May 2004


Colonial Williamsburg

I was going through old emails, deleting them today, when I found this email. It describes my visit to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, with my sister this past March.

Before you read: (1) This was for a mostly European audience; (2) I have photos, and I’ll post them in the next couple of weeks. This is going to be an extended entry, so be sure to click through if you want to read all of it!

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Hi friends,

As I start this, I have no idea to whom I am going to send it yet, but I imagine that this is primarily being written for my British friends, and will be cc’d to a few Germans and Dutchmen-a few other nationalities might be included, ultimately, but I have no idea.

Anyway, at some point I had agreed to meet my sister in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. For those of you who are as clueless as I was, Colonial Williamsburg was the capital of Colonial Virginia-except in those days it was just plain “Williamsburg.” And, yes, Virginia was a colony of the United Kingdom and that wacky King George III.

Naturally as a semi-well educated American, I assumed that everybody has a vague understanding of US history-however, I have had conversations with incredibly smart people who didn’t graduate from the American Educational System who don’t know US history, so I now provide you some key dates and facts, to help frame my trip.

1492 Christopher Columbus “discovers” America
1607 Jamestown Colony established, named after British King James
1608 Lots of settlers die from exposure, disease, and stupidity
… time elapses
1776 The 13 colonies gather in Philadelphia telling King George III to take a flying leap.
1777 Articles of Confederation established
1781 General Washington kicks General Cornwall’s butt; Essentially end of British Rule in the 13 colonies
1781 Articles of Confederation take effect
1782 Articles of Confederation are a disaster
1787 Constitutional Convention has results…
1788 General Washington Elected President

Anyway, as you can tell, I am not really that great an expert on US history, but there you have it–a brief history of the New World.

So, Colonial Williamsburg is the actual capital of Colonial Virginia, restored to its past–1774, to be exact. Buildings, taverns, houses, palaces have all been restored/rebuilt/researched to appear as they did in 1774–so amazingly, we, the tourists, are also in 1774.

My sister and I arrived in Williamsburg last Saturday, March 13th–just in time to see Lady Dunmore with her children arrive in town. There was a small parade to welcome the Lady, and we watched her go down the street in her carriage (led by a horse of course). This was a great moment of joy, as now Lord Dunmore’s wife was with him, and we were hopeful that Virginia would continue to prosper under Lord Dunmore–with profits from Tobacco and those pesky Indians being fought off.

The great thing about Williamsburg is that you are able to immerse yourself in the period–they have tradesmen making things as they were made in 1774: shoes, guns, cabinets, blacksmith, blankets, and wheels, to name a few… many of the craftsmen were endowed with future knowledge and were able to tell us how their tasks in 1774 differ from the future (specifically 2004). One, a shoemaker, talked about it taking 7 years to learn how to make shoes in 1770s, yet only 2 years to learn how to fly a plane in the US Air Force in the 1990s.

He seemed amused by this.

However, my sister and I wandered down Duke of Gloucester Street and saw lots of neat things–we stopped by the magazine and saw where all the guns and gunpowder are stored–quite impressive. Eventually we worked our way down to “Merchant’s Square”–which was firmly in the 21st century, both in terms of prices and credit card acceptance. We had lunch there, before wandering over to one of the museums immediately adjacent to the historic area–in through the public hospital, where the crazy people stayed, down some stairs, and into the museum. Once in the museum, time was a bit in flux–we went into an auditorium and suddenly it was no longer 1774, rather it was sometime after Thomas Jefferson had stopped being our president, but before he died.

TJ, as I like to call him, came into the room and spoke to us for about an hour–he was quite the gentleman, and answered some questions–although questions from the audience were, at times rather rude! Could you believe, somebody actually asked him about Sally Hemming–his slave that he had sexual relations with? He was shocked–especially since it was a woman asking the question! Once Thomas finished the question and answer period, he consented to pose at the front of the room and have “portraits” painted with people from the audience. My sister took her camera out of her purse!

