American Revolution


My crossing of the Delaware

Since I came this far to visit a friend in Philadelphia, I wanted to take advantage of being here, since I’m not sure when I’ll be in the neighborhood again.  Because of that, I booked a hotel by Valley Forge and planned to spend time today (7/13/17) in Trenton.

By the time I actually located my hotel (a fiasco that’s a story for another place) and navigated through the construction and traffic to actually reach the right entrance, I discovered I was unable to check in (despite the website claiming 24 hour check-in.  Apparently, it was not the official website.)  So, I left already frustrated with this leg of the journey.

Navigating around New Jersey is nothing like navigating around Virginia.  I desperately missed the times of going hours as the only car going in my direction and one of only a handful on the road.  But, finally, I made it to Trenton.  Now to figure out where to go.  If I had such famous events as “The Turning Point of the American Revolution” to my credit, I would shout it from the mountaintops.  I mean, this is how we became a nation! But, to find places in Trenton requires a bit more work.  After a bit of sleuthing (trying to decide where to actually go), I landed on the Visitor Center for Washington’s Crossing Historic Park.  I navigated around a path, illegally backed up, went the wrong way on a one way, and finally ended up in a parking lot for the center.  All the lights were off.

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Inside the Visitor Center.  I’m not sure where you weren’t supposed to take pictures, so I included a far away shot.

I went in, and the lone man at the desk informed me he had the lights off to help with the heat.  Understandable.  I paid my $1.00 to see the movie (I offered to pay the park entrance fee as no one had been at the gate, but he said they only charge on weekends.) and started to look around.  This is actually an incredible site with some incredible artifacts, including some of the first medals given out to a number of military men who made a huge difference in the American Revolution.  The movie explains about the time leading up to the American Revolution.  While the museum may not seem like much, the directors were apparently all at the American Revolution Museum in Philadelphia deciding how they wanted to make this museum better.  But, he assures me that project is still 6-10 years down the road.

One of the most interesting things I learned is that the story of the Hessians being hungover for the Battle of Trenton is a myth!  The site calls it the biggest myth in American History that is even in school textbooks. But, the series of skirmishes in the area and the journals of the Hessians revealed that they were on guard against Washington and his men.  The fact that the weather was horrible (freezing rain at our backs and in our enemy’s face, which also affected their gunpowder) and that Washington had crossed undetected and attacked forcefully made the real difference.

After looking through the museum, I asked the curator what he would recommend in town.  He drew me a map to the Old Barracks Museum and the Monument, but told me to head down to the Johnson Ferry houses.  One of the historians was down there, and she would be “a good one to talk to.”  He was more right than he knew.

The Johnson Ferry House

When I asked at the Ferry House, one of the historians said the other would be better as she’d grown up here and had been a docent here forever, whereas she was only a lowly seasonal employee (for 9 years!).  But, she brought down Nancy Ceperley, who is a jewel indeed.  For the next hour or so, Nancy and I sat on chairs in the Johnson house and talked about Washington.  We discussed the fact that he was an eloquent man, reserved, focused, and determined.  Nancy believes his aspirations to be in the gentry class stem from a desire to be able to serve on a greater level.  Our conversation then turned to Washington’s faith.  She mentioned his many letters and family observations that he was a deeply Christian man–not just a religious or moral man. We discussed his mason involvement, and the fact that the masons changed after Washington was in it, and that men at the time wrote to Washington to see if he could stop the changes, but he had a country to create by that time, and wrote that he could not focus on that at the time.

Lighting in the Johnson Ferry House

Our conversation then turned to the Crossing of the Delaware–the painting, the event, and the people who lived in this house located in a loyalist state who were willing to help Washington actively with ferrying troops and simply with their silence about the plan.  What a great risk they took!  This launched Nancy into a favorite subject of hers:  The Great Awakening.  While she covers the aspects of the house that are of interest to whichever visitors she has, her true passion and course of study is the affect the Great Awakening had in preparing for the American Revolution.  Were it not for that event pulling people together and giving them the principles, determination, and resolve to see Independence achieved, things might have been very different.

Replica of the flat boats that ferried troops and supplies

What an incredible privilege to meet Nancy!  We prayed together for the state of our nation today and for our respective roles in serving the public.  She gave me a copy of her book Whitefield in Philadelphia:  The Great Awakening of 1740, for which she spent years researching the connection between the Great Awakening and the American Revolution.  I can’t wait to read it!

Washington’s Crossing spot

As I stepped out to head to my car, contemplating the difference between my Turbo tour of yesterday, and this jewel, where I could literally sit for hours for a personal conversation with an expert, it began to pour rain!  So, I drove down to the crossing site and took pictures of the boat replica in the pouring rain.  But, as it was around 5:00, most things were closing.  Though I drove by the Old Barracks Museum and the War Memorial, I didn’t have opportunity to visit either.  Perhaps I’ll make it back before I head home.  But, regardless, I had an incredible day enjoying two of New Jersey’s hidden treasures!

Governor’s Palace

Today (3/29/17), we had planned to do another tour of historic Jamestown with the woman who was giving the Roads Scholars’ tour, but when we called Jamestowne, we were told her tour wouldn’t be until 3 (Turns out, it was a miscommunication and she wasn’t giving a tour today.)  So, with our initial plans out the window, we were left to explore new territory.

We spent the morning running errands and trying to obtain contact information for the new man in charge of Colonial Williamsburg.  As long time guests, we believe he’s making some major mistakes in direction and wanted to address them before it’s too late.  While his schedule wouldn’t allow us to meet this week, I received assurances that his chief of staff would contact me.  We’ll see.

