Thirteen Colonies > Williamsburg

Williamsburg

Background

Williamsburg was founded in 1632 as Middle Plantation as a fortified settlement on high ground between the James and York rivers. The city served as the capital of the Colony of Virginia from 1699 to 1780 and was the center of political events in Virginia leading to American Revolutionary War. The College of William & Mary, established in 1693, is the second-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and the only one of the nine colonial colleges located in the South; its alumni include three U.S. presidents as well as many other important figures in the nation's early history. Prior to the arrival of the English colonists at Jamestown in the Colony of Virginia in 1607, the area which became Williamsburg was within the territory of the Powhatan Confederacy. By the 1630s, English settlements had grown to dominate the lower (eastern) portion of the Virginia Peninsula, and the Powhatan tribes had abandoned their nearby villages. Between 1630 and 1633, after the war that followed the Indian Massacre of 1622, the English colonists constructed a defensive palisade across the peninsula and a settlement named Middle Plantation as a primary guard station along the palisade.[6] Jamestown was the original capital of Virginia Colony, but was burned down during the events of Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. As soon as Governor William Berkeley regained control, temporary headquarters for the government to function were established about 12 miles (19 km) away on the high ground at Middle Plantation, while the Statehouse at Jamestown was rebuilt. The members of the House of Burgesses discovered that the 'temporary' location was both safer and more pleasant environmentally than Jamestown, which was humid and plagued with mosquitoes. A school of higher education had long been an aspiration of the colonists. An early attempt at Henricus failed after the Indian Massacre of 1622. The location at the outskirts of the developed part of the colony had left it more vulnerable to the attack. In the 1690s, the colonists tried again to establish a school. They commissioned Reverend James Blair, who spent several years in England lobbying, and finally obtained a royal charter for the desired new school. It was to be named the College of William & Mary in honor of the monarchs of the time. When Reverend Blair returned to Virginia, the new school was founded in a safe place, Middle Plantation in 1693. Classes began in temporary quarters in 1694, and the College Building, a precursor to the Wren Building, was soon under construction. Williamsburg as capital[edit] Capitol Building Capitol Building, from a silver gelatin photograph, c. 1934–1950 Four years later, in 1698, the rebuilt Statehouse in Jamestown burned down again, this time accidentally. The government again relocated 'temporarily' to Middle Plantation, and in addition to the better climate now also enjoyed use of the College's facilities. The College students made a presentation to the House of Burgesses, and it was agreed in 1699 that the colonial capital should be permanently moved to Middle Plantation. A village was laid out and Middle Plantation was renamed Williamsburg in honor of King William III of England, befitting the town's newly elevated status. Following its designation as the Capital of the Colony, immediate provision was made for construction of a capitol building and for plotting out the new city according to the survey of Theodorick Bland. His design utilized the extant sites of the College and the almost-new brick Bruton Parish Church as focal points, and placed the new Capitol building opposite the College, with Duke of Gloucester Street connecting them. Alexander Spotswood, who arrived in Virginia as lieutenant governor in 1710, had several ravines filled and streets leveled, and assisted in erecting additional College buildings, a church, and a magazine for the storage of arms. In 1722, the town of Williamsburg was granted a royal charter as a city (now believed to be the oldest charter in the United States). Middle Plantation was included in James City Shire when it was established in 1634, as the Colony reached a total population of approximately 5,000. (James City and the other shires in Virginia changed their names a few years later; James City Shire then became known as James City County). However, the middle ground ridge line was essentially the dividing line with Charles River Shire, which was renamed York County after King Charles I fell out of favor with the citizens of England. As Middle Plantation and later Williamsburg developed, the boundaries were adjusted slightly. For most of the colonial period, the border between the two counties ran down the center of Duke of Gloucester Street. During this time, and for almost 100 years after the formation of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States, despite practical complications, the town remained divided between the two counties. Williamsburg was the site of the first attempted canal in the United States. In 1771, Lord Dunmore, who would turn out to be Virginia's last Royal Governor, announced plans to connect Archer's Creek, which leads to the James River with Queen's Creek, leading to the York River. It would have formed a water route across the Virginia Peninsula, but was not completed. Remains of this canal are visible at the rear of the grounds behind the Governor's Palace in Colonial Williamsburg.