Monday, October 31, 2016

Visiting Colonial Williamsburg (part one)

 ~This post was first written and published here on July 4, 2016~

I revere our nation's history - the good and the bad, the right and the wrong - for I am truly in awe of our Founding Fathers and of the pioneering citizens that came after. They had a spirit of strong stock that could overcome nearly anything thrown their way.  It's almost like they could do the impossible - surviving in such a way that the majority of us in the 21st century could probably never do. A comment that is often repeated by my readers after I post about the various everyday life activities for both men & women of the past (cooking over a hearth, traveling, surviving the four seasons, etc), is "I could never have lived at that time!"
I'm not sure I could either. But I enjoy reading, teaching, presenting, and even immersing myself in those times as a living historian.
And now I very recently had a dream come true...I finally, for my first time ever, made it to Colonial Williamsburg!
Yes, you read it right:
Colonial Williamsburg!














Yes! And you know I was dressed in my period clothing pretty much the entire time I was there, right?
I don't believe I could visit in any other manner. I would venture to say that during the four and a half day visit, I was in my modern clothes for maybe a hour or two after returning to our hotel. The rest of the time was spent in my breeches and tricorn and the other proper 18th century garb.
And the compliments I received for my 1770s clothing - - never have I gotten so many wonderful comments on my period apparel.

My wife and I, along with our two youngest kids, journeyed to the Revolutionary City from Michigan during the last week of June - almost a 14 hour drive (with traffic congestion) - and, I must say, as a social living historian, it was one of the most amazing and satisfying times I've ever had. I cannot even begin to express the soul-satisfying historical experience that encompassed me.
Before leaving on this four day vacation, I was warned by numerous people. I was warned not to get my expectations too high, for it may not be what I expect it to be.
I was also told that I was going to hate it.
Hate Colonial Williamsburg?
Me??
How could someone say that? What was so gawd-awful that would make me hate it?
"Oh no," he warned, "it's not Williamsburg you're going to despise. It's having to come home that you'll hate!"
Ha! Okay - - I get it now!











 












We barely got checked into our hotel room before I told my wife that I could not wait any longer - I had to go see this living historical open-air museum...now.
My dear wife Patty understood.
With a little extra planning, I made sure that our hotel (Williamsburg Woodlands) was only a few minute walk down a trail through time from the historic district. I knew this would alleviate a lot of stress should one of my clan feel the need to head back to the hotel to swim or cool down in the a/c, which, with us being in walking distance (or shuttle bus) allowed that to happen without me having to leave with them. The car was not touched the entire time.
No stress!
Off I went on foot, to walk back in time, and when this path to the past opened up to the edge of the Revolutionary City and I saw colonial-style brick walkway leading the rest of the way, I knew this place was going to be something more than I ever imagined.
Understand, having read plenty of books on Colonial Williamsburg (Colonial Williamsburg, Colonial Williamsburg Before and After, A Window on Williamsburg, and, best of all for the visitor, Colonial Williamsburg - The Official Guide), and looking at all of the photographs placed on the Colonial Williamsburg Friends and Colonial Williamsburg Lovers Facebook pages, I felt had at least some knowledge and a little idea of what this open-air museum was all about.
Nope - - I actually had no idea of what lay before me.
As I moved nearer to Duke of Gloucester street, passing a few beautiful historic houses along the way, I found myself becoming more and more immersed by way of a some sort of portal through time directly to 1775. 
Even after all the books I read and photographs I saw, I was not prepared...














So...would you like to come with my family and I on our unknowing unpreparedness and join us on our time-travel adventure to the roots and beginnings of the Revolutionary War period in our Nation's history?
Yes?
Good!
Folks, I'm not going to lie; I took an awful lot of pictures that I have to dig through. Too many to consume all at once.
So, needless to say this posting is the first in a Passion for the Past Colonial Williamsburg series.
I thought it appropriate to 'publish' it on this, the 4th of July:
Ready?
Let's go - -
 Let's step into the tunnel of time to the Revolutionary City - - -

The change occurs as you step through the time tunnel.......
What? You think I would go to Colonial Williamsburg and not wear my period clothing? The fact is, I was in my 1770s clothing nearly the entire time there.

Heading to Duke of Gloucester - - main street - - by way of North England street.
As I mentioned earlier, I took a ton of pictures so I will try to make a little story by putting them in an order  *roughly* by subject.

