<< Days 37 and 38: Delaplane, Virginia | Day 41: Williamsburg to New River Gorge, West Virginia >>
We got up very early this morning and were on the road by 6:30. We were driving 150 miles south to Williamsburg, Virginia, to spend two days with my sister Kimberly and her family.
The surrounding terrain consisted mostly of green rolling hills with lots of trees.
I was tired this morning and did not take very many pictures before our arrival in Williamsburg. Here are a few buildings that caught my eye:
This sign welcomed us to the “historic triangle” of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.
My sister Kimberly, and my nieces Spencer and Madison, met us at our RV park and drove us a short distance to historic Colonial Williamsburg.
The city of Williamsburg was established in 1633, primarily to protect Jamestown and other settlements against attacks from the Native Americans. The capital of the Colony of Virginia was moved here from Jamestown in 1699 to escape the mosquitoes and malaria outbursts. In the early 1900’s, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. funded the purchase, renovation and recreation of many historic buildings in the colonial area of Williamsburg.
Colonial Williamsburg is intended to be a re-creation of the city as it existed in the 18th century, leading up to the Revolutionary War. The area is populated with “Interpreters” who work, dress, and speak as if they were actually living in that era. If a member of the public asks a question, the interpreters will respond as if everyone is still living in the 18th century. Most of the buildings are open for people to enter and look around.
We made our way down the main street toward the old Capitol building so that we could participate in "Revolutionary City," which is a series of dramas with all types of 18th century townspeople concerning the downfall of the British rule and the beginning of the Revolutionary War.
We passed the Bruton Parish church, which was initially constructed in 1710. It was improved and changed over the years, and underwent extensive restoration work that began in 1910.
A garden area contained an abundance of vegetables and other plants.
The children were fascinated by the large size of this bee.
We passed the courthouse building:
Wrongdoers were often punished with time in the stockade:
We came upon two musicians and a group of girls who we thought were going to sing—it turns out that they were dancers. Genevieve and Madison learned how to do a simple, traditional dance that would have been done at home for celebrations within the family.
These oxen had shiny coats.
Their owner told us that the animals were “steers”, but the name “oxen” is used because the animals “work for a living.”
We finally reached the end of the street, where the first “scene” in Revolutionary City was taking place. The setting was the Capitol building, which had been constructed in 1705.
Here, we witnessed Governor Dunmore (a British loyalist) arriving at the Capitol, upset that the elected Virginia officials had protested an action by the British government.
As part of the drama, local 18th century townspeople were in the audience making comments to themselves (for us to overhear) about their personal opinions regarding what they were seeing.
Each scene lasted 20 minutes. Then our written program directed us to where the next scene would take place.
As we walked down the street to reach the location, we found two women working as basket makers.
As with the other townspeople, the basket makers were “in character,” acting as if they were still back in the 18th century. They engaged us by making a comment to the children about making baskets. One of the women explained that by the age of 5, most children could make a basket; they start learning at 3. Ninety percent of the people in 18th century Williamsburg made their own baskets; however, a person could show off their wealth by carrying a “store bought” basket, such as the one Genevieve is carrying below.
The hand-made baskets were made from white oak, with no glue or pins. They were “functional”, not decorative.
Sebastian was fascinated by the baskets that were part of a fish trap. (He still talks about those baskets.)
We then witnessed two more enactments that dealt with the split of loyalty among the colonists. In stories about the Revolutionary War, the American colonists are often presented as a united front, rebelling against the tyrannical impositions of the British government (King George III). However, that was not the case. There were many colonists who were loyal to the King and wanted to work out a compromise related to issues involving taxation and representation. Not only were community members divided, but people within the same family often held different views.
In one scene, a young woman was upset and complaining to her slave about the disdainful treatment that she had just received from the owner of the wig shop. Her mother arrived, and the two argued publicly about the father’s support of the King, which had been the cause of the shop owner’s rude comments.
While the skits were “interesting” to me, and well performed, the children found them to be a bit dull. While they did not verbally complain (or even groan), they communicated their lack of attention through their restless bodies, wandering eyes, and occasional big sigh.
We took a break from the “action” and visited the Wig Shop.
The 18th century shop clerk was full of wonderful tidbits of information.
We learned that only 5% of the people could afford to wear wigs. George Washington was in that group, but he chose not to wear a wig—he always wore his own hair, which was styled and powdered.
We also learned that the women and men who wore the wigs were completely bald underneath—their heads needed to be shaved smooth in order for the wig to fit snuggly and not fall off!
