Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Revolutionary War Barracks Discovered by Colonial Williamsburg Archaeologists

Initial excavation of portions of the barracks site in
the summer of 2023 revealed one of the chimney bases for one of the barracks buildings. (Photo: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

WILLIAMSBURG — Colonial Williamsburg archaeologists have uncovered evidence indicating the remains of a Revolutionary War barracks on Foundation property located near the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center.

Eighteenth-century maps of the area and numerous documents from the period reference a barracks constructed in 1776-1777 to accommodate up to 2,000 soldiers and 100 horses.

The barracks are thought to have been destroyed by fire in 1781 by General Cornwallis’ troops on their route to Yorktown.

Archaeological evidence of continental barracks in Virginia is rare. This site, which was occupied from 1777-1781, is particularly valuable since it was built and used only for one purpose.

In addition, a significant portion of the site has been largely undisturbed since the barracks were destroyed.

The barracks were discovered during archaeological excavation of the site identified by the Historic Triangle Recreational Facilities Authority (HTRFA) as the preferred location for a proposed regional indoor sports center prior to the finalization of the project proposal.

This excavation was done in keeping with Foundation protocol to ensure that invaluable archaeological artifacts are not destroyed by new construction. As a result of the discovery, the footprint of the sports center was shifted to preserve the site for future excavation and research.

“We’ve known about this site for a long time, but we’ve never known exactly where it was,” said Jack Gary, Executive Director of Archaeology. “The artifacts found in that initial excavation last summer,  combined with extensive research using 18th-century maps, letters, newspapers and other documentation, allow us to say with certainty that we’ve found the Williamsburg barracks.”

This site will tell an understudied story of Williamsburg’s military involvement during the Revolutionary War by offering new information about the daily lives of soldiers.

“This site is incredibly unique because so few barracks for Continental soldiers from this period have survived in a way that allows them to be studied. The Williamsburg barracks will give us invaluable information about the day-to-day lives of soldiers during the American Revolution,” stated Gary.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation plans to revisit the site in the coming years to inform public interpretation of Williamsburg’s important role in the American Revolution.

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