Archive for the ‘19th Century (Williamsburg)’ Category

Quarterpath Road W-42

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012


James Bray owned land nearby in Middle Plantation by the 1650s, and Quarterpath Road probably began as a horse path to one of Bray’s quarters or farm units. Over the years, the road was improved; it extended to Col. Lewis Burwell’s landing on the James River by the early eighteenth century. As Williamsburg grew, Quarterpath Road became one of the principal routes by which travelers and trade goods were brought into the colonial capital.

Further Research

Field school students excavating near a brick chimney foundation at the Quarterpath Road site

Very little remains in Williamsburg in regard to defenses during the Civil War. Quarterpath Road shows the placement of a Confederate line, however (Konstam, 91). It was located within site of one confederate fort named Fort Magruder. It was a highly defensible point which also had a view over the point where York and Hampton Roads met. The Confederate troops had set up earthworks of a sort to aid in defense, but the area had revolutionary works still remaining from years past. There were issues, though, such as the possibility of Williamsburg being completely bypassed via the James River (Dubbs, 69).

Depiction of a fight at Fort Magruder

General Magruder, of the fort, had requested for both reinforcements and a blockade of the James River with sunken ships. The second request did not happen, but Magruder and the Confederates did gain some reinforcements, as did the Federal troops under McClellan. Over the course of one month, the numbers of the Confederate and Union troops would increase to roughly 54,000 and 112,000 men, respectively. A series of small skirmishes would take place over the entirety of the Hampton Roads and Yorktown areas (Dubbs, 69-87). It was more or less a Union victory.

Middle Plantation was also an important place, though not for the same reasons. With the burning down of Jamestown when Nathaniel Bacon and his followers left, Virginia’s General Assembly met several times at the Middle Plantation. Of the members, one was James Bray whom served as a councilor that died in 1692. Two other major things that came about in Middle Plantation include the Bruton Parish Church, as well as the College of William and Mary (Morgan, 24).

Further Reading

Dubbs, Carol K. Defend This Old Town: Williamsburg During the Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press, 2002.

Konstam, Angus. Fair Oaks 1862. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003.

Morgan, Timothy E. Williamsburg: A City That History Made. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.

Photo Credits

“Depiction of a fight at Fort Magruder,” CWDG Online, (accessed May 2, 2012).

“Field school students excavating near a brick chimney foundation at the Quarterpath Road site,” The African Diaspora Archaeology Network, (accessed May 2, 2012).

Historical Marker “Quarterpath Road W-42,” courtesy of Lindsey Smith, 2012.


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Department of Historic Resources

Indian School at the College of William and Mary W-229

Thursday, March 15th, 2012


Using funds from the estate of British scientist Robert Boyle, the College of William & Mary established a school to educate young Indian men in 1697, just four years after the college’s founding. To encourage enrollment, in 1711 Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood began remitting tributes for area tribes who sent students. Students from tribes outside Virginia also enrolled. The Brafferton was constructed in 1723 to house the school, which provided education in reading and writing English, arithmetic and religion. The American Revolution caused British financial support to cease in 1776, and soon the school closed.

Further Research

Brafferton Building, College of William and Mary Campus

Upon Sir Robert Boyle’s death in 1691, funds from his estate were used to purchase Brafferton Manor in Yorkshire, which was then used to donate money from its revenue to support the newly formed College of William and Mary. There were two other buildings put up on the college grounds in addition to their center ground. The Brafferton Manor was then converted into a building to educate the local Native American populace in 1723 (Dickon and Nichol, 11-13). It would remain an active until the Revolutionary War, where funds had been cut and the school was closed down (Lancaster, 15).

Alexander Spotswood

The school had been made up of a mix of both Indian boys and white children from Williamsburg and the outlying tribes around the town. They would be taught reading, writing, and arithmetic (W&M Quarterly, Vol. IV, 73). The Native Americans would also be taught to spread the word of God and to aid in converting the other Native Americans around Williamsburg (History of the College of William and Mary, Vol. 258, 29). In the Civil War, both Confederate and Union forces used the Brafferton. Those who were at the college at the time had primarily joined the Confederate forces, and the Brafferton became a makeshift hospital and barracks. It was then taken over by Union troops in 1862 and would be held as a Union fort up to 1865 (Dickon and Nichol, 22).

