A Brief History of Williamsburg, VA

Sample the Rich Williamsburg History

Williamsburg is a small town big on personality and Southern charm. A place that also played a big part in our nation’s history.

Walking through its historic areas, you an almost feel the stories it has to tell. But here you can do more than walk through the historic settlements and carefully restored buildings. You can live it.

Re-enactors bring Williamsburg’s history to life in places like Colonial Williamsburg – a place where technology and history also intertwine to make Williamsburg’s story part of a child’s own. Active archaeological dig sites let you get your hands on history for yourself. And all around you, the significance of the big ideas that came out of this small town and helped shape our nation can be felt to this day.

Here are a some of the great things to know about Williamsburg history when planning your next Virginia family vacation.

The History

Feeling the Power

Williamsburg and its neighboring Jamestown and Yorktown make up what’s called America’s Historic Triangle, three small but mighty towns that became the epicenter of the birth of our nation – all three worth considering when planning your Virginia family vacation.

Williamsburg is named in honor of King William, and became the first capitol city of Virginia. The King and his wife, Queen Mary, granted a royal charter to the College of William and Mary in 1693, making it one of the oldest colleges in the country, second only to Harvard.

In those days, having a college and a capitol building meant you were poised to become big. But the big thing that came out of Williamsburg was an idea – the idea of freedom. This idea of individual rights and freedom from the Kingdom of Great Britain is the spark that ignited the Revolution.

With this big idea came bold moves, and it’s for this reason that Williamsburg history plays such a fascinating part of our nation’s past. It’s here, many will tell you, that not just the nation but the nation’s spirit was born. And that’s not just something you’ll see here. You’ll feel it.  

The Taverns

A Tour of Williamburg’s Historic Taverns

When you’re ready to take a load off after a day of walking in the footsteps of Williamsburg history, a fun place to grab some grub and wash down the trail dust is at one of Williamsburg’s historic taverns at Colonial Williamsburg, now home to some of the most popular restaurants in Williamsburg.

• Christiana Campbell’s Tavern: This tavern is as popular today as it was in the 1700s – which means reservations are essential. The tavern boasts that it was George Washington’s favorite for seafood, which is still the signature here.

You can also sample favorite dishes taken right out of the Williamsburg history books – cookbooks that is. Some of the more unusual recipes on the menu taken right out of colonial cookbooks.

• King’s Arm Tavern: The King’s Arm Tavern is known for fine seafood, beef and wild game, with a bit of Williamsburg history in every bite. Originally opened in 1772 as an upscale establishment, today you can still find some of the city’s best fare. Be sure to check the special events calendar at the Tavern before you come, and as with other historic taverns, reservations are highly recommended.

• Chowning’s Tavern: Josiah Chowing opened his tavern in 1766, wanting to cater to the “ordinary” folks in town, usually offering simple things like stews made from local seafood. This casual atmosphere and pub-like feel have kept that same appeal.

Today you can still sample your way back through Williamsburg history, with popular dishes like Brunswick stew, Welsh rarebit or the fish of the day, a fresh catch that would have been common in the 18th century. Fiddlers will fill in the ambiance.

• Shields Tavern: Visitors to Shields know the spirits in these taverns aren’t just on the menu. Shields is actually a reconstructed tavern, though locals will tell you a few of the patrons never left! In fact, guided ghost tours start right in front of the tavern. Be sure to fuel up on hearty stew or BBQ, two of the tavern’s specialties, before taking a walk through Williamsburg history on this hair-raising, family-friendly tour. 

For the Kids

Williamsburg History for Kids

It’s one thing for kids to read about history in school. It’s a whole other thing to walk in its footsteps. What’s great about our home town is that there are so many ways for kids to have fun doing just that, and learning about Williamsburg history by being a part of it.

A great place to start is at our neighboring Colonial Williamsburg. Of all their fun things to do for families with kids, be sure to check out their exciting RevQuest interactive spy game. This thrilling adventure through The Revolutionary City is part digital and part live action – all designed to teach kids some of the incredible Williamsburg history woven into the birth of our nation by letting them be a part of the story.

Any aspiring archaeologists in the family? The short drive to James Fort is an active archaeological site where kids really dig into Williamsburg history – literally! This active dig site is a fun addition to your Williamsburg family vacation, with more than a million artifacts already on display in the Archaearium.