Governor’s Palace

Williamsburg, Virginia | C.1706

Photo Credit: @oscillatingchristal

The former home of Royal Governors of the Virginia Colony, as well as Thomas Jefferson at one time, the Governor’s Palace had a complicated life before it burned down in 1781. It would be buried underground for nearly 150 years before being painstakingly reconstructed in one of the first archaeological digs to use artifacts to inform restoration.

When Williamsburg was declared the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699, Lt. Governor Edward Nott convinced the House of Burgess to build an official residence fit for the ruling class of England. Nott would die before the structure was completed, but his predecessors carried on the project until the capital was relocated to Richmond during the onset of the American Revolution.

Fast forward to 1930; archaeologist Prentice Duell began excavation of the site using three reliable guides:
1. a floor plan drawn by Thomas Jefferson
2. a copper plate depicting the façade, and
3. a map of Williamsburg from October 1781, drawn by a French army engineer just prior to the devastating fire.

Duell collected more than 50 crates of artifacts in a pioneering approach to obtaining clues about the aesthetics of the palace. Excavation workers unearthed nearly 140 bodies, eventually identified as Revolutionary War veterans killed by disease during the palace’s short service as a military hospital.

Four years after the dig, the house and outbuildings opened as an exhibit, elegantly furnished with British and American antiques. Unfortunately, they had it wrong, and the rooms held little resemblance to their 18th century counterparts. Updated in the 1980s, curators were able to more accurately replicate the interior decor, and exhibits now reflect the life of two different colonial governors.

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