Christopher Newport Cross
On May 24, 1607, Captain Christopher Newport and a party of explorers who had landed at Jamestown just days earlier arrived at the site of modern-day Richmond. Hoping to find a passage to the Pacific, they found instead a fortified Indian village with outlying agricultural fields. Newport, advised by the leader of the village not to proceed farther than the falls, where a rival group of Indians lived, traveled the next day a short distance upstream. There he planted a cross in honor of King James I of England, probably on a small islet not too far from the fall line.
In the decades following Newport's visit to the falls, steady inroads by Europeans into Indian territories led to numerous hostilities and several wars. In 1646, a treaty gave much of eastern Virginia to the English, and by the early 18th century, the land along the falls was part of a large plantation owned by William Byrd, the region's most prominent trader in furs, tobacco, rum, and African slaves. In 1705, the plantation passed to William Byrd II, who, when pressed by the Colonial assembly to set up a town at the site of his trading post, laid out 34 squares of four lots each, thus founding Richmond.
The natural beauty, resources, and power of the James River falls have drawn humans to live beside them since time immemorial. It is no surprise that this was among the earliest sites explored by Europeans, and that settlement here played an important role in Colonial America. In recognition of the significance of the area's early history, the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities erected a cross in 1907, on the tercentenary of Christopher Newport's visit. In 2000, the cross was moved to 12th Street.
"Thus we did not build castles only, but also cities in the air." — William Byrd II
One hundred and fifty years ago, Richmond's waterfront bustled with business and trade, workers and travelers, hotels, saloons, and tobacco warehouses. Along the canals, barges were towed by teams of horses and mules. Batteaux for carrying freight plied the river and the canal around the rapids, and passenger boats, called "packets," left for Lynchburg every other day.
Richmond has now restored its historic canals. Once again, boats can bypass the beautiful but treacherous falls of the James River for a leisurely trip through the city. And a pedestrian path offers a walk through Richmond's new riverfront district that is also a journey through four centuries of history.
Along Richmond's riverfront are sites of millennia-old Indian trade routes and of early Colonial settlements. Tredegar Iron Works buildings have been restored, and the remains of bridges burned when the Confederates evacuated the city still stand. Tobacco warehouses, electric trolleys, and an early African American church have all left their mark. Their stories, and many others, are now told along the Richmond Riverfront Canal Walk.