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!

Yorktown Victory Monument

Yorktown Victory Monument

We took a lazy morning today (7/16/15) to accomplish some things we needed to attend to, but headed out to Historic Yorktown to just get out of the house for a little while.  We initially strolled down by the river, and though we went into a  few shops and heard the music drifting down from the summer season of music on the waterfront, we didn’t really find anything that caught our fancy.

I had really looked forward to visiting some of the older shops in the historic area, so we drove up to the historic area.  Because we were so late in the day, a number of stores were closed.  I was disappointed to notice the antique store I was looking forward to visiting was closed.  But, just down the road was a little white building called the On the Hill Gallery.  We decided to go in, and I’m so glad we did.

We were warmly greeted by Lisa Mosser who told us that this Gallery displayed the work of between 50 and 60 local artists.  The artwork varies from photography to paintings, from sculpture to beadwork to specially dyed scarves, but there is truly something for everyone.  One of the most fascinating things for us is the creativity people have.  Seeing wind chimes made from keys, silverware, shells, and bead work;  sea glass jewelry, or beautifully painted furniture, we were impressed by what these artists have developed.

Some of John Tobin's sculptures

Some of John Tobin’s sculptures

One of the artists who happened to be at the gallery was John Tobin, who creates clay sculptures, though his website displays his work in some other mediums.  He took us to the rear of the Gallery to see a few of his pieces in the beach theme exhibit.  He shared that he’s been with the Gallery for about a year, but before that, he had taught overseas in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Germany and Japan.  We also saw a collection of his work in the main Gallery.  John was both very personable, and it turns out, very humble as well.  His resume’ is a mile long, and he has won numerous awards for his work.  His website also shared some incredible pieces that it would be neat to see up close.  This is where you can check out John Tobin.

While we were talking to John, we were standing at a display case featuring some incredibly detailed bead creations.  I admired them audibly, and Lisa responded, “Oh, thanks.  Those are mine.”  I was intrigued.  I had noticed the beautiful necklace she had on the instant I’d walked in.

Lisa Mosser with some of her creations

Lisa Mosser with some of her creations (Check out the necklace!)

I asked how she made them, and she took out a few handcrafted pens with differently designed elongated bead handles.  She explained the different types of bead work she designs, showing us an example of each.  She shared that she gets her glass from Italy and then designs the patterns. through a lampworking technique.  For those unfamiliar with lampworking, it involves heating the glass to the point where it becomes molten, then shaping it using tools or hand movements. Lisa uses the beads she makes for jewelry, handles of utensils, display beads, thimbles, and a variety of additions to other pieces.

Lisa also shared that her husband is a craftsman as well.  I learned from their website that he does incredible woodworking.  In addition to the work they do separately, Lisa and Chuck also make some items together. You can check out their website for yourself here.

All in all, we had a great visit and learned more about this beautiful area.

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!

Williamsburg in the rain

Williamsburg in the rain

Thursday, 6/12/14, dawned gray and rainy. We had planned to spend the day in Colonial Williamsburg and were hoping against hope that Thomas Jefferson would still speak as advertised. (For those who have never visited Colonial Williamsburg, they publish a weekly schedule of events Sunday through Saturday, so you can choose which specific events you want to attend.) Thankfully, the rain cleared up, and we were told Jefferson would come on as scheduled. We were excited because Jen most wanted to see him, having already seen Patrick Henry and George Washington. But, we weren’t the only ones excited to hear Thomas Jefferson. We ended up sitting next to a young woman who was related to Thomas Jefferson. Even though this particular actor (Bill Barker) is not the “real” Thomas Jefferson, he has been playing Thomas Jefferson for thirty years in a variety of capacities. His knowledge is unparalleled, and he is truly fascinating to listen to.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

One of my favorite things Thomas Jefferson does is his interaction with the audience. As only someone who has studied a source for thirty years can do, Barker answers questions with information gleaned from first hand letters and speeches. Yet, this time, he gave an illustration that was unforgettable. A young boy asked him a question about his intent in the Declaration of Independence. In response, Jefferson called him up. He gave him two items to hold, both his sword and a feather pen. He challenged him with the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Through a masterful presentation, he explained how ideas changed the world and how we fought to have a voice. While fighting is sometimes necessary, ideas are the things that last to be considered and analyzed by generations to come. He challenged the young man to stand up for what he believed in and not to let his voice be silenced. And he let him keep the feather.



After the presentation, we went up to speak to Thomas Jefferson, who it seems is a big fan of Civil War history as well. We talked about our upcoming trip to Petersburg, and he stepped out of character long enough to tell us to check out a little restaurant in Petersburg where Edgar Allan Poe spent his honeymoon. We said we would.

