Colonial Williamsburg: Enactment of Conditions Leading to Revolution
Colonial Williamsburg is the historic district of the independent city of Williamsburg, Virginia. It consists of many of the buildings that, from 1699 to 1780, formed colonial Virginia's capital. The capital straddled the boundary of two of the original shires of Virginia, James City Shire (now James City County), and Charles River Shire (now York County). For most of the 18th century, Williamsburg was the center of government, education and culture in the Colony of Virginia.
Colonial Williamsburg is meant to be an interpretation of a Colonial American city, with exhibits including dozens of authentic or accurately-recreated colonial houses and relating to American Revolutionary War history. Prominent buildings in Colonial Williamsburg include the Raleigh Tavern, the Capitol, The Governor's Palace, and Bruton Parish Church. However, rather than simply an effort to preserve antiquity, the combination of extensive restoration and thoughtful recreation of the entire colonial town facilitates envisioning the atmosphere and understanding the ideals of 18th century American revolutionary leaders. It was here that Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Monroe, James Madison, George Wythe, Peyton Randolph, and dozens more helped mold democracy in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the United States.
The Historic Area is located just east of the College of William and Mary, founded at Middle Plantation in 1693, just prior to the establishment of the town as capital of Virginia and its renaming. The university's historic Wren Building stands at the west end of Duke of Gloucester Street.
Colonial Williamsburg is a major source of tourism to Williamsburg, as
well as a touchstone for many world leaders and heads of state,
including U.S. Presidents. The United States hosted the first World
Economic Conference at Colonial Williamsburg in 1983. It is the
centerpiece of the surrounding Historic Triangle of Virginia area,
which has become a popular tourist destination for visitors domestic
and foreign. The other two points of the Historic Triangle are
Jamestown and Yorktown.
Early in the 20th century, the restoration and recreation of Colonial Williamsburg, one of the largest historic restorations ever undertaken, was championed by the Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin and the patriarch of the Rockefeller family, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., along with the active participation of his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who wanted to celebrate the patriots and the early history of the United States.
Many of the missing Colonial structures were reconstructed on their original sites during the 1930s. Other structures were restored to the best estimates of how they would have looked during the eighteenth century, with all traces of later buildings and improvements removed. Dependency structures and animals help complete the ambiance. Most buildings are open for tourists to look through, with the exception of several buildings that serve as residences for Colonial Williamsburg employees.
Notable structures include the large Capitol and the Governor's Palace, each carefully recreated and landscaped as closely as possible to original 18th century specifications, as well as Bruton Parish Church and the Raleigh Tavern.
The major goal of the Restoration was not to merely preserve or recreate the physical environment of the colonial period, but to facilitate education about the origins of the idea of America, which was conceived during many decades before the American Revolution.
In this environment, Colonial Williamsburg strives to tell the story
of how diverse peoples, having different and sometimes conflicting
ambitions, evolved into a society that valued liberty and equality.