Monday, April 22, 2013

Williamsburg: Part 2

Governor's Palace, Palace Green, Robert Carter House

A Governor's Palace was authorized to be built in Williamsburg in 1705. Foundations were laid in 1706, but construction was delayed until more money was appropriated the following year. By 1708, more money was needed. In 1710, the mansion was still uncompleted when the contractor was dismissed for accounting irregularities. He was replaced, more money was appropriated, then more money again in 1713. Governor Alexander Spotswood finally moved in three years later, but the house was still unfinished in 1718.

Government work never changes, does it?

Governor's Palace

The result was a brick five-bay three-story Georgian house with an eleven bin wine cellar. Two flanking buildings ran perpendicular to the main house. The gate was guarded by a stone unicorn on one side and a stone lion on the other. A formal garden was laid out behind the house with a large naturalistic park stretching off into the distance. Outbuildings included an underground icehouse, stable, carriage house, kitchen, scullery, laundry, and bathhouse. The estate required about 25 servants to run.

The palace was renovated in 1751, and then a rear wing was added the following year wth a ballroom and supper room.

During the Revolution, the palace was used as army headquarters and then a hospital before it was renovated for Governor Patrick Henry, who was followed in office by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, an architect, drew a floor plan of the house in 1779, possibly intending to remodel it, but the capital was moved to Richmond the following year.

The palace burned in 1781. In 1862, Union soldiers tore down the advance buildings to use the bricks for chimneys in their huts.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation purchased the property in 1928. Archaeological investigation uncovered the original footings, cellars, debris from the fire, and part of an original wall. The discoveries combined with Jefferson's drawings, government records, other artifacts, and an engraving were used to reconstruct the original buildings.

When Governor Francis Nicholson designed the city of Williamsburg in 1699, he placed special emphasis on using streets and spaces to denote the relationships of power and authority in the new capital. While the main east-west street, Duke of Gloucester, that ran to the Capitol that housed the people's representatives was 99 feet wide, the main north-south street that ran from the center of town to the home of the royal governor was twice that with twin avenues on either side of a lawn two blocks long. The wide-open space of the Palace Green provided an unobstructed view of the seat of royal power from a distance of 900 feet.

Governor's Palace at the end of the Palace Green
On the west side of Palace Green Street (left as you face the Palace), the Robert Carter House dominates the entire block.

The Robert Carter House. The house is green with white outbuildings.
Robert Carter III, born 1728, was the grandson of Robert "King" Carter, one of the richest and most influential figures in American colonial history. The Carters are one of the First Families of Virginia, with Robert "King" Carter being one of those ancestors that it seems like half the people in an early American history book is descended from. Hang on for more of his descendents later.

Robert Carter III was educated at the grammar school of the College of William and Mary, and then studied law at London's Inner Temple. He returned to settle at his father's estate, Nomini Hall, marrying Frances Trasker. The couple had 17 children.

Carter received an appointment from the king to serve on the Governor's Council in 1761 and the family moved to this home next to the Governor's Palace where they lived until 1772. They then moved back to Nomini where Carter focused on the management of his plantation, commuting from Westmoreland County for Council business until the royal council ceased to exist in July 1776.

Although Councillor Carter inherited hundreds of slaves, he became increasingly opposed to slavery, and in 1791 executed a deed of emancipation for more than 500 slaves.

Robert Carter house with Robert Carter's office to the right, connected by a corridor. It was unusual at the time for out buildings to be connected to the main house due to the risk of fire. 
A breezeway connects the Robert Cart House to the McKenzie Apothecary. The kitchen is behind the breezeway.

Front of Robert Carter House

Rear of Robert Carter House

Robert Carter Kitchen

Spacious Robert Carter back yard

Return to Part One
Continue to Part Three Wythe House
Continue to Part Four Tucker & Randolph Houses
Continue to Part Five Capitol, Secretary's Office, Gaol, Public Hospital

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