Williamsburg, historic city (1990 pop. 11,530), seat of James City co., SE Va., on a peninsula between the James and York rivers; settled 1632 as Middle Plantation, laid out and renamed 1699, inc. 1722. It is a popular tourist attraction and is also important as the seat (since 1693) of The College of William and Mary. Electrical goods and metal, paper, and plastic products are manufactured; Eastern State Hospital (1773) also contributes to the economy.
Williamsburg became the temporary capital after the burning of Jamestown (1676) during Bacon's Rebellion, then served as capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1779. It was the scene of important conventions during the movement for American independence, but it declined after the capital was moved (1779) to Richmond. In the Peninsular campaign of the Civil War a rearguard action was fought there (May 5, 1862) between retreating Confederates and McClellan's forces.
In 1926, with the financial support of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a large-scale restoration of the city was begun; 700 buildings were removed, 83 were renovated, and 413 were rebuilt on their original sites. Williamsburg has had its colonial appearance recreated, with green formal gardens and many craft shops where revived trades are practiced. Among the historic structures are the colonial capitol (reconstructed); Raleigh Tavern (reconstructed), rendezvous of Revolutionary patriots; the courthouse of 1770; the Bruton Parish Church (1710–15); the governor's palace (reconstructed); the public gaol; and the magazine. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller museum houses a noted folk art collection. The Colonial Parkway passes through Williamsburg, connecting it with the Jamestown and Yorktown sections of Colonial National Historical Park (see National Parks and Monuments, table).
See J. A. Osborne, Williamsburg in Colonial Times (1936, repr. 1972); J. J. Walket, Jr., and T. K. Ford, A Window on Williamsburg (rev. ed. 1983).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.