The Society had our largest crowd ever at our annual meeting weekend with over 80 attendees! Our weekend formally began on the evening of Friday, October 19, 2018, but many of our attendees arrived early to attend the annual Yorktown Day celebrations and to attend a special exhibition for our Society at the College of William & Mary. Yorktown Day commemorates the October 19, 1781, British surrender in the American Revolution with a parade and a number of wreath-laying ceremonies. On Friday afternoon we had a special treat as the Special Collections Library at the College of William & Mary hosted an Open House for us at the Swem Library where they had a number of original Fontaine and Maury family documents on display as well as original letters from Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Marshall, John Tyler, and George Washington, and Marquis de Lafayette. Over 50 Society members attended this special exhibition.
Our business meeting was held that evening at the Fort Magruder Hotel and Conference Center in Williamsburg, where we were based for the weekend. The hotel’s name has an ironic connection to the Fontaine family. Major General John Bankhead Magruder was a Civil War military leader who was involved in the defense of Galveston in 1863 where he met Sidney Thurston Fontaine, grandson of Aaron Fontaine and great-grandson of the Reverend Peter Fontaine. In Mexico City after the end of the war he met Matthew Fontaine Maury as the two men were staying in the same hotel. When Magruder died in Galveston in 1871, he left little resources so he was buried in a plot owned by Sidney Fontaine.
The Society’s officers provided their reports at the business meeting and elections were held for vacant Executive Committee positions and for those for which the terms were expiring. Members made suggestions for future locations for our annual meeting, including suggestions for sites in Florida, Georgia, and Texas. See the separate article with the Executive Committee’s decision for our 2019 meeting location!
On Saturday we had a full day that began with a visit by the Marquis de Lafayette himself! The re-enactor gave us an excellent overview of Lafayette’s life, what led him to come to America to support the Revolution, and summarized that fateful day when the British surrendered, witnessed by at least four members of the Fontaine family. From there we visited the Custom House in downtown Yorktown. Built around l720, it was the clearing house for processing immigrants arriving in Yorktown. James Fontaine, his wife, and daughter landed in Yorktown in October 1717. The immigrant experience passing through the Custom House in those early days was representative of the experiences of all five Fontaine siblings and their families who arrived at various ports in the area in the late 1710s and early 1720s.
From there we went to Grace Church where the Reverend Francis Fontaine was rector from 1722 until his death in 1749. He is believed to be buried in the graveyard there. We had lunch in the parish hall, after which a docent gave us a short talk in the church. She reported finding a 1724 report written by the Reverend Francis that was prepared for the Bishop of London. We plan to publish this report in a future Society newsletter. In the afternoon we visited the Yorktown Visitors Center for a brief film and a visit to the museum, followed by a special reenactment of a live firing of a British artillery unit. We then toured part of the Yorktown battlefield – Moore House where the 1781 surrender terms were discussed, the surrender field itself, and the French artillery battery.
That evening we had our annual dinner at the Fort Magruder Hotel. Our keynote speaker was Jay Gaidmore, Director of the Special Collections Library at the College of William & Mary who discussed the college’s extraordinary Fontaine and Maury holdings. His talk included a presentation showing images from the collection and the university’s on-going digitation program.