Williamsburg in the rain

Williamsburg in the rain

Thursday, 6/12/14, dawned gray and rainy. We had planned to spend the day in Colonial Williamsburg and were hoping against hope that Thomas Jefferson would still speak as advertised. (For those who have never visited Colonial Williamsburg, they publish a weekly schedule of events Sunday through Saturday, so you can choose which specific events you want to attend.) Thankfully, the rain cleared up, and we were told Jefferson would come on as scheduled. We were excited because Jen most wanted to see him, having already seen Patrick Henry and George Washington. But, we weren’t the only ones excited to hear Thomas Jefferson. We ended up sitting next to a young woman who was related to Thomas Jefferson. Even though this particular actor (Bill Barker) is not the “real” Thomas Jefferson, he has been playing Thomas Jefferson for thirty years in a variety of capacities. His knowledge is unparalleled, and he is truly fascinating to listen to.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

One of my favorite things Thomas Jefferson does is his interaction with the audience. As only someone who has studied a source for thirty years can do, Barker answers questions with information gleaned from first hand letters and speeches. Yet, this time, he gave an illustration that was unforgettable. A young boy asked him a question about his intent in the Declaration of Independence. In response, Jefferson called him up. He gave him two items to hold, both his sword and a feather pen. He challenged him with the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Through a masterful presentation, he explained how ideas changed the world and how we fought to have a voice. While fighting is sometimes necessary, ideas are the things that last to be considered and analyzed by generations to come. He challenged the young man to stand up for what he believed in and not to let his voice be silenced. And he let him keep the feather.

Jefferson

Jefferson

After the presentation, we went up to speak to Thomas Jefferson, who it seems is a big fan of Civil War history as well. We talked about our upcoming trip to Petersburg, and he stepped out of character long enough to tell us to check out a little restaurant in Petersburg where Edgar Allan Poe spent his honeymoon. We said we would.

From there, we headed to the Dewitt Wallace Museum to hear a different Martha Washington, who also had an incredible deal of experience. She was more sober than Martha Washington at Mount Vernon, but brought out a number of human incidents in Washington’s life as well. In addition to hosting speakers, the Dewitt Wallace Museum sports consistent exhibits of ceramics, guns, instruments, art, and money, but they also have a variety of rotating exhibits which are also well worth seeing. This time, there was a collection of Colonial furniture which demonstrates an artistry unparalleled in today’s society.

By the time we finished in the museum, it was raining pretty steadily, so we decided to go home for dinner and to dry off before our evening Ghosts Among Us Tour. This tour is a fascinating one to take because it draws on actual historical reportings from the time. We met our guide at the Lumber House ticket office (Across from the Palace Green.) At our first stop, we filed into a parlor area where we were greeted by a lovely young woman who explained a chilling story of a murder case. An older man who was described as being “touched” had killed a young boy because he saw Satan in him. The young woman described going to visit him in jail, hearing him talking to someone, and seeing a demon. Having personally witnessed exorcisms, I can say with confidence she was spot on for mimicking someone who is possessed. Definitely a creepy one. It’s creepier still to learn that the murder really took place, the man really used the defense of trying to get Satan from the boy, and the judges deliberated for a LONG time, and didn’t really come to a decision on how to charge him.

From there, we progressed to another house where we learned the story (also loosely based in truth) of a woman who killed her sister (and her husband’s first wife) in order to marry her husband. Most of the accounts, while including the account of the husband marrying his dead wife’s sister, also tell of the first wife dying peacefully, not breaking her neck falling down stairs. There are apparently legends, though, that lead thrill seekers to try to hear the footsteps on the stairs at odd hours of the night.

Governor's Palace

Governor’s Palace

We ended our tour in the Governor’s palace. We learned that this building had been used as a hospital during the war after the Battle of Yorktown, and they had actually found a large number of graves behind the palace that dated back to that time period. In this presentation, the actor represented one of the soldiers killed. In one of the graves, archaeologists had found a jaws harp in with the soldier. What led someone to bury it with this young man? Speculations on this man’s story led the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to create this presentation to honor so many unknown soldiers whose stories we will never know. Definitely an incredible glimpse into the lives of so many soldiers. That concluded our ghost tour. Another wonderful day at Colonial Williamsburg.

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