We also had the pleasure of attending an 1774 court session–which fixated mostly upon issues of women (it is Woman’s History month in 2004)–and what trouble women are–although two of the cases were minor–an 11 year old apprenticing to become a seamstress, and another opening a public house (e.g. tavern), one was about a woman keeping a “disorderly house.” Amazingly, despite ample testimony supporting her guilt, she was NOT convicted! So much for the theory that women are automatically guilty–she got a continuance until the next court session, and we found out from a ripped-in-time person, that ultimately she was never found guilty because she promised to stop her criminal activities.

I still advocate the stockades for her!

Throughout the week we had the pleasure of visiting other interesting places and times:

– Martha Washington (a gas bag, scheduled to speak for 90 minutes, ended up way exceeding 120), spoke to us — she didn’t think much of Thomas Jefferson.

– Patrick Henry raised our gander–although I found him interesting and personable. He posed for quick sketches after his talk.

– The sister-in-law of the barkeeper at the Raleigh Tavern–firmly stuck in 1774–March 15, 1774 (we were there March 15), and had no knowledge of events after that day. Made for awkward conversation.

– A “Grand Medley of Entertainment” one evening allowed us to see what kind of entertainment was to be had in the 1820s. Some of it was rather amusing, and as they warned us, some of the special effects were really stupid.

– The governor’s palace was rather grand — we gasped as we walked in and had a splendid visit. After touring the palace we wandered through the maze and managed to find our way out without cheating.

– I bumped into the publisher of the newspaper as he was walking around town. At the time he was entertaining a group of school children. He then asked them where they were from, and they said “Maryland,” and he asked, “Near Annapolis?” At this point, he had his fun, because the kids said, “No, near Washington, D.C.,” and the publisher was completely and utterly confused. After stumbling for a second he said something like, “But General Washington lives in Virginia.” The kids never caught on that in 1774 Washington DC wasn’t even a dream–it just wasn’t.

We did take some time out of Colonial Williamsburg — One day we visited Jamestown and then traveled down the Colonial Highway to Yorktown. At Jamestown (we were there twice), we saw where the original settlement was located and the first fort, plus we found out King James hated tobacco–ironic in light of the fact that the colony survived because of tobacco. At Yorktown we toured the battlefield where the British were soundly beaten by General Washington and the French, thus leading to the establishment of the United States of America. (Amazing, the French were actually helpful! Screw the Freedom Fries… I want my French Fries… Old Europe ain’t so bad!)

The other day we took off we traveled across the 17+ mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel — yes, over and under the Chesapeake Bay, and then up along Virginia’s Eastern Shore, into Maryland and Delaware all the way to Dover. This was very exciting for me as I had never been to Maryland or Delaware before. I now have only six more states to visit. Naturally in Dover we went to the State Legislative Building (misleading as the Governor’s office is there), and to a museum. We also got to see where the tavern once stood where delegates from Delaware voted to ratify the Constitution, thus becoming the first state in the United States (a fact they note on their license plates).

From then on, it has been down hill for Delaware–Bart Simpson wanted to visit the screen door factory there, but beyond that, it’s a pretty flat little state.

One of the cool things about Colonial Williamsburg is how much effort they make to talk about 1774. We actually ate at Christina Campbell’s Tavern our first real night there–expensive, and it was more theatre than anything. All of the food was based on 1774 recipes, as well as attire. It was somewhat theatrical, and our waiter messed up. I have an unfortunate allergy to pork and the baked clam had ham in it… fortunately he noticed, but I never really got an adequate substitution for it–sea scallops are not my favorite dish, in all honesty. Overall, I think I would have done better had I ordered something else. I was severely disappointed with dinner over all–all because of the food–the entertainment was great.

Random sidenote: There are a lot of police officers in Williamsburg. There wasn’t a car trip in town that I didn’t see at least one police officer.

Thought about the court: The judges were selected from the audience.
We all had to raise our hands — first people under 21 were deselected… then… you guessed it, women. Next, and this got me, was men had to be Protestants. Lastly, you had to own land. That too would have gotten me…

Anyway, out of the CW mess came the United States–with our strong representative democracy…

Y’all should go visit it.

Sorry about the long email… I could write more, but this is unwieldy long for an email, as it is…


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