Early on Williamsburg - History

Early on Williamsburg - History

ON reporting to General Longstreet at Williamsburg, I ascertained that there was fighting, by a portion of our troops, with the enemy's advance, at a line of redoubts previously constructed a short distance east of Williamsburg, the principal one of which redoubts, covering the main road, was known as Fort Magruder. I was directed to move my command into the college grounds and await orders. There was now a cold, drizzling rain and the wind and the mud in the roads, and everywhere else, was very deep. After remaining for some time near the college, I received an order from General Longstreet to move to Fort Magruder and sup-port Brigadier General Anderson, who had command of the troops engaged with the enemy.

My command was immediately put into motion, and I sent my aide, Lieutenant S. H. Early, forward, to inform General Anderson of my approach, and ascertain where my troops were needed. Lieutenant Early soon returned with the information that General Anderson was not at Fort Magruder, having gone to the right, where his troops were engaged, but that General Stuart, who was in charge at the fort, requested that four of my regiments be moved into position on the right of it and two on the left. As I was moving on to comply with his request and had neared Fort Magruder, General Longstreet himself rode up and ordered me to move the whole of my command to a position which he pointed out, on a ridge in a field to the left and rear of the Fort, so as to prevent the enemy from turning the position in that direction, and to await further orders. General Longstreet then rode towards the right, and I was proceeding to the position assigned me, when one of the General's staff officers came to me with an order to send him two regiments, which I complied with by sending the 2nd Florida Regiment and the 2nd Mississippi Battalion, under Colonel Ward.

With my brigade proper I moved to the point designated before this last order, and took position on the crest of a ridge in a wheat field and facing towards a piece of woods from behind which some of the enemy's guns were firing on Fort Magruder. Shortly after I had placed my command in position, General Hill came up and I suggested to him the propriety of moving through the woods to attack one of the enemy's batteries which seemed to have a flank fire on our main position. He was willing for the attack to be made, but replied that he must see General Longstreet before authorizing it. He then rode to see General Longstreet and I commenced making preparations for the projected attack While I was so engaged, Brigadier General Rains, also of Hill's command, came up with his brigade and formed immediately in my rear so as to take my place when I moved. General Hill soon returned with the information that the attack was to be made, and he proceeded to post some field-pieces which had come up, in position to cover my retreat if I should be repulsed.

As soon as this was done, my brigade moved forward through the wheat field into the woods, and then through that in the direction of the firing, by the sound of which we were guided, as the battery itself and the troops supporting it were entirely concealed from our view. General Hill accompanied the brigade, going with the right of it. It moved with the 5th North Carolina on the right, then with the 23rd North Carolina, then the 38th Virginia, and then the 24th Virginia on the left. I moved forward with the 24th Virginia, as I expected, from the sound of the enemy 's guns and the direction in which we were moving, it would come upon the battery. After moving through the woods a quarter of a mile or more, the 24th came to a rail fence with an open field beyond, in which were posted several guns, under the support of infantry, near some farm houses. In this field were two redoubts, one of which being the extreme left redoubt of the line of which Fort Magruder was the main work, was occupied by the enemy, and this redoubt was, from the quarter from which we approached, beyond the farm house where the guns mentioned were posted. The 24th, without hesitation, sprang over the fence and made a dash at the guns which were but a short distance from us, but they retired very precipitately, as did the infantry support, to the cover of the redoubt in their rear and the fence and piece of woods nearby.

My line as it moved forward was at right angle to that of the enemy, so that my left regiment alone came upon him and as it moved into the field was exposed to a flank fire. This regiment, inclining to the left, moved gallantly to the attack, and continued to press forward towards the main position at the redoubt under a heavy fire of both infantry and artillery; but the other regiments had not emerged from the woods, and I sent orders for them to move up to the support of the 24th. In the meantime I had received a very severe wound in the shoulder from a minie ball and my horse had been very badly shot, having one of his eyes knocked out. I then rode towards the right for the purpose of looking after the other regiments and ordering them into action, and met the 5th North Carolina, under Colonel McRae, advancing in gallant style towards the enemy. Upon emerging from the woods and finding no enemy in his immediate front, Colonel McRae had promptly formed line to the left and moved to the support of the regiment which was engaged, traversing the whole front which should have been occupied by the two other regiments. He advanced through an open field under a heavy fire from the enemy's artillery and infantry, and soon became hotly engaged by the side of the 24th.

Having by this time become very weak from loss of blood, and suffering greatly from pain, I rode to the second redoubt nearby, in full view of the fight going on and but a few hundred yards from it, for the purpose of dismounting and directing the operations from that point. When I attempted to dismount I found myself so weak, and my pain was so excruciating, that I would not have been able to remount my horse, nor, from these causes, was I then able to direct the movements of my troops. I therefore rode from the field, to the hospital at Williamsburg, passing by Fort Magruder, and informing General Longstreet, whom I found on the right of it, of what was going on with my command.

The 24th Virginia and 5th North Carolina Regiments continued to confront the enemy at close quarters for some time without any support, until Colonel McRae, who had succeeded to the command of the brigade, in reply to a request sent for reinforcements, received an order from General Hill to retire. The 23rd North Carolina Regiment, as reported by Colonel Hoke, had received an order from General Hill to change its front in the woods, doubtless for the purpose of advancing to the support of the regiment first engaged, but it did not emerge from the woods at all, as it moved too far to the left and rear of the 24th Virginia, where it encountered a detachment of the enemy on his right flank. The 38th Virginia Regiment, after some difficulty, succeeded in getting into the field, and was moving under fire to the support of the two regiments engaged, when the order was received to retire.

At the time this order was received, the 24th Virginia and 5th North Carolina were comparatively safe from the enemy's fire, which had slackened, as they had advanced to a point where they were in a great measure sheltered, but the moment they commenced to retire the enemy opened a heavy fire upon them, and, as they had to retire over a bare field, they suffered severely. In going back through the woods, some of the men lost their way and were captured by running into a regiment of the enemy, which was on his right in the woods.

