We spent a little while thinking about what to do for vacation this year that would be something a little different. After going to Washington, D.C. for the Women’s March in January, I thought it would be nice to go and actually see something. Heath said he had thought about it but didn’t mention it because Katy and I had just been. I said “that’s why I want to go, were just there but couldn’t see anything”. So we made that decision pretty easily. My family did the big Washington vacation back in 1984 when I was Katy’s age. One thing we did that week that I remember really enjoying was going to Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Va., and so I wanted to do that as well.
So we left Atlanta just after noon on Saturday, July 15. We spent the night somewhere in North Carolina, although I couldn’t tell you where, then got to Williamsburg on Sunday. We stopped at the welcome center at each state.
We spent more time at the Virginia welcome center than we planned because they had a lot of things to look at and a chatty volunteer showed us around the place.
This portrait of George Washington was above the fireplace and the volunteer told us Washington always looked to the right like that because he had a scar on his neck he was trying to hide. He said Washington contracted small pox on a trip somewhere that left a scar. I thought he was going to say he got the scar in a sword fight. Nothing that exciting.
We got to Williamsburg later in the afternoon.
Jamestown, the first settlement, is also right there. I knew there was a national park and a museum and I really thought they were both the same thing. I wanted to visit the national park and we followed the signs to the museum as it seemed to be the place with the parking lot. Turns out the museum is separate and run by the state. So we saw the introductory film, toured the museum and went outside to the re-enactment part. Learned more about Pocahontas and tobacco farming than I ever thought was possible but it was all very interesting.
They also had replicas of the three ships that landed at Jamestown with re-enactors to answer questions.
Monday we were up early and off to Colonial Williamsburg. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a re-creation of the original Williamsburg, which was the capitol of Virginia during colonial times, after the capitol moved inland from Jamestown. About 81 of the 300 or so buildings are originals and the rest duplicated as close as they could get. It’s right in the middle of town and the streets and restaurants are open to the public but you need tickets to go into the buildings. Besides the buildings, they have all kinds programs and re-enactments throughout the day along with a film in the visitor’s center. We spent one full day and saw nearly all of the buildings but didn’t do any of the programs. You could easily spend two or three days there.
I found a place to park Heath and Katy for awhile. Although I think Katy could have slipped her hands out.
The first thing we visited was the Governor’s Palace which is where, obviously the governor lived. Only one governor had his family with him, the others rattled around in a big house by himself.
The next stop was the Peyton Randolph House and this was my favorite stop. Peyton Randolph was really big in Virginia politics and was a member of the Continental Congress. He would have signed the Declaration of Independence except that he died in October of 1775. In this house you learned a lot about the daily lives of the Randolph family and their 27 slaves, particularly the relationship between Mrs. Randolph and Eve, the slave who had been given to her when they were both small children. In 1775 the British promised freedom to any slave who left and fought for the king. When the men went, so did many of the women, including Eve. Eve eventually returned, along with many others. Mrs. Randolph was so mad at Eve that she gave Eve (and her son, George) to a niece citing Eve’s “bad behavior” as a reason not to keep her. I mentioned to the tour guide that Mrs. Randolph must have really come to regret that decision and she agreed. Eve had served Mrs. Randolph since she was a small child and would have known everything about how Mrs. Randolph wanted everything to be. That was a life-time of training.
This house is a re-creation as the original burned but they do have on artifact that did belong to the Randolph family.
I don’t remember exactly what is, but it belonged to the family.
My other favorite place was the print shop. Heath and Katy finally went outside to sit and wait for me to get my fill. We learned all about the printing press and also how news got around and how long it took. One newspaper cost a week’s wages for your average person and advertising wasn’t really a thing yet. However, there were lots of personal and legal ads. The guy said sometimes husbands would purchase ads saying “don’t let my wife charge anything in your store” or “If Billy Smith has caused you any damage, he ran away from me” — in other words, “he’s no longer mine, don’t send me the bill for the damages”.
We also visited the weaver, the tailor, the apothecary, a few general-type stores, the joinery (the guy who does baseboards, cabinets and other finish work in a house), a silversmith (lots of beautiful jewelry), the book binders and court house. There was no school house, if your parents could read and write they either taught you themselves or hired a tutor. Sometimes families would go in to together on a tutor. If your parents couldn’t read and write, you didn’t learn, either. Katy really liked the store for ladies’ sewing notions.
There were many interesting things in the apothecary. She had a replica of a leg cast used during the time period. It looks more pleasant than that plaster of Paris thing I had when I broke my arm.