Freedom Park cabins

So, we had time to kill before our 5:30 lecture on George Washington.  Last night, I had Googled a “Must see” list for the area to see what we had missed in our devotion to our favorites.  One area that caught my eye was Freedom Park.  While it is known for its hiking and biking trails and zip lining, it also is the site of one of the oldest free black settlements.

Reconstruction of a cabin like John Jackson’s.

The place got its start when William Ludwell Lee of Green Spring Farm not only freed his slaves in his will, but also made provisions for comfortable homes to be built for them. His executor saw to the project which allowed the former slaves to live rent free for ten years.  One of the homes represents the home of John Jackson (with his wife Nancy and two children.)  Jackson was able to purchase and develop his own property, and his descendants still live in the area!

The park guide also references an 18th century cemetery, and though there were archaeological digs on the grounds and bodies were found, they were reinterred after research was completed.  Unfortunately, there are no markers nor clues to the information archaeologists found, and the area is simply blocked off by rail fences.

Botanical Gardens

The park does, however, have a visitor center which displays a small collection of artifacts and information.  My favorite piece was a map from the Civil War simply listing the area as “Free Negro Settlement.”  There aren’t any houses marked or details, indicating the artist didn’t explore the area. I wished I’d gotten a picture of it, but alas,  I didn’t.

There is a beautiful botanical garden as well, which is run by volunteers.  Though I don’t expect Freedom Park to become a new favorite, it is definitely worth visiting, and since it’s only about five years old and a county park, I’m sure it will continue to improve.  It will be fun to see the changes that occur.

A sampling of period clothes

We left Freedom Park to head back to Colonial Williamsburg for a lecture in the building formerly known as the Dewitt Wallace–now the Art Museums of Williamsburg.  Being a reenactor and a seamstress, I wanted to check out their collection of Colonial Fashion, now on display.  There was a beautiful exhibition of clothes and quilts–well worth visiting, even though I didn’t have much time before the lecture.

The lecture by Professor Peter Henriques was entitled I cannot tell a lie. Myths about George Washington that should be discarded. In his discussion, he gave twelve myths and his reasons why they’re “fake news.”  I’ll recount them here.

Washington’s false teeth

Myth #1:  He had wooden teeth.  Actually,  Washington’s false teeth were a combination of human, ivory, and animal.  In fact, he even bought teeth from his slaves!

Myth #2:  He threw a silver dollar across the Potomac. First, silver dollars hadn’t been invented, and Washington wouldn’t have thrown money away if they had.

CW not GW

Myth #3:  He cut down his father’s cherry tree and said,  “I cannot tell a lie…” This myth was popularized in the book by Mason Locke Weems called The Life of Washington, but, though it appears in the book, it wasn’t added til 5-6 edition. There is some background, though. A vase in Germany (1770-1790) depicts Washington cutting down a tree with GW over his head. Unfortunately, on this case, “Washington” is a grown man, and the initials?  CW.

Myth #4:  Washington prayed on his knees at Valley Forge. While there is nothing implausible about Washington praying. He was a very private man, not given to such ostentatious displays. The story only was added by Weems in the 17th edition of his book. Additionally, the description of the man who supposedly witnessed this differs in accounts.  One has Potts as a Quaker encouraged by the event while others portray him as a Tory disheartened by the event.  In either case, he didn’t buy the farm in Valley Forge until after war was over, so could not have witnessed Washington there.

Myth #5:   Washington was a great curser. The reference to this comes from an account of his clash with Lee in 1778 at the Battle of Monmouth. Lee had turned his troops, and Washington had to rush in to save the day.  A quote by Colonel Charles Scott says, “He swore til the leaves shook the trees.” First of all, Scott wasn’t there, and recounted the story many years later. Also disputing this character portrayal, Alexander Hamilton said Washington never cursed. Charles Lee himself said in his testimony that Washington’s manner was stronger than his language. Finally, Washington prided himself on self- mastery and disdained use of profanity.   All of these are good reasons to doubt the account.

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Sculpture of Washington

Myth # 6:   He was cold and aloof.  Apparently, his friend Gouverneur Morris said he was remote. This stems from a story circulated that Morris had told Hamilton he thought Washington quite genial.  Hamilton apparently bet him dinner and wine if Morris would put his hand on Washington’s shoulder and say, “General!  How happy I am to see you looking so well.”  Supposedly, Morris did it, and Washington removed his hand from his shoulder and glared at Morris until he left.  As with the other myths, there is no contemporary evidence. First, the record is third hand gossip 80 years after the event. Additionally, the story is out of character for both men. Delegates who served with Washington said, “He is sensible, amiable, virtuous, modest, and brave.” To publicly embarrass someone would go against his rules of civility; therefore, it’s safe to assume the incident never happened.

Myth #7:  He had no sense of humor.  James Madison said Washington “enjoyed good humor and hilarity, though he takes little part in them.”  Additionally, Washington’s bad teeth might have given credence to this rumor as well, since most people don’t like smiling and laughing if they’re self conscious–and self-mastery was extremely important to him.