From these causes the loss in those two regiments was quite severe. Colonel Wm. R. Terry and Lieutenant Colonel P. Hairston, of the 24th Virginia, were severely wounded, and Lieutenant Colonel J. C. Badham of the 5th North Carolina was killed, while a number of company officers of both regiments were among the killed and wounded. The loss in the 23rd North Carolina and 38th Virginia was slight, but Lieutenant Colonel Whittle of the latter regiment received a wound in the arm. The brigade fell back to the position from which it advanced, without having been pursued by the enemy, and was there re-formed. The troops of the enemy en-countered by my brigade in this action consisted of Hancock's brigade and some eight or ten pieces of artillery.

The charge made by the 24th Virginia and the 5th North Carolina Regiments on this force was one of the most brilliant of the war, and its character was such as to elicit applause even from the newspaper correspondents from the enemy's camps. Had one of the brigades which had come up to the position from which mine advanced been ordered up to the support of Colonel McRae, the probability is that a very different result would have taken place, and perhaps Hancock's whole force would have been captured, as its route for retreat was over a narrow mill-dam.

McClellan, in a telegraphic dispatch at the time, reported that my command had been repulsed by "a real bayonet charge," and he reiterates the statement in his report, that Hancock repulsed the troops opposed to him by a bayonet charge, saying:" Feigning to retreat slowly, he awaited their onset, and then turned upon them: after some terrific volleys of musketry he charged them with the bayonet, routing and dispersing their whole force." This statement is entirely devoid of truth. My regiments were not repulsed, but retired going back through the woods, some of the men lost their way and were captured by running into a regiment of the enemy, which was on his right in the woods.

From these causes the loss in those two regiments was quite severe. The troops of the enemy encountered by my brigade in this action consisted of Hancock's brigade and some eight or ten pieces of artillery.

The charge made by the 24th Virginia and the 5th North Carolina Regiments on this force was one of the most brilliant of the war, and its character was such as to elicit applause even from the newspaper correspondents from the enemy's camps. Had one of the brigades which had come up to the position from which mine advanced been ordered up to the support of Colonel McRae, the probability is that a very different result would have taken place, and perhaps Hancock's whole force would have been captured, as its route for retreat was over a narrow mill-dam.

McClellan, in a telegraphic dispatch at the time, reported that my command had been repulsed by "a real bayonet charge," and he reiterates the statement in his report, that Hancock repulsed the troops opposed to him by a bayonet charge, saying: "Feigning to retreat slowly, he awaited their onset, and then turned upon them: after some terrific volleys of musketry he charged them with the bayonet, routing and dispersing their whole force." This statement is entirely devoid of truth. My regiments were not repulsed, but retired under order as I have stated, and there was no charge by the enemy with or without bayonets. This charging with bayonets was one of the myths of this as well as all other wars. Military commanders sometimes saw the charges, after the fighting was over, but the surgeons never saw the wounds made by the bayonets, except in a few instances of mere individual conflict, or where some wounded men had been bayoneted in the field.

Colonel Ward of Florida had led his command into action on the right of Fort Magruder, and he was killed soon after getting under fire. He was a most accomplished, gallant, and deserving officer, and would have risen to distinction in the army had he lived.

This battle at Williamsburg was participated in by only a small part of our army, and its object was to give time to our trains to move off on the almost impassable roads. It accomplished that purpose. The enemy's superior force was repulsed at all points save that at which I had been engaged, or at least his advance was checked. A number of guns were captured from him and his loss was severe, though we had to abandon some of the captured guns for the want of horses to move them.

During the night, the rear of our army resumed its retreat, and the whole of it succeeded in reaching the vicinity of Richmond and interposing for the defence of that city, after some minor affairs with portions of the enemy's troops. A portion of our wounded had to be left at Williamsburg for want of transportation, and surgeons were left in charge of them. I succeeded in getting transportation to the rear, and, starting from Williamsburg after 12 o'clock on the night of the 5th, and deviating next day from the route pursued by our army, I reached James River, near Charles City Court-House, and there obtained transportation on a steamer to Richmond, where I arrived at night on the 8th. From Richmond I went to Lynchburg, and, as soon as I was able to travel on horseback, I went to my own county, where I remained until I was able to resume duty in the field.


The first permanent settlement in the British Colony of Virginia was established at Jamestown in 1607 as a business venture funded by the Virginia Company of London and to replenish the British Crown Treasury. The role of the Protestant Church of England and its relationship to the monarchy government had been established in the 1530s by King Henry VIII, when he broke with the Papacy in Rome. In the Acts of Supremacy, Henry abandoned Rome completely, asserted the independence of the Ecclesia Anglicana and appointed himself and his successors as the supreme rulers of the English church. This sovereign relationship was later established when the original colony became an official royal colony in 1624. The primary leaders of the colony, from the Virginia Company of London, and the accompanying clergy believed they could bring Ecclesia Anglicana, the beliefs of the British Empire, to the Native Americans in the new colony. The spiritual beliefs of the Native Americans differed from the colonists and were incorrectly assumed by colonists as a lack of education and literacy, due to the indigenous Powhatan people who lived in the area, that they called "Tsenacommacah", which used Mesoamerican writing systems of petroglyph, pictogram and petroform. [2] [3] The colonists assumed teaching English literacy would result in what the English saw as enlightenment in civil and religious practices, and bring them into the fold as English subjects.

