktownA logo for the new museum incorporating the name with patriotic imagery of a soaring eagle and stars, in red and blue on a white background, was adopted May 9 by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Board of Trustees and Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Inc., Board of Directors along with a new logo for Jamestown Settlement, a museum of 17th-century Virginia.  The new Yorktown museum logo will be used in early awareness initiatives.  Full implementation of both logos – designed by BCF, a Virginia Beach brand communications firm specializing in the travel industry – will begin in 2016, the year the transition from American Revolution Museum at Yorktown to American Revolution at Yorktown will be complete.

The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will chronicle the Revolution from the beginnings of colonial unrest to the early national period and consider its meaning and impact.  The project encompasses reorganization of the 22-acre site; a new building to house expanded exhibition galleries, classrooms and support functions; and expansion and relocation of the existing re-created Continental Army encampment and Revolution-period farm.  Total cost of planning and major components is estimated at $50 million.  Building and exhibit construction and renovations to the site are funded by the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Private donations will support elements of gallery and outdoor exhibits and educational resources.

While exhibits and parking availability will be impacted at various stages of construction, which started in 2012, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown will continue in daily operation while the transition to American Revolution Museum at Yorktown is under way.



When the English arrived in Virginia in 1607 the area roughly 50 miles northwest of Jamestown was inhabited by the Appamatuck (Appomattox), one of the tribes of the Powhatan chiefdom.  

By 1635 the English had patented land in the area along the south bank of the Appomattox River, and in 1646 the Virginia Colony established Fort Henry a short distance from the Appamatuck village located near the fall line of the river.  

Sometime around 1675 Peter Jones, the commander of Fort Henry, opened a trading post nearby, called Peter’s Point.  It was in 1733 that Colonel William Byrd II, the founder of Richmond, conceived plans for a city at Peter’s Point that would be renamed Petersburgh. 

The Virginia General Assembly formally incorporated both Petersburgh and Petersburg plus the adjacent Blandford on December 17, 1748.  Whittontown, north of the River, was settled in 1749, and became incorporated as Pocahontas in 1752.

Map of the Battle of Petersburg-1781

Sketch by a British military engineer of the April 25, 1781, Battle of Blandford (also known as Battle of Petersburg).

During the American Revolution the British drive to gain control erupted in the April 25, 1781, Battle of Blandford, which started just east of Petersburg.  As the American forces retreated north across the Appomattox River, they took up planks of the Pocahontas bridge to delay the enemy.  Although the British drove the Americans from Blandford and Petersburg, they did not regain a strategic advantage in the war.  Cornwallis’ forces surrendered at Yorktown six months after this battle.

The residents of Petersburg were a patriotic lot right from the start.  During the War of 1812 they formed the Petersburg Volunteers, who distinguished themselves in action at the Siege of Fort Megis on May 5, 1813.  President James Madison called Petersburg “Cockade of the Union (or “Cockade City”), in honor of the cockades the Volunteers wore on their caps.

A Defining Moment: April 1775

Tensions ran high in America in April 1775.  The previous year King George III had appointed General Thomas Gage, a veteran of the French and Indian War, to serve as both royal governor of Massachusetts and commander-in-chief of all British forces in America.  Gage had arrived in Boston in May 1774 and on June 1 implemented the Port Act, the harshest of Parliament’s Intolerable Acts. Passed in response to the Boston Tea Party, this act closed the port of Boston.  When Gage ordered the capital be moved from Boston to Salem, the General Assembly defiantly met in Salem and organized as an extralegal Provincial Congress to govern the colony outside of Boston.  Over the ensuing months, the Provincial Congress procured military supplies, and local militias drilled.  General Gage responded by issuing indictments against the colonists for treason, then pardoning all but Samuel Adams and John Hancock.

Meanwhile in Virginia, county committees and associations persuaded reluctant colonists to comply with non-importation and non-consumption agreements, while disorganized militias prepared for action.  Once-fashionable gentry took to wearing garments made from plain or homespun cloth, and shirts emblazoned with “Liberty or Death” were a common sight.