In 1915, the Brafferton was used as college dormitories (Lancaster, 15) but it is currently being used as the offices of the president and the provost of the College of William and Mary (The College of William and Mary).

Further Reading

The College of William and Mary. “The Brafferton”. William and Mary. (Accessed April 12, 2012).

Dickon, Chris. The College of William and Mary. New York: Arcadia Publishing, 2007.

Lancaster, Robert A. Jr. Historic Virginia Homes and Churches. Philadelphia: JB Lippencott Company, 1915.

Randolph, JW, and English. The History of the College of William and Mary. Richmond: Main Street, 1874.

Tyler, Lyon G, edit. The William and Mary Quarterly, Volume XIV. Richmond: Whittet and Shepperson, Publishers, 1906.

Photo Credits

“Alexander Spotswood,” Encyclopedia Virginia, accessed May 2, 2012).

“Brafferton House,” The College of William and Mary, (accessed May 2, 2012).

Historical Marker “Indian School at the College of William and Mary W-229,” courtesy of Lindsey Smith, 2012.

 View on Google Maps

Department of Historic Resources link not available

First Balloon Flight in Virginia W-40

Thursday, March 15th, 2012


On May 7, 1801, J.S. Watson, a student at William and Mary, wrote a letter detailing attempts of flying hot air balloons on the Court House Green. The third balloon, decorated with sixteen stars, one for each of the existing states, and fueled with spirits of wine, was successful. Watson wrote, “I never saw so great and so universal delight as it gave to the spectators.” This is the earliest recorded evidence of aeronautics in the commonwealth.

Further Research

The Brothers De Montgolfier

In November of 1783, the Montgolfier brothers launched the first manned hot air balloon flight in France. It was a thirty minute flight that went over 8,000 feet into the air. This was an achievement that added to their prestige with their previous exploits, which explains why the French word for hot air balloon is la montgolfiere (Haven 2006, 76).

Another man who made his name with the use of the hot air balloon was Joseph Shelton Watson in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was born in 1780 and died at the age of 25 in September of 1805. A collection of his letters had been compiled from his time at the College of William and Mary between 1798 and 1801. In his letter that is dated April 1, 1801, he tells his brother David about his construction of a hot air balloon. “I have been engaged in for several evenings in the construction of an Air-balloon. I’ll let you know in my next whether it succeeds” (Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 166).

Balloon Flight

Ballooning had been an active hobby at the college. Even prior to JS Watson’s attempts to build a balloon, Thomas Jefferson had had brought back the concept with detailed explanations after the Montgolfier’s successes in France in the 1784. The Balloon Club had been organized under a science professor on campus known as Reverend James Madison. in the Spring of 1786, the club had begun to succeed in building their own hot air balloons (Crouch 1983, 99).

The College of William and Mary

“Who would have supposed a few years past that… the bold aeronaut should dare to attempt excursions in so rare a Medium, and even be able to direct his course nearer to the Wind than the best Sailing Vessels. It is probable that these aerostatic machines will in time be applied to other purposes than a mere Philosoph. Experiment, tho in that respect alone they are certainly very valuable. Yet I have seen no result of observations made by them, relating to several matters for which they seem particularly adopted. Such as the rate of decrease in the density of the atmosphere at different Elevations, also the Rate in which its Temperature varies, Meteors in general, Propagations of Sounds, Descent of bodies, etc., are all proper subject of Investigation, and which no doubt will be investigated as those Machines are more perfected (The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1921).”

Further Reading

Crouch, Tom D. The Eagle Aloft : Two Centuries of the Balloon in America. New York: Smithsonian Institute, 1983.

Haven, Kendall. One Hundred Greatest Science Inventions of All Time. Westport: Libraries Unlimited, 2006.

“Letters of Reverend James Madison, President of the College of William and Mary, to Thomas Jefferson,” William and Mary Quarterly (April 1925).

“Letters from William and Mary College, 1798-1801.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 29, no. 2 (April, 1921): 166-169. (accessed April 12, 2012).

Photo Credits

“Balloon Flights,” Circling Hawk Paragliding, (accessed May 2, 2012).

“The Brothers De Montgolfier,” Aeronautics Learning Laboratory for Science, Technology and Research, (accessed May 2, 2012).

“The College,” The College of William and Mary, (accessed May 2, 2012).

Historical Marker “First Balloon Flight in Virginia W-40,” courtesy of Lindsey Smith, 2012.

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Department of Historic Resources link not available