In November 1618, the Virginia Company of London gave orders for university grounds to be laid at Henrico, 12 miles from the current city of Richmond, to include an Indian School branch, and endowed it with 10,000 acres of land. A school of higher education for both Native American young men and the sons of the colonists was one of the earliest goals of the leaders of the Virginia Colony. [4] In May 1619, the treasurer of the Virginia Company, Sir Edwin Sandys, reported that funds had been collected toward the proposed college. The Virginia General Assembly, established July 30, 1619, proceeded on July 31, 1619, to petition the Virginia Company for workmen from England to build the college. In May 1620, the Virginia Company appointed George Thorpe (Virginia colonist) to be first deputy in charge of the college lands. Within the first decade, a promising start of a "university" was initiated as part of the progressive colonial outpost of Henricus under the leadership of Sir Thomas Dale. In March 1622, Thorpe was killed and Henrico destroyed, postponing the college, in an Indian uprising of the Indian Massacre of 1622. In 1624, the college plans were abandoned when the charter of the Virginia Company was revoked and Jamestown became a royal colony. It would be almost 70 more years before their efforts to establish a school of higher education would be successful. In 1661 the college and free school land purchase was authorized by an act passed by the General Assembly but no progress was made. By July 1690 the college was proposed again and subscriptions in Virginia were authorized by Lieutenant Governor Francis Nicholson with a financial support appeal to Virginia traders who were merchants in England. In May 1691 the General Assembly issued instructions for the founding of the college to Reverend James Blair, the representative of the Bishop of London, sending him to England to present the request to the King and Queen to grant a charter for the college. [5]

In 1691, with instruction from the House of Burgesses, Reverend Dr. James Blair, arrived in England to secure the charter to re-establish a school of higher education. Some scholars believe Blair utilized some of the original plans from the elaborate but ill-fated earlier attempt at Henricus. Reverend Blair, as the representative for the Bishop of London in the colony, journeyed to London. Control of the Native Americans of the Powhatan Confederacy was no longer a priority in the Colony, as they had been largely decimated and reduced to reservations after the last major conflict in 1644. However, establishing the Jamestown College and assimilating Native Americans in general was retained as a vital part of the school's mission, as possible moral and political incentives to help successfully gain approval in London. Henry Compton, the current bishop of London, John Tillotson (Archbishop of Canterbury), and others supported Blair's assignment from the Virginia Colony to secure the charter for the college. [6]

The college was founded on February 8, 1693, under a royal charter (technically, by letters patent) granted by King William III and Queen Mary II, to establish the College of William and Mary in Virginia to "make, found and establish a certain Place of Universal Study, a perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and the good arts and sciences. to be supported and maintained, in all time coming." [7] Named in honor of the reigning monarchs King William III and Queen Mary II, the college is the second oldest in the United States and was one of the original Colonial colleges. The Charter named Blair as the college's first president (a lifetime appointment which he held until his death in 1743). The king provided funds allocated from tobacco taxes, along with the Surveyor-General's Office "profits" and 10,000 acres each in the Pamunkey Neck and on Blackwater Swamp. Founded as an Anglican institution governors were required to be members of the Church of England, and professors were required to declare adherence to the Thirty-Nine Articles. [8] The charter called for a center of higher education consisting of three schools: the Grammar School, the Philosophy School and the Divinity School. The Philosophy School instructed students in the advanced study of moral philosophy (logic, rhetoric, ethics) as well as natural philosophy (physics, metaphysics and mathematics) upon completion of this coursework, the Divinity School prepared these young men for ordination into the Church of England.

This early curriculum, a precursor to the present-day liberal arts program, made William & Mary the first American college with a full faculty. The college has achieved many other notable academic firsts. Although most other planned goals were met or exceeded, the efforts to educate and convert the natives to Christianity were to prove less than successful once the college was established.

Until the Revolution, most of our leading [men] were the alumni of William and Mary.

In November 1693, the College was given a seat in the House of Burgesses and the General Assembly passed the act to establish the College site "as near the church now standing in Middle Plantation old fields as convenience will permit", and on the same day voted on funding for the College to be supported by tobacco taxes and an export duty on furs and skins. "Middle Plantation" was changed to "Williamsburg" in 1699 when the colonial capital was moved there from Jamestown. The peaceful situation with the Native Americans in the Virginia Peninsula area by that time, as well as the central location in the developed portion of the colony located only about 8 miles (13 km) from Jamestown, but on high ground midway between the James and York Rivers, must have appealed to the College's first president, for he is credited with selecting a site for the new college on the western outskirts of the tiny community of Middle Plantation in James City County.

In December 1693 a tract of 330 acres (1.3 km 2 ) was purchased from Captain Thomas Ballard, the proprietor of Rich Neck Plantation, in the amount of £170 for the College site [10] just a short distance from the almost new brick Bruton Parish Church, a focal point of the extant community, and not far from the headwaters of Archer's Hope Creek, later renamed College Creek. The College library contains two of the boundary stones erected in 1694 that marked the property, which are available for viewing.

In May 1694 the College of Arms in London granted The College's coat of arms, described as: "Vert a Colledge, or Edifice mason'd Argent in Chief a Sun rising Or the Hemisphere proper," i.e., a college building in silver, on a green field a golden sun at half orb against a blue sky. [11] The new school opened in temporary buildings. Properly called the "College Building," the first version of the Wren Building was built at Middle Plantation on a picturesque site. On August 8, 1695, the laying of the first foundation bricks, later called the Main Building, were attended by Governor Edmund Andros and the Council of Virginia. It was renamed the Sir Christopher Wren Building between 1928 and 1931 when it was restored. In 1700 the front and the north wing were completed. The present-day College still stands upon those grounds, adjacent to and just west of the restored historic area known in modern times as Colonial Williamsburg.

After the statehouse at Jamestown burned in 1698, the legislature moved temporarily to Middle Plantation, as it had in the past. On May 1, 1699, the College held a May Day celebration, with the House of Burgess members in attendance by invitation of Governor Nicholson. On display for the Burgesses were examples "of the Improvement of your Youth in Learning and Education", along with five student speeches, including one extolling the advantages for the site of the capital as Williamsburg. [5] The capital was permanently relocated there, and Middle Plantation was renamed Williamsburg in 1699. Following its designation as the Capital of the Colony, immediate provision was made for construction of a capitol building and for platting the new city according to the survey of Theodorick Bland. Both the extant Bruton Parish Church and the College Building held prominent locations in the new plan, with the Wren Building site aligned at the center of the western end of the new major central roadway, Duke of Gloucester Street, itself laid along a pathway running along the midpoint ridge of the Peninsula and long a dividing line between two of the original eight shires of Virginia, York and James City Counties. At the other (eastern) end of the Duke of Gloucester Street, opposite the College Building, the new Capitol was built.

