History of Ravenscroft

William Hunter

William Hunter, Sr. was a tenant on the Ravenscroft property for about seven years, from 1754 until his death in 1761. The son of a respected Hampton merchant, Hunter began his printing career as foreman in the printing shop of William Parks, founder of the Virginia Gazette in 1736 and Virginia’s first public printer. When Parks died in 1750, Hunter bought the business from the Parks estate and resumed publication of the Virginia Gazette in 1751. He also took over as public printer, a position for which he was paid a healthy salary by the government to print official documents such as journals of the House of Burgesses, the laws enacted by the General Assembly, and proclamations issued by the royal governors. Like other printers of his day, Hunter also printed many types of materials for sale or by special order, such as blank legal forms, books, pamphlets, and almanacs.

Between 1736 and 1766 there was only one newspaper published in Virginia. The Gazette’s editors (Parks, then Hunter and his successor, Joseph Royle) usually printed news congenial to the points of view of the governors and Parliament. By the time of the Stamp Act Crisis in 1765, however, some readers found the content of the Virginia Gazette too one-sided, and a rival paper (unfortunately for later generations also called the Virginia Gazette) was established elsewhere in town.

In addition to his printing business and duties as public printer in Williamsburg, Hunter held other official posts as well. He was a justice of the York County Court in the two years before his death in 1761 and Deputy Postmaster General in North America for the routes south of Annapolis for eight years until his death. His co-deputy Postmaster General was Benjamin Franklin.

Hunter’s connection to the Ravenscroft property, on which he was a tenant, begins in 1754. In 1755 Hunter became quite ill, and left the colonies to recuperate in England. His convalescence was a long one, extending more than three years. On Hunter’s return from England his sister, Roseanna, who had been living with him, married Hunter’s foreman, Joseph Royle, who was also living on the Ravenscroft property. Another sister, Elizabeth, was married to printer John Holt, an earlier tenant on the property.

Hunter returned to Williamsburg from England in 1759, but died less than two years later. On Hunter’s death in August 1761, Joseph Royle inherited one-half interest in the printing office, undertook publication of the Virginia Gazette and assumed the position of public printer in Hunter’s stead. The other half interest in the printing office went to Hunter’s son, William Hunter, Jr, who was still a child. Although William Hunter, Sr. acknowledged his son as his own, the elder Hunter and the boy’s mother, Elizabeth Reynolds, never married.

William Hunter’s Household

During William Hunter’s lease of lots 267 and 268 there were a number of individuals living on the property. In addition to Hunter, there was his sister, Roseanna Hunter, who had likely lived on the property since the age of five. According to Hunter’s will, Joseph Royle, his foreman, lived on the property, along, most likely, with his natural son William Hunter, Jr.

In addition, Hunter’s inventory names four enslaved members of the household: James, described as a blind Negro man, Diana, Casar, and Mat.

Probate Inventory

An inventory of William Hunter’s estate was recorded in the York County Court on November 16, 1761.

View Probate Inventory