Ornamental Separator

Custis Square Project

The Custis Square project provides an extraordinary opportunity to enhance our understanding of early American gardening, enslavement, colonial consumerism and 18th-century scientific thought. The project is focused on uncovering the remains of long-hidden landscapes, ornamental grounds and the places where enslaved men and women lived and worked on the property.

Williamsburg resident John Custis IV was known as a bold and scientifically curious gardener. He also owned more than 200 enslaved people who labored at his profitable tobacco plantations. His story includes threads that weave the history of Williamsburg together with events, contradictions and people that created a new American identity in the first half of the 18th century. Generous donor investment has provided support to undertake a five-year archaeological investigation of this four-acre site. Additional investment will allow us to recreate the gardens and outbuildings and interpret Custis Square for guests.

Archaeological investigation has been at the core of Colonial Williamsburg since 1928. Through active digs in the Historic Area, guests can watch the process, ask questions and learn through discoveries about past lives.

Custis Square is among the most significant projects we have recently embarked on. Two limited investigations of the site in the 1960s provided evidence of the property’s structures, including Custis’ Jacobean style house, a kitchen, a smokehouse and two wells. However, little was previously known about the garden, and even less is known about the people who worked it.

Through modern archaeological methods and analytical techniques, we are uncovering the stories of this once famous landscape, located on the corner of South Nassau and Francis streets. The first two years of this five-year project have been completed. We already have discovered evidence of structures and a 160-foot section of the gardens, south of the area on which/where the house was located.

The project also advances the Foundation’s educational focus. Earlier this month we launched a Public Archaeology Institute, working with 10 high school students. Through the institute they learned about archaeology process and interpretations, preparing them to create social media content about the project and lead site tours.

As we work through the five-year archaeology project, additional investment will provide support to recreate the garden and outbuildings and allow us to interpret this site, which promises much to reveal about the gardens and the enslaved and free people who worked on the property.

For more information, contact vpdevelopment@cwf.org.