Powder Magazine in Williamsburg
The powder magazine now serves as an exhibit space for Colonial Williamsburg.
Virginia Historical Society
On 21 April 1775 the House of Burgesses vehemently protested
actions taken by a group of royal marines led by Lieutenant Henry Collins. Under orders from Governor
John Dunmore, the marines moved fifteen half-barrels of gunpowder stored in Williamsburg's powder
magazine to the ship Fowey on the York River.
Although the removal was carried out in the early morning hours, word of the marines' action
quickly spread throughout the town. Alarmed citizens demanded that Dunmore return the supplies,
but Peyton Randolph, Robert Carter Nicholas, and Mayor John Dixon calmed the public and
requested an explanation from the governor. Dunmore claimed he moved the powder to
protect the town from an impending slave insurrection, and he promised to return it if needed.
The governor later admitted that he feared an uprising among the colonists and that this anxiety
resulted in his order to relocate the powder.
Patrick Henry raised 150 volunteers from Hanover County and threatened to march into
Williamsburg unless Dunmore gave back the gunpowder. The men agreed to return to
Hanover after the governor paid Henry £350 as reimbursement for the seized powder.
The situation continued to deteriorate, and on June 8 Dunmore left the governor's
palace for the Fowey. This, along with the ensuing war, ended British rule in Virginia.
Although a landmark in the history of the American Revolution, the powder magazine
in Williamsburg has a story that begins years earlier. In 1714, Governor Alexander
Spotswood and the General Assembly agreed to erect a structure to store military
supplies given to the colony by Queen Anne. The powder magazine was completed
by 1716, with a protective brick wall and guard house added in 1755. Uses for
the magazine varied throughout the years, including a market place, church, and
storage space for military supplies during the Revolutionary War, the War of
1812, and the Civil War. When the historic structure was purchased by the
Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) in 1889, it
had recently been used as a livery stable and was in peril of being lost. The
structure was restored with help from the APVA and Colonial Williamsburg.
Today, the powder magazine serves as an exhibit space for Colonial Williamsburg.
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