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3D model of the site, showing the Main Armoury Building, the Tin Shop, the Kitchen, and other buildings.
3D model of the reconstructed Armoury.

Armoury Reconstruction

Rebuilding the James Anderson Site

Colonial Williamsburg reconstructed the Anderson Armoury site from 2011 through 2013. The new structures include:

  • Main Armoury Building
  • Kitchen
  • Tin Shop
  • Workshop
  • Privy
  • Two storage buildings
Archaeologists stand above and inside an excavation.
The 2012 excavation of the ravine where the reconstructed Tin Shop now stands.

Why Rebuild the Armoury?

Built in the 1770s, Anderson's original armoury disappeared by the mid-19th century. It was not until the early 1980s that a newly rebuilt blacksmith shop, based on careful archaeological and historical research, opened. It was a popular Historic Area site and was heavily used for more than 25 years.

Recently discovered documentary evidence and a desire to show Anderson's shop at its height of production inspired a new reconstruction to replace the 1980s structure. In March of 2012 two major buildings in the complex—the main Armoury building (a blacksmith shop) and a kitchen—opened to the public. In 2013 the Historic Trades carpenters completed the site with the construction of a tin shop, a workshop, two storage buildings, and a privy. All of these buildings are based on the latest archaeological and historical evidence.

Numerous staffmembers raise a frame.
Historic trades staff raise the Armoury's frame.

History of Anderson's Armoury

In 1776 James Anderson secured the contract as Virginia's Public Armourer, sparking the transformation of his modest blacksmithing business into a booming industrial operation. Over the next four years Anderson's two forges would become seven, and his workforce would grow from 6 men to 40 with the addition of gunsmiths, gunstockers, tinsmiths, nail-makers, and blacksmiths. These men included Americans of European and African descent, Frenchmen, Scotsmen, imprisoned, enslaved, apprenticed, and free. Together they undertook the challenge of maintaining arms for Virginia's soldiers, and supplying iron, steel, and tin work for the war effort.

In 1780 Virginia's capital relocated to Richmond and the Public Armoury went with it. Though Anderson would return to Williamsburg and to the anvil after the war, all evidence for his important industrial operation vanished by the mid-19th century.

Since the 1930s, eight archaeological excavations have contributed details about the property's 18th-century appearance and the variety of work accomplished here. In 1931 excavators began trenching the Anderson property, finding brick foundation walls, forge bases, and the partial remains of a kitchen. Their rudimentary excavation techniques, however, left many questions unanswered. In 1975 a full-scale and carefully recorded archaeological project provided many of those answers.

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