Myth #8:  Washington had a child with his slave.  This rumor has two sources.  The first was letters put out by the British during the war trying to slander Washington’s character.  The other comes from West Ford, who was the son of George Washington’s brother John’s wife’s slave.  The Ford family gave oral tradition that he was Washington’s son.  A number of facts dispute this, however.  First, West didn’t come to Mount Vernon until three years after Washington died. Additionally, there is incredible difficulty with putting Venus (West’s mom) and Washington together.  Since West was born during the war when we have very credible evidence where Washington was, the only possibility would be when John’s family visits Mount Vernon. There’s no plausible reason why Washington–a happily married man who valued duty and self discipline above most else–would do that. West is most likely the son of one of Washington’s nephews.  Doctors now think that Washington was most likely sterile. This doesn’t necessarily disprove the Fords story of having Washington DNA.  The Fords may be directly related to Washington without being directly descended from him.

Myth #9:  Washington struggled about whether to be a king. In actuality, he was fundamentally a believer in republican values. The origins of this belief may be because of a letter from a French officer suggesting it may be better for America to have a king (strong leadership in tumultuous times.). George responded with a blistering letter contradicting that view and even went as far as to have witnesses sign that he sent it. It would have caused him to be viewed as a traitor if he abandoned his republican principles.

Myth #10:  Washington added “So help me God” to his presidential oath.  First, there isn’t contemporary evidence to this.  A letter from the French ambassador which spells out the whole scene of the inauguration in vivid detail doesn’t include it.  But, 65 years later, it appears in a book. It seems out of character for Washington to tamper with the constitutional text when he’s such a stickler for the Constitution being taken literally. The tradition may come from the fact that he’d said it in other oaths.

Myth #11:  Washington is a front man for Alexander Hamilton.  This myth had its origin with Jefferson who immensely disliked Hamilton.  Unfortunately, Washington tends to side with Hamilton’s perspective more than Jefferson’s.  Jefferson’s answer to this frustration is that Washington is deceived by Hamilton, since he cannot consider Washington evil like he considers Hamilton.

Myth #12:  Washington originated the 2 term tradition. It’s important to understand the factors here.  First, Washington steps down from a combination of fatigue and a desire to establish a transition of power. He was not opposed to the idea of serving a number of terms. In fact, in a letter to Lafayette, he said that he saw no problem with serving multiple terms, and thought limiting terms stifled the voice of the people, who might desire a particular person to serve longer (or be in circumstances that would make it easier or better for a leader to continue.)

All in all, it was a fascinating evening, and I see why his lectures are so popular and well attended.

Hulling cacao beans

Mortar and pestle grinding

Rolling out (further grinding)

Closer…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We started the morning (3/28/17) at Colonial Williamsburg to check out the chocolate making process. It is a long, time-consuming process. Because of this, at the time, most chocolate was purchased in the stores.  The chocolate was produced in chocolate factories in the North located in Boston, Newport, Philadelphia, and New York.  Those who were extremely wealthy (or had a love for chocolate worth the sacrifice) had their own chocolate stones and employed slaves to make their chocolate. There were 3 chocolate stones in Virginia–the Governor’s Palace, Thomas Jefferson’s, and Lee Hall. In the 1700’s, most cacao beans were bought from the Caribbean. Today, we mostly get it from Africa. Colonial Williamsburg gets theirs from Mars Company, which I think is cool!

Preparing the Massachusetts flag

From there, we headed to Yorktown where it was Massachusetts Day.  I expected the opening ceremonies to be bigger than they were.  They basically consisted of opening comments (welcome) and a member of the National Park’s staff putting Massacusetts’ puzzle piece into a joined snake from the Ben Franklin “Join or Die” image, symbolizing the unity of the colonists in joining the nation.  After that, we followed the members of the fife and drum corps as they led an army of middle school students to the artillery area for an opening ceremony.  After comments introducing the speakers and events for the afternoon, they raised the Massachusetts flag over the encampment.  It was a cool celebration, but not necessarily something I’d go early again to see.

We spent the afternoon listening to four talks.  While I will not try to cover four hours of lectures in a blog, I will merely point out a few of the fun facts I learned from each.

John Mascarene’s Custom’s papers

First up was Curtis White, who presented Customs enforcement in Salem, Massachusetts: Prelude to War 1760-1775.  Most of his talk focused on John Mascarene, who went from being a glass maker to a customs official.  Most customs officers received a minimal salary from the crown and made up their money from fees.  One of the most interesting discoveries Mr. White made was the rules for customs officers.  Interestingly enough, he found the John Mascarene’s own papers.

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Gage’s order for destruction of Colonial property

 

 

 

 

The second lecture was Leslie Obleschuk’s on The Battles of Lexington and Concord. One of the most fascinating facts here was that when Gage gave orders to march on Lexington and Concord, he gave orders how to destroy the property taken from the armory.  He’s very specific that the musket balls were to be disposed of by degrees–scattered in fields, etc.  Instead, they dumped the 500 pounds of ammunition they confiscated into the mill pond, where it was easily recovered later.  I’m sure this had to do with the British army’s speedy retreat out of town.

Ms. Obleschuk also explained the vital choice behind the shot heard round the world.  John Buttrick (father of 10 kids and Member of the Committee of Correspondence) was the commanding officer at the North Bridge. While positioned on the high ground outside of town, the men saw smoke coming from the center of town.  They assumed the worst–that the British had set the town on fire.  Buttrick has to make the choice between staying put and facing the British.  They decide to face off. The British are tearing planks off the bridge, and a shot rings out.  Buttrick orders his men to fire–even though firing on the King’s troops is treason.  Both sides have a “Now what?” monent.  The day has not gone the way either side had planned.  Finally, British soldiers who are exhausted (having left at 10 pm the night before) decided to leave.  Ms. Obleschuk believes Concord was the true “Shot heard round the world” for two reasons.  First, Emerson (who coined the phrase) had a grandfather who lived in a house directly by the North Bridge.  No doubt he gave Emerson an account of what happened that day.  Additionally, this was the first time an American commander gave a direct order to fire against British troops.  While this wasn’t a point from which they could not turn back, the reality is, they didn’t.

