Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Is it a fortress or a palace??

Sunday Afternoon October 6, 2013
Williamsburg, Virginia



It’s been a pretty exciting morning what with the Governor dismissing the burgesses and the near storming of the palace by a mob.

You can read about our surprising morning here if you have not.  I want to go back and walk the maze if the palace grounds are open but think we might need to let things calm down before we try.


Another fun task from my past.  Basket weaving doesn’t require a loom.


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We head away from the palace.  On the way back down the Palace Green toward Duke of Gloucester Street I see Prince George Street with the Wythe house on the corner.  Just down that street is the basketmaker.  It’s another of the crafts that we did some of at the farm so I want to go take a look.  Basket weaving, any weaving, is a “chore” I really enjoy.

That’s a huge white oak basket she’s making.  Mine were of white oak as well but none that big.  More like the ones on the bench in front of her.


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These are really beautifully done small market baskets or picking baskets.  The larger one like she’s making are for corn or clothing.  I wish I’d asked her what that specific basket was going to be used for and whether it would have strap handles so it could be worn on one’s back.

I made many of these smaller ones although my favorite was the egg basket and I don’t see one of those here.


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There does seem to be a kitty basket.

Actually we are told this is SIR Thomas Gray ESQ and this is his home so he chooses whichever basket he prefers.


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Basketry is another form of weaving done with grasses, vines, bark and splits from trees.  It too is a very soothing craft.  Although many of the materials used for baskets are soaked to make them pliable, as is the cane used for weaving chair seats, white oak splits are not soaked.  They are pliable as they are if split correctly.



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Each area of the country uses its native materials for baskets. 

We’ve seen ash baskets in Maine and reed and sweet grass baskets along  the southeast coast.  Long leaf pine needles make lovely baskets.  Even Kudzu actually makes a beautiful basket.


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She uses a special knife to help curve the spines.

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And a beater to pull the weave down toward the base.

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I wonder if things have calmed down at the palace by now. 


After our time with the basketmaker and Mr. Gray, we decide to check back at the palace and see.  I guess the Governor has gone somewhere because they are giving tours.   We make our way around to the side entrance to the grounds thinking we’d better get a tour while we can.   You just never know what’s going to happen around here.


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Of course we can’t enter through the front door so our tour guide takes us around to the entrance into the Butler’s wing.


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From a period map on the wall, we learn a little bit about this area which the Governor is questionably governing.


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You can see that Virginia included all of Ohio and like North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, reached straight out to the west.


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The Butler’s office has tall narrow windows with inside wooden shutters.  Light is streaming in through the window.   What a wonderful window seat.

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He is the single most important staff member.


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Is it a palace or a fortress??

From here we go into the great entrance hall which has the feel of a dark medieval castle.  The walls are lined from top to bottom with swords and guns.  I have never seen so many weapons in one place in my life.

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There are multiple panels around the room with swords just like this.  26 swords in silver and 22 with bronze handles in each panel.


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Eighteen flintlock rifles on the walls between each of the sword panels.  The Governor’s palace is virtual arsenal.



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We head upstairs, the walls all the way up are covered in rifles and swords.

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Governor Dunmore and wife live here with six of their seven children. 


We visit the bedroom of two of the daughters first.  I wonder what they think living in this house full of weapons.

Their governess’s bed is the first thing we see.   She sleeps in the room with them.


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The two daughters share their bed.  Children sharing beds was a common practice at all levels of society.  The fewer children per bed, the wealthier the family.


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I am really admiring the architectural details in this house. 


Look at the multiple pilasters to the right of the fireplace and the ceiling cornices.  The fireplace has delft tiles.  I wish we had been allowed to stay longer in each of the rooms but another group was hot on our heels.

I recall years ago when the tour was “self” guided.  There were guides in most rooms to answer questions but you could stay as little or as long as you liked.


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It appears the young misses will be returning to dress for the evening.


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We move next into the governor’s wife’s sitting room.  Here she spent time with her children, lady guests and her staff as she performed her duties.


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The baby’s crib is in this room.

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We return downstairs through all the guns and swords to the morning room. Breakfast anyone?



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Music rooms are usually my favorite rooms in huge homes.

This one has a beautiful spinet and lovely music stands.  Here dances would be held.  I am surprised at the bright colors of the walls and the rugs.   I like it.   And again the deep set windows and window seats.


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Crystal chandeliers, an elegant doorway with gorgeous details on it and the moldings.

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Musicians would play for palace entertainments.

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But today the dining room wins the prize.

