Revolutionary Discovery: Colonial Williamsburg Unearths 18th Century Military Barracks

Colonial Williamsburg archaeologists have recently unearthed what is believed to be a Revolutionary War-era barracks on Foundation property close to the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center. Historical maps from the 18th century and multiple period documents mention a barracks built during 1776-1777, designed to house up to 2,000 soldiers and 100 horses. It is suggested that these barracks were razed by fire in 1781 by troops under General Cornwallis en route to Yorktown.

Discoveries of continental barracks sites in Virginia are exceptionally uncommon. This particular site, active from 1777 to 1781, holds exceptional historical value due to its singular use and the fact that it has remained mostly untouched since its destruction.

The discovery occurred during archaeological evaluations prompted by the Historic Triangle Recreational Facilities Authority (HTRFA), which identified this area as the ideal site for a new regional indoor sports center. Adhering to Foundation protocols to protect significant archaeological findings, the excavation led to a reevaluation and adjustment of the sports center’s planned location, safeguarding the site for future exploration and educational opportunities. This excavation will enhance our understanding of Williamsburg’s military history during the Revolutionary War and provide insights into the daily lives of the soldiers stationed there.

Initial Findings and Artifacts

  • The initial excavation in the summer of 2023 uncovered bricks, intact chimney bases, and other relics dating back to the mid-1700s.
  • Notable discoveries include gun parts, lead shot pieces with bite marks—likely chewed by soldiers due to the sweetness of the lead—and high-quality ceramics and items of personal adornment, indicating the presence of officers.
  • The barracks site spans an estimated three to four acres, though only a fraction has been explored thus far.
  • To protect the unearthed artifacts during the ongoing construction of the neighboring sports complex, the site has been temporarily re-covered.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is committed to further investigating and interpreting this site to share more about Williamsburg’s crucial contributions to the American Revolution.

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