A Week in the 18th Century: Visiting Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. 
That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances. 
That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

Text of the Lee Resolution, taken by the Virginia Convention in Williamsburg. Proposed to the Continental Congress by William Henry Lee of Virginia and seconded by John Adams of Massachusetts.





The family spent school vacation visiting Colonial Williamsburg and the surrounding historic areas. This was the fourth trip trip my wife and I took. Our elder daughter, now 13, went once with us and our younger, now 10, made her first trip. 

For those unfamiliar with it, Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1780. Prior to it the capital was in Jamestown and afterwards it moved to its current location, Richmond.

The restoration of Williamsburg  began in the late 1920s with surviving buildings being restored to their colonial appearances. In the 1930s the process of recreating missing buildings. Colonial Williamsburg is a "living history" museum, with character actors who portray characters of the late Colonial and Revolutionary era. The "current" year varies by events - in one visit the current year was 1774 with much of the talk being the recent Boston Tea Party and the closing of the port of Boston. It was great fun to interact with character actors, describing ourselves as being from Boston. We were able to see the full spectrum of attitudes, from blaming the Boston Patriots for causing trouble to sympathizing with them. It was chilling witnessing the governor dissolving the House of Burgesses in reaction to their formally expressing sympathy with them. 

In this visit it was the eve of the Battle of Yorktown, with General Washington having established his headquarters in the Wythe House. 

There are a variety of events one can participate in. In this visit we witnessed and participated in trials of a witch and a pirate. The witch trial was especially chilling, with much screaming, shrieking, and cursing taking place. We also got to participate in an interactive storytelling event where we learned how stories and moral lessons were passed down among slaves ("Mama said, Papa Said"). In past visits we learned about supernatural beliefs among the colonists, participated in a slave wedding (the jumping of the broom), and interacted with patriots and loyalists in taverns. The participation in the slave wedding was an especially memorable experience - after spending an hour with slaves you identified with them more than their masters, whatever your race. Which made the appearance of the master a chilling experience at the end - he came only to wish them well but after an hour with the slaves you felt the vast gap between you and he and were well aware of the total power he had over you.

Close to Williamsburg are Yorktown and Jamestown. We made a quick visit to Yorktown but didn't have much time to spend there. We spent a lot more time in Jamestown - both at the actual site of the original Jamestown and a reconstructed Jamestown. As I mentioned previously, you feel the ghosts of those who came before. It's amazing to contemplate what grew out of that tiny colony, for good and for ill. 

Overall the family had a good time. Our eldest had a few bouts of "grr, this isn't Disney World" (where we went last April) but she overall enjoyed herself - despite some character actors suggesting I might want to talk with some well to do folks about arranging a marriage for her... 


There's a stereotype of southerners being friendlier than northerners. After multiple visits to southern Virginia, with time spent out of tourist areas, I'm going to say there's definitely truth to that. Obviously it's a generalization but every visit I've made to the area I'm overwhelmed by the friendliness and kindness shown towards strangers.





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