One of the first things we did was to take a carriage ride.
Our carriage awaited us...
We have no period clothing for our son Miles, so he may seem a little out of place here, but he's okay with it.
By the way, our driver was as outgoing, friendly, and a whole lot of fun to listen to. You could tell he loved his job.

My daughter, looking a bit regal here, enjoyed her ride very much.
It is assumed average middling (middle class) people traveled more than likely by foot to get from home to village, though to go any great distance taking a stage was almost necessary.
As necessary as a necessary! 
My wife and I certainly enjoyed this ride very much as well. It was one of the many highlights of our Colonial Williamsburg trip.

Williamsburg is decently large, and our carriage ride was relaxing as we traveled throughout the town.

In my home state of Michigan we have the open air museum Greenfield Village, which features plenty of Model T's riding around (as well as horse & carriage and train rides), but with Williamsburg being strictly a colonial city we only saw other horse and carriages, which helped with the whole 18th century immersion feel.

Because Williamsburg's streets are maintained very well (some with dirt, blacktop, or crushed shell), we didn't have the same travel experience as our ancestors of 250 years ago:
The condition of the roads at the period of the beginnings of the formation of our country were not of a high order. Little money and labor was put toward them. Riding in a coach has been described as being "like a ship rocking or beating against a heavy sea; straining all her timbers with a low moaning sound as she drives over the contending waves," and the experience could be hazardous and fatiguing with weather always an uncertainty; bad conditions could delay the best laid plans of any traveler.  
Another story explains of how it took seventeen hours to travel the sixty six miles from Fredricksburg, Virginia to Richmond, and the coach stopped at ten taverns on the way. It rained and there were complaints of wet feet, clothes becoming plastered with mud from the wheel, the travel trunks taking in water, the horses "draggled and chafted by the traces," and the driver's neckcloth becoming saturated. Yet, the driver wrote, "the journey was performed pleasantly."
Fortunately for us, this was not the case at all. It was quite the opposite as we rode through the beautifully restored city of Williamsburg.

After our carriage tour was over, we headed over to the Chowning Tavern, where we were hoping to get a fine noon time meal.
We were not disappointed.
Chownings Tavern (pronounced as it is spelled or, if you prefer, "choonings").
Josiah Chowning opened his tavern in 1766 appealing to the "ordinary sort."
 

Built in 1941 as a replication of the original, we come to find that this is not the original location of where Chownings once stood; researchers have learned that a store and dwelling occupied this site while Josiah Chowning operated his tavern in a structure nearby.
However, the interior of Chownings was patterned after alehouses in England, using sturdy tables, chairs, and benches to recreate a place for the more common of folk to feel welcomed.
We were the only period-dress patrons inside Chownings (though the waitstaff were all period), and we had quite a few folk take our picture as we sat down for our meal. 
Here is my daughter, once again, looking wonderfully colonial.

My wife also enjoys dressing up, though not nearly as much as I do.

We had the waitress take our family photo.
My son Miles would also dress period but he has no clothing of this era, though he does have 1860s clothing for the time of the Civil War.

Up to the 2nd floor

1770s entertainment
While we dined, Chownings provided entertainment. This woman was very traditional and performed one of my very favorite colonial-era tunes, Over the Hills and Far Away (no, not the Led Zeppelin number!).
Sorry that the beginning is lopped off of the video below - I didn't know she was going to perform it, so when I heard her begin to sing it, I got my camera out as soon as I could.
Yes, it's a bit noisy, but, well, we are in a tavern after all.
Just click the image below to hear this tune:

  About a year and a half after Josiah Chowning announced the opening of his establishment in 1766, another aspiring keeper advertised that he had "opened TAVERN in the house formally occupied by Mr. Chowning."
No one knows why Chowning gave up tavern keeping.
Well, we certainly enjoyed our time here, and the root beer is the best ever!
 
Now, I have heard much talk about the interpreters of the Founding Fathers at Colonial Williamsburg. It was a top priority for me to see some of the historic people of our nation's past, and on this particular day, it just happened to be the "elder" Thomas Jefferson. I say "elder" because he represents our 3rd President as an elderly gentleman from right around the year 1812, and his speech is a sort of retrospect of his life and of the important influences and events that occurred for him.
This interpreter was amazing. He spoke with a southern gentleman's accent and casually used 18th century slang, verbiage, & humor to give the audience a sense of realism, to give the impression we were actually listening to the Thomas Jefferson of 200 years ago.
To hold the interest of my wife and two youngest kids 
in a speech takes a lot. This man did.