Williamsburg, which was granted a royal charter as a city in 1722, served as the capital of Colonial Virginia from 1699 to 1780. During this time, the College served as a law center and lawmakers frequently used its buildings. It educated future U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler. The College issued George Washington his surveyor's certificate, which led to his first public office. [12] Washington was later appointed the first American Chancellor in 1788 following the American Revolution. Serving as Chancellor of the College was to be his last public office, one he held until his death in 1799.

George Wythe, widely regarded as a pioneer in American legal education, attended the College as a young man, but dropped out unable to afford the fees. Wythe went on to become one of the more distinguished jurists of his time. Jefferson, who later referred to Wythe as "my second father," studied under Wythe from 1762 to 1767. By 1779, Wythe held the nation's first Law Professorship at the College. Wythe's other students included Henry Clay, James Monroe and John Marshall. [13]

The College also educated four U.S. Supreme Court Justices (John Marshall, John Blair, Philip P. Barbour and Bushrod Washington) as well as several important members of government including Peyton Randolph and Henry Clay.

During the period of the American Revolution, Freedom of Religion and the Separation of Church and State were each established in Virginia beginning in 1776. The English government and the Church of England each lost prominence and control. While they desired independent government, leaders and citizens of the new state and country did not reject their church, only its structure in relationship to government. Worship continued during the difficult years of the War and thereafter. Although shorn of a governmental role and financial support, the Church survived in modified form as what is now known as The Episcopal Church (United States). Before the Revolution, there had been no bishop in the colony. After the War, the first Episcopal Bishop of Virginia was the Right Reverend James Madison (1749–1812). He was a cousin of future President of the United States James Madison, and was ordained in England just before the American Revolution.

Future U.S. President James Madison was a key figure in the transition to religious freedom in Virginia, and Reverend Madison, his cousin and Thomas Jefferson, who was on the Board of Visitors, helped The College of William & Mary to make the transition as well, and to become a university with the establishment of the graduate schools in law and medicine in the process.

A 1771 graduate of the College, and an ordained minister in the Church of England, Reverend James Madison was a teacher at William & Mary as the hostilities of the American Revolution broke out, and he organized his students into a local militia. During 1777, he served as chaplain of the Virginia House of Delegates. The same year, Loyalist sympathies of the College President, Reverend John Camm (who had been the initial litigant in the Parson's Cause case 1758-1764), brought about his removal from the faculty. Reverend Madison became the 8th president of The College of William & Mary in October, 1777, the first after separation from England. [14]

As its President, Reverend Madison worked with the new leaders of Virginia, most notably Jefferson, on a reorganization and changes for the College which included the abolition of the Divinity School and the Indian School, which was also known as the Brafferton School. The 1693 royal charter provided that Indian School of the College educate American Indian youth. College founder James Blair had arranged financing for that purpose using income from Brafferton Manor in Yorkshire, England, which had passed to the estate of scientist Robert Boyle. The Indian School, intended to "civilize" Indian youth, was begun in 1700. However, Native American parents resisted enrolling and boarding their children, and many of those who enrolled were captive children from enemy tribes, including the first six students. Enrollment was never strong, revived somewhat after construction of the fine brick Brafferton School building in 1723. The school was never very successful in achieving any quantity of Indian conversions to Christianity, but did help educate several generations of interpreters who could aid in communication. The school's dedicated income from England was interrupted by the Revolutionary War. By 1779, the Brafferton School had permanently closed, although "The Brafferton", as it is known in modern times, remains a landmark building on the campus. [15]

In June 1781, as British troops moved down the Peninsula, Lord Cornwallis made the president's house his headquarters, and the institution was closed for a few months of that year, which saw the surrender at Yorktown on October 19.

The colonies declared their independence in 1776 and the College of William & Mary severed formal ties to England. However, the College's connection to British history remains as a distinct point of pride it maintains a relationship with the British monarchy and includes former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher among those who have served as Chancellors. Queen Elizabeth II has visited the College twice. [16]

In 1842, alumni of the College formed the Society of the Alumni [17] which is now the sixth oldest alumni organization in the United States. In 1859, a great fire caused destruction to the College. The Alumni House is one of only several original antebellum structures remaining on campus notable others include the Wren Building, the President's House, and the Brafferton.

"From its founding in 1693 to the outbreak of the Civil War, the college owned, hired out, and rented slaves. Professors such as Thomas Roderick Dew [William & Mary President 1836–1846] and Henry A. Washington argued that slavery was a benevolent institution serving a greater moral good. Professors' and students' paternalistic defenses of slavery in the antebellum period left an important impact on racial struggles at the College of William & Mary." [18] President Dew, author of A Review of the Debates in the Legislature of 1831 and 1832, was the intellectual leader of the pro-slavery movement, and played a major role in ending the growing movement for liberating all of Virginia's slaves following Nat Turner's revolt of 1831.

In 2009 the Board of Visitors "acknowledged that the university had owned and exploited slave labor from its founding to the Civil War and that it had failed to take a stand against segregation during the Jim Crow Era." With its support, the Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation was founded. (Lemon is the name of a slave owned by the College.) "The Lemon Project is a multifaceted and dynamic attempt to rectify wrongs perpetrated against African Americans by William & Mary through action or inaction." It is funded by the Office of the Provost. [19] Starting in 2011, the Lemon Project hosts an annual symposium "on the past experiences of African-Americans in and around the College of William and Mary so as to provide a usable past for our future." [20]

At the outset of the American Civil War (1861–1865), enlistments in the Confederate Army depleted the student body 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 Union forces. The Battle of Williamsburg was fought nearby during the Peninsula Campaign on May 5, 1862, and the city fell to the Union the next day. 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, 1862, drunken soldiers of the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry set fire to the College Building, [21] purportedly in an attempt to prevent Confederate snipers from using it for cover. Much damage was done to the community during the Union occupation, which lasted until September 1865.

Following the Union victory and the end of the Civil War, Virginia was destitute. The College's 16th president, Benjamin Stoddert Ewell, could only reopen the school in 1869 by using his personal funds. He later sought war reparations from the U.S. Congress, but he was repeatedly put off. Ewell's request was finally honored, and Federal funds were appropriated, but not until 1893. Meanwhile, after some years of struggling, the College closed in 1881 due to lack of funding.

