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.


Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon

Wednesday (6/11/14), we planned to see the homes of two icons in American History: George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Robert E. Lee’s Arlington. While mom and I had been, Jen had not, so we were excited to see what had changed.

Back lawn of Mount Vernon

Back lawn of Mount Vernon

We started at Mount Vernon. This vast expanse of land is not only beautiful, but offers so many experiences for the visitor. One new tour Jen and I were especially excited about was the National Treasure tour ($5.00+ admission). Those familiar with the Second National Treasure (Book of Secrets) will recognize Mount Vernon as the spot where Benjamin Gates kidnaps the president. Parts of the movie were actually filmed on location at Mount Vernon, or recreated after parts of it, so we were excited to see specifically the “tunnels” under the building. Since our tour was at 11:30, we jumped in line to tour the house and surrounding buildings. Visitors are not allowed to photograph inside the building, but it was still an awesome experience. It was especially interesting to see the bed in which George Washington died and learn that Martha never slept in their bedroom after that, but made herself a room on the third floor. Unfortunately, there’s no photography inside.

"Tunnel" exit

“Tunnel” exit

After touring the house and gardens, we met our group for the National Treasure Tour. This tour, nicknamed by our tour guide the “Hollywood and History” tour, truly lived up to its name. We started the tour on the back lawn which was the location of the party in the movie. Our guide shared how careful the crew had to be to protect the location: They wrapped the pillars with Styrofoam before hanging light wires, kept a row of firetrucks on hand for the pyrotechnic sign, and generally protected the area. The incredible part for me was the second area of the tour. After leaving the lawn, we got special access to the cellar area under Mount Vernon. I love being able to see things that are not readily accessible to the general public. This area served as a model for the movie, though no actual filming took place here–it’s too steep, too narrow, and too fragile. But, as we walked along the corridor, I noticed a stone designed like the secret door in the movie. Our guide shared that this was a replica of the original cornerstone, the original having been removed and placed in the museum at Mount Vernon.
View of Mount Vernon from the Beach

View of Mount Vernon from the Beach

One interesting fact was that the initials on the stone are L.W. after George Washington’s half brother Lawrence Washington, who was the first to live in Mt. Vernon and who named it after his commander, Admiral Vernon, in the War of Jenkins’ Ear. One fun fact we learned is that in the version of the film shown on the big screen, the initials on the stone had been changed to G.W., to make it connected to George Washington for the viewers. Those who own the DVD edition will notice that they have been changed back to the original L.W. This is because the Mount Vernon Ladies Association were upset that they had changed it for the film and demanded it be historically accurate–apparently, they have a lot of pull. And rightly so. This group was started by the women that saved Mount Vernon from oblivion. Louisa Bird Cunningham was travelling down the Potomac River and noticed the disrepair of Mount Vernon. Realizing if something wasn’t done, and soon, this great building would be lost to the ages, she wrote a letter to her daughter who challenged the women of the South, then the nation to save this estate.
Coastline where the fishing scene was filmed

Coastline where the fishing scene was filmed

They raised $200,000 to buy the property, and the rest is history, albeit one of a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears. No wonder they want to make sure it is represented accurately!

After the tunnels–sorry, no pictures could be taken there either–we headed down to the beach. This was an incredibly steep climb with a lot of stairs, but well worth it. In the movie, this is the spot of the fishing scene–how Benjamin Gates gets into the party (He definitely would have had a haul to make it up that cliff!) The beach was beautiful, and afforded a great view of Mount Vernon from the vantage point that most visitors would have first seen it. The beach was the last stop on our National Treasure tour.

The Washingtons' graves

The Washingtons’ graves

On the way back up, we decided to stop at the tomb of the Washingtons. The design and dimensions for this gravesite were described in George Washington’s will. He was initially buried in the old tomb, but it was in such disrepair that Washington wanted a new tomb constructed and the remains of the family moved into it. The new tomb wasn’t completed until 32 years after his death (1831), while the sarcophagi weren’t completed until 1837. Most prominent are the graves of George and Martha, with the rest of the family in the vault behind them. It’s an impressive site.