His eloquence and style made one feel as if they 
truly were in the company of our third president.



I can now say I met Thomas Jefferson! 
As he grasped my hand in a handshake, he knew this 
form of greeting was not common-place in the 
1770s, and he asked if it was acceptable to me.
Why, of course it was!

And if you would like to hear a little of Mr. Jefferson's speech, just click the arrow below:

Next we found ourselves, unsurprisingly, at the home of George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson's mentor.
The home of George Wythe, signer of the Declaration of Independence, was built in the 1750s by his father-in-law. Wythe and his wife, Elizabeth, lived in this house for nearly 40 years. Since they had no children, the only other occupants were their slaves.

Preparing to enter the home of George Wythe.

Thomas Jefferson thought of Wythe as his mentor in those years before the Revolutionary War and was instructed about the proper foundations of politics and law in a society based on equality and liberty.

When the Revolutionary War began, George Wythe was a prominent lawyer and clerk of the House of Burgess, and was selected as a delegate to the 2nd Continental Congress.

One of the reasons I wanted to dress in period clothing for my visit to Colonial Williamsburg was so I could get some photographs of me doing what could be something of a historic nature, as you may see in this and in the following pictures.

I was welcomed to sit at the table in a manner of looking important.
So...do I look important?

George Wythe was a signer of the Declaration of Independence – a document that, according to the Colonial Williamsburg guidebook, “owed its genesis to ideas that circulated through the rooms in this house.”
No, I'm really not George Wythe. Honest. 
Just a guest. 

Thomas Jefferson: “(Wythe was) my second father, my faithful and beloved mentor in youth and my most affectionate friend through life.”
George Wythe remained in Williamsburg to assist Thomas Jefferson, who had become his closest friend, in transforming Virginia into a republican order. Jefferson and his family lived in this house for a short time at the end of 1776.

Going above stairs...
Throughout the house we see that the Wythe House has been set up as General George Washington's headquarters during his preparations for the 1781 siege that won the Revolution at Yorktown.
Instead of the fashionable furnishings displayed so conspicuously in the past, visitors stepping through the front door now find the grand hall and passageway strangely barren except for a gauze-draped mirror and a hurriedly deposited row of rolled-up tents, camp mattresses and travel trunks.
The scenario is especially prevalent on the second floor.

John Adams wrote in a letter to Wythe in 1776: You and I, my dear Friend, have been sent into life at a time when the greatest law-givers of antiquity would have wished to have lived.

Benjamin Rush: “He seldom spoke in Congress, but when he did, his speeches were sensible, correct and pertinent.”

Could this coat belong to general Washington?

Heading below stairs...

Looking out the back window of the George Wythe House on a day with off and on showers, though the bit of rain - and it was only a bit - did not dampen our spirits whatsoever.
But there were some outbuildings behind Mr. Wythe's house:

Such as the small outbuilding that held his kitchen.

There are numerous reasons given for the kitchen not being inside the main house, including the heat emanating from it in a Virginia summer...

...or not having to be around the kitchen help due to the lower class worker's clothing...
Or even because the servants may have been slaves.
But these "summer kitchens" aren't so unusual inside the southern colonial homes.
 
Okay - corny history geek time:
I've now been in a house where not only one, but two signers of the Declaration of Independence lived. And one of those signers - Thomas Jefferson (even if he lived in this house for only a short while) - actually wrote this most-important document!
This was a major highlight for me.
Yes it was...!

One of the buildings we stopped into as we roamed the city was Tarpley, Thompson & Company.
From 1759 to 1763, this building was owned and occupied as a store by James Tarpley. Previous to 1759 it was owned by Henry Wetherburn, the tavern-keeper.
James Tarpley, referred to as "merchant in Williamsburg" in the Virginia Gazette, carried a wide variety of goods including wet and dry goods.
Tarpley's now carries Williamsburg souvenirs, including books and kitchen cloths, as well as reproductions of glassware, candle holders, jams, and even 18th century-style chocolate.
Inside Tarpley's store, I met a young lady who I came to find out is a v-e-r-y distant relative of mine. We are related through the Boone side of our family, going way back to the mother of Daniel Boone (perhaps you heard of him?) and her sisters.
This place, Colonial Williamsburg...yeah, I felt like I belonged...

