In the gardens of this beautiful building are the graves of 156 American soldiers who gave their lives on Virginia soil fighting for liberty at the Battle of Yorktown.
When the city of Williamsburg recoiled from the break in and theft at the Gunpowder Magazine in 1775, Governor Dunmore turned the so-called palace into a garrison by summoning forty sailors to protect him from angry Virginians. By June 1775, Dunmore had fled, never to return. Palace muskets were pulled from decorative displays to be put to more practical use, and Dunmore’s personal slaves and private furniture were auctioned off before the month was over.
General Charles Lee of the Continental army made the Palace his headquarters until it became a hospital. Virginia’s new government ordered the structure renovated for the arrival of Governor Patrick Henry. Governor Henry added new furnishings until the value of the Palace appointments and repairs had reached £1,000.
Thomas Jefferson succeeded Patrick Henry in office and residence. Jefferson drew up plans for remodeling the Palace, however the government soon moved its capital to Richmond, and nothing came of his plans. The Palace served again as a hospital in the fall of 1781, for American soldiers wounded in the Battle of Yorktown.
On December 22, 1781, the beautiful palace was consumed by a fire which had begun in the basement. A Charleston newspaper reported:
“Last Saturday night about eleven o’clock the palace in the City of Williamsburg, which is supposed to have been set on fire by some malicious person, was in three hours burnt to the ground. This elegant building has been for sometime past a continental hospital, and upwards of one hundred sick and wounded soldiers were in it when the fire was discovered, but by the timely exertions of a few people, only one perished in the flames.”
Afterwards, the government of the Commonwealth was forced to sell the old bricks – to keep them frome being stolen. When former British Governor Dunmore’s grandson, Sir Charles Augustus Murray, visited in 1835, he wrote, “The centre of the palace where the governor resided has long since fallen down, and even the traces of its ruins are no more to be seen.”
By 1862, Union soldiers pulled down the remaining advance buildings on the grounds so their officers at Fort Magruder could have bricks to build chimneys for their quarters.