A woman who wore her long hair down was the modern equivalent of a woman going out in public in her underwear.
Girls generally started wearing wigs at the age of 10, and boys at the age of 7 to 9.
The wigs were made with hair from yaks, goats, horse manes, or humans (generally peasant girls in Europe or Asia).
Men generally had three wigs—a dark wig for daytime wear, a grey wig for business, and a white wig for evening. Women, on the other hand, had as many wigs as they could afford.
A minimal men’s wig cost 3 to 5 days’ wages. An average everyday wig costs 4 weeks’ wages—for that amount of money, a man could buy a small plot of land. For women, a wig cost between 3 and 12 months’ wages.
A judge’s wig cost about 60 pounds, which was the equivalent of 2 to 3 years’ worth of wages for a worker.
The Tonsure Wig was made for a clergyman, with a built-in bald spot in the back for humility.
A male visitor attempted to be humorous by making a “joke” about Indian’s scalping people with wigs. The woman behind the wig counter was very gracious, saying that the “white man” taught the Indians how to scalp but that she wouldn’t “go into that.”
The wig maker showed us how she attaches the hair into neat rows and then sews the rows onto a tight mesh cap that holds the wig onto a person’s head. The stitch was an “M” shape.
We watched one final scene in the Revolutionary City drama. Outside the wig shop, a man was being accused of saying that the American militia was really the King’s toy. The judicial system was still that which supported British rule; talk of a revolution, or criticism of King George III, was a crime. The man was found guilty in a public trial.
As we were watching the trial, an 18th century character stood next to me, making comments to herself (for the benefit of myself and those around me).
For example, when the prosecutor announced the words that the accused man said, the woman exclaimed in dismay something like, “Oh no! He’s in trouble now!” At one point, I couldn’t hear what was being said across the street at the trial, so I turned to her and asked, and she explained to me what was happening.
One of the prisoner’s possible punishments was to make concessions to the offended parties, but the man refused to apologize. So he was tied to a pole, and the court officials prepared to tar and feather him. He was screaming loudly. The preparations were quite intense (a bit horrifying, I must say, with the prospect of a man having hot tar spread on his back), and the children had a front row view.
At the last minute, the man yelled out that he would apologize, so he was spared the tar and feathers. Whew!
We had lunch at the King’s Arm tavern, which was opened in 1772 and had the reputation of being one of Williamsburg’s “most genteel establishments.” The décor and food were presented in the same manner as in the 18th century.
Daniel was our server.
Mrs. Purdy, the 18th-century owner, came out to see if everyone was having a fine time.
There was a baby at the next table. Mrs. Purdy told us that in the 18th century people told boy and girl babies apart by their clothing; baby boys wore clothes with buttons, and baby girls had no buttons. She also said that the left hand was viewed as “sinister,” so children were taught to do everything with their right hand.
Mrs. Purdy said that she rented nine beds for travelers who were tired. Strangers were often required to share beds, and Mrs. Purdy guaranteed that there would be “no more than 3 people to a bed.” Oh my.
After lunch we visited the milliner’s shop.
This yellow dress was made from Italian silk and cost 1 month’s wages.
Women wore “stays” to help support their back; in the 18th century, stays were not yet used to make the waist smaller.
Baby girls often started wearing stays at the age of 12 months so that they could learn to walk straight.
In the 18th century, the trades were open to both men and women; the only requirement was that a person had to find a master to take them in and train them, usually for 7 years. A girl would often start an apprenticeship at the age of 11; the parents would pay the master money, and the girl would live with the master and learn the trade. The person who had owned the milliner’s shop was Margaret Hunter, a single woman who had made a very good living.
Back on the street, we noted that the current trend of “baggy pants” for boys can be traced back to at least the 1770’s.
We stopped by the Powder Magazine, which was built in 1715. All of the militia’s weapons were stored here. In addition, every male between the age of 16 and 60 was required by law to keep a gun at home.
Sebastian and Ben posed with the guard at the Magazine entrance:
The Magazine was shaped like a hexagon:
And there was a winding staircase inside:
Actual antiques were stored on the left.
Reproductions were stored on the right.
The Magazine guide explained that on April 2, 1775, the Revolutionary War had started in Virginia. Lord Dunmore had taken half of the militia’s gunpowder and guns and put them on a warship; that was the turning point for Virginia in rebelling against the British. This happened, coincidentally, two days after the battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, which were the first armed battles between Great Britain and any of the thirteen colonies.