Howe’s plan of attack

The third and fourth talks were given by Garrett Cloer.  He began with Joseph Warren and the Battle of Bunker Hill.   While Joseph Warren is an amazing character and often overlooked, I was most fascinated by John Stark and the New Hampshire boys (whom I’m sure they’ll discuss on New Hampshire day).

Howe’s plans were to make a major attack, cutting off the colonists in the redoubt. He first orders the navy to burn Charlestown so colonists have nothing to hide behind–obviously learning a lesson from the British retreat from Lexington and Concord.  But when John Stark brings his regiment from New Hampshire to the redoubt and is allowed to position them as he sees fit, he immediately anticipates Howe’s flanking maneuver and orders his men to the gap.  There, they fortify a two rail fence, all that would have stood between Howe and the redoubt.  Stark also puts his men in 3 deep to be able to rotate the men firing.  When the British attack, 90 British soldiers are killed in the first volley.  They would never breach the fence.  In fact, many British commanders would lose between 3/4 and 9/10 of their men.

Outside Yorktown Victory Center

Cloer’s second talk was on Washington:  “The gentleman and the soldier looked agreeably blended in him.” He explained what an adjustment it was for Washington as a Virginian to enter Massachusetts society and lead.  It was indeed a clash of cultures.  It really gave some perspective on exactly what it took for such different colonies to work together–something that should give us hope today.

The final talk of the day was Jason Halin on The Revolutionary Partnership of John and Abigail Adams. One fascinating detail he pointed out was that the average age in Boston was 16.  So, you have a young, discontented population in the middle of economic depression, ruled by an authority they don’t agree with.  No wonder Franklin described it as a powder keg waiting to erupt!

Honoring Massachusetts

Another fascinating detail was Abigail Adams role in the revolution.  In addition to holding down the fort in Boston, caring for sick family members, running a farm, and making supplies for the army–John Quincy remembers her making her own musketballs–she also served as John Adams’ eyes and ears, passing vital information which he could share with congress.  Another fun fact about her is that she pushed her husband to ensure women’s rights in the new independence–something John Adams doesn’t push for in light of everything else they were fighting.  She truly is a remarkable woman.

Definitely incredible information to learn!

Entering the encampment

Today (3/26/17) after church, we decided to head into Yorktown  for about three hours to see the progress on the redoubt. We were unaware that they were doing their Grand Opening this week! This entails featuring one of the original thirteen colonies each day for thirteen days.

James Oglethorpe visits the DAR

For each state, their “day” will begin with a military parade and raising of the state’s flag.  Then, in addition to the normal daily activities, each of the grand opening celebrations features a variety of speakers covering key events and people from that state.  You can check out the schedule here:  http://www.historyisfun.org/grandopening/

Additionally, there are tables set up by the Sons and Daughters of the American Republic giving away gifts and literature on the events and people of the American Revolution in their state.   Today’s state was Georgia, and we had the opportunity to meet James Oglethorpe and hear about his role in the establishment of Georgia.  He shared some parallels to today’s political events with Oglethorpe’s business deals in other states that made him wildly successful.  Very fascinating.

Artillery presentation

When we went outside, we were truly blown away by the changes.  While the military encampment was fairly similar, there was the addition of leveled chair seating, which makes the presentations more comfortable.  Many houses had been added, and we took time to go through the kitchen where this week, they are making a dish from each colony on its day. (Peach pie today.)

and there are places set out for an orchard and the garden.  I can’t wait to see what it looks like when it is entirely complete!

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Georgia peach pie

Inside, there were also changes. Instead of the endearing movies from the 70’s, there are two brand new movies.  The first shares accounts of a variety of people who were involved in the American Revolution.  It had amazing quality, though I was bothered that they portray the first shot of the Boston Massacre as intentional, instead of the accident it was proven in the court case to be, but as this was the account given by a colonist, I’m sure that’s the version they would present (fake news back then as well).  The second movie was more about the Battle of Yorktown, complete with interactive features–smoke, rumbling seats, etc.   It was also very well done.  The thing I appreciated best about both films is their challenge to us today.  In the first film, there is a conversation (paraphrased):  “I wanted to see where the war ended.”  Response:  “Where it ended?  No.   This is where it all began.  The British fought their war with this (tosses musket ball). Now, we have to fight for the future we want.”  The point is that we are still building and fighting for the America we want.  A great reminder!

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Outdoor Buildings

On our way inside, we were invited to a lecture by Professor Robert Davis.  He gave two incredibly informative talks–one on Elijah Clarke and one on the Georgian signers of the Declaration of Independence.

I hadn’t known about Elijah Clarke, but when Professor Davis explained that he was a guerrilla leader in the same vein as the Swamp Fox (Think Benjamin Martin in The Patriot), I understood his importance to the war.  He helped win the Battle of Kettle Creek, and also took 400 refugees to safety in Tennessee.  He was pursued by the British, which will lead to them being in the area for King’s Mountain and later Cowpens..