18th-century French engraving of the conflict at Lexington, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection.

On the evening of April 18-19, 1775, General Gage ordered troops to march on Concord to capture stores of arms and gunpowder.  Warned by riders Paul Revere and William Dawes, Samuel Adams and John Hancock fled Lexington, a village on the road to Concord.  Here on the town green at dawn some 700 British troops met 77 militiamen under the command of Captain John Parker.  Heavily outnumbered, the militiamen had just received the order to disperse when a shot was fired.  No one knows who fired this first shot of the Revolution.  Other shots followed, and when the smoke cleared, eight militiamen were dead and nine wounded.  One British soldier was wounded.  The British continued to Concord where a confrontation on the North Bridge resulted in more casualties and a British retreat.  Discovering that most of the arms they sought had been relocated, the troops headed back to Boston.  Along the 18-mile return march, as many as 3,500 militiamen – or “minutemen” – descended on the area and fired constantly on the British, inflicting significant damage.

In an unrelated Virginia incident on the night of April 20-21, Governor Dunmore ordered royal marines to secure guns and powder stored in the public magazine at Williamsburg before they could fall into rebel hands.  The marines only removed 20 kegs of power before being discovered, but this set off a period of alarm.  The Williamsburg independent company marched on the Governor’s Palace, and Dunmore claimed he was safekeeping the stores to avoid a slave insurrection.  While no one was fooled, local leaders, anxious to avoid violence, calmed the townspeople.  This incident might have come to nothing if news of Lexington and Concord had not arrived on April 29.  The two incidents seemed too coincidental, and militia companies from several surrounding counties marched toward Williamsburg, one led by Patrick Henry.  Fighting in Virginia was averted when the governor agreed to pay for the powder, but less than two months later he fled Williamsburg never to return.

The April 1775 events in both colonies swept away any doubt that each side was willing to fight and kill to protect what they thought was right.  In June 1775 the Second Continental Congress created the Continental Army and appointed George Washington its commander-in-chief.


King George III Portrait on View

A stately portrait of King George III in coronation robes anchors Jamestown Settlement’s new “Jamestown’s Legacy to the American Revolution” exhibition and will have a prominent place in the future American Revolution Museum at Yorktown galleries.  Measuring more than 8 feet by 5 feet, the oil-on-canvas painting was produced by the studio of Allan Ramsay, Principal Painter in Ordinary at the royal court, between 1762 and 1784.  The painting is in an 18th-century ornamented gilt frame topped with a crown. 

King George ascended to the British throne in 1760, during the period of the Seven Years’ War, and before the start of events that led up to the Revolutionary War.  Throughout his rule, George III worked to strengthen and reinforce British administration in the American colonies, and in most colonies appointed a governor.  The day-to-day administration of affairs was carried out by representative assemblies that often clashed with the royally appointed governors.  These colonial assemblies resisted attempts to enforce royal policies with which they did not agree and resented Britain’s control of their trading enterprises.  Eventually, King George’s American subjects would rise in opposition to his policies.

In “Jamestown’s Legacy to the American Revolution,” the King George portrait sets the stage for profiles of Revolutionary War-era descendants of people associated with 17th-century Jamestown, the first capital of colonial Virginia.  The special exhibition, which opened March 1 and continues through January 20, 2014, features more than 60 objects destined for exhibit at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

Work is under way on the new museum, which will replace the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown by late 2016 with expanded exhibition galleries and outdoor living-history areas offering a broad perspective on the entire Revolutionary period, from the beginnings of colonial unrest to the early years of the new nation.

A short video documents the conservation of the portrait and frame prior to public exhibit.

Some women joined the Continental Army.

The role of women who joined the Continental Army as relatives of soldiers and earned wages by performing domestic chores such as laundry is interpreted at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. Deborah Sampson chose her own path, joining the army disguised as a man.

