Architecture Around the World

Governor's Palace
Williamsburg, Virginia




Three contractors, the first of whom was Henry Cary


Colonial / Georgian

TEXT Beneath Illustrations

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Colonial / Georgian style. Five bays. Three floors of about 3,380 square feet each

Iron balcony at the central upper window



Flemish bond brickwork with glazed headers


Coat of arms in tympanum

Flemish bond brickwork on wall


Urn- detail from previous photo

Newel post detail and balusters

Note acanthus leaf ornamentation on bracket

Swan's neck pediment

Modillions and rosettes alternate under cornice

Paneled jamb

Greek fret molding under window

Iron stove

Iron stove - acanthus leaves

Iron stove - urn ..... at bottom: gougework/ribbing



Governor Nott persuaded Virginia General Assembly to authorize construction

The governor's house was the third great public building of Williamsburg, after the Wren Building and the Capitol. Governor Edward Nott persuaded the General Assembly to authorize its construction with an act passed October 23, 1705, but appropriation of the £3,000 needed to get started was withheld until June 22 of the following year.

First called "Palace" in 1714

The word "Palace" was first used for the governor's house about 1714. When all was at last done, the building measured up to the name compared to other colonial structures, but not to European palaces. There stood a five-bay Georgian home laid up in Flemish bond with glazed headers and rubbed brick window jambs and lintels. It had three floors of about 3,380 square feet each, a cellar with 11 wine bins, a row of dormers in the roof, and an iron balcony at the central upper window. Just inside the gate guarded by a stone unicorn on one side and a stone lion on the other stood two one-and-one-half story

25 servants and slaves tended the property

Three surviving inventories of personal property attest to the elaborate furnishings of a household that required 25 servants and slaves to tend. There were butlers, footmen, cooks, laundresses, gardeners, maids, grooms, and laborers. When Governor Botetourt died, the cellars held 2,820 bottles of Madeira, hock, small beer, strong beer, porter, claret, burgundy, and port. He told a deathbed visitor that he was leaving his Palace comforts "with as much Composure as I enjoyed them."

Governors who lived in the original palace included:

* Alexander Spotswood
* Francis Fauquier
* Norborne Berkeley, baron de Botetourt
* Hugh Drysdale
* William Gooch
* Robert Dinwiddie
* John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore
* Patrick Henry
* Thomas Jefferson

Government moved to Richmond, ending governor's residence

Thomas Jefferson succeeded Henry in office and residence. In 1779 he drew a floor plan of the Palace, perhaps with a view to remodeling. The government, however, moved the next year to Richmond, and nothing came of the plans.

The Palace served again as a hospital in the fall of 1781, this time for American soldiers wounded in the Battle of Yorktown. Some 156 of them, and two women, are buried in the garden.

Building destroyed by fire in December 1781

In ruins from a fire, the site passed to the College of William & Mary

The site passed to the College of William and Mary after the war. Two school buildings stood on the Palace grounds, just in front of the buried foundations, when Colonial Williamsburg purchased the property in 1928. Archaeological investigation began at 8 a.m. on June 30, 1930. Nearly two years of work uncovered the original footings, the cellars, debris from the fire, and a section of original wall.

The artifacts, Jefferson's drawings, General Assembly records, and a copperplate engraving discovered in England's Bodleian Library in 1929 were employed in faithful reconstruction of the original buildings. They opened as an exhibition on April 23, 1934. In 1981, inventories of Governor Botetourt's furnishings enabled curators to replicate the interior decor of the 18th century with precision.

Text source: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Governor's Palace

Photos and their arrangement © 2004 Chuck LaChiusa
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