Another example of Elijah Clarke’s helping others is his actions with Austin Dabney–an African American slave sent to serve in the Revolution in his master’s stead and assigned to Elijah Clarke.  Austin was shot in the thigh and crippled at the Battle of King’s Mountain.  After the war, Clarke helped to secure Dabney’s freedom.  The government would parole him, pay for his freedom, grant him land in honor of his service, and secure his pension.  He was the first African American to receive anything like this.

The second talk Davis gave focused on the signers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  He covered the lives of Dr. Lyman Hall, Button Gwinnett, and George Walton who signed the Declaration, while Abraham Baldwin and William Few signed the Constitution. One thing I appreciated most was the explanation of Georgia’s conflict with the Spanish and the Native Americans.  While I knew we created Georgia as “a buffer state,” I had never thought of how that had been for them.  The constant fear and fighting–losing over 2,000 from Indian attacks alone, not to mention the four wars with Spanish Florida.   No wonder they wanted to join the Union!

img_6315After an incredibly fascinating afternoon, we stopped to pick up shells on the York River.  Beautiful!

For anyone who is in the area, the featured states at Yorktown are as follows:

Mar. 26 Monday: Connecticut
Mar. 27 Tuesday: Massachusetts
Mar. 28 Wednesday: Maryland
Mar. 29 Thursday: South Carolina
Mar. 30 Friday: New Hampshire
Mar. 31 Saturday: Virginia
Apr. 1 Sunday: New York
Apr. 2 Monday: North Carolina
3 Tuesday: Rhode Island

Morning time

We decided to run over to Colonial Williamsburg to take the walking tour with Thomas Jefferson today (7/13/16).  When we went by the Lombard House to get tickets, we discovered the tour was full. We were bitterly disappointed, but decided to stay and see if we could just tag along.  I’m glad we did!

Making candles

While we were waiting to sneak in on the tour, we visited the candle makers, which was fascinating.  With an additional paid ticket, kids can make their own hand dipped candles.  But, just listening to the candle maker taught me a great deal.  First, there were three types of candles colonists would make: tallow (animal fat), beeswax, or bayberry. Additionally, whale oil lamps were used which burned 10-12 hours compared to 4 hours for the others. Candles were dipped with around 50 wicks per bracket. So, a candle maker could make 400 candles in about 3 hours. Molded or gauged molded only allowed about 28 at a time. Unlike today, they didn’t use dyes or scents–candles were practical, not decorative.

Shoemaking

Our next stop was to the shoemaker.  This is always one of my favorite shops.  Here we learned that a pair of shoes takes between 3 and 7 hours to make. Boots take about 40 hours. As far as fixing shoes goes, repairing shoes costs about 1/5 of the price of a new pair and is just not worth the cost of the shoemaker. For those trying to save a bit, the saddle maker might fix your shoes for you or you could try a cobbler. But, a shoemaker was a 7 year apprenticeship while a Cobbler had no training, which gave rise to the expression “Cobbled together.” About half of the population just threw their shoes out when they wore out.  Most people owned 6 or 7 pairs and bought about 4 a year. The most common shoe was made from beef leather, so there was a lot to use. Sole leather was taken from the back of an ox or steer. Inner soles were made from the shoulder. Leather was curried with fish oil. They also made shoes out of goat leather, but these were usually slippers because the leather stretches too much. Turned shoes were sown inside out and turned which made them much more flexible for dancing, and as the saying goes, “Virginians must dance or die.”  A finer shoe simply meant there were more stitches per inch. About Shakespeare’s time, shoe makers stopped making right and left shoes because heels came into fashion, but within about 20 minutes of wearing shoe, the leather will mold to your foot, making your own individually tailored left and right shoes.

Grazing sheep

After leaving the showmakers, we went over to pet the sheep for a bit, then headed down to see if we could join the Thomas Jefferson tour.  Though they do collect tickets, the tour is entirely outside, so if you’re willing to stay on the fringes, you can share the experience.  Ticketed or no, this tour is a gold mine, and one I highly recommend.  So, I went on the tour while mom and Corban hunted for shells to take back to the family.

Bill Barker as Thomas Jefferson

Bill Barker has presented Thomas Jefferson for 32 years! (Check out his site here:)  He is as close as anyone can come to the real man with a knowledge of Thomas Jefferson that is unparalleled.  He began the tour with some information about Jefferson’s plantation, sharing that it took 2,000 yards of material to clothe his slaves.  When you consider that Cotton takes about 40 hours for seed removal and 60 hours to finish processing it to produce one pound of cotton which made 1 yard of fabric, the time commitment is huge!

Jefferson (as I will hereafter refer to Bill) shared often that Williamsburg was considered the capital of good manners–a key component of education. Though one of ten children, Thomas was given the privilege of an education.  Despite having three younger brothers, he himself was the oldest son who inherited the property. Yet, he often said the greatest legacy his father gave him–despite his inheritance of 700 acres and over 100 slaves–was education.

“Manners make the man”

Jefferson’s dad died at 49 when Thomas was just 14, which I’m sure affected him. He had initially been sent to James Murray Academy and later enrolled in The College of William and Mary (The first law school in America.)  While there, he worked with Dr. Small whom he said had gentlemanly manners.  Dr. Small said each student was a new mind. He realized that the educated mind always remained open to new ideas. Like Socretes, who believed “The unexamined life is not worth living,” Small would teach with questions.  He encouraged his students to “Go out and improve society because you are educated.” Small seems to have been a quite remarkable man who pushed for universal education while having the happy talent of teaching with humor.  Jefferson stated, “It was perhaps Dr. Small who more than anyone else shaped my destiny.”  Quite the compliment!

