It is formed at West Point, approximately 40 mi (64 km) east of Richmond, by the confluence of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers. It drains into the Chespeake towards the southeast, entering the bay approximately 5 mi (8 km) east of Yorktown, which sits alongs its southern shore. U.S. Highway 17 crosses the estuary from Yorktown to Gloucester Point.
The peninsula formed by the York and the James River just to the south became the scene of the end campaign of the American Revolutionary War in October 1781. The British Army under Cornwallis at Yorktown found itself cornered by the Americans under George Washington on land by the French fleet at sea. The ensuing American victory at the Battle of Yorktown forced the surrender of Cornwallis and the end of the war in the east. During the American Civil War, the same area became the theater of the Peninsular Campaign of 1862.
The York River was formerly known as the Pamaunk River by the Indians.
York River State Park is located along the southern shore northwest of Yorktown.
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