Colonial Williamsburg — Governor’s Palace

The main entry into the Governor’s Palace is a regal chamber with 16-20 foot high ceiling. The walls are rich wood skillfully fashioned to display the colony’s armaments. The walls are covered with swords and muskets in stunning geometric patterns which are also very practical. In times of attack, these defenders can rapidly grab a weapon from the wall; we were told it took less than 15 minutes for all the weapons to be distributed. When no outward enemy was around, the Governor (who lived upstairs) could keep an eye on the armory and insure no revolts were afoot.

Cutlasses Swords






Re-enactors were available throughout the Palace and indeed, they appeared throughout many places in Colonial Williamsburg. In the ballroom, a musician played a minuet and explained how colonial musicians earned a living — offering lessons, playing at weddings and gatherings, and performing for the Governor’s celebrations. A musician’s life hasn’t changed much over the years.

Cellist in the Ballroom

Cellist in the Ballroom

Every feature of a Palace is designed to impress the visitor with the wealth and culture of the owner. Artwork on the walls, imported furniture, gold and silver ornamentation — all were stage dressing for a place of power. The level of detail in the Palace decoration is indicative:

  • Wall Color – Green was considered an aid to digestion, and deep colors were expensive. Thus only the wealthy could afford dark green walls in the dining room.
  • Wall Paper – Wall paper had to be imported from Europe and was very expensive. The seams of the wall paper were prominently displayed to make sure the visitor knew the walls were papered as opposed to merely painted.
  • Chair Rails and Moldings – Intricate details carved into the wooden trim around windows, doors and other features of a room had to be carved by hand. This labor intensive process was very expensive, and using such moldings throughout the Palace rooms emphasized the wealth and power of the resident.
  • Flourishes and Gold Trim – Additional artistic features with no purpose other than artistic beauty and display of wealth included carved flourishes in corners and gold-leafed wood trim edging the wall paper.
Decorative details in the Palace Dining Room

Decorative details in the Palace Dining Room

The private rooms of the Palace were much more practical and “plain”. The largest room was shared by the two daughters and their nursemaid/chaperone/teacher. The wife got a separate bedroom and another room that might be called a “family room” today, but it was more formal than today. This is where the children received their lessons, and the wife managed the operation of the Palace from here. The Governor also had a separate bedroom and an office. Some servants occupied the third floor areas.

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Mark Bobb

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