The last room, the formal dining room, is my favorite.  Look carefully at the window details and all of the moldings.  Lovely!  I’ll show you some close ups of them in a bit.


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What a great cast iron stove.  Wish I could have had one like this for the front living room parlor at the farm.   Of course we’d have gotten cooked to death as this dining room is four or five times the size.


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I couldn’t help myself in taking pictures of these beautiful details.
Gold leaf.  Good grief!   Did you notice it in the pictures above?

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Who does artistic work like this anymore???

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Not as overwhelming as Newport but grand just the same for over 100 years before the Gilded Age.   Our guide escorts us out and answers many questions.  I had heard that the Governor’s wife thought the house “far too small and not very fine”, which he confirmed.  Apparently it was a step down from their two palaces in England.  HA!


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As we leave, he reassures us that the gardens are open and I definitely want to find the maze.   But that will have to wait for another post.


  1. love the window seat! gorgeous inside … that white window …wow

    I say it's a palace with an arsenal… yep… just gorgeous

    1. That's just what I thought Carolyn. Loved the window seats but wow the weapons.

  2. You have certainly made the most of your time here at Williamsburg. We raced through the place in one day. I love how you take time to engage in the activities and appreciate all the fine details of the crafts. I have always wanted to learn how to make baskets.

    1. Thank you Pam for such nice compliments. Being from Virginia, we knew what to expect and still didn't leave enough time to really see everything they have to offer. Baskets aren't hard to do and there are lots of kits to get your started. It's very relaxing.

  3. It hasn't been all that long ago that large families had two or more children to a bed. Being the oldest and followed by 5 brothers, I had my own room until my sister came along when I was 18 and had to share my room with her.

    1. I guess it seems a long time ago to me since children shared beds. I had one brother and we only shared a room when he was very small. Lots of kids I knew shared rooms but no one I knew shared a bed. That seemed like a generation or two before me. But maybe not in poorer families. Wow a sister 18 years younger, I always thought it was too bad my only brother was 7 years younger.

  4. Holy cow, that's a lot of weapons! The architectural details of the palace really are quite impressive.

    Out of all those baskets, of course I like the kitty basket the best. :-)

    1. Looks like you and I felt the exact same way about the whole thing Terri!

  5. Me thinks the Governor was paranoid. Although the fine detailed architecture is impressive I like the down to earth baskets better.

    1. He probably had a lot to be paranoid about Gaelyn. He actually ran out in the dead of the night with his family to a ship when things got even more intense.

  6. Great Photo tour of the Gov's place. I do not think I even took one pic in there. It is an amazing place.

    1. Hope you'll go back and take some great pictures there Tom. Your photography is wonderful.

  7. Glad things settled down and you were able to get a tour!! I love window seats and beautiful mouldings...not so much the weapons;o( Can't wait to see the the maze!!

    1. I was glad too Nancy and promise I am going to get to the maze. :-))

  8. I love Mr. Gray! Adorable :) Good choice of place to live. I wonder if people back then had cats. I remember your baskets, specifically the one for eggs :) Great tour ... architecture and interior design were truly a different class back then, at least for the very rich. Glad they let you take pictures. Good ones :) Another great blog :)

    1. Thanks for pointing out my error in the post Sweetheart. He was introduced to us as SIR Thomas Gray Esq so I've gone back and changed the post to reflect that. And thank you so much for the compliments even if you are a little bit biased! I love you too!

  9. I would love to learn basket making. I especially liked the basket full of kittens!

    That house is amazing. I thought the swords were very decorative. What beautiful colors and architecture. You are really making me want to go there. Thanks for the detailed tours.

    1. You are so welcome Karen. Thank you for coming along and commenting. Basket making isn't difficult and I think you would like it.

  10. ahhh. . .once again. . .really great!

    1. Thank you Janice. It's great to hear from you.

  11. Didn't know you used to make baskets, too. I guess that makes you a basket case... :cD

    All that beautiful fancy work inside the house is certainly a lost art. Sadly today's time is money mentality results in such sterile looking buildings. :c(

  12. Looks like you're still enjoying Williamsburg, love doing old home tours thanks for this one. Now to catch up on my blog. :)

  13. Love the colonial map showing the eastern states extending ever westward without limit. It illustrates their inability to see any other reality other than their own colonial desires. Always makes me sad to see how we stole this country with an attitude of self-righteousness.

  14. Oh how I remember making baskets with my mother...they were so string and beautiful! You did well... Another fine post...off we go this am...Woohoo!


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