Graham Hood. The Governor's Palace in Williamsburg: A Cultural Study. Williamsburg: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1991. Distributed by University of North Carolina Press. 343 pp.; 207 bw and color illus., index. $59.95.
Few aspects of eighteenth-century American history are more elusive than the intimate patterns of daily life. Unlike the momentous events and important figures of the past, the nuances of domestic life, public ritual, purposeful thought, and expressive behavior are rarely mentioned in either public or private documents. Yet, as John Demos suggested in A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in the Plymouth Colony, the structure and character of fundamental institutions and patterns of behavior are common denominators for understanding community and culture.
Graham Hood's Governor's Palace in Williamsburg: A Cultural Study is the most vivid and accurate depiction to date of life in an American house. Built in 1710 and enlarged around midcentury, the palace served as the official residence of five lieutenant governors and two royal governors between 1715 and 1775. In their official capacity, the governors enforced British law and protected the crown's interests. As personal representatives of the king, they also personified the political, social, and cultural values of the English aristocracy-the segment of British society with which affluent Virginians identified. Hood argues convincingly that the governors' position in the social hierarchy and their interaction with all levels of society fostered a two-way exchange of values that had a profound effect on eighteenth-century Virginia culture.
As tl:e residence and office of the governor, the palace was central to this cultural exchange. Hood's chapter titled "The Setting" is a concise architectural history of the palace (from Spotswood's involvement in the design of the building and gardens to Colonial Williamsburg's reconstruction during the early 1930s) and an excellent survey of the lives of the governors in residence. References to international art movements (that is, dissemination of the baroque style during the late seventeenth century and the advent of Palladianism yin England during the second decade of the eighteenth century), contemporary buildings in London and Williamsburg, and historical events during the tenures of the governors provide a rich context for subsequent chapters.
Hood's atmospheric prologue establishes the time, place, and several underlying themes of his study. It opens on October 15, 1770, with the death of Norburne Berekley, baron de Botetourt, perhaps the most widely admired and respected of Virginia's governors. Public and private expressions of affection and grief are quoted to show how expressive behavior in the eighteenth century often had multiple layers of meaning. Botetourt's elaborate funeral procession, as Hood points out, was a formal ceremony with a prescribed hierarchy that not only recognized the governor's rank and title, but acknowledged his relationship with the community and colony. It was an event with prescribed gestures and rituals as well as genuine expressions of feeling.
Shortly after the funeral, an "exact and perfect inventory" was taken of Botetourt's personal effects. The author's meticulous analysis of this inventory and such related documents as cash books and account books (discovered by Hood in England) animates for the reader the daily life of the governor and those around him. The rooms and groups of objects in them were symbolic of the governor's office and social status, and they either expressly or implicitly suggested specific patterns of behavior and thought.
Chapters on the entrance hall and middle room of the second story illustrate the importance of ceremony, hierarchy, and protocol in the governors' public and private lives. With its ornamental display of weapons, flags, and royal coats of arms-conspicuous symbols of power and order the entrance hall was the most imposing formal room in the palace. Quoting numerous individuals who commented on the weapons, Hood traces the display and attitudes toward it from the administration of Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood (1710—1722), who planned and supervised the installation, to the removal of the arms following the flight of Governor Dunmore in 1775. The sense of formality and ceremony created by the furnishings was reinforced by the retinue (hierarchy of servants) that distanced the governor from visitors who were not his equals. An amusing altercation involving Governor Fauquier, several of his servants, and the Reverend John Camm is cited to document this aspect of public life at the palace.
The chapter on the middle room upstairs charts changing attitudes in the social use of spaces from Spotswood's tenure to Botetourt's. Derived from the great chambers of medieval country houses, the middle room was originally reserved for important ceremonial functions. During Spotswood's time it had gilt leather wall hangings, sixteen gilt leather chairs, two pier tables, and two large looking glasses with the arms of the colony. By mid—century such chambers were referred to as salons, and they were used for both formal and casual gatherings. Hood's analysis of the furnishings in Fauquier's inventory, which included a settee, ten pictures in gilt frames, and a pair of gaming tables, suggests occasional informal usage. By tracking the same items in Botetourt's inventory, several of which appear in the front parlor adjoining the middle room, the author demonstrates a return to formality, possibly owing to the governor's noble rank and bachelor status. Botetourt's use of the middle room as a dressing chamber is confirmed by the presence of clothespresses and a basin stand; however, Hood interprets much more from these furnishings. They suggest that Botetourt (and probably other governors and members of the gentry) practiced the levee, an informal ritual during which the governor dressed and conducted business.
Public life is examined in chapters titled "The Dining Room and Parlor: Apartments of Conversation" and "The Ballroom and Supper Room: Fashionable Gatherings." Hospitality, as Hood notes, was a fundamental aspect of eighteenth-century life. Using quotations from Robert Adam's Works of Architecture, the author shows how parlors and dining rooms worked in tandem during entertainments. The parlor was a place for guests to gather before dinner and a refuge for the ladies, who customarily left the dining room after dessert and avoided the male oriented conversation, drinking, and smoking that followed. For comfort and the stimulation of polite conversation, the parlor was furnished with an elegant canopied couch, side chairs covered in leather (a durable, practical covering), gaming tables, maps, and scriptural prints.
Hood's discussion of dining again underscores the importance of ritual and protocol in eighteenth-century life. Virtually every aspect of this "entertainment" from the choice and arrangement of accoutrements and decorations to the service and consumption of food and drink-embodied the principles of balance, harmony, and order (hierarchy) that were the philosophical foundations of eighteenth-century British culture. The author also asserts that the dining room was the intellectual center of the house and that meals were occasions for lobbying, conducting business, and engaging in philosophical and political discussions. Central to this argument are the furnishings, which included a library table, a mahogany desk, a writing table, a reading desk, and a map of Virginia in addition to a large dining table, a smaller table, a wine cooler, and twelve chairs. The author's interpretation of the material evidence is supported by period accounts, such as Thomas Jefferson's recollection that "at these dinners [with Governor Fauquier, William Small, and George Wythe] I . . . heard more good sense, more rational and philosophical conversations, than in all my life beside."
Jefferson was but one of many who benefited from the paternalism of such conscientious governors as Fauquier and Botetourt. In addition to sponsoring promising young men, the governors also patronized such institutions as The College of William and Mary and the Public Hospital for the Insane and encouraged talented artists and tradesmen. Citing many other examples of beneficence, Hood demonstrates that patronage was a primary avenue for cultural exchange. The author acknowledges that the full extent of the governors' influence on colonial society may never be completely understood, but that without their paternalism and beneficence "the history of the colonies would have to be rewritten."
The private lives of the governors and the extended "family" of servants and slaves required to maintain the palace are examined in the final chapters, "The Bedchambers and Study: The Person of the Governor" and "The Family." Particularly engaging is the author's analysis of the pyramidal structure of servants and slaves who worked in the palace, their attendant responsibilities, and their attitudes toward each other. A considerable portion of "The Family' explores the many paradoxes of slavery in eighteenth-century Virginia. Hood shows how "enlightened" Virginia planters such as Robert Beverley abhorred slavery but were either unable (because of financial and social constraints) or unwilling to make the adjustments required to abolish the institution.
Graham Hood's remarkable proficiency in interpreting the material past has enabled him to reconstruct patterns of daily life, behavior, and thought that often elude traditional historians. In its use of material culture, The Governor's Palace reaches beyond the traditional boundaries of social history and art history. If other scholars follow in Hood's path, certain aspects of colonial history may indeed have to be rewritten.
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