A legend has it that, every single morning of the seven-year period between the College's closure in 1881 and its reopening in 1888, President Ewell would arise and ring the bell calling students to class, so it could never be said that William & Mary had abandoned its mission to educate the young men of Virginia. [22]

In 1888, William & Mary resumed operations under a substitute charter, when the Commonwealth of Virginia passed an act [23] appropriating $10,000 to establish a state normal school for white men at the College. Dr. Ewell, who had grown quite old and spent much of his private fortune attempting to reopen the College, was finally able to retire, with the future of his beloved College on a new and more stable course again. He was no doubt honored and satisfied that former U.S. President John Tyler's son would be taking the reins.

Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853–1935) became the 17th president of the College following President Ewell's retirement. Tyler began expanding the College into a modern institution. He assembled a faculty known affectionately as the "Seven Wise Men," himself holding the chair of history. In March 1906 the General Assembly passed an act taking over the grounds of the colonial institution, and it has remained publicly supported ever since.

In 1918, William & Mary was one of the first universities in Virginia to become coeducational with its admission of women. During this time, enrollment increased from 104 students in 1889 to 1269 students by 1932. Tyler retired in 1919 as president.

Lyon Tyler was succeeded by the College's 18th president, J.A.C. Chandler, who continued and greatly expanded the initiatives of that began under Dr. Tyler. Also a historian and author, Dr. Chandler had spent his career prior to coming to William and Mary in education, and had developed an acclaimed "Model Schools" program at Richmond City Public Schools during the ten years he served there as Superintendent of Schools.

Dr. Chandler was both innovative and energetic. As he continued programs of modernization and coeducation begun under Tyler, he had access to Tyler, who was still living nearby at his home in Charles City County. (Ironically, Dr. Tyler outlived Chandler by a year.)

He also can be credited with the recruitment of Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, who was comfortably serving a wealthy church in Rochester, New York, but as Dr. Chandler knew, still had strong ties and dreams for Williamsburg. Beginning ostensibly at William & Mary as an instructor and fund-raiser, Dr. Goodwin was soon pursuing historical restoration ideas and the funding for them, in addition to raising funds for the school's programs in general.

The dedication of William & Mary's new Phi Beta Kappa Hall in 1926 gave Dr. Goodwin the opportunity to spend time with industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, as they visited Williamsburg with three of their children. Dr. Goodwin, who was also rector of Bruton Parish Church, shared his dreams and visions of restoring as much as possible of the "birthplace of America's democracy". While his father had been the hard-driving businessman who generated a lot of animosity around the country, as he was the "front man" for Standard Oil, his only son, John Jr., was a much more shy and reserved individual, whose became a philanthropist with his wife in handling the family's great wealth. Dr. Goodwin was successful, possibly beyond the wildest dreams of him or Dr. Chandler, in getting John and Abby to become part of the dream that ended up becoming Colonial Williamsburg (CW).

Although most of the Restoration eventually came under a foundation separate from the College, the ties between the College and CW remain close. Notably the restorations/reconstructions of the Sir Christopher Wren Building, the President's House and the Brafferton (the President's office) between 1928 and 1932 were among what was accomplished on the campus itself which was of great benefit to the College

Dr. Chandler had many activities going on in the 1920s other than the Restoration, which became increasingly Dr. Goodwin's principal focus. As a former public school leader, Dr. Chandler knew firsthand of the urgent need in the state for additional efforts to educate teachers and other professionals for the public schools throughout the state.

Despite facing the challenges presented by the Great Depression and his own failing health as the College entered the 1930s, Chandler's greatest legacy at William and Mary is considered by many to be School of Education, which began a long continuing tradition of providing an education to many of Virginia's public school teachers. Although he had left local service there many years earlier, it is symbolic that Richmond Public Schools named a new school after Dr. Chandler shortly after his death, the only former W&M President accorded such an honor in the capital city.

During Dr. Chandler's 14-year tenure, the College's full-time faculty grew to over 100 and the student body grew from 300 to over 1200 students, despite the Depression. Affordable and accessible education was also a hallmark of Chandler's tenure. In 1930, William & Mary expanded its territorial range by establishing a branch in Norfolk, Virginia. This extension would eventually become the independent state-supported institution known as Old Dominion University. Other branches around the state were to follow. Partially as a result, when in competition for state higher education funding, the College has enjoyed an especially supportive relationship with the Virginia General Assembly, which partially funds the various local programs for K-12 public school education throughout the state. The School of Education has continued and expanded that commitment by conducting in-service training and summer programs which enable continuing education of teachers and other instructional personnel. As a result, many of Virginia's public school teachers who utilize these services later achieve masters and doctoral degrees, with some advancing to positions of leadership in school divisions or with the State Department of Education.

William and Mary's budding "Air School" begun under Dr. Chandler. The College had two different facilities during its short venture into aviation. Both were located originally along what is now VA-Route 603 (Mooretown Road). The newer facility changed to private operation and was the namesake for modern-day Airport Road in York County. [24] The program was a casualty of a combination of the economic environment of the Depression, Dr. Chandler's failing health, and more than any other factor, most likely the changes in a growing technology which quickly shifted to the military and commercial sector. [25]

Significant campus construction continued under the College's nineteenth president, John Stewart Bryan. Son of Joseph Bryan, a prominent Richmonder, John Stewart was a newspaperman and businessman. As Virginia recovered from the Depression, in 1935, the Sunken Gardens were constructed, just west of the Wren Building. The sunken design is taken from a similar landscape feature at Chelsea Hospital in London, designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh visited the College on October 16, 1957, where the Queen spoke to the College community from the balcony of the Wren Building. The Queen again visited the College on May 4, 2007, as part of her state visit for the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the settlement at Jamestown.

