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.


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)










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.


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!

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, Robert Carter, and George Washington on slavery.


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.


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.


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.

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!


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.


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.


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.)


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.

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  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!


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.


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!

Patrick Henry's Red Hill

Patrick Henry’s Red Hill

On our way home today (7/18/15), we decided to stop in at Patrick Henry’s Red Hill Estate.  It has long been on our places we wanted to visit, but is so far from where we normally stay that we decided to stop by on our way home.  Our initial GPS directions led us to Patrick Henry’s Boys and Girls Homes, which, it turns out is a place for troubled kids who need a safe, caring environment due to their or their family’s choices–but not what we were looking for.  So, if your GPS takes you there, keep going down the road, and you’ll see Patrick Henry’s estate.

We first went in the visitor center to learn a bit about Patrick Henry’s life.  He married at 18 (to a 16 year old, no less…) His father-in-law gave him a 300 acre farm and six slaves as a dowry.  To Henry, who had a frugal Scottish upbringing, this must have seemed like paradise.  But, his farm burned to the ground three years later, and Henry found himself at 21 back at his father-in-law’s tavern, trying to provide for his growing family.

Patrick Henry's Law Office at Red Hill  (Original Building)

Patrick Henry’s Law Office at Red Hill (Original Building)

Fortunately for American history and for Patrick himself, he worked right across from the courthouse.  He quickly became friends with the lawyers who hung out in the tavern and asked to borrow their books.  In just six weeks, he had read all of their law books, so he went to Williamsburg and passed the bar, though Wythe and others would recommend he receive more training.

Because this was the last house Henry ever lived in, we talked more about the house.  His original house looks about the size of the law office–the reconstructors thought the house was bigger than it actually was because they looked at a later reconstruction.  It was interesting to me that Patrick Henry moved out of the governor’s mansion at Colonial Williamsburg and willingly chose to build a small two room house, especially considering that at this time, he had seventeen children, two of whom were only toddlers when he died!

Flags of all the states that were part of Virginia when Patrick Henry was governor

Flags of all the states that were part of Virginia when Patrick Henry was governor

One of the things mom and I discussed is the fact that we don’t think about our founding fathers having lives of their own in the midst of making key decisions for the country.  Patrick Henry’s first wife Sarah had severe Post-partum depression.  In fact, Patrick used to have to lock her in the basement to keep her from harming herself or their six children.  This is where she was when he delivered his famous “Give me liberty or give me death” speech.  While I know this sounds cruel, Patrick chose to care for his wife himself instead of putting her in a mental institution.  Unfortunately, she eventually got so sick she died, after twenty-one years of marriage.   She was 37.   Henry will remarry and have nine other children.

This house here was wilderness when he moved into it. Henry lived in the house and practiced law out of the former overseer’s house.  He would live the last five years of his life here.

Instead of building a fancy house like Thomas Jefferson did, Henry wanted to build enough land ownership to leave each of his sons a plantation.

Graves of Patrick Henry and his second wife

Graves of Patrick Henry and his second wife

He managed it for his older sons, but he had two toddler sons when he died. Since he didn’t have separate plantations for them, his Red Hill property was divided, and each got 1,500 acres. John, the youngest, inherited this house. Later, however, Patrick’s great granddaughter Lucy married a man who was wealthy enough to buy out all the family’s shares, and she built her dream house. Unfortunately, in 1919, a lamp turned over in an upper room. The house burned to the ground.  Thankfully, all Patrick Henry’s personal effects were in one downstairs room, so they were able to preserve them. One fun story of Lucy is that she decided to allow the railroad to come through her land, but struck a bargain that they give her free rides. If ever she wanted to go somewhere, she’d pack her bags and stand out on the tracks.

Mantle piece saved from Patrick Henry House fire (Lucy had put it in an outbuilding)

Mantle piece saved from Patrick Henry House fire (Lucy had put it in an outbuilding)

Some other fun facts we learned about Patrick Henry included that he had 17 children and 77 grand children. He was known as the voice of the people because of his exceptional oratory skills. One case I found particularly interesting is that he defended Baptist pastors who were charged with preaching without a license.  Interestingly enough, his basic case was to imply, “You’re seriously going to arrest people for preaching the gospel of Jesus?!?”  He won.
On display in the museum is a letter George Washington wrote, asking him to help out in opposition to the Alien and Sedition acts. He came out of retirement to speak. But, by this time, Henry’s health was in decline due to some bowel issues.  He was elected, but never took office due to his death.  After being in intense pain because of an obstruction in his bowels, the Henrys called a friend and physician.  The doctor offered him a draught of mercury which he said would either kill him or cure him.  Patrick Henry took it.  It calmed him, and he spoke words of encouragement to his family, though he noticed his blood congealing.  He pointed out to the doctor (an atheist) the calmness with which Christians approach death.  Then. he died.

Red Hill Property with Osage Orange Tree (350+ ears old!)

Red Hill Property with Osage Orange Tree (350+ ears old!)

It was neat to spend time with Patrick Henry and imagine him sitting under the Osage Orange tree (Which was 100 years old when Patrick Henry lived there, so it is over 350 year old!), playing the violin while his children and grandchildren swarmed around him.  Definitely a beautiful place.

