Friday, April 26, 2013

Williamsburg: Part 5

Capitol, Secretary's Office, Gaol, Public Hospital


After Jamestown burned for the third time, the capital of Virginia was moved to Williamsburg, and in 1705 the first Capitol building was completed at the end of Duke of Gloucester Street. To lessen the risk of fire, the building was designed without fireplaces, and candles and pipes were prohibited. After complaints that the building was damp, fireplaces were added, and the building burned in 1747.

A replacement was completed in 1751, and it was in this building that Patrick Henry delivered his "Caesar-Brutus" speech against the Stamp Act in 1765. Meeting in this building in May 1776, the Virginia legislature voted to send instructions to its delegates at the Contintental Congress in Philadelphia. Following those instructions, Richard Henry Lee rose on June 7, 1776, and read the resolution, "That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved." John Adams seconded the motion, and after debating it, twelve of the thirteen colonies voted for independence on July 2 (not July 4), with New York abstaining until July 15.

After the capital was moved to Richmond in 1780, the Capitol building was used as a court, hospital, law school, grammar school, and female academy. The west wing was demolished in 1793. The east wing burned in 1832.

Despite the historical significance of the second Capitol building, Colonial Williamsburg reconstructed the 1705-1747 building since it was better documented and had more interesting architecture. A two-story H-building, the east and west wings are connected by an arcade.

Southern facade of the Capitol
The first floor of the west (left) wing housed the General Court and the colony's secretary while the House of Burgesses and its clerk occupied the east wing. Upstairs was the Council Chamber, Council clerk's office, lobby, three committee rooms, and a conference room.


House Chamber
Council Chamber
The western facade faces Duke of Gloucester Street
Balcony overlooking Duke of Gloucester Street
Colonial Williamsburg performs half of a two-part outdoor drama on alternating days dramatizing the events leading up to and following Independence. Each act is set outside relevent buildings with both the characters and the audience traveling down Duke of Gloucester Street for the next scene.

The crowd begins to gather in front of the Capitol
Arrival of the royal governor

Confrontation with Patriot leaders

Following the fire that destroyed the first Capitol building, an outbuilding was designed to house and protect government documents. Of brick with interior walls of plaster laid directly on brick and floors of stone, the only flammable material used was the wood in the chair rails. Four fireplaces were designed to prevent downdrafts from driving sparks into the room while removing humid air and protecting the documents and leather-bound books from mold and mildew.

Secretary's Office

The Gaol (pronounced jail) was built in 1704 to house prisoners awaiting trial, convicts awaiting branding, whipping, or hanging, debtors, runaway slaves, and sometimes the mentally ill. The word gaol comes from an old French form of a Latin word meaning cage. The building also included living quarters for the gaoler and his family.

Two additional debtors' cells were added 1715. Debtors were held twenty days at public expense. Afterward, their creditors were required to fund the cost of their incarceration at about five pounds of tobacco a day. In 1772, creditors became wholly responsible for the cost.


The Public Hospital consisted of 24 cells to secure and isolate the patients. Each cell had a barred door, a mattress, chamber pot, and an iron ring to which the patient's wrist or leg fetters were fastened. Treatments included restraint, drugs, plunge baths, bleeding, blistering salves, and the use of an electro-static machine. Two dungeon-type cells were later dug under the first floor "for reception of patients who may be in a state of raving phrenzy."

Treatment of mental disorders later began to shift toward "moral management" urging self-control and included work therapy and leisure activities. Rooms were furnished with beds.

Later called Eastern Lunatic Assylum, additional buildings were added as the number of patients grew. The original buiding was destroyed by fire in 1885.

Eastern State Hospital relocated to land provided byJohn D. Rockefeller Jr. in the 1960's, and the Public Hospital building was reconstructed in the 1980's.

Return to Part Two Governor's Palace, Palace Green, Robert Carter House
Return to Part Three George Wyth House
Return to Part Four Tucker House, Randolph House

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