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Williamsburg is a historical colonial tourist spot in Virginia which lies between the James and York
Town Nicknames: Restored Colonial City
The area which
became Williamsburg was settled in 1632 and called Middle Plantation.
It was so named due to its location on high ground about half-way across
the Virginia Peninsula between the James River and York River. A stockade
across the peninsula, which was about 6 miles wide at that point between
College Creek and Queen's Creek (which each fed into one of the two
rivers) provided some security from attacks by the Native Americans
for colonists farming and fishing lower on the Peninsula from that point.
The area of Middle Plantation
was included in James City Shire when it was established 2 years later
in 1634, as the Colony reached a total population of approximately 5,000.
Jamestown, which had been the original capital of Virginia Colony, remained
as such until its burning during the events of Bacon's Rebellion in
1676. Immediately after Governor William Berkeley regained control,
temporary quarters for the functions of the seat of government were
established about 12 miles away on the high ground at Middle Plantation
while the Statehouse at Jamestown was rebuilt. The Burgesses found the
surroundings both safer and more pleasant environmentally than Jamestown,
which was muggy and plagued with mosquitos.
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 and sent Reverend James
Blair who spent several years in England lobbying and finally obtained
a royal charter for the desired new school, which was named the College
of William and 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
Four years later, the rebuilt
statehouse in Jamestown burned again (in 1698), this time accidentally.
The government once again relocated temporarily to Middle Plantation,
but now enjoyed use of the College's facilities in addition to the better
climate. After that fire, upon suggestion of the students of the College,
who made a presentation to the House of Burgesses, the colonial capital
was permanently moved to Middle Plantation in 1699. 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.
In 1722, the town of Williamsburg
was granted a royal charter as a city, now believed to be the oldest
in the United States. Williamsburg's local newspaper, the Virginia Gazette,
was the first newspaper paper published south of the Potomac River in
1736. The publisher was William Parks, who had similar ventures in Maryland.
Another Williamsburg first
was the "Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds",
as the facility known in modern times as Eastern State Hospital, was
first known, established by act of the Virginia colonial legislature
on June 4, 1770. The act, which intended 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 be built to keep the patients out of the nearby town.
Beginning in April, 1775,
the Gunpowder incident of Williamsburg, a dispute between Governor Dunmore
and Virginia colonists over gunpowder (stored in the Williamsburg Magazine)
evolved into an important event in the run-up to the American Revolution.
Dunmore, fearing another 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.
In 1780, during the American
Revolutionary War, the capital was moved again to Richmond at the urging
of then-Governor Thomas Jefferson, who was afraid that Williamsburg's
location made it vulnerable to a British attack. However, during the
Revolutionary War many important conventions were held in Williamsburg.
With the capitol
gone after 1780, Williamsburg also lost prominence, but not to the degree
Jamestown had 81 years earlier. 18th and early 19th century transportation
in the Colony was largely by canals and navigable rivers. Built deliberately
on "high ground," Williamsburg was not located along a major
waterway like many early communities in the United States. Early railroads
beginning in the 1830s also did not come its way. It seemed the principal
business activities of Williamsburg had been the government and the
College, the latter continuing and expanding, as well as the Public
Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds. Both the College
and the Hospital grew, with the latter known in recent years as Eastern
The Williamsburg area saw
some activity during the Peninsula Campaign of the American Civil War
(1861-1865), notably the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862 as General
George McClellan's Union forces crept up the Peninsula to lay siege
to Richmond. Confederate forces, with earthen Fort Magruder as their
only physical base, were successful in delaying the Union forces long
enough for the retreating Confederates to reach the outer defenses of
Richmond safely. A siege resulted, culminating in the Seven Days Battles,
and McClellan's campaign failed. As a result, the War dragged on almost
3 more years at great cost to lives and finances for both sides before
the Union was restored in April 1865.
About 20 years later, in
1881, Collis P. Huntington's Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad (C&O)
built through the area, eventually establishing six stations in Williamsburg
and the surrounding area. This aided passenger travel and shipping for
local farmers, but the railroad had been built primarily for through-coal
traffic destined for the coal pier and export at Newport News. Of course,
there were the ongoing activities of the College of William and Mary.
However, school sessions there were temporarily suspended for financial
reasons from 1882 until 1886, when the College became a state school.