The men who shaped America

Jefferson’s journey continued under the tutelage of Mr. Wythe, who helped to form Thomas’s idea of how one should behave.  “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.”  Jefferson studied law for 3 years with Mr. Wythe, who only took one student at a time!   Other notable students of Mr. Wythe’s include John Marshall (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) and Henry Clay (The “Great Compromiser” who was considered a role model by Abraham Lincoln.)   Wythe’s manner of teaching law returned to Roman law under the Justinian Code stressing the principle that All men are born free–a lesson that clearly impacted Jefferson enough to put the concept in the Declaration of Independence. Initially, Roman slaves were voluntary apprenticeships to learn trades. Scribes and monks transcribed laws, but these laws were considered living and breathing with reasoning as the foundation of law. This helped set the model for our Constitution which gives the law of the land, but which may also be changed through amendment, giving rise to the idea that “Good manners dictate resolution and compromise.”

Other major influences on Jefferson include his mother’s uncle (mother’s father’s brother.)  Jefferson’s great grand parents had settled at Turkey Island. They modeled that it’s not aristocracy but meritocracy that matters. William and Mary Randolph were considered the Adam and Eve of Virginia. Their son Sir John Randolph was the only man the colonies to have been knighted. His son John II (who was his second son) inherited the title Attorney General. Payton Randolph, the first son of John Sr., became the president of the Continental Congress. Though both influential, John and Payton couldn’t have been more opposite, especially regarding the American Revolution.  Payton Randolph (considered an icon of fairness who listened to all sides) was strongly in favor of the new nation and, when he died, had the largest funeral until Ben Franklin’s. John, however, was a loyalist who returned to England where he later died. In an interesting twist, John’s son Edmund Randolph became first Attorney General in Washington’s cabinet.  Jefferson often said he learned how to act by following the example of these incredible men.

The Raleigh Tavern

He then launched into a discussion of the Declaration of Independence.  This incredible document was first printed on the printing press here in Williamsburg. It was read three times on July 26 from Raleigh Tavern.  One of the events leading to the need for this document was that Governor Nicholson disbanded assembly because they requested a day of fasting and prayer on June 1 over the closing of Boston port. (Of course, if you were fasting and praying, no work could be done, but still…)  It was the governor’s custom to declare religious observances, so he felt the assembly overstepped their bounds.  The Colonists, however, called for a Congress to be held in Philadelphia. Philadelphia had been proven progressive by offering the first free public school and the first free society for slaves. Jefferson was invited and wanted to attend but got sick. In his stead, he sent a printed document on law and called for abolition of slaves, but first called for a lack of importation. Though Jefferson was not at the First Continental Congress, he gained a lot of attention as an author because of his pamphlet.  I’m certain this reputation is part of what led to the choice to ask him to draft the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson did attend the Second Continental Congress, but in reality, his involvement in politics goes back much earlier to his time in Williamsburg. As a boy, Jefferson had attended Raleigh Tavern with his dad. Another fun fact is that in card game, his dad won 1,000 acres in Goochland County. The deed of land states it was traded for one bowl of Arrack punch. One of mountains on that land Jefferson went on to inherit is Monticello, meaning “Little Mountain” in Italian.

Monticello

Monticello itself played a dramatic role in our nation’s history.  Williamsburg was made the capital in 1699. Though the Capital building was burned in 1740, the records were saved and afterwards moved to a public records building. To protect against fire, they made the walls double thick and designed them to be burn proof. When they moved the capital to Richmond in 1780, Jefferson oversaw the moving of historic documents. However, when the war broke out, Jefferson moved the public records to Monticello, thinking no one would ever look for them there. Later in the war, Tarleton was sent to capture Jefferson. (If you don’t remember Banastre Tarleton, he’s the villain in The Patriot.  The movie portrayed him fairly accurately–He killed men who surrendered and was nicknamed “The Butcher” for his brutality.)  To have him coming after Jefferson was not good!  Thankfully, a boy warned him, and Jefferson buried the documents under the floorboards at Monticello. Jefferson himself fled.  His servant Martin Hennings was asked to give Tarleton information. He said that everything of value had already been taken from the house. Tarleton burned the barns and tobacco fields but didn’t burn house. Later in France, Jefferson met him and asked why he had spared the house. He said it was because of the civility with which the Americans treated the Hessian prisoners of war. Because of good manners, that cardinal value of Jefferson, his house was spared as were the documents.

The “Special” shells

When asked about Jefferson’s impact on laws, he referred to the printed body of Virginia Law  Jefferson drafted with William Hennings. It introduced 126 revisals, especially to the penal code. He made it so part of the punishment was that criminals had to serve time in the penitentiary (designed to make a person penitent or sorry for their crime.)  He also helped end the importation of slavery in 1783. Another step against slavery was allowing that a slave who showed meritorious service could be freed (1785). There was, however, a $25 bond placed on slave to be freed before law. He also drafted the Religious Freedom Bill as well.  Free education, though Jefferson’s idea, did not occur until 30 years after his death.  One thing I especially appreciated is that Jefferson deemed History the most important course according to the bill. So why didn’t Jefferson free his slaves?  Initially, he was in France  when the bill came out.  Then, he was in debt so  he couldn’t.  Still, he did a great deal towards equality and preserving our freedom.

All in all, it was an incredible tour.  I returned to find mom and Corban, who had acquired a great number of shells, and we headed home to pack.  All in all, it was an incredible experience!

