Colonial Williamsburg


The Governor’s Palace

I began my study of George Washington at my favorite Colonial Williamsburg.  When I received my grant on Robert Bolling, I spent a great deal of time in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, aided by the wonderful people there, so I knew they would be a good place to start today (7/7/17).

I was pleased to find on the Colonial Williamsburg schedule that Lady Washington would be speaking today.  We had fallen in love with the “original” Martha Washington (who started the reenactment program at Colonial Williamsburg and now plays Lady Washington at Mount Vernon.)  And while I know the reenactors at Williamsburg are just that, I also know they spend an extensive time studying the original before taking on the role.  Since I wanted to get a feel for Washington’s personality, I figured the best place to start was with those who “knew him best.”

Lady Washington’s presentation was mostly concerning the role of women in the war, but more specifically her duty to her husband.  When they had married, George had promised her he wouldn’t be involved in battle again.  But, when he is selected by the Continental Congress to hold the position, he feels duty bound to accept.  Martha, also has an amazing sense of duty which will compel her to the winter camps to be with her husband.  Ironically, she receives the final persuasion to go from reading in the newspaper that she is a Tory, estranged from her husband, and not supportive of the cause.  Obviously, this makes her aware of the role she plays in the new nation’s formation.  So, for the next several years, she will spend the winters with her husband in camp, where many of the men will view her as a mother and caretaker to them all.  It definitely gave the audience a lot to think about in regards to our current soldiers and their families.

Lady Washington

After seeing Lady Washington, I wandered around a bit and stumbled upon an auction in progress.  This is a newer addition to Williamsburg and one of the changes I actually like. Daily during the summer and on Saturdays the rest of the year, Colonial Williamsburg conducts a public auction (not requiring an admission pass).  During the auction, bids start usually at half price on items available in gift shops and a few special items unique to the auction.  It was an incredible experience!  It’s also the only auction I’ve seen where the auctioneer will occasionally give you items for less than you were willing to pay.  I had bid up to $10 on a hatpin, and he dropped the bid back to $5!  Definitely a fun addition.

After the auction, I decided to buckle down for the heat of the day, and made my way to John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, where I received my second surprise.  There was a sign on the window that due to the cuts, the library would no longer be open to the public, except by appointment–which I didn’t have.  Another loss from lack of funding.  Thankfully, however, one of the librarians saw me gaping and let me in.  Those who were there were willing to work with me, and I spent the next four hours pouring over Washington’s papers.  One of the managers was also able to email the man who plays Washington, as an artist on the palace green informed me he had been required to do a year of reading before being allowed to play Washington (You see what I mean about these guys knowing their stuff.)  I haven’t heard back from him yet, but I’m excited for the process.

The Auction

There were several cool things I discovered while doing research on the young George Washington. I started with his diary entries as a 15 year old!  These were mostly about his surveying activities and discussions of hard times he had with lodgings (sleeping on scant hay with vermin infested blankets.)  But, he also included a passage about seeing an Indian war dance.  I copied down his description for use in my book.

“They clear a large circle and make a great fire in the middle, then seat themselves around it.  The speaker makes a grand speech telling them in what manner they are to dance.  After he has finished, the best dancer jumps up as one awakened from sleep, runs and jumps around the ring in a most comical manner.  He is followed by the rest.  Then begins their musicians to play a pot half of water with deer skin stretched over it as tight as it can and a gourd with some shot in it to rattle and a piece of horse tail to make it look fine.”

Knowing how much Washington would deal with the Native Americans in the future, I found it interesting to read these early impressions.  Reading Washington’s own thoughts really gave me a sense of his voice.  I especially loved his dealings in the French-Indian War.  Two things particularly stood out. First, Washington even at this time was honing his spy skills.  He evaluated land for its potential defensability. He also used time in the French forts to scout their resources.  His level of observation (telling how many cannons and which types, the number of men, and areas of the fort that were vulnerable) give indication of the strategist he would become.  It also helped me understand the information he requested of the Culpepper ring.

The Capitol Building

The second thing that interested me was his dealings with the Native Americans and the propaganda each side used.  The French seemed to try to bribe the Indians with goods (mostly weapons or alcohol.)  The British, however, protest that they’re fighting this war to preserve the Indians lands, and they offer their protection to the tribes’ old, women, and children.  Another interesting thing I noticed (and Washington seems to take exception to) is the fact that the French call the Indians “children” and the Indians refer to them as “fathers.”  The British (or at least George Washington on their behalf) calls the Indians both brother and friend.  In one letter, he even signs his own Indian name Conotocarious.  Ironically, the name (which Washington inherited from his Great Grandfather John Washington) means “Town Taker” or “Devourer of Villages.”  In light of our later treatment of Native people, I find that extremely interesting and would love to find the back story.  Even more interesting is the fact that when Washington refers to himself by his Indian name, he has just signed his letter “Your friend and brother.”  Just a fascinating dance, these interactions between cultures!

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Escaping a Rainy day at Charlton’s

After studying for the better part of four hours, I decided to head over to Charlton’s Coffee House.  As always, there was amazing chocolate and fun information on the house, and on this particular day, it provided a nice place to wait out the short shower of pouring rain.