Martha Reading

Martha Reading

We arrived in time to visit with Mrs. Washington. This is always a favorite for us. We first saw this actress in Colonial Williamsburg where she also played Mrs. Washington. She has, in fact, been Mrs. Washington for over twenty years. She’s such a joy to spend time with because she simply embodies Mrs. Washington the way only someone with twenty years of research can do. She posed for portraits, read to the children, and recounted stories of herself and the general. If you get a chance, go see her–it’s well worth it.

After visiting with Mrs. Washington, we went on the slave tour. This tour is free with admission, though you do need to register, and it also was an incredible tour. It seems difficult to picture our founding father as a slave owner, but he was indeed. There were a few very interesting things we learned, however. First, our guide shared with us Washington’s standards for his overseers. His instructions were, “Conduct yourself with integrity, sobriety, industry, and zeal.” Interesting. He also established a system for review that allowed slaves a recourse if they felt they were not being treated correctly. Despite that, most of his slaves worked from “Can see to Can’t see,” extremely long hours in summertime!

Slave quarters

Slave quarters

Another interesting fact was that good treatment did not necessarily ensure a slave would be content. Our guide recounted the story of Washington’s slave Hercules. He was definitely a favored slave–had a velvet coat and a gold tipped cane, and even travelled with the family to Philadelphia. Yet, at the first chance he got, he ran away. I wonder what happened to him. George Washington’s attitude towards slavery also seems to have changed. He and Martha both grew up with slaves; in fact, George was a slave owner at the age of eleven when his father died. It was all he had ever known, so the idea that it was wrong was a foreign concept to him.
Arch under which Robert and Mary Lee got married

Arch under which Robert and Mary Lee got married

Yet, his ideas changed from believing it was wrong to tear families apart to believing it was wrong to sell slaves. He did not tackle the issue of slavery in the white house because of how tenuous the relationship between the states already was, and how firmly the southern states had fought against abolishment in the Continental Congress meetings. He did not want to risk tearing out new country apart. However, in his will, he freed his slaves, which was no small task at the time. His wife, however, did not free hers. Part of that was that her slaves were part of the estate, and freeing them would be the equivalent of giving away the family silver in economic terms of the time. Definitely an interesting tour.

Next, we headed to Arlington. Since Arlington has been under construction the last few times I have visited, I was thrilled to see it up and running–and that they allow you to photograph inside! Here, we heard the beautiful love story of Robert E. Lee and Mary Custis Lee. Robert and Mary had been childhood play mates and teenage friends. He eventually came courting, and apparently asked her to marry him when she reached in the cookie jar for a cookie, and he reached in and took her hand. Her father was initially against their marriage, but with his wife and his daughter in favor of it, he gave in. Robert and Mary were married under the middle arch. He was at West Point at the time, so the couple took up residence there.

Kennedy Memorial and View of Arlington

Kennedy Memorial and View of Arlington

She hated it, and when they returned to Arlington for leave, when his leave was up, he went back, and she stayed. When several weeks past and she still hadn’t returned, a concerned Lee wrote her mother a letter stating, “I seem to have misplaced my wife…” He soon got the news of the reason she had stayed: she was pregnant. While he was away, she also got violently ill and came very close to dying. This close shave made Lee decide Arlington would be their permanent home so she could be cared for while he was away. Mary Lee is an exceptional woman in her own right. A firm proponent of gradual emancipation, Mary taught all of her slave women to read, write, and sew so they would be prepared to support themselves when slavery ended. But, forced to leave Arlington when the war broke out so that she would not worry her husband, she only returned to Arlington once after the war. The Union army had intentionally buried the dead in her rose garden, which boasted eleven varieties of roses. Lee himself would never return.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Having completed our time at the house, we headed down to the Kennedy Memorial (The eternal flame) and the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Watching the guard there is a solemn moment indeed. Everything he does is in counts of 21. Twenty-one steps down, turn, wait 21 seconds, twenty-one steps back, repeat. The number twenty-one was chosen for it’s representation of the twenty-one gun salute–the highest miliary honors given a soldier. For me, it is another reminder of the countless stories we have yet to learn and may never know.

Confederate Memorial

Confederate Memorial

We finished off our trip with a trip to the Confederate Memorial and then a visit to my father’s grave. I am blessed beyond measure by his military service and the fact that he is buried at Arlington, a place I so dearly love. Spending the day with such great men who had such real struggles was a vivid reminder of all we have overcome and a call to continue to fight against the evils around us.