Hampton traces its history to the city's Old Point Comfort, the home of Fort Monroe for almost 400 years, which was named by the 1607 voyagers, led by Captain Christopher Newport, who first established Jamestown as an English colonial settlement. Since consolidation in 1952, Hampton has included the former Elizabeth City County and the incorporated town of Phoebus, consolidating by mutual agreement.
After the end of the American Civil War, historic Hampton University was established opposite from the town on the Hampton River, providing an education for many newly-freed former slaves and for area Native Americans. In the 20th century, the area became the location of Langley Air Force Base, NASA Langley Research Center, and the Virginia Air and Space Center. Hampton features many miles of waterfront and beaches.
For residents and visitors alike, the city features a wide array of business and industrial enterprises, retail and residential areas, and historical sites. Most recently, the new Peninsula Town Center development opened in May 2010 on the site of the former Coliseum Mall. Located in the area adjacent to the Hampton Coliseum and the Convention Center, the new urbanism-type project features a wide mix of retail stores, housing and other attractions. Development of new residential development and additional public facilities (such as the new fishing pier recently opened) are underway at Buckroe Beach, long a noted resort area.
Located on the Hampton Roads Beltway, it hosts the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (HRBT) on Interstate 64. First opened in 1957, it was the world's first bridge-tunnel, crossing the mouth of the Hampton Roads harbor, which serves as the gateway to the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean from the eastern United States' largest ice-free harbor and its tributary rivers. Expanded in the 1970s, the HRBT remains Virginia's busiest and deepest such facility.
In December 1606, two ships carrying men and boys left England on a mission sponsored by a proprietary company. Headed by Captain Christopher Newport, they sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to North America. After a long voyage, they first landed at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay on the south shore at a place they named Cape Henry (for Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, the elder son of their king).
During the first few days of exploration, they identified the site of Old Point Comfort (which they originally named "Point Comfort") as a strategic defensive location at the entrance to the body of water that became known as Hampton Roads. This is formed by the confluence of the Elizabeth, Nansemond, and James rivers. The latter is the longest river in Virginia.
Weeks later, on May 14, 1607, they established the first permanent English settlement in the present-day United States about further inland from the Bay became the site of fortifications during the following 200 years.
Slightly south, near the entrance to Hampton River, the colonists seized the Native American community of Kecoughtan under Virginia's Governor, Sir Thomas Gates. The colonists established their own small town, with a small Anglican church (known now as St. John's Episcopal Church), on July 9, 1610. This came to be known as part of Hampton. (Hampton claims to be the oldest continuously occupied English settlement in the United States). Hampton was named for Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton, an important leader of the Virginia Company of London, for whom the Hampton River, Hampton Roads and Southampton County were also named. The area became part of Elizabeth Cittie in 1619, Elizabeth River Shire in 1634, and was included in Elizabeth City County when it was formed in 1643. By 1680, the settlement was known as Hampton, and it was incorporated as a town in 1705 and became the seat of Elizabeth City County.
In the latter part of August 1619, an English ship flying a Dutch ship, the White Lion, appeared off shore from Point Comfort. Its cargo included 20 plus Africans captured from the slave ship Sao Joao Bautista. These were the first Africans to come ashore on English-occupied land in what would become the United States. John Rolfe, the widower of Pocahontas, wrote in a letter that he was at Point Comfort and witnessed the arrival of the first Africans. Although these first Bantu men from Angola were considered indentured servants, their arrival marked the beginning of slavery in North America. Two of the first Africans to arrive at Old Point Comfort in 1619 were Antoney and Isabella. Their child, the first of African descent born in North America, was born baptized January 1624.
Shortly after the War of 1812, the US Army built a more substantial stone facility at Old Point Comfort. It was called Fort Monroe in honor of President James Monroe. The new installation and adjacent Fort Calhoun (on a man-made island across the channel) were completed in 1834.
Fort Monroe, Hampton and the surrounding area played several important roles during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Although most of Virginia became part of the Confederate States of America, Fort Monroe remained in Union hands. It became notable as a historic and symbolic site of early freedom for former slaves under the provisions of contraband policies and later the Emancipation Proclamation. After the War, former Confederate President, Jefferson Davis was imprisoned in the area now known as the Casemate Museum on the base.
To the south of Fort Monroe, the Town of Hampton had the misfortune to be burned during both the American Revolutionary War and the American Civil War. From the ruins of Hampton left by evacuating Confederates in 1861, "Contraband" slaves (formerly owned by Confederates and under a degree of Union protection) built the Grand Contraband Camp, the first self-contained African American community in the United States. A number of modern-day Hampton streets retain their names from that community. The large number of contrabands who sought the refuge of Fort Monroe and the Grand Contraband Camp led to educational efforts which eventually included establishment of Hampton University, site of the famous Emancipation Oak.
The original site of the Native American's Kecoughtan Settlement was near the present site of a Hampton Roads Transit facility. To the south of present-day Hampton, a small unrelated incorporated town also named Kecoughtan many years later and also located in Elizabeth City County was annexed by the city of Newport News in 1927. It is now part of that city's East End.
Hampton was incorporated as a city in 1849. On March 30, 1908, Hampton was separated from Elizabeth City County and became an independent city. However, it remained the county seat and continued to share many services with the county. On July 1, 1952, following approval of voters of each locality by referendum, the city of Hampton, the incorporated town of Phoebus and Elizabeth City County merged into the independent city of Hampton. It was the first of a series of political consolidations in the Hampton Roads region during the third quarter of the 20th century.
Modern military history
Hampton also has a rich and extensive 20th-century military history, home of Langley Air Force Base, the nation's first military installation dedicated solely to airpower and the home of the U.S. Air Force's 633d Air Base Wing and 1st and 192nd Fighter Wings. Hampton has been a center of military aviation training, research and development for nearly a hundred years, from early prop planes and Zeppelins to rocket parts and advanced fighters. Its proximity to Norfolk means that Hampton has also long been home to many Navy families. Together many Air Force and Navy families in the Hampton area experienced significant losses both in war and also peacetime due to husbands and fathers in combat and also peacetime military accidents.
Hamptons waiting families: The "waiting family" is one of the enduring stories of Hampton and the wider Hampton Roads area as thousands of military families stationed in the Hampton area have long waited for airmen and sailors on deployment both during wartime and peacetime. Consequently, many military families who were stationed in Hampton feel a strong connection to the area. Langley AFB During the Vietnam War: In particular, during the Vietnam War, Langley Air Force Base was a designated 'waiting base' and thousands of Air Force families were transferred to Hampton from all over the world in order to wait while their husbands and fathers served in Vietnam. Thousands of Navy families associated with Naval bases in Norfolk next door also waited in Hampton during this era. Vietnam was a very high casualty war for both Air Force and Navy pilots (some types of planes experienced a 50% casualty rate), and Naval "river rats" who fought on the rivers of the Mekong Delta experienced high casualties as well. There consequently accumulated over time, in the Hampton area, a high concentration of families of unnaccounted for wartime casualties. In many cases Hampton-stationed military families of "Missing in Action" or "Prisoner of War" pilots and sailors spent many years in the Hampton area waiting to find out what had happened to their missing or captured airmen and sailors, and so the service and, in some cases sacrifice, of these pilots, airmen, sailors and their families, despite not having lifelong connections to the area, are also a poignant and inspiring part of Hampton's history.