In 1974, Jay Winston Johns willed Ash Lawn-Highland, the 535-acre (2.17 km 2 ) historic Albemarle County, Virginia estate of alumnus and U.S. President James Monroe, to the College. The College restored this historic Presidential home near Charlottesville and opened it to the public. [26]

A decision in October 2006 by 26th President Gene Nichol regarding a cross in the Wren Building chapel resulted in the Wren Cross controversy. Citing concerns regarding religious pluralism, the cross was removed. After public outcry by members of the campus and alumni community, as well as coverage on the 700 Club by Pat Robertson, the cross was returned to the chapel. The cross is presently used liturgically by the Episcopal Canterbury and Catholic Campus Ministry. [27]

In 2018, Katherine Rowe replaced Taylor Reveley and became the first female president of the College after 325 years. [28] As part of the 2019-2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the College cancelled all on-campus classes for a week in March 2020, with President Rowe later announcing the remainder of the semester would take place online and requesting students remain off campus. [29]

1. Williamsburg Was Purchased (For More Money) From the Same Indian Tribe That Likely Sold Manhattan

The geographic area that includes Williamsburg was first purchased in 1638 by the Dutch West India Company from a group of Canarsee Indians sachems, the same tribe that likely sold Manhattan. The purchasing price was greater than Manhattan, a harbinger of today’s real estate market, and the deal similarly involved a collection of European tools and wampum.
There is little evidence that the Canarsees actually lived in future Williamsburg, much of which was set on a swamp called “Cripplebush.” (Cripplebush is an anglicization of the Dutch word for “scrub oak.”) The Canarsees likely used the area seasonally for hunting and fishing, but their various settlements were elsewhere. The “purchase” was likely understood by both sides to allow common use of the land until it was developed, which took some time.

Civil War

The Civil War plunged the area into hard times once again. For most of the war, Williamsburg was held by the Union troops, following the Battle of Williamsburg on May 5, 1862. Rural James City County became a combat zone, raided at will by troops of both armies. In 1865, a disastrous loss occurred when James City County's court records, stored in Richmond for safekeeping, were destroyed by fire. After the war, rebuilding was difficult for the survivors, both black and white. The local economy lay in ruins and hundreds of newly freed slaves sought a means of earning a living.

A turning point occurred in 1882 when the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway extended its line eastward along the peninsula. James City farmers eagerly supplied new markets. The rail stop at Burnt Ordinary was renamed Toano, a Native American name meaning high ground. Farm mechanization improved, and new settlers arrived to share in the growing prosperity. First, Norwegians from the Midwest built a community at Norge in 1896. Danish and Swedish settlers followed. Toano soon became a hub for the commercial farmers of the upper County.

In 1907, the nation observed the 300th anniversary of the settlers' landing at Jamestown. A great celebration took place, principally at the site where the Norfolk Naval Base is now situated. It featured elaborate exhibits and an armada of ships. A hard-surfaced road was built linking Williamsburg and Jamestown for those who wished to see the actual settlement site.

Book on Williamsburg offers look at early beginnings, including little-known historic figures

“Colonial Williamsburg: The Story: From the Colonial Era to the Restoration” (Distributed by the University of Virginia Press, 160 pgs., $22.95) is an interesting and needed edition to the panoply of historical references about colonial Williamsburg.

Author Edward G. Lengel takes the reader on an historical romp through centuries of Williamsburg from a crossroads community — Middle Plantation — to the town and city of Williamsburg and ultimately the institution that is Williamsburg today.

The lavishly illustrated book focuses, as does the present Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, on the city as it leads up to and through the American Revolutionary and the founding of the nation.

Lengel’s examination of the early settlement, Middle Plantation, is extremely well done and sets the stage for the creation of the town in 1699 when it becomes the new capital of the colony.

Throughout the volume there are historical vignettes on important, but often little known, figures in Williamsburg’s developing history. For example, there is Gowan Pamphlet, an enslaved man and religious leader Clementina Rind, printer and editor of the Virginia Gazette Henry Bawbee, a Wyandot and son of the chief who studied at the Indian School at the College of William & Mary and tavern keeper, Jane Vobe.

Lengel has written several other historical books and served for a while as a “Revolutionary in Residence” for The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

There are, however, a few points in Lengel’s narrative where one can quibble. He cavalierly states the main building of William & Mary was named after Sir Christopher Wren “who was erroneously credited with its design.” Historians, in more recent years, utilizing new research, have concluded that Wren most probably was involved with the building, possibly not as direct architect, but through his office Surveyor General of the King’s Works. For the college, indeed, was a creation of the English crown.

Possibly the most important quibble is with the title. It should have said “The Story: The Road to Revolution and Forward” because from 1784 to the present, it is more of a piecemeal listing of facts related to the city, rather than a chronicle like the first 200 years in the book.

The antebellum and Civil War years of Williamsburg miss a distinct research flavor. The narrative gives one the impression that the Confederate army came to town to fight and defend Fort Magruder. In fact, the Confederates were retreating from Yorktown and Union troops caught up with their rear guard. A melee erupted into a battle.

Williamsburg before, during and after the war has been dramatically captured by author historian Carol Kettenburg Dubbs in her marvelous treatise “Defend This Old Town: Williamsburg During the Civil War,” which could have provided delightful episodes to enliven the narrative.

Also, the text ends abruptly at the Restoration, the supremely important work of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. which preserved much of the 18th century remains of colonial Williamsburg and faithfully reconstructed other important historic buildings. However, there was more to the Restoration than preservation and reconstruction.

The Restoration pushed the creation of real city government, including zoning, interaction among the three area political entities, and promotion of tourism and economic development.

Because in the early 1970s, Carlisle H. Humelsine, Colonial Williamsburg president, and Winthrop Rockefeller, Colonial Williamsburg chairman, brought Anheuser-Busch Inc. into the area to enhance a dismal economic profile.

“This, truly, is living history,” Elizabeth Kelly, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s vice president for education, research and historical interpretation said in the foreword, “a city as alive today as it was in 1765 or 1776, or 1781. Those here today as those here then are constantly probing the mean of the question: What does it mean to be an American?”

That statement illustrates why Lengel’s volume is notable.

My “Like Crazy” Mother

This is a book that should have been commented on months ago. Portsmouth author Dan Mathews traveled from California to Virginia to care for his aging and ill mother, Perry or Eleanor or Mary Ellen, all names she used during her 82-year life.

The result is “Like Crazy: Life with my Mother and Her Invisible Friends,” (Atria Books, 256 pgs., $27), which could easily be a novel, but actually is a poignant memoir that combines funny bits and pieces with heartbreaking moments of reality.

