300 Years of Colonial Williamsburg History
Williamsburg was the capital of the Colony of Virginia from 1699 until 1780. Both the town and her citizens played a crucial role in the founding of our nation.
History of the Capital
Williamsburg was the thriving capital of Virginia when the dream of American freedom and independence was taking shape and the colony was a rich and powerful land stretching west to the Mississippi River and north to the Great Lakes. For 81 formative years, from 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg was the political, cultural, and educational center of what was then the largest, most populous, and most influential of the American colonies. It was here that the fundamental concepts of our republic — responsible leadership, a sense of public service, self-government, and individual liberty — were nurtured under the leadership of patriots such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and Peyton Randolph. Near the end of the Revolutionary War and through the influence of Thomas Jefferson, the seat of government of Virginia was moved up the peninsula to the safer and more centrally located city of Richmond. For nearly a century and a half afterward, Williamsburg was a simple, quiet college town, home of the College of William and Mary.
Learn more about the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.
The Critical Years: 20 years leading to the Revolution
From Revolution to Restoration
Restoration begins in 1926, the Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Bruton Parish Church, shared his dream of preserving the city's historic buildings with philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., and the restoration began. Dr. Goodwin feared that scores of structures that had figured in the life of the colony and the founding of the nation would soon disappear forever. Rockefeller and Goodwin began a modest project to preserve a few of the more important buildings. Eventually, the work progressed and expanded to include a major portion of the colonial town, encompassing approximately 85 percent of the 18th-century capital's original area. Mr. Rockefeller gave the project his personal leadership until his death in 1960, and it was his quiet generosity of spirit and uncompromising ethic of excellence that guided and still dominates its development. He funded the preservation of more than 80 of the original structures, the reconstruction of many buildings, and also the construction of extensive facilities to accommodate the visiting public. In the preservation of the setting of Virginia’s 18th-century capital, Mr. Rockefeller and Dr. Goodwin saw an opportunity to ensure that the courageous ideals of the patriots who helped create the American democratic system live on for future generations.
Learn more about the history of the Restoration.
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