The Burgwin-Wright House is the home of two fascinating Colonial era stories.
First of all, it’s the only Colonial Era structure in Wilmington that’s open to the public. The house is a sparkling example of Georgian architecture (with an acre of magnificent colonial style gardens, to boot), offering a beautiful glimpse into the life of the well-to-do in the early days of America. It was built at a time when you didn’t brag about your wealth but let your home do the talking.
John Burgwin, the merchant, planter, and government official who built the house, wanted a home at the center of town—and he succeeded. And this is where the second part of the story emerges.
Burgwin-Wright House was built atop the circa 1744 city jail, which also happened to be the first city jail of Wilmington. At that time, it was common for jails to be located in the center of town. The convenient location made it easier for the prisoners to be viewed by the public—especially by people who wanted to hire the debtors who had been incarcerated. This revelation gives some insight into Colonial Era justice—or lack thereof.
Simply put, the Colonies had no unified or codified legal system. And by the mid-1700s—in the heat of the impending Revolutionary fervor—a legal reform movement was also underway to create a more fair and unified American legal system. Once the Bill of Rights was ratified, the reform process accelerated. Today, you can see original cells when you visit.
A trip to the Burgwin-Wright House will give you a taste of colonial life in Wilmington, a first-hand view of how “justice” was carried out long ago, and introduce you to the stories of people—beyond John Burgwin—who lived and worked at this fascinating place.