When we purchased our Colonial Williamsburg tickets this morning, I had made reservations (free) for us to see a special presentation called “In Their Own Words.” The description on the Colonial Williamsburg website described the presentation as “an interactive walking history tour that provides an overview of how free and enslaved African Americans struggled to be both free and equal during the American Revolution.” I had interpreted this to mean that there would be re-enactments of various events by people portraying slaves and freemen, and that we would hearing the characters actual thoughts and opinions about various issues. I was very excited about this event, which I thought would be very interesting to Genevieve and Sebastian, as well as the rest of us.
Instead of re-enactments, however, the presentation was basically a historical lecture by our guide Sam Wilson.
The lecture seemed to be geared toward holding the attention of adults, not children—lots of “facts” conveyed in a college-lecture tone of voice, with little effort to project enthusiasm or engage the interest of young people. The children’s eyes glazed over, and the presentation turned into a torturous test of endurance for Genevieve and Sebastian (and also for Spencer and Madison, who are 14 and 12 years of age respectively, and both exceptionally smart).
My sister graciously offered an “escape” (I think that she was looking for one herself). She offered to take all of the children to the Palace Green area, where there were various children’s crafts and games, including rolling hoops. Off they went!
Here is Sebastian in front of the Palace Green:
Ben and I continued on the lecture walk, which actually had quite a bit of interesting information.
With his stories and descriptions, our guide Sam took us from Africa in the 1600’s to the United States in 1965. He said that thousands and thousands of Africans were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean in atrocious conditions; there were so many Africans that either jumped to their deaths, or died and were tossed overboard, that sharks today still follow the same path that the slavery ships took.
In 18th-century Williamsburg, 52% of the population was slaves.
At the courthouse stockades, we learned about the punishments of flogging, dismemberment and death.
Killing a slave was not a crime. Moreover, if a slave died while being given a court-ordered flogging, then the court reimbursed the slave owner.
Sam told us the story of Matthew Ashby, who was a free black that was born to a white mother. He was free because the law said that the status of the mother determines the status of the child. However, the punishment for having a child with an African father was a lashing; the child, Matthew, was then taken from the mother and indentured to the church for 31 years. He then met Ann, a slave of Samuel Spur, a bricklayer; together they had 3 children. When Matthew died at the age of 44, he had saved enough money to buy his wife and children, and then he applied to set them free—from 1723 to 1783, a person could not free a slave without permission from the government.
During the Revolutionary War, the British government issued a proclamation that any slave who joined their troops would be set free. At the end of the war, the British kept their word and transported many of the freed slaves to Canada, England and Australia. That freedom contrasted greatly with the plight of the slaves who fought for America, which professes to be "land of the free”—they remained in bondage, classified as mere “property.”
Sam also told us that George Washington had a manservant slave named Billy Lee, who was in every battle with Washington; however, none of the battle paintings of Washington ever have Lee by his side.
After our tour, we met up with my sister and the children, and we returned to the RV for a short nap and early dinner.
Tonight we had tickets for the “Tavern Ghost Walk” in Colonial Williamsburg. The walking tour involved five modern “ghost stories” that were simply fascinating to hear.
Lindsey was our guide.
For each story, we would walk with Lindsey to the place in which the described events took place. The site of the first story was Shield’s Tavern, which was constructed in 1940 as a re-creation of the building that historians think used to be here.
In 1989, the building was turned into an actual tavern; this process involved digging a hole in the backyard to put the kitchen, and installing a tunnel system in the back for deliveries.
Lindsey was a fabulous story teller, and I won’t write all of the details here. However, the short version of the “ghost story” for the Shield’s Tavern is as follows:
Denise, the manager, was closing up for the evening, and she checked everything—doors, windows, lights and candles. We went down the stairs, into the basement, through the kitchen, through the tunnel and up to the back exit. When she looked back at the tavern, however, she saw a light on in the upstairs room. She went all the way back and turned out the light. She then walked down the stairs, through the basement/kitchen/tunnel and up to the back exit again. When she looked back, however, the light was on again. She returned to the tavern, but this time she dragged a dishwasher with her, who would only go to the first floor, not the second. When she reached the lit room, she discovered that all of the furniture was in disarray. She straightened all of the furniture, and as she turned to go, she said to the room, “I’m really tired. Can you please just leave the light off?” She then went through the stairs/basement/kitchen/tunnel process, and up into the back area. When she looked up at the tavern, she saw the silhouette of a man in a tri-corner hat watching them from the center window. She went home. She later learned that in November 1717 the tavern owner Paul Moreau “mysteriously disappeared” and that his best friend was charged with murder; the friend later opened his own tavern across the street.