A marvelously written tome, Mathews excels as a storyteller, made easier by the fact that his stories about his mother run the gamut from elaborate parties, road trips, gatherings with friends as well as all types of weather-produced problems, like hurricanes.


First Williamsburg Capitol (1705–1747) Edit

In 1698, the Capitol building in Jamestown, Virginia burned. Following the fire, the government of Virginia decided to relocate inland, away from the swamps at the Jamestown site.

A better Capitol building was constructed by Henry Cary, a contractor finishing work on the College of William and Mary's Wren Building (the legislature's temporary home). Begun in 1701, the Capitol was completed in 1705, although the legislature moved in during 1704. [2] In 1714, the Governor's Palace was constructed between the College and the Capitol.

The Colonial Capitol was a two-story H-shaped structure, functionally two buildings connected by an arcade. Each wing served one of the two houses of the Virginia legislature, the Council and the House of Burgesses. The first floor of the west building was for the General Court and the colony's secretary, the first floor of the east for the House of Burgesses and its clerk. [3] As a result of the fires that had destroyed several prior Virginia capitols, Cary built the first Capitol without fireplaces. In 1723, chimneys were added for fireplaces to help keep the Capitol dry. On January 30, 1747, the building burned and only some walls and the foundation remained. [2]

Second Williamsburg Capitol (1753–1779) Edit

Governor William Gooch urged that the Capitol be rebuilt, but many legislators preferred relocating the government to a city more accessible to trade and navigation. In the meantime, the burgesses met again at the nearby Wren Building. Finally, in November 1748, reconstruction of the Capitol was approved (by only two votes: 40 to 38). The burgesses met inside for the first time on November 1, 1753.

In this building, Patrick Henry delivered his Caesar-Brutus speech against the Stamp Act on May 29, 1765. Henry, George Washington, George Mason, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, and others played parts in the legislative maneuvering that ended in revolution. As fighting began in the North, the building featured discussion concerning Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights, his Virginia constitution, and Jefferson's first attempt at a bill for religious freedom.

On June 29, 1776, Virginians declared their independence from Great Britain and wrote the state's first constitution, thereby creating an independent government four days before Congress voted for the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia on July 4.

The Capitol at Williamsburg served until the American Revolutionary War began, when Governor Thomas Jefferson urged it that the capital be relocated to Richmond. The building was last used as a capitol on December 24, 1779, when the Virginia General Assembly adjourned to reconvene in 1780 at the new capital, Richmond.

After the capital of Virginia was moved to Richmond in 1779, the old Capitol was used for a wide range of purposes, from a court to a school. The east wing was removed around 1800 because of its dangerous condition, leaving only the west wing standing for the next 30 years, until it was destroyed by fire in 1832, leaving no trace of the original structure, except for the outline of its foundations. [4]

The building that stands now in Colonial Williamsburg is the third Capitol on that site. Early in the 20th century, the Reverend Dr. W. A. R. Goodwin undertook restoration of historic Bruton Parish Church (c. 1711) where he was rector. His dreams of restoring other buildings of the old colonial capital city led to his affiliation with Standard Oil heir and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. and the creation of Colonial Williamsburg. The reconstructed Capitol and Governor's Palace join the Wren Building of the College of William & Mary as the three main structures of the restoration.

The architects charged with the restoration of Williamsburg chose to reconstruct the first capitol based on superior documentation of its design, including in the 1929-discovered Bodleian Plate, and its unique architecture compared to the second Capitol. [2] [3] Later architectural historians have since shown that parts of the reconstruction, chiefly its foundations, were embellished or conjectural and were based more on contemporary architectural ideas than actual historic evidence. However, the reconstructed Capitol is now itself valued as a Colonial Revival interpretation and work of architecture. [3]

Early on Williamsburg - History

The city of Williamsburg served as the capital of the Virginia Colony for most of the 1700s. It was an important city during the growing years of Colonial America.

In 1638, the small town of Middle Plantation was founded a few miles away from Jamestown. The location was better than Jamestown in that the ground was higher and it wouldn't become swampy during the summer. In 1676, the city served as the temporary capital of Virginia after much of Jamestown was burned during Bacon's Rebellion.

The Capitol Building
Photo by Ducksters

William and Mary College

In 1694, the College of William and Mary was formed at Middle Plantation. It was named after the English monarchs at the time King William III and Queen Mary II. Many famous patriots and leaders attended William and Mary including Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Marshal, and Peyton Randolph (first president of the Continental Congress).

When the statehouse in Jamestown burned down again in 1698, the House of Burgesses once again moved to Middle Plantation. They enjoyed the higher ground, better climate, and the facilities of the school nearby. In 1699, they decided to move the capital of Virginia permanently from Jamestown to Middle Plantation. They also decided to change the name to Williamsburg in honor of King William III.

The city of Williamsburg was a "planned city." The main street through the city (Duke of Gloucester Street) was widened and cleared. Buildings and streets were built according to a plan including the capital building, courthouse, the magazine, the church, and the market square. Soon the city became the center of politics, trade, and education for the colony of Virginia.

Reenactment of the Gunpowder Incident
Photo by Ducksters

In 1775, tensions were mounting between the American colonists and Britain. The Revolutionary War was about to begin. One of the early conflicts in the war was the Gunpowder Incident in Williamsburg. It started when the governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, seized the gunpowder from the magazine at Williamsburg and had it moved to a British ship. Led by Patrick Henry, a small militia force marched to the governor's house demanding the return of the gunpowder. Although the incident was settled peacefully, Dunmore eventually fled Virginia and lost control of the colony.

Williamsburg was an important city during the American Revolution. It was home to the Virginia Conventions including the one where Patrick Henry gave his famous "Give me liberty, or give me death!" speech. It also was where General George Washington assembled the Continental Army in preparation for the siege of Yorktown. In 1780, the capital of Virginia was moved from Williamsburg to the city of Richmond in order to be further away from a possible British attack.

