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Friday, January 10, 2020

COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG ~ Its establishment, decline, and restoration

Jamestown, the first capital of the Virginia colony was established in 1607. It remained there until 1699 when the Virginia Assembly relocated the capital inland to Middle Plantation. The town was later named Williamsburg after England's King, William III.

The rationale was to get away from Jamestown’s swampy conditions which fostered contaminated water, disease, poor living conditions, and flooding. Williamsburg, a mere seven miles inland is located on a peninsula between the James River and the York River, was at a higher elevation than Jamestown.

The Capital
Williamsburg quickly grew to be a center of economic, social, and political life in Virginia, the largest and most populated British colonies in America. 
At one end of its main street, named after his Highness William Duke of Gloucester, was the Capital. At the other end of DOG Street was the
William & Mary
College of William and Mary established in 1693.
The Royal Governor’s Palace was situated halfway between the two. 
Businesses, churches, a courthouse, magazine, and homes were constructed within the approximate 300 acres. In 1773, the nation's first mental health facility opened in Williamsburg. Large estates or plantations as well as smallholdings developed throughout the area.
The Royal Governor's Palace

There were several reasons for Williamsburg’s decline in the latter part of the eighteenth century. In 1780, the capital of Virginia moved from Williamsburg to Richmond, a more central location in the Commonwealth. While some Tidewater residents were resistant to the move, Governor Thomas Jefferson was a strong advocate. The war with Britain was still underway and the enemy was shifting its focus to the southern colonies.  Williamsburg’s proximity to the Chesapeake Bay placed it dangerously close were there to be a naval or military invasion. Another factor was navigable rivers were the primary means of transportation. The James River flows right through Richmond. The Virginia Gazette, a primary publication also moved to Richmond. Williamsburg returned to be a rural quiet college town.

Dr. William A. R. Goodwin served as rector of Bruton Parish Church twice.
Bruton Parish
reconstructed in 1715 remains an active parish
First in 1903 when he led a campaign on the restoration of the church. After serving at a church in Ney York he returned to Williamsburg in 1923. Fascinated by Williamsburg’s historic past, and concerned by its modernization, he feared the town’s distinctive past and charm might be lost. Returning the town to its former glory would require immense financial resources. He first approached Henry Ford about the project to no avail. When he shared his vision to John D. Rockefeller, Jr he got the promise of financing required. Rockefeller authorized the hiring of an architect and the acquisition of key properties. 

Such a massive restoration was unprecedented. Records were searched to reproduce the former structures with accuracy. Thomas Jefferson’s architectural drawings for the Governor’s Palace aided in its rebuilding from 1930-1934. The town was being reconstructed and restored with the aid of historians, archeologists, and craftsmen of every sort.

The undertaking to develop the world’s largest living history museum that began in 1927 and continues to this day. Walking through the structures and streets of Colonial Williamsburg one can meet and chat with skilled artisans and interpreters all attired in eighteenth-century clothing. 
Shields Tavern
Dining at one of the period eateries is a treat. Visitors see a variety of accurately depicted conveyances, as well as animals that would have been a part of the community.
Coming to Williamsburg is like returning to the eighteenth century, filled with many learning and fun experiences--no doubt why so many people return.
Rush Hour in Colonial Williamsburg


  1. I was born in Hampton Virginia and visited Williamsburg often. Lots of history and great information.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Melissa. It's a fun place to call home.

  3. On my to-do list as far as a visit goes...lovely. Thanks, Janet!


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