— Colonial National Historical Park —
"On the Peticon of Mungo Somervell to this court for his keeping the ferry in York Town of Same is accordingly granted?"
York County Court, September 24,1702
Prior to the American Revolution, the community of Yorktown consisted of individuals whose diverse jobs and skills contributed to the success of the port. Little information exists on many of Yorktown's early citizens, though court records help reveal the identity and livelihoods of some residents.
Such is the case of Mungo Somerwell. The first reference to Somerwell is from 1702 Court papers that reveal he requested a license for operating a ferry. His surname in these records is spelled Somervell. Later county records also show that Somerwell, in addition to operating a ferry, simultaneously held several jobs, including that of merchant, keeper of an ordinary and town constable. At his death, around 1706/7, his widow was ordered by the court to have this estate "appraised at his late dwelling house." Somerwell's assets included the house, "gardens, stables, warehouses and appurtenances whatsoever."
But where was Somerwell from? When was he born? Was he successful? Is this even the same house referred to in his estate appraisal or was it built by someone else after Somerwell's death? Future historians may find some of these answers, but for the present, details of Somerwell's life are a mystery.
The house for many years was referred to as the Lightfoot House, after Philip Lightfoot, who purchased the property in 1716 as a rental investment. It is possible that he, and not Mungo Somerwell, built the current building, though many changes to the property may have destroyed evidence that would help determine the building's age. By the time the National Park Service acquired the property, the house had an extensive back wing, which was initially constructed during the Civil War for hospital use. After the war, the wing was enlarged, and house served as a hotel.
Philip Lightfoot's signature Courtesy of Special Collections, Swan Library, The College of William & Mary
In 1935-1936, the National Park Service restored the house to its colonial appearance and utilized it for park headquarters and a visitor center.