A Castle, a Crypt, and Court End

On Friday, the Colonial class visited Bacon’s Castle, one of the oldest (if not the oldest) surviving houses in America.  It is, as students quickly learned, neither a castle nor the abode of Nathaniel Bacon, but it is nevertheless a fascinating architectural artifact.  Students learn how to ‘read’ a house, looking for the ‘ghosts’ of structures or features that no longer exist.  It also displays a beautiful decorative feature known as a Flemish Gable, one of the very few left in America!

The reason we go to Bacon’s Castle, however, has to do with its namesake — Nathaniel Bacon.  While he never actually visited the house, some of his men stayed there during the famous Bacon’s Rebellion.  We discuss how Bacon’s Rebellion brought together white indentured servants and African American slaves in a common cause, and how the relationship between the two changed significantly after this event.

Bacon’s Castle and the James River ferry


Colonial also visited the Wren Building, right here on William & Mary’s campus!  This is the original building of the College.  It has burned down three times, but always returned as a symbol of the College’s and Williamsburg’s continued persistence on the American stage.



Over on the Civil War side, it was to Richmond we went, specifically to Monumental Church and the homes of two early figures in the American legal scene.  Monumental Church was built on the site of Richmond Theater, which burned down in a tragic fire in 1811.  Over 70 people were killed, including leading members of Richmond society, and they were buried in a crypt which now sits beneath the church.  We were fortunate enough to go down into the dusty, dank depths and pay homage to the various victims.

We then walked a couple of blocks to “Court End,” a Richmond neighborhood historically the home of — as you might guess — a considerable concentration of lawyers.  This included John Marshall, the pioneering Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and John Wickham, a prominent attorney best known for defending Aaron Burr at his treason trial.  These men occupied a very similar place in society, yet their homes and personalities could not have been more different.  Marshall, who made the Supreme Court the equal third branch of government, was a laid-back individual who cared little about fashion and appearance, and his home reflects this by being in a very practical Federal style.  John Wickham, actually a British Loyalist his entire life, made a great effort to remind people how wealthy and proper he was, and this extends to his remarkable Neoclassical house.  Marshall and Wickham, however, despite their differences, were fast friends and went about establishing their power via similar means: nineteenth-century social networking.

Monumental Church and Court End


Late in the afternoon, both sections were treated to a talk by Mr. Dave Brown of the Fairfield Foundation.  He introduced the students to Fairfield, a seventeenth-century plantation manor that students can actually help excavate!  More on that to come.

Published in: on July 2, 2012 at 9:49 am Comments (0)