The Utopia Quarter at Kingsmill
Located a few miles outside the town of Williamsburg within the residential and recreational community of Kingsmill on the James, the Utopia Quarter site (44JC32) is situated on a bluff overlooking the James River. Anheuser Busch, Inc. acquired the 3,900-acre Kingsmill property in 1970, most of it owned at the time by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Busch also purchased 160 acres attached to the main parcel belonging to the United States Army, which had operated as Camp Wallace since 1919. After building a brewery plant which began operations in 1972, and concurrently breaking ground for a Busch Gardens theme park, Busch began to develop the majority of their property into a sprawling up-scale community known as Kingsmill on the James.
Today’s Kingsmill consists of the acreage fronting the James River between College Creek on the west and Grove Creek on the east. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, local residents used a variety of names for the area including Archer’s Hope, Mounts Bay, Harrop, Littletown, and Kingsmill Neck, as well as other lesser known names. Within the larger property between Warehams Pond and Grove Creek is a 270-acre subsection that traditionally has been known as Utopia.
John Jefferson and George Sandys were the first patentees of the acreage that would later contain the Utopia Quarter site. Jefferson acquired 250 acres in 1619 a short distance west from today’s Warehams Pond. Sandys patented 400 adjacent acres in 1624. In 1628, John Utie (Utey, Uty) obtained rights to Jefferson’s 250-acre parcel due to his failure to develop it. Utie apparently originated the name Utopia for his 250-acre plantation, an inventive combination of his surname with Thomas More’s famous concept of a perfect society. Utie had a propensity for naming his properties after himself, calling a later plantation on the York River “Utimaria,” a fusion of his surname and his wife’s first name. The term Utopia first appeared in print in association with Utie and it was retained by subsequent owners and residents throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Goodwin 1958; Stephenson 1963; Kelso 1973, 1984b; Fesler 2000a, 2004a).
Utie held rights to the Jefferson tract for just over a year before selling it to John Browning in late 1629. By 1638, Browning had purchased the 400-acre Sandys tract from the estate of Edward Grindon. With that purchase, Browning joined together the Jefferson tract and the Sandys tract to form a landholding comprised of 650 contiguous acres. By 1660, Thomas Pettus Sr. acquired William Browning’s 650-acre Utopia tract along with an additional 350-acre tract known as Littletown to form a 1,000 acre plantation. Pettus Sr. (or his son Thomas Pettus Jr.) eventually added 280 acres to create the 1,280-acre Littletown/Utopia plantation.
Thomas Pettus Sr. and later his son Thomas Pettus Jr. lived in a sizeable plantation house on a point overlooking the James River in the southwest portion of the Littletown tract (Kelso 1984b). By the mid-1670s, Pettus Jr. inherited the plantation from his deceased father and built a post-in-ground dwelling house at the site of the Utopia Quarter one mile down river from his plantation house. Evidence suggests that the initial inhabitants consisted of a mixture of enslaved Africans and English indentured servants who occupied the site between ca. 1675-1700. Thomas Pettus Jr. died in 1690 and shortly thereafter his widow married James Bray (II). By 1700, the title to the Littletown/Utopia plantation belonged to Bray (II) (Pettus 1691; Goodwin 1958; Stephenson 1963; Kelso 1973, 1984b; Fesler 2000a, 2000b, 2004a).
Archaeology at Kingsmill
At least a dozen full-scale historical archaeological excavations have been conducted at Kingsmill over the years. As part of the 1970 purchase agreement from Colonial Williamsburg, Anheuser Busch agreed to preserve the historic heritage of the property and excavate any threatened historic sites during the course of development. As a result, approximately a dozen full-scale archaeological excavations took place at Kingsmill between 1972 and 1976, all directed by Dr. William Kelso, and which culminated with a published volume of this work (Kelso 1984b). Kelso and his colleagues excavated a variety of sites that spanned the colonial period, among them major plantation seats at Pettus (44JC33), Bray (44JC34), and Lewis Burwell III’s Kingsmill plantation (44JC37), quartering sites for servants and slaves at Utopia (44JC32), Littletown (44JC35), Kingsmill Quarter (44JC39), Hampton Key (44JC44), and North Quarter (44JC52), and a tavern and wharf at Burwell’s Landing (44JC40) (Kelso 1973, 1974, 1976 , 1977, 1984b).
Later Excavations at Utopia, 1993-97
In 1993, testing around Kelso’s original excavation area at Utopia revealed additional artifact concentrations across an area several acres in size (Fesler 1997). As archaeologists with the James River Institute for Archaeology continued to evaluate the site, it became apparent that Utopia consisted of more than the single late seventeenth-century habitation episode that Kelso excavated. Indeed, Utopia was occupied by four successive groups, each living in separate houses and producing their own distinctive archaeological imprint. The entire span of these occupations is bracketed within a 100 year period, ca. 1675 to ca. 1775, and each appears to have lasted no more than 25 to 30 years, roughly a generation. A small burial ground associated with Utopia II and III is also present at the site and adds a fifth archaeological context (Fesler 2004a).
|Period||Time Span||Primary Owner||Occupants|
|1||ca. 1675 – 1700||Thomas Pettus Jr.||Servants and Slaves|
|2||1700 – ca. 1730||James Bray II||Slaves|
|3||ca. 1730 – ca. 1750||Thomas Bray II and James Bray III||Slaves|
|4||ca. 1750 – ca. 1775||Lewis Burwell IV||Slaves|
Of the occupation areas and the burial ground, Utopia IV yielded the highest number of features, due to the 24 subfloor pits and 11 major trash or borrow pits in the yard. It is interesting to note that the number of features increased over time from a low of 20 for Utopia I to a high of 46 for Utopia IV. This trend may be attributable to population size: a larger group of people presumably had more opportunities and a greater need to create archaeological features. Or feature density may be a byproduct of the duration of each occupation. For example, Utopia I may have been active for as few as 15 years (ca. 1675 – 1690), whereas activity at Utopia IV appears to have spanned twice as long (ca. 1745 – 1775), perhaps explaining why Utopia IV produced more than double the amount of features at Utopia I (Fesler 2004a).
|Utopia I||Utopia II||Burial Ground||Utopia III||Utopia IV||Total|
|Misc. Pit Features||2||5||6||13|
James River Institute for Archaeology (JRIA)