Ambler Mansion Ruins
Once a two-story Georgian homestead that its owners liked to call a "mansion," this house belonged to the prominent Ambler family in the eighteenth century. The Amblers had significant land holdings in Jamestown and were important to the local economy. Around 1750, the Amblers built the house near Back Street and the church in Jamestown. The house burned during the American Revolution but was restored by Colonel John Ambler. David Bullock purchased the land of the Ambler and Travis families in Jamestown in 1831, including this house. After a second fire during the Civil War, the house was restored again, but was abandoned after a third fire in 1895.
Backstory and Context
The Ambler family was a prominent force in the economy and community of Jamestown island in the early eighteenth century, even after the capital of the Virginia colony moved to Williamsburg. Richard Ambler emigrated from England to Yorktown, Virginia in 1716, and most likely inherited land from an uncle. He married Elizabeth Jaquelin in 1724, heiress to the combined land holdings of the Jaquelin and Sherwood families. These lands passed to the Amblers in 1739, beginning the family's ascendancy.
Richard served as the Collector of the Port of York beginning in 1724, a powerful position which involved the inspection of all ships traveling on the river, the collecting of taxes from tobacco exporters, the enforcement of Parliament's Navigation Acts, and the reporting of trade violations. The position had significant benefits, including exemption from taxes, jury duty, and military service. Richard's three sons who survived to adulthood -- John, Edward, and Jaquelin -- all served as Collector of the Port of York as well.
In Jamestown, Richard continued to acquire land and farm on his large estate. He built Ambler Mansion around the 1750s along Back Street in the New Towne area of east Jamestown. By this time the land in Jamestown had been consolidated into holdings owned by the Ambler and Travis families. As much of the island became farmland, earlier structures were destroyed. The mansion was a two-story structure in a typical Georgian style, consisting of a central hall with two rooms on each side. The mansion most likely included bricks from older structure near the site built by the Chiles and Sherwood families. The Ambler Mansion property also had significant garden walkways. The historical marker at the ruins compares the house's original structure to the George Wythe house in Williamsburg.
After Richard's death in 1766, his three sons inherited his property in Jamestown and Yorktown. Jaquelin served in the American Revolution. Richard's descendants married into other prominent Virginia families, such as the Carys and Burwells. Richard's granddaughter Polly Ambler married future U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall.
During the American Revolution, the house burned, but Colonel John Ambler restored it. In 1831, David Bullock purchased the home along with other holdings of the Ambler and Travis families. In 1861, Confederate forces regraded the land in Jamestown the build a fort for a cannon battery. Union troops and individuals who had escaped slavery inhabited the island for the rest of the war after the Confederates abandoned it in 1862. A second fire destroyed the house during the Civil War. The second restoration succumbed to fire again in 1895, at which point the inhabitants abandoned the house. The National Parks Service now maintains the site.
The Ambler Mansion Ruins is a different structure from the Amblers House which stands about two miles to the northwest in Jamestown.
Coughlin, Bill. Ambler House Historical Marker, Historical Marker Database. December 1st 2016. Accessed March 10th 2020. https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=17308.
Historic Jamestown. New Towne, Jamestown Rediscovery. 2020. Accessed March 12th 2020. https://historicjamestowne.org/visit/plan-your-visit/new-towne/.
Rafa, Cheryl. The Ambler Family in Virginia, National Parks Service: Historic Jamestowne. February 26th 2015. Accessed March 10th 2020. https://www.nps.gov/jame/learn/historyculture/the-ambler-family-in-virginia.htm.