Updated: Nov 21, 2022
Amblers House, James City County, VA
The Amblers House was the backdrop for the 2022 Heal Greater Williamsburg/Heal the Nation - Community Day sponsored by Coming to the Table - Historic Triangle and the Virginia Racial Healing Institute.
I'm the kind of person who enjoys a good mystery. Growing up my favorite T.V. show was Columbo. I was captivated by this unassuming, bumbling detective who would painstakingly uncover overlooked clues to solve a mystery. While viewers had already watched the crime unfold, Columbo had to meticulously piece together the puzzle.
Actor Peter Falk as Lieutenant Columbo.
This blog will uncover American history "hidden in plain sight." You see, the first step to healing racial divisions is awareness of historical truths. Parts of our history have been forgotten or overlooked. But its not too late to unearth, brush off and recover lost history. I hope you enjoy reading this blog. You never know, it just might unleash the sleuth in you!
The focus of our first mystery is Amblers House, a large antebellum home located in James City County, Virginia. A Virginia Historic Landmark, Amblers House is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so we know it has a rich history. However, please do not mistake this property for Amblers Mansion Ruins, at Historic Jamestowne. The exterior of this historic property is in tact! It's owned by James City County and is located off Jamestown Road near Jamestown Beach Event Park.
What clues can we uncover to piece together the complete story?
Fortunately, we are not starting from scratch. The groundwork has been carefully laid. In 2015 research was conducted to facilitate the property being designated as a historic landmark. I set a goal of getting my hands on the report and talking to its author, and I did! The report was created by a local archaeologist who I met with to discuss the findings. You can review the report by clicking the link at the end of this post.
One word came to mind as I reviewed the written documentation, “last." Amblers House was built in 1852, the "last" decade of legalized slavery in the United States. The “last” year that slavery was the law of the land was 1862. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared "that all persons held as slaves 'within the rebellious states' are, and henceforward shall be free."
The report describes the Amblers House property as situated on a hill overlooking the James River and including a main house and two outbuildings — a smokehouse and servants quarters.
My mind started racing as I tossed around jarring thoughts!
Did this antebellum home and its original owners have ties to slavery?
Were the “servants” who lived in the quarters enslaved?
What was life like in this stately 19th century home?
Why isn’t there a historic marker to tell the Amblers House story?
Photos of Historic Amblers House:
Be sure to read the next blog post, as we uncover more clues about historic Amblers House!
* Amblers House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To read the research submitted to obtain this designation, click here.
Let's Reclaim History blog is written by Laura Hill, founder of Virginia Racial Healing Institute. She also writes the popular Virginia Gazette newspaper column "Building a Bigger Table" to foster racial healing.