Settled by colonists in 1632, Williamsburg was founded as the new capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699, in place of the existing capital at the time, Jamestown. Prior to the arrival of colonists, the area that is now known as Williamsburg was part of the Powhatan Confederacy. By the 1630s the English settlements had grown so much that the majority of the Powhatan tribes left their nearby villages and moved farther inland.
Laid out and designed under the supervision of Governor Francis Nicholson, Williamsburg was one of the first cities in America that was planned. The intension of the Governor was to create a well-ordered city that could hold a large population and function as a capital city for the colonies. Because of this Williamsburg became home to the oldest legislative assembly in the New World.
After construction began the city grew rapidly and became the center of political, religious, economic and social life in Virginia.
Home to the countries second oldest college, the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg was also known to be a center of learning. Founded in 1693, before Williamsburg even became the capital city, the College of William and Mary is the alma mater of many notable historical figures including Presidents Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler and James Monroe. In 1773, Williamsburg also became home to America’s first hospital for treating mental illness.
In 1781 General George Washington assembled the Continental Army in the city of Williamsburg. Despite fears that Williamsburg would be destroyed by the British, Williamsburg remained intact and functional during the American Revolutionary War. No longer the capital city, Williamsburg was reduced in importance after the war and for some time things were quiet.
When the American Civil War broke out the Confederate Army took a large majority of the student body from the College of William and Mary for enlistment. This forced the collge to temporarily close its doors and the building was used a barracks and later a hospital for the Confederate Army. The battle of Williamsburg took place on May 5, 1862 and the Confederate defenders managed to hold off Union soldiers, However, the next day Williamsburg fell to the Union Army. During the Union occupation the city of Williamsburg sustained heavy damage.
After the war, until the early 20th century, Williamsburg was a quiet college town. The eventual restoration of Williamsburg as living history museum was the idea of a local reverend named Dr. W.A.R Goodwin. Initially his goal was to save his historic church, which he accomplished by 1907. However, after a short absence from Williamsburg, Goodwin returned in 1923 determined to restore the city on a larger scale.
With the support of wealthy benefactors like John. D. Rockefeller and his wide Abby, Goodwin was able to begin the restoration of a 301 acre area in the city that would become known as Colonial Williamsburg. The historic area would celebrate the patriots of early America and pay tribute to the lifestyles of the colonist that struggled to build a new country.