Beginning in the 1890s, C&O
land agent Carl M. Bergh, a Norwegian-American who had earlier farmed
in the mid-western states, realized that the gentler climate of eastern
Virginia and depressed post-Civil War land prices would be attractive
to his fellow Scandinavians who were farming in other northern parts
of the country. He began sending out notices, and selling land. Soon
there was a substantial concentration of relocated Americans of Norwegian,
Swedish, and Danish descent in the area. The location earlier known
as Vaiden's Siding on the railroad just west of Williamsburg in James
City County, was renamed Norge. These citizens and their descendents
found the area conditions favorable as described by Bergh, and many
became leading merchants, tradespersons, and farmers in the community.
These transplanted Americans brought some new blood and enthusiasm to
the old colonial capitol area.
20th-21st century restoration:
still a sleepy little town in the early 20th century. Some newer structures
were interspersed with colonial-era buildings, but the town was much
less progressive than other busier communities of similar size in Virginia.
Some local lore indicates that the residents were satisfied with it
that way, and longtime Virginia Peninsula journalist, author and historian
Parke Rouse has pointed in published work to a report that Williamsburg
had even forgotten to hold local elections in 1913 as evidence of such.
However, even if such complacency was common, a dream of one Episcopalian
priest was to expand to change Williamsburg's future and provide it
a new major purpose, turning much of it into the world's largest living
In the early 20th century,
one of the largest historic restorations ever undertaken anywhere in
the world was championed by the Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin of Williamsburg's
Bruton Parish Church. Initially, Dr. Goodwin had wanted to save his
historic church building, and this he accomplished by 1907, in time
for the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Episcopal Church in
Virginia. However, upon returning to Williamsburg in 1923 after serving
a number of years in upstate New York, he began to realize that many
of the other colonial-era buildings also remained, but were in deteriorating
condition, and their longevity was risk.
Goodwin dreamed of a much
larger restoration along the lines of what he had accomplished with
his historic church. A cleric of modest means, he sought support and
financing from a number of sources before successfully drawing the interests
and major financial support of Standard Oil heir and philanthropist
John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his wife Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. The result
of their combined efforts was the creation of Colonial Williamsburg,
which included a restoration of much of the downtown Williamsburg area
with creation of a 301-acre Historic Area to celebrate the patriots
and the early history of America.
In the 21st century, Colonial
Williamsburg has continued to update and refine its attractions, with
more features designed to attract modern children and offer better and
additional interpretation of the African-American experience in the
colonial town. Just a little more after Dr. Goodwin's work began, the
effort to maintain and improve this corner piece of Virginia and United
States history remains a remarkable work-in-progress.
Today, Colonial Williamsburg
is Virginia's largest tourist attraction based upon attendance and forms
the centerpiece of the Historic Triangle with Jamestown and Yorktown
joined by the Colonial Parkway.
In addition to
the Historic Area of Colonial Williamsburg, the city's railroad station
was restored to become an intermodal passenger facility. The old station
at Norge was preserved and after donation by CSX Transportation, was
relocated in 2006 to property at the Croaker Branch of the Williamsburg
theme park, development
The tourist volume
of Colonial Williamsburg attracted many other related businesses to
the area. Notable among these was Anheuser-Busch, which established
large operations in James City County and York County just outside the
city. The company operates a large brewery there, and a subsidiary of
the company operates two of its theme parks near the brewery, Busch
Gardens Europe, and Water Country USA. Anheuser-Busch's subsidiary Busch
Properties operates a commerce park, McLaw's Circle, and Kingsmill on
the James a gated residential neighborhood that contains a resort of
the same name.
The third of three
debates between Republican President Gerald Ford and Democratic challenger
Jimmy Carter was held at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall at the College
of William and Mary on October 22, 1976. Perhaps in tribute to the debate’s
historic venue, as well as to the United States Bicentennial celebration,
both candidates spoke of a "new spirit" in America.
The 9th G7 Summit
was held in Williamsburg in 1983. The summit participants discussed
the growing debt crisis, arms control and greater co-operation between
the Soviet Union and the G7 (now the G8). At the end of the meeting,
U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz read to the press a statement
confirming the deployment of American Pershing II-nuclear rockets in
West Germany later in 1983.
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