New Yorktown Victory Center

New Yorktown Victory Center

While we were checking into our condo, another visitor was raving about the new Yorktown Victory Center, so we decided to take the afternoon (7/12/15) to check it out.  The last time we were at Yorktown, we had to meander around construction barricades to find our way into the exhibits.  Now, it was an impressive edifice!

The entire museum will be complete Late 2016, so there is a lot that is still not finished–mostly the indoor exhibits.  We watched the opening movie on the importance of liberty and were heading outside when we heard a man giving a lecture on the American Revolution in the education area of the building.  We ducked in for a moment only to find out he was just ending, so we decided to come back for a later presentation.

Outside, we immediately joined a tour on the life of slaves in Yorktown.

Life of a slave tour in the Tobacco Barn

Life of a slave tour in the Tobacco Barn

The tour guide shared that Virginia made up 1/5 of the nation’s population with about half of that being slaves. Slaves worked a variety of places, but most were used in conjunction with tobacco, which is a ten month season from March to November. Different from the house garden, which we would visit later, the slave garden contained different plants like Okra and hot peppers that were introduced by slave traders. We then went to the tobacco barn where we noticed a bed in the corner. Our guide explained that most Americans were not wealthy, so they might rent slaves or have four or five to work the tobacco fields. Because they were not like plantations, there were no such thing as slave quarters.

The talk was short, so we went out to explore the rest of the area. We went in the kitchens to see what was being cooked. The reenactors do actually cook on site with items grown on site. And, they actually get to eat what they cook! Health codes won’t allow sharing with the public, but it’s neat that they get to share with each other (Our guide said the young guys were especially grateful about this!)

We went to see the musket being fired, though I’ve seen many through Civil War reenactment. The guide here explained the reason why men marched in straight line formations. He shared that the weapons at this time were only between 1 and 5% accurate at 100 yards. Therefore, the best way to be effective was to do exactly what they did,

Musket firing

Musket firing

Next, we went to hear the doctor. He shared a lot of fascinating information about medicines used and the types of injuries they incurred. Interestingly, of the 26,000 men who died in the war, 19,000 died from disease. The top killers were Bloody flux (dysentery), Typhus, and Malaria. People are generally surprised that small pox wasn’t a bigger factor, but he shared that Washington had had the army vaccinated at Valley Forge (This was amazing to me, because small pox vaccines at this time involved carrying around a person who had small pox, taking pus from their pox, cutting a slice in the person who needed the vaccination, and putting the pus into the wound. On top of the suffering we know went on at Valley Forge, I wasn’t aware of this new trauma.)

One thing that really impressed me about this actor was how emotional he got about Washington. He shared how Washington’s adopted son Jackie was never really interested in school.

One of the reenactors

One of the reenactors

He expressed how much that hurt Washington, who had never had the opportunity to be formally educated and was always embarrassed by it. Washington provided Jackie with every opportunity educationally, only to be told by Jackie’s teachers that Jackie was not interested in learning, and Washington was throwing his money away. Jackie begged to come see Washington at Yorktown, and Washington refused, stating the dangers here. But, when Jackie continued to press him, he relented, against his better judgment. Jackie was able to be in Yorktown for Cornwallis’s surrender. But, he would catch camp fever (typhus) and die at West Point.

Washington himself would have his own bad luck at the hands of physicians, as four of them would be entrusted with his care—and all would believe bleeding him was the best way to deal with his illness, which each of them would do. He also shared that one of the doctors who attended Washington knew how to do a tracheotomy which could potentially have saved Washington, but he was afraid to do it, since it was Washington. Alas, one of the “what if’s” of history.

We opted to go back inside to hear the Connect the Dots tour, in which the speaker shares the entire war in about thirty minutes. It was truly incredible. He used to work at Jamestown, and before he shared his initial talk, he explained how America was founded by men who were already wealthy because Queen Elizabeth had had them working as privateers, and they were so successful at it that she chose them when wanted to get a foothold in the new world, since Spain owned about two-thirds of it and France owned most of Canada.

Military encampment

Military encampment

When he started on the American Revolution, he first blew up the myth that the tea tax was the issue. Showing us the Intolerable Acts, he asked which type of people would have to pay taxes. The only people who could afford the items that were being taxed were wealthy business owners, merchants, and slave owners. The majority of Americans were poor. There’s no way you’re going to buy paint if you’re poor—you’ll buy food! A tax on paint, glass, newspapers, etc. is not going to affect you. He pointed out that the reason why the tea tax was so heinous was that we had a great deal of people who smuggled goods. By giving a monopoly to the East India Company, these smugglers were undersold. The tax on tea actually lowered the price of tea for the colonists. But, it cost the smugglers, and those who made money off them like John Hancock, a lot of money,

Scoping out the herb garden

Scoping out the herb garden

Then, he went over the various battles, sharing that Washington had initially been on a huge losing streak until Trenton. We discussed the variety of foreign assistance we received and those who helped. It was interesting to see some foreigners who were willing to fight to the death for our freedom and some American Generals (cough, Gates, cough) who ran away from the battle leaving his men to fend for themselves. There was such a wealth of information, I can’t remember it all (my phone deleted my notes.) I do remember though, that he discussed the British strategy to attack the South and work with the loyalists to move North. In South Carolina, most of the militia was captured, so the only people left were free agents like Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox (one of the models for the Patriot.) He also spoke of Morgan who ordered his men to climb trees and shoot at the officers, feeling then the men would be leaderless, and they could win. All in all, it was an incredibly informative and fascinating discussion.

Dyer explains the items used for coloring

Dyer explains the items used for coloring

We decided to go back outside, and ended up walking around the garden and discussing the herbs used in medicines. Since my mom and I both are interested in natural cures, this was extremely fascinating! Then, the dyer shared some of the plants (and animals) used in dyeing. She pointed out the fact that since the beetles used to make the red dye were found in Mexico and had to be shipped to England, which cost a whole lot, the fact that the British wore red coats was a way to intimidate by portraying their wealth, as the cost of such fabric would have been high to cover the shipping of the dye.

We meandered back down to hear another artillery presentation, see the cannon set off, and finally hear about the spies who helped Washington. He shared about the Culper Gang, but that this group was only one of hundreds of spies.

Spy presentation

Spy presentation

We learned the different methods of coding from numbers to cut outs, and the network Washington had from tavern owners to society people to former loyalists. He then gave us our own code to solve and a reward if we were able to do so. A fun exercise indeed.

By then, it was 6:00 and the museum was closing. It was a neat experience, but I can’t wait to see what it looks like next year when it is all finished!

Advertisements