Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 113 / Number 1
Constructing to Command: Rivalries Between Green Spring and the Governor's Palace, 1677–1722
- By Virginia B. Price, pp. 2–45
Surveyor John Soane's image of the house at Green Spring in 1683 and architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe's sketches of the place from 1796 highlight one of colonial Virginia's earliest domestic architectural expressions. Both renderings are of Governor Sir William Berkeley's dwelling, built between 1643 and 1677, and both illustrate the mansion's prominent ground floor arcade. Although the drawings are significant to the study of early American architecture, and to Virginia history, there are noticeable gaps in the story of Green Spring after Berkeley's lifetime. This article, therefore, addresses the house at Green Spring between 1677 and 1722.
Berkeley's heirs tried to ensure that the Green Spring house remained a socially powerful, inescapably political entity. To do so, they capitalized on its physical position of dominance in the landscape. And yet its architectural statement was one of personal authority. In contrast to the fluidity characterizing such authority, the plans for Williamsburg included institutional symbols of power and permanence. It was during the construction of one of these symbols, the Governor's Palace, that the relations between the Crown's representative and the master of Green Spring, Philip Ludwell II, soured appreciably. Tensions culminated in both the governor's and Ludwell's loss of office. Once they were removed from formal politics and the palace was complete, Virginians looked not to Green Spring for leadership but to the House of Burgesses for political matters and to the masonry edifice with a symmetrically-arranged facade that overlooked the palace green on Duke of Gloucester Street for ideas about house building.