Deborah Sampson’s personal vision of what she could contribute to the Revolution was an unusual one.  Born to a poor family in Massachusetts, she was orphaned at the age of five.  As an indentured servant she worked outside in the fields, maturing into a strong young woman.  After her indenture ended, she became curious about the war raging around her and decided she wanted to contribute to the Patriot cause. 

As a woman, Sampson normally would have had only two choices:  to tend to matters on the homefront or to join the army as the wife of a soldier, but she chose a different path.  In May of 1782, disguised as a man, she successfully enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment under the name of Robert Shurtleff.  In spite of being wounded twice, Sampson managed to maintain her disguise until she developed a serious illness. During her treatment the medical staff discovered her secret, and she was given an honorable discharge.

Sampson married Benjamin Gannett in 1784 and moved to his farm.  By the 1790s, desperate for money, Sampson petitioned Massachusetts for back wages.  The court recognized that she had “exhibited an extraordinary instance of female heroism by discharging the duties of a faithful gallant soldier, and at the same time preserving the virtue and chastity of her sex unsuspected and unblemished.”

To earn additional income, Sampson became one of the first female lecturers in North America, traveling throughout New England, giving talks about her life as a soldier while wearing her uniform.  Her story is an example of how for some people the Revolution seemed to offer the promise of limitless opportunities for anyone; even a young woman could fight for her country.

‘American Revolution Museum at Yorktown’ Artifacts
Showcased in Jamestown Settlement Exhibition  

eagle-pommel saber

This sword scabbard is inscribed with the year 1776 and the name of its owner, William McKissack, a Continental Army officer from New York. The silver pommel is in the form of an eagle, which over the course of the Revolution became one of the symbols of the new United States.

An American-made eagle-pommel sword dating to 1776 is one of 60-some objects destined for exhibit at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown now on display at Jamestown Settlement history museum in “Jamestown’s Legacy to the American Revolution.”  The special exhibition, which opened March 1 and continues through January 20, 2014, examines the lives of Revolutionary War-era descendants of people associated with 17th-century Jamestown, the first capital of colonial Virginia, using the artifacts to illustrate their stories.

Work is under way on the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, which will replace the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown by late 2016 with expanded exhibition galleries and outdoor living-history areas offering a renewed perspective on the entire Revolutionary period, from the beginnings of colonial unrest to the early years of the new nation.  The artifacts featured in “Jamestown’s Legacy to the American Revolution” – a sampling of those to be exhibited in the new museum – include furnishings, weapons, nautical items, documents and commemorative objects.  Among them are the eagle-pommel sword, a trunk that belonged to a shipbuilder for the Continental Navy, an official portrait of King George III in coronation robes, and a first edition of the poems of Phillis Wheatley, the famous African-American poet.

George Washington – Conserving an American Idol

February 22, 2013, marks the 281st anniversary George Washington’s birth. As an icon of American history, Washington symbolizes many things to many people, and for well over 200 years, he has been represented in paintings, prints, sculpture, decorative objects and other artistic media. 

In 1786, three years after George Washington resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, the Virginia General Assembly resolved to honor him with a “monument of affection and gratitude” by commissioning a life-size statue of the “finest marble and best workmanship” to be exhibited in the new state Capitol Rotunda in Richmond. American ambassador to Paris, Thomas Jefferson, recommended Houdon, a French neoclassical sculptor, and Houdon insisted upon traveling to Virginia to study George Washington for the statue.

At Mount Vernon, Houdon executed wet clay life models and a plaster life mask. These served as models for the statue, created between 1786 and1795. Houdon portrayed Washington as a modern Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who left his land to fight for his country and, after victory as a general, returned to his farm as a man of simplicity and peace.

Washington wears his military uniform but carries a civilian walking stick. Behind him is a farmer’s plowshare, but his left hand rests on a bundle of rods called fasces, a Roman symbol for unity and government authority. In Roman iconography the fasces rods surrounded an ax, but Houdon adapted this for American usage by forming the bundle from 13 rods, representing the 13 unified states, and adding arrows in between that likely refer to American Indians or the idea of America as a frontier.  Colonial leaders looked back to ancient Rome as a model of democracy and virtue.  Thus, Houdon brought to life the idea of great power existing in harmony with democracy.

