A walking tour of Colonial Williamsburg



As you might recall, we’re big fans of walking tours.  Instead of doing the Diva Dash I had originally planned for a Saturday in late September (which was based on us being in D.C. at that time, rather than staying in Virginia), we were able to score last-minute spots on a walking tour of Colonial Williamsburg, put on by, appropriately enough, Williamsburg Walking Tours.

Colonial Williamsburg is 301-acre living history museum.  It features 88 original Colonial-period buildings and was completely restored by the John D. Rockefeller Foundation in the late 1920s.  We had Trish, our knowledgeable and friendly guide, to ourselves as we started at the corner of the Palace Green by the Bruton Parish Church.  The Palace Green is a stretch of lawn, with trees lining the perimeter, that runs north from Duke of Gloucester Street up the center of Palace Street, with the Governor’s Palace at the far end and historic houses on either side.

There’s obviously too much history in Colonial Williamsburg for me to come close to capturing it all in this post, but here are a few interesting tidbits that we learned from Trish.



The Father of Colonial Williamsburg

The Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin was rector of Bruton Parish Church.  As a His full name was Williams Archer Rutherfoord Goodwin, but he preferred to go by his initials.   Commonly known as “the Father of Colonial Williamsburg”, Goodwin spearheaded the preservation of and restoration of Colonial Williamsburg by successfully soliciting funding from John D. Rockefeller, Jr.


George Wythe House

The First American Lawyer

One of Trish’s favorite Colonial Williamsburg’s characters is George Wythe, and when we learned about him, we could understand why.  Wythe was the first professor of law at the College of William and Mary, which was the first law school in North America.  He was also a legal adviser and law teacher to Thomas Jefferson.  Even more notable is that he was a signer of the Declaration of American Independence and served briefly at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.  He opposed slavery and was considered a great statesman.  Wythe’s accomplishments in life were somewhat overshadowed in death, however, because he was allegedly murdered by his grand nephew George Wythe Swinney.  The teenage Swinney supposedly poisoned his grand uncle to get his inheritance, but thankfully Wythe lingered long enough to change his will before he passed away.  In an unexpected twist, William Wirt and Edmund Randolph, who are two of George Wythe’s closest friends and colleagues, represented Swinney at the trial. Wythe’s friends are the same people who help get his murderer acquitted. Wythe, though, would probably have been okay with that because they were following the law, which he held so dear.




Ludwell-Paradise House

Loony Lucy Ludwell

The Ludwell-Paradise House dates back to 1755 and is a lovely example of Georgian architecture.  It was once home to Philip Ludwell III, a prominent member of London society who held a seat in the Governor’s Council. His daughter, Lucy, inherited the house when he passed away.  Lucy married John Paradise.   Although the pair traveled in the highest social circles in London, Lucy was an unconventional character in Williamsburg. Considered mentally unstable, she’d confuse herself for royalty, strutting down Duke of Gloucester Street with servants in tow, greeting her “subjects” with a royal wave.  This would apparently go on for hours.  She was also known for stealing dresses and compulsively bathing multiple times a day.  In 1812, Lucy’s delusions of grandeur and odd behavior landed her in the Public Hospital, where she died two years later.



A curious contraption

The colonists hung clay jugs and bottles near the eves of their homes so that birds would nest inside. In exchange for shelter, hungry birds provided free pest control by eating bothersome insects.


Sugar blues

During the Colonial period, refined white sugar came in the shape of cones and was wrapped in blue paper, hence the blue cones over the door of this shop.


Scaling the roof

In colonial times, roofs were equipped with attached ladders so that they could be more easily scaled in case of fire.


Where the best people resorted

Jane Vobe opened the King’s Arms Tavern in 1772, dubbing it the place “where the best people resorted.”  We didn’t dine there, but we’re told, if you do, your server will be dressed in 18th century fashion, ready to fill your table with Colonial eats such as game pie and a chop of shoat.


The shot heard round the town

Palmer House is one of Colonial Williamsburg’s original 88 18th-century buildings and was known back in the day as the W.W. Vest House.  The regularly spaced niches in the Flemish-bond brick façade are called putlog holes.  These holes supported the scaffolding as masons laid brick.  In most cases, putlog holes were filled with mortar when construction was complete. Today, the putlog holes in the Palmer House remain open until the holiday season when they’re filled with apples, a tradition that started in 1953.

The Palmer House served as the Union headquarters for the provost marshal (military police) in Williamsburg’s occupation during the Civil War.  In 1863, the Provost Marshal was newly commissioned, 19-year-old Lieutenant William W. Disoway.  On October 13, a Private William Boyle, of the lieutenant’s own unit, was arrested for disorderly conduct –  apparently drunk and surly – as he tried to force his way into Williamsburg past a sentry. He was escorted to Lieutenant Disoway, who was sitting in the front doorway of Mr. Vest’s house, reading a newspaper.  Disoway ordered Private Boyle taken back to camp to sober up and return in the morning. Instead, Boyle pulled out his service revolver and threatened to shoot the Lieutenant. Disoway tried to keep the situation calm by ordering the surrounding guards not to fire their muskets, but Boyle shot Disoway anyway, killing him instantly.


The Capitol Building stands at the east end of the Duke of Gloucester Street and was the last stop on our tour with Trish.  The current structure is the third capitol in that spot; it’s a complete rebuilding on the earlier foundations of the original structure.  The original structure was started in 1701 when the colonial Capitol was moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg, or Middle Plantation as it was first called.  Construction was finished four years later.  The capitol was subsequently moved to Richmond in 1780 during the Revolutionary War.  After two fires ravaged the building, Trish told us, the secretary insisted on having a separate building to work in.

Trish did such a good job on our daytime walking tour that we went back that night for her ghost tour.  We highly recommend taking a Williamsburg Walking Tour when you’re visiting Colonial Williamsburg, and be sure to ask for Trish as your guide.


3 responses »

  1. Pingback: Maurizio’s | Adventures in a Hallway

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