For lunch we decided to treat ourselves and eat at one of the period restaurants. We were going to for dinner, also, but our dinner choice was closed that day. That’s OK, at those prices one meal was enough. They also had wonderful root beer that was sold all through the park so we each had that, too.
We had to wait about 15 minutes to get a table and we listened to this woman play her flute. She was very good.
After lunch we stopped at the little out-door market area when they sold period toys and clothes (you can rent full costumes for the day), books and other items. Katy overheard some kid whining about the heat and said “It’s never too hot to look at toys!”. She wanted to buy a hat until we looked at the price tag.
We visited a 400-year-old church that is still an active parish. Much of the inside has been redone but half of the windows and the balcony were original. The balcony was where the seminary students from the College of William and Mary, right across the street, sat, and we saw the chair the governor sat in. The governor’s chair had a curtain around it so he could have it pulled closed if he decided to take a nap during church.
Our last stop before heading over to a museum was the old Capitol building. We learned that a session of the Virginia senate is held there once every three years to keep Williamsburg an active capitol. This is a photo of the original Speaker of the House’s chair at the end of the table. It has scorch marks on the bottom from when a fire burned the original building. I don’t think the governor was sitting in at the time. Now the only two people allowed to it in it are the current governor and speaker of the house.
There was so much more packed into that day than I can possibly get into. If you are at all interested in the colonial period, I highly recommend it. If you go in the summer, wear sunscreen! If you aren’t pressed for time, take two days and see all the re-enactments.
Tuesday after we checked out of the hotel we went to Historic Jamestowne. This is the national park that I thought we were going to on Sunday. It is the site of the original settlement and is an active archeological site.
To get there, we had to drive down Colonial Parkway, which is a part of the National Park Service. You go through a tunnel that I thought was pretty neat and then drive along the James River, where there are lots of historical markers. Katy loves historical markers.
We got there just as they opened at 10 and by the time we got our tickets and Katy ran into the gift shop for the Junior Ranger booklet it was about time for the introductory film to show. After that was a ranger-let history lesson followed by an archeology talk so we got to do the main three things one after another. I couldn’t tell you much about the film, it’s been a few days! The ranger talk was incredible. The ranger had kind of an old-timey preacher way of story-telling and we found out later he is also a re-enactor.
The first thing we learned was why this spot was picked for the settlement. When the French showed up, they ran “the naturals” as they were called — the native peoples — off their lands and out of their homes and of course that went over real well. Captain John Smith was told to pick an unoccupied area to set up the colony. Well, it never occurred to him to wonder if maybe there was a reason this part of the river was unoccupied. It was a bug-and-disease-infested marsh, not much good for anything and no clean water to drink (the James River is brackish due to opening up into the Atlantic). But no one lived there, so they set up housekeeping. The English always a built a fort and then everyone lived in the fort. Well, Capt. Smith decided the skip the fort and just build buildings. Well, it wasn’t long before they were attacked and decided maybe they’d build that fort after all. The shoreline of the river has moved in the last 400 years and historians and archeologist believed that the fort site was closer to the original shoreline, which would make it under water now. In the late 1800s, the Army Corps of Engineers built a berm to keep the shore from moving anymore and destroying what had been discovered. Then archeologists found the original fort, much further inland than they imagined.
Our ranger talked a bit about Pocahontas. Her given name was Matoaka and he said Pocahontas was a nickname that translated to “beloved daughter” or maybe “spoiled brat”. Not that she was a brat, but she clearly had her daddy the chief wrapped around her little finger.
So we learned everything about Jamestown that we didn’t remember, didn’t pay attention to or maybe didn’t learn from history class.
Following the history talk we did the archaeology talk, given by an archeologist working on the site. The settlement was established in 1607 and had grown to about 300 people by 1609 as more people arrived from England and I imagine a few babies were born, too. That winter of 1609-1610 was known as “the starving time”. They ate all the food, all the animals, all the shoe leather they could spare, and then started in on what is called “survivalist cannibalism”, which is exactly what it sounds like. Eighty percent of the settlers died that winter. Heath had seen a PBS special about an excavation at Jamestown. They had found the first concrete evidence that the settlers had turned to cannibalism — the skeleton of a 14-year-old girl that showed signs of having been butchered and the flesh having been stripped from the bone. Archeologists named her Jane. The young lady doing the presentation was the one who found her. She said she was an intern at the time and it was late on a Friday afternoon so she left the site for the day and someone else did the actual excavating. But she was very proud to be the one to make the initial find. I asked Katy if she wanted to be an archeologist. She said “it’s hot”.
After both programs we went back into the visitors’ center. Katy finished the Junior Ranger book and got her badge. It’s made from wood and very nice.
So that wound up our three days in Williamsburg.