 Considered by contemporaries to be the best living likeness of George Washington, there was a great demand for copies of the statue, especially in other public locations. The Virginia General Assembly decided that reproduction of the likeness would allow them to share it with other institutions. In 1853 the Assembly granted William James Hubard the exclusive right to make copies of Houdon’s masterpiece. Six of Hubard’s bronze copies are known today, but this may be the only surviving plaster rendition. This rare plaster version was bought for $2,000 from Hubard’s widow to grace the Hall of Representatives in the U.S. Capitol, where it stood for 80 years, from 1870 to 1950.

Newly conserved, this rare icon in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection can be seen in the “Jamestown’s Legacy to the American Revolution” special exhibition at Jamestown Settlement from March 1, 2013, through January 20, 2014.  Ultimately the statue will be placed at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, replacing the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown by late 2016.  The amazing conservation process is documented in a short video.

The Long Way Home:
The Fate of Former Slaves at the End of the War for Freedom

Boston King

Boston King, profiled in the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown’s Witnesses to Revolution Gallery, was among the formerly enslaved African Americans evacuated from New York to Nova Scotia at the end of the Revolution. Apprenticed to a carpenter in South Carolina as a young man, he worked for the British as a boat pilot and servant in New York. He later became a Methodist minister and emigrated from Nova Scotia to Africa in 1792, where he was schoolmaster in a settlement for freed slaves.

The Treaty of Paris officially ended the war between Great Britain and America in 1783. By spring of that year, British forces were evacuating the last major port they controlled in the 13 former colonies, New York City. Sir Guy Carleton had replaced General William Clinton and was overseeing the difficult job of evacuating thousands of British soldiers and British loyalists. The fate of thousands of formerly enslaved African Americans who wanted to depart America became a great debate.

Many former slaves had fled bondage to enlist in the British army. Carleton did not believe that formerly enslaved African Americans, living as free people under British protection when the provisional peace treaty was signed in November 1782, were chattel property in 1783. It was his intention to provide transport out of New York City for these unfortunate individuals. To avoid having them seized by frightening bounty hunters already prowling the streets, Carleton directed that formerly enslaved African Americans who could prove residency within British lines for a year be issued certificates of freedom, assuring them of protection and transport.

When General Washington learned that the British commander was preparing to allow former slaves to escape New York, he demanded a conference. Washington brought up the subject of the runaway slaves, and Carleton replied that many had already been transported out of America. Washington quickly noted that this British action was in conflict with Article Seven of the treaty, that British armies were to be withdrawn without “carrying away any Negroes or other property of American inhabitants.” The British general then told Washington he could not interpret any article of the treaty inconsistent with British honor. Carleton pointed out that many of the former slaves had been promised freedom by earlier British commanders. He would not go back on these earlier assurances.

Carleton promised Washington that he would seek guidance from the British government on the propriety of his actions. In the meantime, he assured Washington that the names and ages of the individuals being transported would be recorded and, if he was wrong, just compensation would be paid by the British to the Americans. In the end, the British government endorsed Carleton’s courageous stand and applauded his position. No compensation was ever paid for the African Americans who departed New York for freedom.

Not all African Americans transported out of America by the British gained their freedom. Loyalists were able to take their enslaved African Americans with them as they journeyed to other British colonies. Some African-Americans slaves who reached the British lines were resold into slavery in the Caribbean by British officers. But due to the efforts of Sir Guy Carleton, thousands of former enslaved African Americans were evacuated to other British colonies, including Nova Scotia in Canada. Some of the refugees who traveled to Nova Scotia disliked the harsh climate and suffered discrimination. Nearly 2,000 were eventually resettled in Sierra Leone on the west coast of Africa. For those formerly enslaved African Americans who had been born in Africa, it must have seemed like a long, strange and difficult journey home.

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