Introducing Williamsburg Virginia's first, only, and original cemetery tour, which takes place at 1:30pm and 3:30pm. This exclusive guided walking tour will take you to four cemeteries in Williamsburg for a journey into Williamsburg's hidden history on this unique 90 minute tour. Uncover Williamsburg's secrets only on the original cemetery tour!
Cemeteries are significant locations personally, culturally and historically. In addition to acting as a memorial for loved ones, cemeteries have the unique ability to bring the past, present and future together into a single moment as we look over our history and contemplate the rest of our lives. They are a place of grounding. Culturally they are locations of community or religious reverence whether it’s a great pyramid or hallowed ground. Historically they are in many cases the earliest written history of a given location.
The Williamsburg Cemetery tour will take you to visit four different cemeteries in Virginia’s Colonial capital in and around Colonial Williamsburg. As we go, we will contemplate what each cemetery offers personally, culturally and historically. You might come on this tour for the creepy element, but along the way you will come away with a little something you didn’t expect. The tour will visit four different kinds of cemeteries. Town cemeteries, which reflect community history and culture; family homestead burial places, for a single family or sometimes intermarried families; garden graveyards, which double as a place for rest; and recreation and grouped burials, which follow a distinct cultural tradition. The cemeteries mirror the communities where they are located. Here in Williamsburg, you’ll see the reflection of ties to family, ties to the church, pride in heritage and a community very familiar with loss, largely shaped by the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
Here are examples of some of the graves you will visit on this tour:
It is not common to find Union and Confederate graves in a single cemetery. You can see the tops of these two graves are rounded unlike the confederate markers. What makes the union graves here even more historically significant is that they are buried across the walk not because of their military affiliation but instead because of the color of their skin. This section of the cemetery remains from the days of segregation, when black and white citizens were not even buried together. These two graves, Robert Johnson and Sgt William Gransby were members of the 1st Regiment, US Colored Cavalry. Their regiment was part of the United States Colored Troops. The USCT began in 1863 and was made up primarily of free blacks, African Americans who were not bound by slavery, and freedmen who were slaves released by the Union during the war. While members were primarily African American, pacific islanders, Native Americans, Asian Americans and other people of color all served with the USCT. By the end of the war the USCT made up a 10th of the Union forces. As I mentioned before, illness was the greatest cause of death during the civil war. The USCT lost approximately 68,000 men during the last two years of the war, but less than 3,000 of those were from fighting. These two men survived the war and were buried here with the honors soldiers deserve.
Located in an obscure and forgotten park behind the Public Hospital, the first insane asylum in the United States, this cemetery is enclosed by a brick wall and contains the remains of the honorable Galt family. For five generations, the Galt family watched over the museum. Though at that it wasn’t a museum. It was the Public Hospital for Insane and Disordered Minds, the first facility solely for the care of the mentally ill. Care may not be the best word. It had 24 isolating cells and 2 special dungeon-like cells for wildly violent patients. Patients here were at best given straw beds to sleep on. They were shackled to the walls behind heavy doors and barred windows. The rooms had no heat and when the ill weren’t locked away they were submerged in cold water, given blistering salves and drained of blood. Some patients were treated then discharged others spent the rest of their lives here and died behind those walls.
While the earlier Galts acted as doctors or other staff, in 1841 Dr John M Galt was named superintendent and began to enact real positive change in the hospital. He saw the patients there as his family. He gave every person here a real bed and dedicated recreation time. Under his care the hospital grew from 30 patients jammed under one roof to more than 300 in a sprawling 7 building campus, but the glory days were not to last. The Civil War led to shortages for the hospital. Galt was unable to secure the medicine, clothing and food needed for his patients. Williamsburg was under Union martial law and Galt continually harassed the Union for supplies to care for his patient. They finally banned him from the hospital all together. His distress over this led to his death by Laudanum overdose in his home across the street from the hospital. Both Galts home and the former hospital are now said to be haunted. While Galt’s family are laid to rest here, he was given a special burial by the city he had served so well and so he lies in Bruton Parish cemetery. Patients from the Public Hospital, open in another location under the name Eastern State Hospital, are laid to rest down the street from here in what is called Hospital Cemetery. More than 1,000 people are buried there. In the 80’s a large marker was placed on the previously unmarked graves that proudly proclaims “Celebrating their dignity.” The Galt family dedicated their lives to the hospital and their legacy is inscribed on a plaque here.
The Williamsburg Cemetery Tour was the best part of our visit to Virginia... Read More
Took the tour yesterday and learned so many cool things about Williamsburg... Read More
The most interesting historical tour I’ve been on, I’d recommend it to anyone... Read More