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!

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.

Market Place Construction

Market Place Construction

Colonial Williamsburg has long been one of our favorite places, so today (7/15/15) we decided to head back to see what has changed.  One of the first things we noticed that was different was the new construction!  Archaeologists have discovered the foundation of a market square where Colonists would buy and sell goods.  And currently, Colonial Williamsburg is reconstructing the Market Place and the Standards House for the weights and measures.  These are located right by the Magazine.  It will be a little while before it’s completed, but something to look forward to and see the progress of–I remember when they were doing the archaeological dig and then building the coffee house!  What fun to watch Williamsburg grow again!

Kids and parents at

Kids and parents at “The Dig”

And speaking of digs, this is one of the new exciting things we discovered at Williamsburg.  Now, there is a new program called “Dig! Kids, Dirt, and Discovery.” It’s a hands on excavation opportunity where kids actually get to do real archaeology!  I think this is the most fascinating idea ever!  It allows kids to be a real part of archaeology while helping the museum because the public actually is doing the real thing–not some “seeded sandbox.”  According to one of the receptionists as we were leaving, this has been one of the most successful additions to Colonial Williamsburg.  It’s also an investment in the future.  Imagine these kids somewhere down the road being able to take their kids to see a new building for which they excavated the foundation, or an item in the museum they found.  It definitely puts “Skin in the game” for guests and gives a real sense of ownership to those who come.  A great decision indeed!

RevQuest bandanna and info

RevQuest Info packet

But, it’s not the only way they are reaching out to kids.  RevQuest, which was added a few years ago,has a different “spy mission” every year.  This year’s involves a great deal of real spy work:  ciphering.  RevQuest participants receive a blue bandanna and a packet of instructions, including a pencil, a map, and a ciphering key.  But, along the way, as they text information to “headquarters,” they will receive tokens from a variety of people they will have to meet with.  I absolutely love this idea!  It engages kids in history in such an interactive and suspenseful way–they will never forget.

“Bayonet” face off

Another unforgettable addition is the military camp.  I’d previously seen kids being recruited to join the militia, but at the military camp, they get to train with stick guns, learn commands, and run a small obstacle type course to practice their skills against the British.  It was amazing to watch young children running around, ducking behind bushes, popping out and yelling, “Boom!” or running to a British soldier cut out, throwing something, and running back to hide.  You could hear the laughter (and Booms!) from down the road.  What an awesome experience!

Street ball Colonial style

Street ball Colonial style

Then, as we were heading to check out one of the stores, I noticed a pick up game in the middle of a street.  A costumed reenactor had a gaggle of boys and girls in the street around him.  He had a small flat bat, and on the street, there was a base that the batter would strike to launch the ball in the air so the batter could hit it with the bat.  When a child got a good hit, the others would try to catch the ball wherever it flew.  In addition to street ball, there were sticks and hoops children could play with.  Another reenactor was sitting with a “Close the box” game playing with children.  I love that children are being involved in so many aspects of colonial life.

Bill Barker as Thomas Jefferson

Bill Barker as Thomas Jefferson

We then went to hear Thomas Jefferson speak.  Having come here for years, we have heard Jefferson speak many times, and it is never the same.  As a teacher, I know the hours of preparation that go into giving a lecture, and Bill Barker is an incredible speaker.  Having played Thomas for over thirty years, he truly knows so much about this incredible man that he is able to quote extensively from Jefferson’s letters and the texts he read from.  In this presentation, he reminded us that the purpose of the revolution was to secure the individual rights of man.  He addressed self-governance and the need of each person to control him or herself.  And yet, he discussed that Americans had never been more free to disagree.  But, a difference of opinion ought never to be a difference of principle.  He then turned to the subject of public education and discussed that he was willing to pay for his neighbor’s schooling because an educated society is a well-protected society since those who read for themselves and can compare differing opinions to discover the best, can also think for themselves.  Listening to his words while living in a world that is increasingly government governed instead of self-governed, where relationships between different opinions are often volatile, and where education budgets are being cut left and right (my own public school lost 1/4 of our staff this year due to budget cuts) his words ring true.

Firing the Cannon

Firing the Cannon

We finished our day watching the fifes and drums lead the group of “New recruits” in a military march from the capital down to the courthouse where they were presented to General Washington.  There was a military demonstration which involved musket firing and cannon firing.  One thing that interested me is the fact that they let a child from the audience actually fire the cannon.  I’ve seen the “fake set up” at Yorktown, but this child actually lit the fuse!  It was truly a remarkable experience.

As we were walking to the car, we got into a conversation with a family visiting from Switzerland.  Since we had been to Switzerland, we discussed how much we loved their country, and they shared how they were finding ours (via a camper!)  I was reminded again how people from all over the world come to Colonial Williamsburg.  I’m so glad they are continuing to grow to embrace a new generation of visitors!