[7] The first purpose-built psychiatric hospital in the United States was founded in the city in the 1770s: 'Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds'. Known in modern times as Eastern State Hospital, it was established by Act of the Virginia colonial legislature on June 4, 1770. The Act to 'Make Provision for the Support and Maintenance of Ideots, Lunaticks, and other Persons of unsound Minds' authorized the House of Burgesses to appoint a fifteen-man Court Of Directors to oversee the future hospital’s operations and admissions. In 1771, contractor Benjamin Powell constructed a two-story building on Francis Street near the College, capable of housing twenty-four patients. The design of the grounds included 'yards for patients to walk and take the Air in' as well as provisions for a fence to keep the patients out of the nearby town. The Gunpowder Incident began in April 1775 as a dispute between Governor Dunmore and Virginia colonists over gunpowder stored in the Williamsburg magazine. Dunmore, fearing rebellion, ordered royal marines to seize gunpowder from the magazine. Virginia militia led by Patrick Henry responded to the 'theft' and marched on Williamsburg. A standoff ensued, with Dunmore threatening to destroy the city if attacked by the militia. The dispute was resolved when payment for the powder was arranged. This was an important precursor in the run-up to American Revolutionary War. Following the Declaration of Independence from Britain, American Revolutionary Warary War broke out in 1776. During the War, the capital of Virginia was moved again, in 1780, this time to Richmond at the urging of then-Governor Thomas Jefferson, who feared Williamsburg's location made it vulnerable to a British attack. However, during the Revolutionary War Williamsburg retained its status as a venue for many important conventions. Decline and the Civil War[edit] Having lost the Capitol from 1780, Williamsburg was reduced in prominence, although not to the degree Jamestown had previously experienced. Another factor was travel: 18th and early 19th century transportation in the Colony was largely by canals and navigable rivers. As it had been built on 'high ground' Williamsburg was not sited on a major water route, unlike many early communities in the United States. The railroads which began to be built from the 1830s also did not come through the city. Despite the loss to Williamsburg of the business activity involved in government, the College of William and Mary continued and expanded, as did the Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds, with the latter becoming known as Eastern State Hospital. At the outset of the American Civil War (1861–1865), enlistments in the Confederate Army depleted the student body of the College of William and Mary and on May 10, 1861 the faculty voted to close the College for the duration of the conflict. The College Building was used as a Confederate barracks and later as a hospital, first by Confederate and later by Union forces.[citation needed] The Williamsburg area saw combat in the spring of 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign, an effort to take Richmond from the east from a base at Fort Monroe. Throughout late 1861 and early 1862, the small contingent of Confederate defenders was known as the Army of the Peninsula, and led by General John B. Magruder. He successfully created ruses which fooled the invaders as to the size and strength of his forces, and deterred their attack. Their subsequent slow movement up the peninsula gained valuable time for defenses to be constructed at the Confederate capital at Richmond.[citation needed] In early May 1862, after holding the Union troops off for over a month, the defenders withdrew quietly from the Warwick Line (stretching across the Peninsula between Yorktown and Mulberry Island). As General George McClellan's Union forces crept up the Peninsula to pursue the retreating Confederate forces, a rear guard force led by General James Longstreet and supported by General J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry blocked their westward progression at the Williamsburg Line. This was a series of 14 redoubts east of town, with earthen Fort Magruder (also known as Redoubt # 6) at the crucial junction of the two major roads leading to Williamsburg from the east. The design and construction had been overseen by Benjamin S. Ewell, the President of the College of William and Mary. He owned a farm in James City County, and had been commissioned as an officer in the Confederate Army after the College closed in 1861.[citation needed] At the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862, the defenders succeeded in delaying the Union forces long enough for the retreating Confederates to reach the outer defenses of Richmond. A siege of Richmond ensued, culminating in the Seven Days Battles. McClellan's campaign failed to capture Richmond. Meanwhile, on May 6, 1862 Williamsburg had fallen to the Union. The Brafferton building of the College was used for a time as quarters for the commanding officer of the Union garrison occupying the town. On September 9 that year, drunken soldiers of the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry set fire to the College Building,[8] allegedly to prevent Confederate snipers from using it for cover. Much damage was done to Williamsburg during the Union occupation, which lasted until September 1865.[citation needed]

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