Why did the capital of Virginia move to Williamsburg?

Williamsburg Capitol

Williamsburg Capitol at Colonial Williamsburg

As late as 1691, King William III and Queen Mary II sent word that Jamestown would remain the seat of government in Virginia. However, when Lt. Governor Francis Nicholson arrived in Virginia, he inspected the colony’s military defenses and found them lacking.

In 1698, the statehouse at Jamestown was once again destroyed by fire. Students from the College of William and Mary, established 10 miles inland at Middle Plantation in 1693, urged the General Assembly to move the capital there. The assembly agreed, and in 1699 Virginia’s government followed colonial settlement inland. The new capital city would be known as Williamsburg.

By 1699, the population of Virginia had grown form the 104 colonists of 1607 to more than 60,000 people, most of them living east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Only about 600 Powhatan Indians remained on reservations located in the English-controlled parts of the colony. By 1699, Virginia’s Africans had increased in number to about 6,000, or 10% of the population.

Jamestown declined rapidly after the capital moved to Williamsburg. By 1716, the town consisted of “a church, a Court House…and three or four brick houses.” Eventually, Jamestown ceased to be a town at all, and the town lands became agricultural fields. Yet, the colony was strong and growing. Jamestown had become Virginia.

At Jamestown cultures from three continents came together, worked alongside each other, and fought one another before a new way of life ultimately emerged. The process was long and harsh with displacement of Virginia Indian populations and the institution of slavery creating dire consequences for our nation. It was from these encounters and struggles that a new nation was shaped with cultural diversity one of its defining characteristics. It was at Jamestown that free enterprise and private ownership of property were introduced and offered opportunities for social and economic mobility. In 1619, the first steps were taken toward representative government, laying the foundation for our United States Constitution. After 400 years, the history of Jamestown, with all of its struggles and tragedies, reminds us that we can better understand the present by learning from the past.