Today, the Virginia State Quarter Coin remembers the monument that from idea to completion took roughly a century.
Congress first proposed the monument October 29, 1781, but it wasn’t until June 7, 1880 that congressional members approved the legislation to apply funds for completion for the centennial of the surrender.
The Decisions of the First Comptroller in the Department of the Treasury summarized the legislation:
The act of Congress of June 7, 1880 (21 Stat., 163), provides for the erection of a monument at Yorktown “adorned with emblems of the alliance between the United States and His Most Christian Majesty, and inscribed with a succinct narrative of the surrender of Earl Cornwallis to His Excellency George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the combined forces of America and France,” &c.
It appropriates $100,000 for that purpose, “to be expended under the direction of the Secretary of War;” it provides for a committee to select the site for the monument, “and to make all necessary arrangements for such a celebration, by the American people, of the centennial anniversary of the battle of Yorktown, on the 19th day of October, 1881, as shall befit the historical significance of that event and the present greatness of the nation.”
A description of the monument from the Report of the Commission:
In pursuance of section 2 of the act of June 7, 1880, the Secretary of War appointed E. M. Hunt, esq., of New York, J. Q. A. Ward, esq., of New York, and Henry Van Brunt, esq., of Boston, a commission of artists to recommend a suitable design for the monument.
This commission submitted a very appropriate design, which, after some slight modifications, was approved by the Congressional Commission, and the monument will be erected in accordance therewith under the direction of the Secretary of War, who has assigned Lieut. Col. William P. Craighill, U. S. A., to superintend its construction.
The following extract from the report of the commission of artists conveys the emblematic significance of the monument:
From the point of view of sentiment, this monument is intended to convey, in architectural language, the idea, set forth in the dedicatory inscription, that, by the victory at Yorktown, the independence of the United States of America was achieved, or brought to final accomplishment.
The four sides of the base contain, first, an inscription dedicating the monument as a memorial of the victory; second, an inscription presenting a succinct narrative of the siege, prepared in accordance with the original archives in the Department of State; third, the treaty of alliance with the King of France; and, fourth, the treaty of peace with the King of England.
In the pediments over these four sides, respectively, are presented, carved in relief, first, emblems of nationality; second, emblems of war; third, emblems of the alliance; and, fourth, emblems of peace.
The base is thus devoted to the historical statement; it explains the subsequent incidents of the monumental composition, which are intended solely to appeal to the imagination.
The immediate result of the historical events written upon the base was the happy establishment of a national union of thirteen youthful, free, and independent States.
To celebrate this joyful union the sculptor has represented upon the circular podium, which arises from the base, a solemn dance of thirteen typical female figures, hand-in-hand, encircling the drum, which bears upon a belt beneath their feet the words “One country, one constitution, one destiny.”
It is a symbol of the birth of freedom.
The column which springs from this podium may be accepted as the symbol of the greatness and prosperity of the nation after a century of various experience, when thirty-eight free and independent States are shining together in mighty constellation.
It is the triumphant sign of the fulfillment of the promise — an expression of the strength and beauty of the Union; but the powerful nation does not forget the remote beginning of its prosperity, and, in the midst of its shining stars, bears aloft the shield of Yorktown covering the branch of peace.
As the existence of the nation is a proof of the possibility of a government of the people by the people for the people, the column, thus adorned, culminates with Liberty herself, star-crowned, and welcoming the people of all nations to share equally with us the fruits of our peace and prosperity.
The inscriptions on the base of the monument are to be as follows:
In pursuance of
A Resolution of Congress adopted October 29, 1781.
And an Act of Congress approved June 7, 1880,
To commemorate the Victory
The Independence of the United States of America
At York on October 19, 1781,
After a Siege of nineteen Days,
By 5,500 American and 7,000 French Troops of the Line,
3,500 Virginia Militia under command of General Thomas Nelson,
And 36 French Ships of War.
Commander of the British Forces at York and Gloucester,
Surrendered His Army,
7,251 Officers and Men, 840 Seamen, 244 Cannon, and 24 Standards,
To His Excellency George Washington,
Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Forces of America and France,
To His Excellency the Comte De Rochambeau,
Commanding the Auxiliary Troops of His Most Christian Majesty in America,
And to His Excellency the Comte De Grasse,
Commanding-in-Chief the Naval Army of France in Chesapeake.
Concluded February 6, 1778,
Between the United States of America
And Louis XVI, King of France,
Declares The Essential and Direct End
Of the present Defensive Alliance
Is to Maintain Effectually
The Liberty, Sovereignty, and Independence,
Absolute and Unlimited,
Of the said United States
As well in Matters of Government as of Commerce.
The Provisional Articles of Peace,
Concluded November 30, 1782,
And the Definitive Treaty of Peace,
Concluded September 3, 1783,
Between the United States of America
And George III, King of Great Britain and Ireland,
His Britannic Majesty Acknowledges the said United States
Viz: New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island
And Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware,
Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina,
South Carolina, and Georgia,
To be Free, Sovereign, and Independent States.
The Virginia State Quarter Coin shows with an image of the monument, circa 1902.