Adopting the uniform

We headed out to Yorktown this morning (7/12/16). Despite the construction underway, there are great things happening at Yorktown.  Right when we walked in, one of the interpreters noticed Corban’s tri-cornered hat and loaned him a jacket and musket for a photo. Even without your own tri-corner, any visitor can choose a side and a uniform and pose similarly, which is a lot of fun.

From there, we wandered out to the garden area.  One of the interpreters talked to Corban about doing chores.  She explained that in Colonial times, you didn’t feed your children unless chores were done. Otherwise, they felt you were feeding the devil in your child because you were encouraging sloth.  Wouldn’t that be interesting with today’s youth.

Interpreters of the future

As we walked further in, I noticed a group of students in blue shirts.  I was curious what kind of group they were, so I asked an adult on the fringe of the crowd.  She referenced the website on the back of their shirts where you can get more information.  (Feel free to check out
http://www.historyisfun.org.)  She explained that these students were part of a program called Boot Camp for grades 6-8.  It lasts a total of 4 days from 9:00-12:00.  These are students who think they might like to be interpreters when they grow up, so this is their opportunity to see how other interpreters interact with the public.  After Boot camp, these students are able to come and help out during special activities days.  Even out of town visitors can participate!  I think it sounds like an amazing program!

Fire!

While in the military camp, the interpreter explained a bit about firing a weapon that I had never considered.  He referred to Baron Von Steuben who trained by the discipleship method (train the officers who will train their men.)  A cool thing I learned was that when the officer shouts, “Make ready,” soldiers actually turn their bodies 45°. Because soldiers were fighting shoulder to shoulder, they needed room to load their weapons.  The 45° turn allowed them that space to load.  As he was explaining the loading process, he mentioned that soldiers didn’t sharpen the edges of their bayonets because otherwise they could cut them while they’re using the ramrod. Both of these tactics seem obvious in retrospect, but I’d never considered them.  One Hollywood inaccuracy he exposed was the idea that bayonet charges were random.  In actuality, soldiers were all in a line, not haphazard at all. The reason for this is that a haphazard charge results in separate soldiers being targeted.  When they all charge together, they’re an intimidating defense!

“Are you sure you’re 16?”

After the demonstration, would-be soldiers went over to enlist.  The gentleman there explained that to enlist in the army, you had to be 16 and 5’4″. For you weren’t, you’d often lie about your age.  If they were in need, they’d take you.  They would look at your teeth and hands to make sure you had no diseases–after all, you want someone who will actually make it through the war. The pay rate $6 and 2/3 a month ($6.66–a rather ominous total!) with the army providing a uniform, a pound of meat a bottle of rum rations (promised, anyway).  Soldiers who would sign up for three years or the duration of the war received a $20 signing bonus and 100 acres of land when the war is over.  Not too shabby if you could not die!  I loved that my 6 year old nephew (who incidentally wants to be a soldier when he grows up) literally got to sign on the dotted line with a feather and ink.  He was handed a land deed and colonial money and told to report for duty at 6:30 in the morning (a fact we had to convince him was not true, since he was all set to go to bed early and be there.)

Tools of the trade

At the doctor’s tent, we learned that more casualties were from disease than injuries.  He also explained that a lot of the things they tried genuinely worked, at least for a short time. Bloodletting actually worked to bring fever down–unfortunately, it made you weaker.  Washington himself was bled several times.  In fact, on Washington’s deathbed, a young doctor wanted to do new procedure called a tracheotomy.  Unfortunately for Washington, older doctors overruled him and Washington died.  Purging and flushing were also ways to heal.  Unfortunately, both of these caused dehydration, the cure to which was drinking the same water that probably got you sick in the first place. Another early remedy was Peruvian bark tea which was used to treat malaria, which literally means “bad air.”  While it wasn’t the air that caused the malaria, Peruvian bark contains quinine, which is still used today to treat malaria.

Make ready!

Finally, we went over to the artillery demonstrations.  They had a 4 1/2 inch mortar and 6 inch battalion gun. During a siege, both sides build up walls.  Mortars were good in these circumstances because they can fire at a 45 degree angle.  They fire a 10 or 14 inch mortar which could weigh up to 200 lbs!  Guns, on the other hand, are direct fire usually at 3-5 degrees.  Guns are categorized by the weight of cannonball.  The guns themselves weighed about 1400 pounds.  He explained that if you fired 6 pounders, it would take a long to do any damage. Usually, they used 24 pounders since the 6 pounder wouldn’t kill many troops–around 2-3 men, which isn’t a good use of resources.   A regular rifle has an accurate range of 100 yards.  Cannonballs, however, have about a mile range. These worked for intimidation and causing disarray by breaking up straight lines.  They could also fire case, canister,or grape shot.  As the name implies, this is a can full of musket balls fired from a cannon.  Essentially, it turns the cannon into a machine gun.  These work at 300 yards.  It is amazing to think what all our troops experienced.

Fire!

After he had explained the guns, the interpreter assembled a crew of audience members to simulate firing the gun before the actual staff fired it.  Corban was selected to fire the cannon, so he got to hold the long “match” which set the cannon off.  The positions of the gunners were explained, including the fact that you can’t stand behind the gun, since cannons also have a recoil, which can be about 8 feet.  The front members of the gun crew serve to mark the place for the cannon, since if your shot was one you’d like to repeat, you don’t want to have to figure out how to reposition it.  It was definitely a fun experience.

