Arts & Tradition

The Governor’s Palace at Colonial Williamsburg: Witness to the Birth of America 

Larger than life: Art that inspires us through the ages
BY James H Smith TIMEJuly 31, 2022 PRINT

In the 18th century, the Governor’s Palace was considered the most significant building in Williamsburg, the then-capital of Virginia. It was considered by many to be the capital of all the American colonies. Construction on the building began in 1706.

The building had many roles. It was the official residence of the governor in a manner fitting his position as representative of the English crown. It served as the designation for formal receptions, where colonists could develop a relationship with the colonial administration. It also served as a model for other important structures in the colonies, such as the large plantation houses in Virginia and Silliman College at Yale University in the Colony of Connecticut.

The Governor’s Palace was home to seven royal governors and two post-colonial elected governors: Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. In 1780,  Jefferson, the last governor to reside in Williamsburg, moved the capital to Richmond, where he planned a capitol building underpinned by neoclassical ideals.

The original Governor’s Palace burned in late 1781; it had been used as a hospital for wounded American soldiers after the Battle of Yorktown.

In the early 20th century, 150 years later, the family of John D. Rockefeller Jr. led an effort to recreate all of Colonial Williamsburg on its original site, to share insight about America’s origins. In this setting, the Governor’s Palace was rebuilt, based on archaeological and historical evidence and references. It was completed in 1930 and opened as a living museum, part of what Williamsburg has become today: the largest outdoor museum in the world and a real living town showcasing the various trades, arts, crafts, and traditions of freedom and democracy of Colonial Williamsburg and early America.

Epoch Times Photo
The front view of the Governor’s Palace. An ornate brick archway gives visitors entry to the grounds. The building is now on the National Register of Historic Places. (Larry Pieniazek/CC BY 2.5)
Epoch Times Photo
The entry hall is often where guests would wait until the governor was ready to receive them. It is powerfully decorated with muskets, pistols, and swords, conveying the might of the crown in the colony. (J.H. Smith/Cartio)
Epoch Times Photo
The display of guns and swords continue to decorate the walls in the first floor hallway and up the stairs. Walls of American Walnut give the room a reddish tone, while the pine floors lighten the effect. (J.H. Smith/Cartio)
Epoch Times Photo
The Middle Room was where important business was conducted. Deep burgundy leather hangings on the wall and burgundy and blue rug, create a formal mood. (The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)
Epoch Times Photo
At various times, the governor’s wife, some of their children, or the children’s governess would have occupied this room. Private rooms often carried less decorative detail as seen in the spare cornice near the ceiling and the frame of the fireplace. (J.H. Smith/Cartio)
Epoch Times Photo
Social engagements and other business would also occur in the first floor dining room. George Washington was a frequent visitor. The wood paneling, cornice and pilasters, and flattened columns are painted in a neutral cream. Curtains in a muted blue grace large windows that reach the ceiling. The mantel and mantel shelf of Italian marble in a delicate mauve frames the fireplace. Built-in shelves in a corner display items needed for the dining room. (J.H. Smith/Cartio)
Epoch Times Photo
The ballroom and the supper room (not shown) were added in 1750 to accommodate receptions at the Palace. Musicians playing piano forte and harpsichord entertained the gatherings. The “warming machine,” on the right, warmed the room.  The colors were inspired by English royal chambers. A Baroque pedimented doorway leads to the supper room. (J.H. Smith/Cartio)
Epoch Times Photo
As the evening progressed during Palace receptions in the ballroom, the doors would open into the supper room, an English term for a place of late-night dining. The room is bathed in bright green and a Chinese decorative element has been introduced with the curved pagoda pediments. (The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)
Epoch Times Photo
On the roof of the Palace, a balustrade and hand railing protects visitors from the steep roofline, lined at the end by a symmetrical row of small windows. The elaborate doorway and pediment at the north façade express the regal character of the Governor’s Palace in 1750, as they lead from the main building to the garden. (J.H. Smith/Cartio)
Epoch Times Photo
The cupola, or tower, gave the Palace deserved significance and was at the time a popular device for admitting light deep into the center of a house. The elongated single story that reaches into the garden is the 1750 ballroom and supper room addition. The formal gardens are seen here in the lower right and the town green leads from the Palace towards the main street seen here in the upper left. (J.H. Smith/Cartio)
Epoch Times Photo
The garden is ordered in a formal layout with symmetrically linear garden beds. The five to seven-foot-tall pines on either side of the central bed populate the garden at regular intervals creating depth in the space. The rhythm continues through to the fence posts, at the rear, topped with urns. (J.H. Smith/Cartio)
Epoch Times Photo
The maze, located towards the rear of the garden, is where children and adults alike would enjoy the outdoors during their stay at the Governor’s Palace. (J.H. Smith/Cartio)
You May Also Like