Lindsey said that a man in 18th century clothing has sometimes been seen in mirrors, checking on guests, and that lights sometimes come on by themselves in Shield’s Tavern.
To add to this mystery, after Denise’s incident two other workers (Jenny and Kelly) had been standing side by side discussing Paul Moreau. Suddenly, Jenny asked, “Did you just feel something cold?” Kelly said yes. Then Jenny asked, “What part of you feels cold?” Kelly said her right side, which was next to Jenny. Then Jenny said, “Well that’s odd because my left side feels cold.” Whatever was making them feel cold was standing right between them!
We then walked down the street to the Brick House Tavern, which offers rooms for rent.
In the 18th century, private rooms for rent were rare. Lindsey said that over the past twenty years or so, stories have surfaced regarding unusual occurrences that have been experienced here by modern guests. One of the most recent incidents happened to two sisters (called “A” and “B” to protect their privacy) who were staying here on April 6-7, 2007. They had been walking up the stairs to their rooms, and they both sensed a strong and sweet smell of tobacco. The Tavern, however, is non-smoking. That night, Sister “A” was in bed, and Sister “B” went to turn off the light. When she did, she saw the distinct silhouette of a man walk past their second story window; this sight gave her a “bad feeling.” Around 2 or 3 in the morning, Sister “A” was awakened by the sound of keys jangling. She sat up in bed, and as her eyes adjusted to the dark, she realized that the sound was coming from the foot of the sisters’ beds.
The sisters’ experiences continued. The next night, Sister “A” was awakened by a thump at the end of her bed. The thumps continued, with one at her feet, one at her knees, one at her hip, one at her elbow, one at her shoulder—whereupon she finally went to let out a loud scream but found that she couldn’t because she had a huge weight on her chest. She finally was able to get out a squeak that woke up her sister, and the weight lifted off her chest. When Sister “A” told what had happened, Sister “B” then revealed that she had heard some foot-tapping on the side of the bed earlier that night. Sister “A” rushed over to the light and turned it on; they both witnessed a silvery mass shoot upwards, zip across the room, and disappear through the wall. They slept with the light on the rest of the night.
Others guests in the Brick House Tavern have heard loud boots walking across hardwood floors, even though the Tavern is fully carpeted. Twenty years ago, one woman was awakened by loud boots circling the room next door. After some time the boots walked across the next room, through her wall, across her room, and out the door.
I was captivated by these tales, and the children seemed to be enjoying them too!
Lindsey then led us down to the Prentis store, which was built in 1739.
The store had been owned by Mr. Prentis, who had come to Virginia as an indentured servant, not a free person. An indentured servant could be bought and sold or traded. Mr. Prentis was a hard worker. At the end of his 5 years of service to a merchant, he received a job in the store. He eventually earned a 1/6 interest in the store and married the daughter.
Six years ago, a clerk and two female customers had been in the Prentis store. The two women had not been impressed, and one woman commented that the store seemed “shabby.” At that point, a heavy wooden checkerboard lifted up across the room, delicately maneuvered over a large ceramic mug, flew across the room, and smashed to pieces against the wall, barely missing the two women.
The manager put another checkerboard in place, secured to the wall by iron brackets, and set another mug display in front—this time a pyramid display of stacked mugs. A short time later, an employee was setting up early in the morning and made a disparaging remark about the store. The checkerboard was wrenched out of the wall, moved around the mug display, and flew at the employee, striking his head open. He needed stitches at the hospital, but there was no long-term damage. Needless to say, there are no more checkerboard displays in the store.
The final two “ghost stories” in our tour was told in front of Chownings Tavern.
First, Lindsey explained that a large group of men from the College of William and Mary had been gathered in the second story restaurant, wanting a balladeer to come up and sing for them. A large man entered the room, looked out the window, bowed to the group, and then walked through the window. One of the college students rushed to the window and looked out—there was nothing but air. He ran over to another window in the back of the restaurant and was astonished to see the large man looking back, pointing and laughing. Hearing the college man scream, the rest of the men crowded around the window to see. En mass, they ran screaming down the stairs.