The Nelson House

As we were heading out, I overheard one of the managers explaining all the construction.  He explained that they are actually building a redoubt for the guns to lend to the authenticity.  Now, instead of the guns firing into the woods, it will actually appear to be firing on an enemy encampment, and they’ll actually have many more guns.  I have definitely been excited by the improvements at Yorktown with the visitor center, and I’m excited to see the changes they continue to make!

At last, after a picnic in the visitor center’s picnic area, we headed by the Nelson House in town (the one with a cannon ball still stuck in the building) and called it a day.  Definitely a place to recommend!

Writing letters at the Powell House

We started our day (7/9/16) at Colonial Williamsburg by visiting the Powell house. Mr. Powell held the office of Undertaker, which is not someone dealing with dead bodies, but rather someone who undertakes contracts. In the Powell house, there are a number of activities for kids.  We played dominoes, badminton, and rolled the hoop for games, but we were also able to write and seal letters home.

Explaining tempering

From the Powell house, we had intended to go to the military camp, but as they were doing a ticketed event for kids, a few of the places were closed, so the camp didn’t open until later. Instead, we decided to check out a few of the craftspeople in town.  Our first stop was the kitchen and the blacksmith. We had been told James Madison was in the garden next door and might need a letter delivered, so we went there.   He was indeed in the garden, but he was still coding a message to Washington, so there was nothing to deliver.  (One of the activities for kids is delivering letters for people around town.)  The kitchen was cooking a vegetable stew, which smelled amazing. In the blacksmith’s shop, the man explained the process of tempering metal. He explained that heating the metal allowed it to be softer and easy to work with.  Therefore, a metal that had lost its temper is hard and brittle.  I thought it was an excellent life lesson as well!

Musket firing demonstration

By this time the military camp was open, so we headed there.  They had done away with the simulated battle, which was disappointing, but maintained the drill and the musket demonstration.  We were instructed in the art of firing a weapon, then got to see a soldier fire his gun. We also got instructions on the fife and drum tunes.  One of the most interesting things to me was to learn that the same tune is used to signal a parlay in battle as to call men to church in camp.  Understanding that the gospel means bringing peace between God and man, I thought it was an interesting parallel!

Sharing tribal stories

In the Indian village, we heard the story of son who helped a village. He was sent to bring supplies for his own village, but he found another village where the people were sick and starving.  He made medicine for them and brought them food.  They had nothing to repay him when he left, and he arrived at his own village empty handed.  When he told his father, his father explained that he had been given the gift of generosity and compassion, which were priceless.  Soon after, a delegation of people from the village he’d helped came looking for him. Each family had sent a gift in return for his kindness, and that enabled the village to survive.

He then shared about how often Native American tribes were in Williamsburg.  Tribal groups met with the Virginia council to make treaties, trade goods, etc.   When a delegation came, the government provided tarps and posts for them, since there were too many to stay in a tavern.

Another thing we learned was a bit about the Cherokee people, since our guide was Cherokee.  He shared that today, kids attend a school that teaches Cherokee.  Students at the school learn Cherokee as a first language, and their encouraged to learn as well. Right now, there is a gap between kids who speak and the old who speak.  Those in the middle age groups still have to learn the language.  Another challenge undertaken by the Cherokee is developing  new modern words.  The Cherokee language is very descriptive. It tells what an item does or paints a picture of it.  For example, car in Cherokee is “fire eyes” because of the headlights, while phone is “talking box.”

The local people native to Williamsburg are the tidewater tribes.  A lot of them came under the control of Powhatan. Many small tribes used interaction with Europeans to get out from under Powhatan’s control.  It was definitely fascinating to dialogue and ask questions here!

Mixing clay for bricks

Our next stop was Brick yard.  We had never visited before, despite our many trips to Williamsburg, and we definitely missed out. This is a place to not only learn the process of baking bricks, but also it offers kids the chance to help. Realistically, children 10-12 were usually the  off bearer or the one who carried the molded bricks off to drying bed. There they would stay from May to September during brick making season. When it grew cold, the bricks were fired. Firing lasts for 5 days–a huge fire is built over the bricks which heats them to about 2000 degrees. In this process, they turn red because the iron in the clay oxidizes.

Chocolate with George Wythe

Our next stop was the coffee house. This is always my favorite because the chocolate is delicious.  There, we heard some of the local news from George Wythe.  He shared about the opposition to the stamp act, reminding us just how many items were printed on paper. Another interesting piece of news he shared was that one of the men who opposed the Stamp Act in Parliament was Charles Cornwallis, who predicted this act would hurt the relationship between the colonies and England.  Definitely ironic!

Interrogation of Amistead

Our last presentation dealt with the questioning of Amistead, a run away slave.  I loved this presentation because it managed to cover everything from the African American experience in slavery to their reasons for fighting in the American Revolution, to spies and double agents. An incredible presentation indeed!

Evening fifes and drums

We stopped in the Governor’s Palace to show Corban the guns, then made our way to the Courthouse to see the evening fife and drums.  I couldn’t help being disappointed with what the new administration has gotten rid of.  I miss RevQuest, Revolutionary City, and all the actors and actresses.  Also, while they’ve added additional programming, it’s all an additional $5-20, which I feel makes the pass less valuable.  They’ve even started  charging $1.00 for refills of the $12.00+ mug instead of it being free  There does seem to be a lot more people employed, but they’re mostly just standing around.  I’d prefer the smaller cast of actors who tell the story with you as a part to the immense crowd of “I can answer your question” people.  For me, the drama was what brought history to life, and I feel the loss of it deeply. Still, it is one if my favorite places.

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