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Williamsburg archeologists unearth site of Revolutionary War barracks

Initial excavation of portions of t he barracks site in the summer of 2023 revealed one of the chimney bases for one of the barracks buildings.
Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Initial excavation of portions of t he barracks site in the summer of 2023 revealed one of the chimney bases for one of the barracks buildings.

The first-of-its-kind find at Colonial Williamsburg uncovered artifacts from dining ware to gun hardware.

Colonial Williamsburg archeologists unearthed what they believe to be the site of a Revolutionary War barracks in 2023.

The discovery marks the first opportunity to study structures made specifically to house Continental soldiers in Williamsburg.

The dig began to ensure construction of the city’s planned indoor sports facility did not disturb any historic artifacts. The plans for that facility have since moved to preserve the site.

“When the planning for the sports complex began, we began doing our work which required looking at historic documentation which revealed to us something that we kind of had in the back of our minds, which is that this area over by our visitor center was designated on historic maps to be the location of a barracks constructed in 1776,” Colonial Williamsburg’s Executive Director of Archeology Jack Gary said.

Archeologists discovered the site when digging uncovered intact chimney bases that matched historic maps of the 18th century barracks.

The barracks were constructed to house up to 2,000 men and 100 horses and are believed to have been burned down by British forces led by Gen. Cornwallis in 1781.

Excavation unveiled what appears to be multiple housing structures as well as military artifacts and personal effects from both officers and enlisted men.

These items ranged from clay tobacco pipes and a mother-of-pearl button inlay to gun hardware and lead shot bearing the tooth marks of soldiers.

“Because we've preserved the site, a point of research in the future is to be able to delineate each of the individual buildings and get an idea of what they were used for,” Gary said.

“Can we find the support structures such as the stables, there may have even been other support structures like a large kitchen or bake ovens to be able to feed everybody.”

Gary said further excavation work is on hold until after the sports facility construction wraps. He is hopeful that the project can work in partnership with the sports facility to showcase their work and the history of the site to visitors.

“There will be thousands of kids and families coming through this facility and we’ll be able to be doing our work right there and interact with them,” said Gary. “It’s an opportunity for us, too, to not just do this work kind of behind the scenes.”

Gary said 2026 would be an ideal time to begin the next phase of research to line up with the 250th anniversary of the barracks’ construction.

While it is too early to say exactly how Colonial Williamsburg will showcase the site, Gary said they are thinking about possibilities.

“There has been some brainstorming about turning the area into a park associated with the sports complex that would be dedicated to exhibiting some aspect of the barracks as opposed to excavating it and then just leaving it or not talking about it.”

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