December 2, 2013
In Colonial Williamsburg, even cemeteries bring history to life
Colonial Williamsburg brings to life the founders and the everyday people who made the American Revolution. But what of the dead? Williamsburg also contains scattered cemeteries of various sizes. Watch some highlights in our new video tour. First, a little background.
Many eminent figures in Williamsburg’s history, including Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, were buried on their own property. Other notables, including Francis Fauquier, Virginia’s lieutenant governor for a decade before his death in 1768, are buried under the floor of Bruton Parish on Duke of Gloucester Street. Outside, the church’s crowded cemetery dates to the 1630s. Time has dulled many markings, but there remains a trove of tributes and symbols, from angels and cherubs to family coats of arms.
Looking around, you’ll come across people of Williamsburg from all walks of life: John Blair, a signer of the Constitution; and John Greenhow, who owned the store bearing his name almost directly across the street.
Ordinary townspeople commonly would have had simple wooden crosses erected to mark their resting place, but wealthier residents are memorialized with stone markers or with elaborate monuments called table tombs. As with other burials there, bodies would have been interred four to six feet underground.
The Historic Area also includes seven family graveyards. At one, the top of a cross rises above a brick enclosure between the Capitol and the Secretary’s Office. Behind the locked gate are 10 members of the Jones family. Just north of Bassett Hall lies the Waller graveyard, where more than 30 descendants of that family are buried. A 10-foot tall monument labeled “Mercer” rises in the center of the yard. As with so many older cemeteries, this one marks the final resting place of children who succumbed to one of the deadly diseases that were such a normal feature of life for past generations.
Behind the Coke-Garret house at the east end of Nicholson Street, a brick wall conceals a single 1854 gravestone. In all likelihood, others also were buried in this family plot, but the markers have been lost.
Williamsburg’s cemeteries are just one more piece of the rich tapestry of this town’s history, and worth a few minutes’ reflection when you visit.