Back in the old days, churches were always to be the tallest structure in any town or village, and the point to where anyone from any part of town may see it was very important. It also would house the bell to be rung for service or for important news, therefore it could be heard farther into the countryside the higher it was. So rather than build an extremely tall building, they built a tall steeple to place the cross atop and put the bell inside instead. 
And, yes, we could see (and hear) the Bruton church steeple from across Williamsburg.
Dating from 1715, the Bruton Parish Church is the third in a series of Anglican houses of worship that began in 1660.
The Reverend James Blair, president of the College of William and Mary and Virginia's highest-ranking clergyman, approved construction on March 1, 1711. The same day, Governor Alexander Spotswood provided an architectural drawing of a cruciform design.

Work began in 1712 with an October 15, 1714 deadline. The December 2, 1715 entry in the vestry book says, "at length new Church is finished, or nearly so." 
 In 1761, merchant James Tarpley presented the church with a bell. Bids for a steeple or belfry to house the bell were let on January 1, 1769. The vestry awarded a £410 contract for a brick tower surmounted by a wooden octagon and for miscellaneous repairs to Benjamin Powell that September 14. The addition can be seen from outside the church, as the steeple bricks have a darker color than the salmon-hued bricks of the rest of the church. Tarpley's bell is still in use.
And here is another view.

In 1724, when the city was just 25 years old, a professor from the College of William and Mary sketched a Williamsburg vista in a book... 
"From the Church," he said, "runs a Street northward called Palace Street; at the other end of which stands the Palace or Governor's House, a magnificent Structure built at the publick Expense, finished and beautified with Gates, Fine Gardens, Offices, Walks, a fine Canal, Orchards, &c."

Yes, that is my lovely wife there:

Such a beautiful church!

And now, the inside!
Governor Spotswood was provided with a canopied chair on a platform inside the rail opposite the raised pulpit with its overhanging sounding board. Parishioners sat in boxed pews, their walls providing privacy and protection from drafts.

In the early years the sexes sat apart. A vestry book entry for January 9, 1716, says:
"Ordered that the Men sitt on the North side of the church, and the women on the left."

BAPTISMAL FONT
This font, used regularly for baptisms,
occupies a central place in the governor’s pew at Bruton, a
reminder of the central focus on baptism in the church. 
It came to Bruton circa 1758 from the church at Jamestown
via its successor, the Church on the Main, located about 
two miles west of Jamestown on the mainland

My wife and I and our daughter inside Bruton Parish Church. 
In 1781, the church served as a storehouse or hospital, perhaps both, during the Battle of Yorktown.
This is a very impressive structure, one that should not be missed when visiting this city.


Here are a couple of colonial-era tombstones inside the church yard

"Honey? When my time comes to meet my maker..."


From the 1724 sketchbook:
"(The Governor's Palace) likewise has the ornamental Addition of a good Cupola or Lanthorn, illuminated with most of the Town, upon Birth-Nights, and other Nights of occasional Rejoicings."
The Governor’s Palace was new then. It had been finished in 1722 after 16 years of fitful building and mounting expense.
Governor Edward Nott persuaded the General Assembly to authorize its construction with an act passed October 23, 1705, and building began the following summer.

The word "Palace" was first used for the governor's house about 1714. Whether the term was used as irony in reference to its expense, or simply to designate an official residence is debatable.  When all was at last done, however, the building measured up to the name compared to other colonial structures, but not to European palaces.

Over 200 swords and muskets hang in the front entrance of the Governor's Palace

The elegance of the Palace shown throughout.

A Palace guard

The Palace hosted the colony’s fashionable society and finest entertainments. The October 31, 1771, Virginia Gazette reported:
"Last Friday night being the anniversary of our Most gracious Sovereign's Accession to the Throne, his Excellency the Governor gave a Ball and an elegant Entertainment at the Palace, to a numerous and splendid Company of Ladies and Gentlemen."