Restoration as Colonial Williamsburg

Today, much of downtown Williamsburg has been restored with the financial support of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The area is called Colonial Williamsburg. You can visit the city and see many of the same buildings from the 1700s including the capitol, courthouse, governor's palace, magazine, and taverns. There are also actors dressed up throughout the city reenacting the times and playing different roles such as Patrick Henry, wigmakers, blacksmiths, and militiamen. You can go inside many of the buildings with a purchased ticket.

Teaching Colonial History: Why It's Important

Teaching about the colonial period is a part of the curriculum nationwide. Students learn that Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans populated the 13 colonies that would become the United States. Each group faced its own unique challenges, which informed its histories and traditions. But some students may wonder: If these events took place so long ago that the United States wasn’t even a country yet, why is it important to learn the story of the 13 colonies?

Five Reasons Colonial History Is Important:

  1. To connect to our communities: The 13 colonies were the basis of the first states that made up America. Many of the towns and institutions colonists established, such as churches and schools, are still around today.
  2. To identify with our fellow Americans: The people who populated the colonies—Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans—came from many backgrounds and traditions. In modern America, diversity and multiculturalism are still an essential part of our society.
  3. To understand our cultural heritage: The customs and traditions developed by the colonists, Native Americans, and Africans during this time are still very much a part of modern America. Significant milestones within our histories of art and music can be traced to contributions from all three groups, while the impact that all players had on the development of industry cannot be overstated.
  4. To discover the events that shaped our country: Although colonists came from many places, America became their home. The struggle to resist tyrannical efforts by the British Parliament would lead to the American Revolution, which yielded the Constitution of the United States and other important documents and principles.
  5. To trace modern democracy back to America’s founding principles: America wouldn’t exist if not for the colonists’ spirit of independence. Our nation’s government was formed in this era, and your class’s understanding of modern democracy will benefit from a clear portrait of how we got here.

Students learn about the importance of this pivotal time in U.S. history in the classroom—but they can also experience it firsthand. Colonial Williamsburg offers them the unique opportunity to witness events leading up to and occurring during the American Revolution. Students can speak with actors portraying our nation’s Founding Fathers and gain new insights into the formation of our country.

How can you make your next field trip truly revolutionary? Watch this video to find out.

A visit to Colonial Williamsburg offers something for schoolchildren of all ages no matter what you teach.


On this page, we examine the history of gentrification in Williamsburg, starting from globalization and the neighborhood’s consequent deindustrialization in the 1980s to new condominiums being built for a new generation of “gentrifiers,” aiming to start new families and raise them where they are.

During the 1980s and the 1990s, Williamsburg began to transform from a notoriously dangerous area to a place full of opportunities for young people, especially artists. Sociologist Jason Patch writes that “into the early 1990s widespread homelessness, public drug dealing and prostitution filled the neighborhood,” while media such as the New York Times and New York “began hyping the neighborhood…as ‘The New Bohemia,’ as an extension of Manhattan’s underground hipness” (173). In her book Uncommon Spaces, sociologist Sharon Zukin notes the “visible presence” of artists in Williamsburg in the 1990s, “in an area not previously known for the arts” (43). Artists began to move to Williamsburg due to its proximity to Manhattan – the L train on Bedford Avenue is only a stop away from Manhattan – and its cheap rent offered to people who wanted to be close to the city, most likely young artists and entrepreneurs. What occurred in Williamsburg confirms Jane Jacobs’s that “old buildings with low rents will act as incubators of new activities,” according to Zukin (38). The “old buildings,” such as the Domino Sugar factory, housed manufacturing jobs for Williamsburg’s working class for many decades, and as globalization rose and jobs were exported overseas, these factories were shut down, leading to lots of empty space throughout Williamsburg.

The initial process of gentrification in Williamsburg stemmed from a lack of systemic private and public investment, but as time progressed, real estate developers and government played a greater role in gentrifying Williamsburg. Urban geographer Winifred Curran notes that the displacement of places such as manufacturing factories and small businesses “is the result of speculative real estate pressure that is tied directly to gentrification” (2). She expands on this point, saying that displacement “is an active process undertaken by real estate developers, policy-makers, landlords, and even individual gentrifiers” (2). Thus, there is a contrast between the absence of investment in the first wave of gentrification and the government and private involvement in later waves. This can be seen in other New York neighborhoods such as SoHo and the West Village, and, of course, in Williamsburg, where places like the Domino Sugar factory are being converted from their deindustrialized status to a modern “residential development,” as a waterfront with “glass-and-masonry towers, stores and a quarter-mile esplanade,” according to an article from the New York Times in 2010.

Domino Factory - a symbol of "old" Williamsburg

A landmark in recent gentrification in Williamsburg is the rezoning efforts by Mayor Bloomberg’s City Planning Commission in 2005, aimed to encourage more high-scale residential developments. After only three years, luxury condominiums were fully developed on the waterfront, although the housing crisis starting in 2007 affected its success.

East River Park, 2006 to 2009.

Now, restaurants, artists’ unique storefronts, and other businesses exist along Bedford Avenue as the first business signaling gentrification from the 1990s. Williamsburg has become a place that “people come to…where residents don’t have a traditional urban village way of life but are very proud of the ‘authenticity’ of the neighborhood” (Zukin 60). People are starting to settle down in Williamsburg, as they have in other gentrified neighborhoods throughout New York City, and the ‘authenticity’ – the gritty, deindustrial, and ethnically mixed image of Williamsburg – has changed to be hipster, post-industrial, and mostly white. While the gentrifiers and hipsters of Williamsburg admire their deindustrialized environment and use it to their business advantage, they are clearly different from their predecessors.

Actor Danny Hoch wrote and starred in a one-man play called Taking Over about gentrification, and he summed up his feelings about it in three words in an interview with the New York Times: “It feels unfair.” To many former and current Williamsburg residents, it does feel unfair, that their neighborhood has changed, with upper-class Whites representing the new image of Williamsburg, often displacing ethnic businesses elsewhere, putting them out of business completely, or indirectly leading these businesses to benefit economically. Regardless of how you want to interpret these changes, they are certainly here to stay, and a new, “authentic” image of Williamsburg will continue to project itself to the world.

Watch the video: Historic Farming