From there, we headed to the Dewitt Wallace Museum to hear a different Martha Washington, who also had an incredible deal of experience. She was more sober than Martha Washington at Mount Vernon, but brought out a number of human incidents in Washington’s life as well. In addition to hosting speakers, the Dewitt Wallace Museum sports consistent exhibits of ceramics, guns, instruments, art, and money, but they also have a variety of rotating exhibits which are also well worth seeing. This time, there was a collection of Colonial furniture which demonstrates an artistry unparalleled in today’s society.

By the time we finished in the museum, it was raining pretty steadily, so we decided to go home for dinner and to dry off before our evening Ghosts Among Us Tour. This tour is a fascinating one to take because it draws on actual historical reportings from the time. We met our guide at the Lumber House ticket office (Across from the Palace Green.) At our first stop, we filed into a parlor area where we were greeted by a lovely young woman who explained a chilling story of a murder case. An older man who was described as being “touched” had killed a young boy because he saw Satan in him. The young woman described going to visit him in jail, hearing him talking to someone, and seeing a demon. Having personally witnessed exorcisms, I can say with confidence she was spot on for mimicking someone who is possessed. Definitely a creepy one. It’s creepier still to learn that the murder really took place, the man really used the defense of trying to get Satan from the boy, and the judges deliberated for a LONG time, and didn’t really come to a decision on how to charge him.

From there, we progressed to another house where we learned the story (also loosely based in truth) of a woman who killed her sister (and her husband’s first wife) in order to marry her husband. Most of the accounts, while including the account of the husband marrying his dead wife’s sister, also tell of the first wife dying peacefully, not breaking her neck falling down stairs. There are apparently legends, though, that lead thrill seekers to try to hear the footsteps on the stairs at odd hours of the night.

Governor's Palace

Governor’s Palace

We ended our tour in the Governor’s palace. We learned that this building had been used as a hospital during the war after the Battle of Yorktown, and they had actually found a large number of graves behind the palace that dated back to that time period. In this presentation, the actor represented one of the soldiers killed. In one of the graves, archaeologists had found a jaws harp in with the soldier. What led someone to bury it with this young man? Speculations on this man’s story led the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to create this presentation to honor so many unknown soldiers whose stories we will never know. Definitely an incredible glimpse into the lives of so many soldiers. That concluded our ghost tour. Another wonderful day at Colonial Williamsburg.

Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry

(7/11/12) We set out this morning to spend our time in Yorktown, taking in both the Battlefield and the Victory Center. While one could easily spend a whole day in either place, it was brutally hot, and we were in a rush to get back to Williamsburg to hear Patrick Henry speak, since Wednesday was the only day he would be doing so. (He is one of our favorite Colonial Williamsburg reenactors. If you get a chance, go hear him–the man can answer questions off the cuff with quotes from letters Patrick Henry wrote–he is quite literally a fount of knowledge!)

Work around the home

Yorktown battlefield has a number of cool walking trails and ranger programs available, but we opted to spend the bulk of our time in the Yorktown Settlement. The Settlement consists of both a village area and a military settlement. In the village area, one can see crops growing, livestock wandering, and reenactors involved in various tasks like cooking, planting, dying wool, and many other activities.

Musket Demonstration

Currently, visitors then go through the museum to get to the military camp, but I believe that is changing. The museum houses such interesting pieces of history as a replica ship and items found on it and an actual tent George Washington stayed in. Additionally, there are areas set up where statues narrate different aspects of the war from a variety of perspectives. It’s definitely a unique approach to giving audiences a well-rounded education.

After Patrick Henry and dinner, we decided to head back to Yorktown so one of the students could do some fishing. The area was beautiful and had such a peaceful feeling to it. One of my goals for this trip was that each of us would have some “Soul time”–time just to be away from everything and reflect on life and our place in it. I think for most of us, this was that time.

Fishing Spots

When it finally got dark, we headed into Yorktown. We had been discussing the paranormal activity usually associated with battlefield areas, and my students wanted to look around and “see what we could see.” It was pitch black when we arrived, so the atmosphere was already there. We were heading towards a building we had read about earlier when all of a sudden we heard fifes playing. Keep in mind, this is 9:00 at night. We all stopped in the road and looked at each other. Mentally, I ran through all the reasons we could have heard them, but honestly, fifes are usually something we hear at Williamsburg–at 5:00…Definitely unique. We wandered around the cemetery there, then went and sat on the Victory Monument and talked. There’s something about being alone in nature that just facilitates good discussions, and this evening was full of them. Finally, after a brief Nerf gun battle in the parking lot, we decided to head home, with souls a bit richer for the experience.


Yorktown Beach

Today (6/25/11) I spent the day exploring Yorktown.  As it was the common departure point for most people leaving the area, it was no doubt the launch point for Robert Bolling’s love, Anne Miller.  I first went to the reenactment area of Yorktown, where they have a working farm, so I could get some character photographs.  Then, I went down to get some views of the sea.  Finally, spent the remainder of the day working on transcribing Microfiche.  I had planned to look for Cobbs today, but had a change of plans.  Still haven’t worked out the photograph possibilities for Colonial Williamsburg. One week to go!