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Historical Highlights

The Centennial Celebration of the Surrender at Yorktown

October 19, 1881
The Centennial Celebration of the Surrender at Yorktown Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, Oil on canvas, Jonathan Trumbull, 1820, Architect of the Capitol A Continental Army veteran, Connecticut-born John Trumbull painted Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, depicting the penultimate event of the Revolutionary War.
On this date, Members of Congress descended upon the historic Yorktown, Virginia, battlefield to commemorate the centennial of the British ceremonial surrender at Yorktown. In 1880, Congress created the Joint Select Committee on the Yorktown Celebration comprising one Representative and one Senator from each of the original 13 colonies. The committee was tasked with organizing the centennial ceremony and inviting foreign emissaries. Headed by two Virginians, House Chairman John Goode and Senate Chairman John W. Johnston, the committee fulfilled the October 1781 resolution made by the Continental Congress to create a monument to honor the historic battle and British General Lord Cornwallis’s surrender. Congress designated $100,000 for construction of the monument and an additional $20,000 for the fête. The affair began in Washington on October 18th with attendees arriving in Yorktown on October 19th. Participants of the celebration included President Chester Arthur, Virginia Governor F. W. M. Holliday, the Congressional Commission, the President’s Cabinet, the diplomatic corps, the family of the Marquis de Lafayette, and foreign dignitaries. John Philip Sousa led the Marine Corps Band in renditions of the “Star Spangled Banner.” The delegation laid the cornerstone for the monument on the second day. After the centennial celebration, Congress continued to appropriate funds to commemorate later anniversaries of Yorktown but refrained from organizing the official celebrations.

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