Finally, we headed for home.  As we were driving, we began noticing signs for a Natural Bridge.  “Isn’t that where George Washington carved his initials?” Mom asked.  I googled it, thinking it sounded true.  And, it was!  The 17 year old George Washington was a surveyor for most of this area, and he carved his initials (23 feet in the air!) on this Natural Bridge wall.  We stopped and tried to get directions, but the gift shop offers a $20 entrance fee–a bit steep for two people who just wanted to take a picture.  Also, from the Visitor Center, the site is 137 stairs and 1/4 mile down a trail.  While there were plenty of other things you could do with your entrance fee (Like a living history Native American village), we didn’t have time, so we had to forgo the young Washington for this trip.  We tried going up the highway to see if we could get a top view (since the signature is higher up), but the park has put view blocking barricades up, so the only way you can see it is to pay and walk.  So, that’s a job for another day.  Now, we’re home for a week and a half before hitting Prince Edward Island!

New Yorktown Victory Center

New Yorktown Victory Center

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

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

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

Life of a slave tour in the Tobacco Barn

Life of a slave tour in the Tobacco Barn

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

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

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

Musket firing

Musket firing

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

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

One of the reenactors

One of the reenactors

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

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

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

Military encampment

Military encampment

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

Scoping out the herb garden

Scoping out the herb garden

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

Dyer explains the items used for coloring

Dyer explains the items used for coloring

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

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

Spy presentation

Spy presentation

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

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



While I still have a few blogs to catch up on, I wanted to take a break and wrestle through a concept I dealt with on the way home from an incredible week of connections. In the past week, I have been able to spend time with a group of amazing Lilly fellows (those who got the same grant that prompted me to begin this blog). This time, I got to be a part of a group of writers. Through a few short days of sharing our stories, I made incredible new friends that I hope to maintain connections with for a long time. At the end of the same week, I attended a youth group reunion where I was able to re-connect with some amazing people who were a vital part of my journey–some of whom I haven’t seen in at least 20 years. With both of these experiences in the same week, I was driving home just thinking about the connections we make in life.

Youth in the 80's--I'm on the left

Youth in the 80’s–I’m on the left

One of the things that bothered me about the reunion was the pictures of myself where I couldn’t remember what we were doing in the picture. And it bugged me–relentlessly. I have wanted to freeze frame so many moments in my life–to hold on to those connections so they will never be lost. And yet here were moments of deep significance in my journey, and they were gone. As I continued thinking, I started wrestling with why I have this urge to remember–or more importantly, why it bugged me so much to forget. I teach history, I have kept a journal for 25 years, and I blog, I love antiques, I care about people’s stories. Why? Because I don’t want to forget.

As I delved further, I came to another connection–It’s not just that I don’t want to forget. It’s that I don’t want to be forgotten. By remembering others, there comes the hope that someone will be remembering us.

Antiques of Lucy Maude Montgomery

Antiques of Lucy Maude Montgomery

None of us wants to be forgotten. As I traverse graves and look at antique stores, I don’t see what’s there–I see the people behind them. I know they have a story. They loved and lost. They had hard times–some they overcame and some overcame them. But, the bottom line is they lived. And because they lived, they should be remembered. And yet, these grave stones, bits of linens, jewelry and hats, are forgotten pieces of their stories, things that no longer meant anything, so they were cast aside. I think that’s why I hold on to so many things–a note, a picture, a piece of furniture–they help me remember. And I WANT to remember.

Why do I feel that way? I think a friend at lunch today explained that better than I could. “I want my life to count. I don’t want to just be ordinary. I want to make my mark. I want to leave a legacy.” I smiled–In short, she wants to be remembered. She longs that something she does in that dash between birth and death will “count”–that it will be worth remembering. I think we all want that.

Items found on the grounds of Robert Bolling's Chellowe

Items found on the grounds of Robert Bolling’s Chellowe

But, I also smiled for another reason. The title of my blog is legacy hunting. It started out as trying to find out what made poets from 100 to 300 years ago who they were. What influenced their stories? I traveled to the places they lived, went to their houses, viewed their stuff–tried to get inside their head. I was in search of their legacy–the things they’ve left behind for us. But, through the years since I received the grant, it has become so much more than that. It is a collection of experiences, of people and the places they inhabited. It is the story of my life and the people and places who have contributed to it. It helps me remember. And sometime, when I have “shuffled off this mortal coil,” it will leave behind my legacy–my thoughts and feelings so future generations will understand what I experienced, should anyone try to discover “who I really was.”

Me 2014

Me 2014

I’m reminded of the line in Dead Poet’s Society–“The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will that verse be?” This world we were born in was already in motion, and unless Jesus returns, will continue after we’re gone. All we have is life in the dash–in that space between the bookends of birth and death. I think that’s why I love history. George Washington didn’t know he would be George Washington–he didn’t know what he’d mean to history. Yet, through his consistent life, he changed history forever. None of us knows how history will view us, or if we’ll be one of those unnamed masses in the “unknown” category. But, if we will love well, fight for truth and right, and stand for those who cannot, we will have a legacy–whether for one or for millions.