The second Chownings Tavern story involved a female guest who was eating in the upstairs restaurant by herself. The guest claimed to be a psychic and told her server, named Lee, that she had met a nice man named Peter looking out the back window upstairs where his house used to be. It turns out that Chownings Tavern had been rebuilt (in the early 1900’s) on the wrong corner of the street, and that there had actually been a shop and a house on the tavern’s spot. The woman told Lee that Peter “was fond of” a hostess named Emily and that he wanted to be the “protector” of Emily and her new son “who came too soon.” Emily had indeed just given birth to a baby boy, who had arrived 5 weeks premature. The “psychic” guest then said that Peter had brought Emily a white flower yesterday. When Lee told this story to Emily, she was shocked because the previous day she had gone out to the back garden to seat some guests; when she had turned around, she had discovered a large white magnolia on the sidewalk—the nearest magnolia flower bush, however, was over two blocks away. The story caused Emily to quit her job at the tavern.
We all enjoyed the Tavern Ghost Walk immensely, and I highly recommend it! Lindsey gave the children each a souvenir pin.
Afterwards, we all had some scrumptious Bruster’s ice cream.
All of the many ice cream flavors are made inside the store. My mom has been raving about Bruster’s ice cream for years, and now I understand why!
The following day, we shared some fun times at Busch Gardens amusement park, which has a variety of rides for all ages.
Genevieve and Sebastian plotted their course of action with their park maps.
Spencer, Genevieve, Madison and Sebastian—ready for fun!
Sebastian and Madi:
Madi and Genevieve:
Ben and Sebastian in the front seat, with Genevieve and Madi behind them:
Sebastian: “Can I ride the roller coaster again, please, please, please?!!!”
Yes, indeed! Ready, set, go!
Sebastian is still young enough to get a thrill from visiting the Sesame Street characters:
And so is Genevieve!
Genevieve and Sebastian disappeared into Oscar’s Yucky Forest.
Sebastian, Madi and Frank (Kim’s husband) on Prince Elmo’s Spire:
Sebastian and Madi rode Oscar’s Whirly Worms (second row from the back):
Then Genevieve took a turn with her brother:
Everyone else rode the “Roman Rapids”, while Sebastian and I fed quarters into the “squirting machines”. We wanted to ensure that the ride’s “guaranteed to get you wet” promise was fulfilled.
Yep. Everyone was wet. Soaked to the bone, in fact. We invested some money in “the Dryer” (while Sebastian and I giggled behind our hands and winked at each other).
Those with iron stomachs rode the spinning teacups--Madi, Sebastian and Genevieve.
We all rode the bumper cars—here is Frank:
Frank, Genevieve and I rode the “Curse of DarKastle” (an inside roller-coaster-type ride with “scary” screen projections). Here are Genevieve and Frank waiting in line:
Genevieve "hatched" from the colorful dinosaur eggshells.
Frank and Genevieve, crossing the climbing structure bridge.
Genevieve kept eyeing the Loch Ness Monster—a huge, yellow, metal roller coaster with a double loop section where the loops are linked together. When it opened in 1978, it was the tallest roller coaster in the world. Throughout my teenage years, I came screaming down and around this track countless times.
I could feel Genevieve’s brain weighing the risks and summoning the courage. Finally, she announced that she was ready to try her "first loop de loop roller coaster." She asked if I would sit by her. Yes, of course! Her confidence (and excitement level) grew 10 times over the course of that ride—with that loooooonnng first hill (eeek!) and then the two fast loops connected together. She was so brave! We had a blast!
In the afternoon, the lightning started flashing, which resulted in the rollercoasters and taller rides being shut down. Busch Gardens has many other things to see and experience, however. We listened to some live music. We watched this potter at work:
Sebastian found a tree with a good hiding spot.
Madi got a ride on her dad:
We passed this sculpture called “Michael the Archangel Slaying the Demon”—the “good” versus “evil” story seems to be timeless.
Long before we reached the car, the rain poured buckets, drenching us to the skin. I remember this type of rain from my childhood days in Virginia—the kind of soaking that we just don’t get in California. We sought a short refuge in the Clydesdale Stables:
One can only get so wet. Once you are completely saturated with water, there is no need to “hurry” or to shield your face from the rain. You’re as wet as you can get. Back at the car, we laughed as rivulets of water ran down our arms and legs, and off of our faces.
On our last evening in Williamsburg, Kim and Frank prepared a feast of shrimp, scallops, steak and lots of yummy vegetables.
The kids bounced off some of their energy on Madi and Spencer’s backyard trampoline.
Our time together had been precious and had flown by much too quickly. We said our sad farewells tonight . . . with promises to visit together again "soon."
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