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History >> Colonial America

Colonial America


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.

Middle Plantation

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.

Capital building in Williamsburg
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).

Capital of Virginia

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.

A Planned City

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.

The Gunpowder Incident in Williamsburn
Reenactment of the Gunpowder Incident
Photo by Ducksters
Gunpowder Incident

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.

American Revolution

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.

Interesting Facts about Williamsburg Activities To learn more about Colonial America:

Colonies and Places
Lost Colony of Roanoke
Jamestown Settlement
Plymouth Colony and the Pilgrims
The Thirteen Colonies

Daily Life
Clothing - Men's
Clothing - Women's
Daily Life in the City
Daily Life on the Farm
Food and Cooking
Homes and Dwellings
Jobs and Occupations
Places in a Colonial Town
Women's Roles
William Bradford
Henry Hudson
James Oglethorpe
William Penn
John Smith
Roger Williams

French and Indian War
King Philip's War
Mayflower Voyage
Salem Witch Trials

Timeline of Colonial America
Glossary and Terms of Colonial America

Works Cited

History >> Colonial America

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