Here is a close up of the two paintings you see on the wall:
King George
Queen Charlotte


















~Here I am, standing in the Governor's Palace~
When the city recoiled from the removal of gunpowder from the Magazine in 1775, Dunmore summoned 40 sailors to the Palace to protect him from angry citizens. On May 15, 1775, he said he had turned it into a garrison. On June 8, Dunmore fled under cover of darkness, never to return. The Palace muskets and swords were pulled from its decorative displays by a delegation of local men and carried to the Powder Magazine for use in defending the colony.  Dunmore's personal slaves and private furniture were later sold at public auction.

On December 22, 1781, a fire that may have begun in the basement destroyed the building. A Charleston newspaper account said:
"Last Saturday night about eleven o'clock the palace in the City of Williamsburg, which is supposed to have been set on fire by some malicious person, was in three hours burnt to the ground. This elegant building has been for sometime past a continental hospital, and upwards of one hundred sick and wounded soldiers were in it when the fire was discovered, but by the timely exertions of a few people, only one perished in the flames."
Archaeological investigation began at 8 a.m., June 30, 1930. Nearly two years of work uncovered the original footings, the cellars, debris from the fire, and a section of original wall. 
The artifacts, Jefferson's drawings, General Assembly records, and a copperplate engraving discovered in England's Bodleian Library in 1929 were employed in faithful reconstruction of the original buildings. They opened as an exhibition on April 23, 1934.

Governors who lived in the original palace included:
  • Alexander Spotswood
  • Hugh Drysdale
  • William Gooch
  • Robert Dinwiddie
  • Francis Fauquier
  • Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt
  • John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore
  • Patrick Henry
  • Thomas Jefferson
At one point during the day we got to see the governor ride on by.

The feeling one gets while strolling the historic colonial city is immersion.
The brick and cobblestone walkways (rather than cemented "safety sidewalks") added so much to the total ambience.

 Yes, that's me you see walking the streets of Williamsburg.
And visiting the horses:
And there were always horses pulling carriages or carts or, as shown here, a two-wheeled carriage...
...and then there were workers pushing carts...

...which also added greatly to the colonial flavor.

If any of you know me personally, you will know I am not a shy guy. Quite the opposite, in fact, and it takes only to be seen for me to strike up a conversation, as I did with this young colonial lady.
Everyone - - seriously, everyone - - we met in Williamsburg, the young lady with me here included, were very friendly and willing to answer any question I had about the historic city.
The road here leads to the brick yard where kids can learn the trade of brick-making.

We may have taken a carriage ride, but Williamsburg is a walking city, and we certainly did a lot of that!
At one point during this particularly beautiful morning, I took a short 'breather' to sit a while and enjoy a little conversation with Devon.

For this 4th of July/Independence Day, I thought showing General George Washington as he rode up to the fife & drum corps was suitable:
This was a sight to see! Here was George Washington - - !
And then follow that with - - -
General Washington speaking to the troops and giving them a rallying speech to keep up the fight, for we must win this war if we are to become a free and independent nation.


Okay...time for a little colonial fun - - - yes, this is my daughter. She had a bit of running at the mouth and needed to be punished, so, well, when in Rome, right?
My daughter was so very sorry for what she had done. I'm sure she shan't do it again.
But, just in case she gets any other ideas...
So, there you have part one of my adventures in Colonial Williamsburg. In all honestly, I cannot say enough good about the Revolutionary City. It went far beyond my expectations, which were set pretty high. But the total feel, the tour presenters, those who worked on the streets to help make it all come alive in a natural way, the Founding Father speeches...because of them and the restored colonial city, I was entranced, entrenched, and enthralled in my favorite era of American History.
The compliments I received from so many about my period clothing truly made me feel beyond words. And I was welcomed with open arms by some of the most genuinely nicest folks I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. They kind of took me in as one of their own.
You can only imagine how I felt...

As I mentioned, this is only the first in a Williamsburg series - there will be multiple other Colonial Williamsburg postings interspersed with my reenacting articles.
I hope you enjoy them.
Oh, and Happy Independence Day. Remember what this day means and be thankful for what our Founding Generation did for us.
I know I will.
Until next time, see you in time.


Some of the historical text came from the Official Guide Book to Colonial Williamsburg and "Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence"

Click HERE for part 2 of my Williamsburg excursion
and HERE for part three
For an overview of how our colonial ancestors lived, please click HERE













.

No comments: