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Hampton, Virginia is the oldest continuously settled European community in the United States. The city was established in 1610, just three years after Captain John Smith and his crew landed at what is now Virginia Beach in Chesapeake Bay. As the settlements grew, colonists expanded into the surrounding region, and Hampton was founded.
Hampton is located in southeast Virginia at the center of Hampton Roads, a term naming both the harbor area and the nearby lands. The term roads comes from the Queen’s English term roadstead, meaning harbor or anchorage. The harbor empties into Chesapeake Bay and is located where the James and Elizabeth rivers meet, along with several smaller rivers. There are seven major cities that make up part of the region, including Newport News, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Hampton, and there are a number of other, smaller communities, but the number varies depending on who is counting.
One historic event happened nearly 300 years ago, in late 1718, when a British naval vessel sailed into port with the head of Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard the Pirate, mounted on the mast. The head was mounted high on a pole at the mouth of the Hampton River to serve as a warning to other pirates.
Today, the city celebrates with the Blackbeard Pirate Festival, an event held each year in midsummer with battle reenactments, a grand pirate ball and plenty of other entertainment, including a spectacular fireworks display. The entire affair is a lot of a raucous, yet harmless, fun, mimicking a pirate’s lifestyle.
Visiting Hampton by boat is easy: plethora of docking options is available at the many local marinas, several of which are certified Virginia Clean Marinas. Most of the marinas are located downtown, well within walking distance of many of Hampton’s attractions and historical sites.
One of Hampton’s largest events is the longest uninterrupted boat race in North America, the Hampton Cup Regatta. Typically about 100 boats from nine different classes run at speeds between 110 mph and 170 mph. The event is free and open to the public. Most fans watch from the Mercury Boulevard Bridge, where it is possible to get wet from the spray of a boat’s rooster tail. There is entertainment for the kids and pits passes for those wishing to meet drivers and to get a personal feel for what goes on behind the scenes. The race began in 1926 on the Hampton River, when the boats were made of wood and traveled much more slowly. Eventually, as speeds increased, the ability to turn decreased and the race was moved to its present location, in Mill Creek, so boats would have the room to turn.
Another major boating event begins in Hampton, the Carribean 1500; in fact, it is the largest, longest-running offshore cruising event in the Americas. The race began in 1980, and more than 1,300 boats have participated in the first 20 years. The race finishes in Tortola, British Virgin Islands each year.
The city’s slogan, “Hampton, America’s First,” refers to its rich history of being the first to accomplish several milestones. The city was the first to have public schools; it was the first training site for astronauts; and it is home to the first, African-American higher educational institution, Hampton University. The university was founded on the eastern banks of the Hampton River in 1868. The first classes were taught under the Emancipation Oak, a tree that is still standing today and is believed to be the place Abraham Lincoln first read the Emancipation Proclamation to city residents. One of its famous alumni is Booker T. Washington.
The Virginia Air & Space Center opened in 1992 to celebrate the region’s rich history in air and space travel. The first American astronauts, the Mercury Seven, were trained in Hampton. Visitors will find hundreds of air and space crafts, including the Apollo 12 Command Module, which traveled to the moon. They will also view many objects from space exploration, such as the Good Will Rock. This three-billion-year-old rock was discovered during the last moon mission. Other exhibits take visitors through the history of flight and on an interactive tour of the solar system, with the opportunity to test their lunar landing skills in a simulator.