I concluded my day by heading over to the William and Mary Campus Library.  The Special Collections researchers had already headed home for the day, but the librarian was able to point me in the direction of Ferry Farm, Washington’s boyhood home.  I was surprised this hadn’t come up in my research–I just had information on his birthplace and assumed he went from there to Mount Vernon.  But, Ferry Farm is on my way (ish) from the birthplace to Culpepper, so I’ll head there on Sunday.  So much to see and do!

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.

Colonial Williamsburg

The nice thing about having annual passes to both Jamestown/ Yorktown and Colonial Williamsburg is that we can spend time in multiple places in the same day.

We started the morning (3/27/17) at Colonial Williamsburg to check out A Difference of Opinion. This program features three perspectives (Gowan Pamphlet http://www.history.org/almanack/people/bios/biopam.cfm, Robert Carter http://www.history.org/almanack/people/bios/biorcarter.cfm, and George Washington http://www.history.org/Almanack/people/bios/biowash2.cfm on slavery.

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Gowan Pamphlet

Gowan Pamphlet began the discussion with his journey from being a slave and pastoring to being set free and continuing to pastor up to 500 people.  Other than himself, 10,000 slaves were freed in Virginia (by 1791) after passing the law of manumission (ability to free slaves). That may sound like a lot, but in actuality, it represents only 5% of Virginia’s slaves. He also shared about religious freedom, his church–which continued until it had to take a hiatus due to the Nat Turner rebellion, which made many nervous about African Americans gathering in large groups.  After both tragedies and reorganization, the church continues in existence today.

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Robert Carter

Robert Carter was next to speak.  I especially appreciated him because he shared about his transformation from having an intellectual faith in God to having a personal faith in Jesus Christ and how that transition changed his view of slavery.  Initially, he was a slave owner, having inherited hundreds of slaves.  But, when he converted to Christianity, he first tried to battle slavery legally, but he eventually had to do something personally.  Robert emancipated over 500 slaves–the largest single emancipation until the Civil War.  Because the manumission laws required slave owners to pay a fee and provide support for free slaves so they wouldn’t become burdens to society, this emancipation was gradual, at a rate of fifteen/year.  Freed slaves were also given the freedom to continue to live and work on the property under a variety of relationships from tenants to hired help.

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George Washington

George Washington was the last to speak and shared about an incident that occurred during the end of his presidency.  Martha Washington’s maid ran away and an ad was placed in the paper to give information at the president’s house. Washington, who kept his opinions on slavery largely out of the private view, was apparently embarrassed by this.  He personally was in favor of gradual emancipation, allowing slaves to be equipped to survive as freedmen able to adequately support themselves.  Because of the cost involved in freeing slaves, most people, including Washington, set their slaves free upon their death.  Washington has often drawn criticism for not setting his wife’s slaves free, but as they were part of her entail, he could not legally do so.  He also stipulated that his slaves’ freedom would take effect after his wife died.  But, when some events gave Martha reason to suppose some slaves were trying to hasten that time, she set them free.  Her own slaves were part of inheritance property and therefore were passed down instead of freed.

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Afterwards, these three men were available to take questions from the audience about the issue of slavery, etc..  With it readily apparent that we still need to make strides in race relations, I love any format where open dialogue takes place, so I especially appreciated the candor of each actor, who stepped out of character (usually unheard of at Williamsburg) to discuss a difficult issue.

We then went to the coffee house.  This is one of our favorite tours for the simple reason that they offer incredible hot chocolate!  (In fact, we’re planning to return tomorrow for the chocolate making demonstration!)   One of the interesting things I learned over chocolate is that Handel wrote The Messiah in order to combat Deism and return people to true faith in God.  Very cool!

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Finding slate

When we finished our tour, we headed to Historic Jamestowne to see what has changed there.  Because Jamestowne has ongoing archaeology, there is always something new to see!  I got to see a volunteer discover a piece of slate from a 1700’s roof.

One fascinating piece  of luck was the Roads Scholars tour we happened upon.  The tour guide who has taken groups around Jamestowne for the past 18 years shared many interesting pieces of information.

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Colonial Grafitti

One of the coolest things she pointed out was the graffiti carved in the original tower bricks. She also discussed the way to tell original mortar (looks like sand and shells because it is) from different eras of reconstruction.  The church was abandoned when the capital moved from Jamestowne to Williamsburg, leading to the deterioration of the building accelerated by the removal of bricks to new locations in Williamsburg (early repurposing!). The church addition to the tower in Jamestowne was added on in 1907 for the 300th anniversary. When building the addition, many time period bricks were bought from people getting rid of their big brick houses in favor of different modern styles.

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Interior of the 1907 church

Additionally, the guide pointed out that the pattern of bricks used is uniquely English from the 1760’s. The pattern varies between headers (width of the brick) and stretchers (length of the brick). It also boasts a stylistic feature known as the Flemish bond (a pattern of header, stretcher, header, stretcher, etc.)

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Pattern of headers and stretchers

Leaving out of Jamestowne, we decided to take the nature loop to see if Jenny (the eagle) was moving around.  While the nest is still there, we didn’t see any activity.  All in all, it was a fun day catching up with some favorites.

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!

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.

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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