Colonial Williamsburg Research Division Web Site

John Page Site

The John Page Site: Excavation of a Major House Site on the Bruton Heights Property

by David F. Muraca

In 1989, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation acquired the Bruton Heights School property on the outskirts of the Historic Area and began an ambitious construction program culminating in the opening of the Bruton Heights School Education Center (BHSEC) in 1997. Archaeological excavations on the property revealed one of the most exciting archaeological sites yet discovered in Williamsburg—the seventeenth-century home and property of wealthy planter and councilor John Page. The story below was taken from the site’s archaeological report, "‘Upon the Palisado’ and Other Stories of Place from Bruton Heights," by John Metz, Jennifer Jones, Dwayne Pickett, and David Muraca (Colonial Williamsburg Research Publications, 1998).

Introduction


Location of the John Page House and related archaeological features in relation to the modern day Bruton Heights School Educational Center.

In the seventeenth century, Virginia was largely a collection of dispersed plantations and small settlements founded in large part as a reaction to governmental decree and the inducements offered by the government to ensure compliance with these decrees. One such settlement, Middle Plantation, was established atop the ridge separating the James and York Rivers, and its growth was encouraged by the construction of a wall, or palisade, across the peninsula in 1634.

Middle Plantation represented the first major inland settlement for the colony. It was established by an Act of Assembly in 1632/3 to provide a link between Jamestown and Chiskiack, a settlement located across the Peninsula on the York River. Government officials thought that this chain of settlements would create a barrier against Indian attack by cutting off access from the north and thereby protecting the plantations located on the lower Peninsula to the south. The chain of settlements was bolstered by the construction of a palisade beginning near the mouth of College Creek, a tributary of the James, and extending eastward six miles across the Peninsula to Queens Creek, a tributary of the York. The palisade was not purely a defensive wall; the English also used it to strengthen the position of their settlement by expanding into the interior and laying claim to land where the Powhatan Indians lived. It was an invasive strategy designed to establish a physical, frontier barrier in order to affirm English ownership of the entire peninsula.