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Published: June 17th 2019
A Typical Colonial Residential Area
Along Duke of Gloucester Street (DOGS) – Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg VA
The drive from Americamps RV Resort in Ashland VA to Newport News Regional Park Campground in Newport News VA was, again, short by Uncle Larry’s standards – 69 miles or 1 hour 9 minutes per Google Maps. Newport News Regional Park is a municipal campground, as you might have guessed, and is embellished with the same amenities as most state parks – spacious, well-dispersed and well-shaded sites. Cell service and my Wi-Fi hot spot worked fine, but satellite television reception was non-existent.
Although the American Civil War did impact Williamsburg, this area of Virginia is all about the colonial era and the Revolutionary War, so don your tricorne hat and wig while you’re visiting what I’ll call, “The Historic Triangle.” I found the web sites quite confusing with this package and that bundle so, and due to my early arrival, I made a trip to Colonial Williamsburg
visitor center on Wednesday late afternoon, The center was in the “winding down” mode, and several ticketing agents were idle. Perfect! Essentially, there are two major attractions in both Jamestown and Yorktown and one in Williamsburg. After explaining my specific agenda (here for a week, want to visit all three, etc.), the agent asked
me some questions, i.e., are you a veteran, do you have the National Park Service Lifetime Senior Pass, etc. The most economical solution to my circumstance was to purchase the annual pass for Colonial Williamsburg and to make an online purchase of the combination ticket for Jamestown Settlement and American Revolution Museum at Yorktown . For some strange reason (unknown to the agent), buying the combo pass in person grants a three-day entrance period to these two facilities whereas an online purchase offers a seven-day privilege. Historic Jamestowne (sic – British spelling, I guess) and Yorktown Battlefield both are National Park Service (NPS) sites. For those without a NPS Senior Pass, there is a History Four-Site Ticket
(all except Colonial Williamsburg) available, and for those who are retired military, … – the iterations seem endless. I purchased my Colonial Williamsburg Annual Pass and took the pamphlets back to the Bighorn for digestion that evening so I could develop a “plan of attack.”
In my opinion, Colonial Williamsburg is the Papa Bear of the threesome. Since Wednesdays are travel days in my typical week, my tourist week actually consists of only six days; and I, indeed, visited Colonial Williamsburg all six of
The Fife and Drum Corps Put on Quite an Exhibition of Precision Marching ON GRASS!
“Marching into Evening” – Behind the Courthouse – Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg VA
those days for at least a presentation or two. A “Today’s Programs” schedule of events is published a few days in advance so planning can be accomplished. Now, THAT is right up Uncle Larry’s alley. The events cover a wide range of interests including founding fathers, military, art and antiques, slavery, colonial life, music, life under British laws and regulations to name not “but a few” but most. A few offerings, such as “Welcome to Williamsburg,” “Revealing the Priceless” and “Firing of the Noon Gun” are presented daily. Several, are offered almost every day – “Native American Life Series,” “Marching into Evening” and “Resolved, An American Experiment.”
The “series” that piqued my interest the most was, “Visit a Nation Builder – XXX.” From the web site, “Step into the past with a Nation Builder and learn about their contribution to the founding of our nation as you engage with them and experience their world.” Each Nation Builder selects a time for his/her in-period presentation, offers the audience a monologue about his/her chosen subject and then entertains “in-period” questions from the audience. In the presentation, “Visit a Nation Builder – Young George Washington,” a 23-year-old Lt. Col. Washington grappled with
The Weather Was a Little Warm for Perfect but Excellent for My Entire Stay
“Visit a Nation Builder – Young George Washington” – Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg VA
his 1755 dilemma of whether to retire from the King’s Army or to continuing in his service. Colonel Washington explained the advance of his force, with the assistance of the Virginia militia, into French-held territory near the three rivers – the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela which forms the Ohio River (at modern-day Pittsburgh). He verbalized his frustration with the lack of reliability found in the militia vs. the British regulars. Over the week, other presenters I heard in the “Visit a Nation Builder – XXX” series included George Mason, James Madison, a young Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. There were others I didn’t hear for a variety of reasons.
In another presentation, “The Washington’s Ultimate Decision,” George sets the stage for an April 1789 discussion with Martha by relating to the audience that he had spent just a few days at Mount Vernon in the past 8 ½ years wherein he had been off to war. Just hours after his acceptance of the Presidency (and the audience becoming firmly grounded), Martha enters the room, and he tells her of his decision to unretire and re-enter public life. Their discussion hinges on their new roles and the transition
(L to R) Mason, Jefferson and Madison Reached Agreement Through Compromise
“A Difference of Opinion with James Madison, George Mason, and a Young Thomas Jefferson” – Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg VA
to those roles. In yet another program, “A Difference of Opinion with James Madison, George Mason, and young Thomas Jefferson,” the 45-minute presentation was a pre-1776 discussion about how freedom of religion would be regarded in future proclamations asserted by the colonies and presented to the King. The trialogue was followed by the in-period Q & A session wherein the term hypothetical – hypothetical laws, hypothetical constitution, hypothetical bill of rights, etc. – was copiously and hilariously interjected.
“To Be Seen as an American” was a one-hour presentation by three Williamsburg black women from different eras in American history who didn't accept society's limits – Lydia rose from slavery to become an entrepreneur (18th Century); Katie Marie was educated, and overcame a lack of resources to teach others (19th Century); and Clara Byrd Baker fought for equal rights in the 20th century. It was quite eye-opening to see the world through the eyes of these three Williamsburg women who opened doors and provided opportunity for future generations. In yet another type of presentation, “An American Story – Ann Wager,” the in-period presenter offers the story of an ordinary Virginia woman in an extraordinary situation. As the teacher at the
first official school for African Americans in Virginia, Williamsburg Bray School, Ann Wager’s role as teacher is both quite controversial and absolutely contradictory. The in-period character discusses her relationship to education, slavery and religion and then steps out of character for questions about the research involved in developing a character from yore. I hope that offers some insight into the various themes and styles of the very worthwhile presentations.
Guided tours abound throughout Colonial Williamsburg. I took a tour of the Governor's Palace – as well as a self-guided tour of the garden, the scullery (Palace Kitchen), the salt house, the smoke house and the stable. Another tour was the George Wythe House where the cooperage is located toward the rear of the property. Why? Don’t ask because I didn’t either. Inside I learned a little about George Wythe. He was the first American law professor, a noted classics scholar and a Virginia judge as well as the first of the seven Virginia signatories on the Declaration of Independence. Wythe later served as one of Virginia's representatives to the Continental Congress. Other guided tours included the Raleigh Tavern and the Capitol while self-guided tours include the Public Hospital of
All but Three Roles Were Filled by Visitors
“Order in the Court” – The Courthouse – Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg VA
1773 where the focus is treatment of the mentally ill in the 18th and 19th centuries and The Museums where galleries focus on decorative art and folk art. The list of artisan workshops and specialty shops is long – the joinery, the tailor, the armory, the cooper, the brickyard, the apothecary, the leather works, the printing office and bindery, the weaver, the shoemaker, the gunsmith, the wheelwright, the milliner, the wig-maker and, of course, the blacksmith.
“Order in the Court” allows visitors to take on roles as attorneys, litigants, petitioners or defendants and to participate in a local court session and to learn how the rights of Colonial Virginians were maintained in open British court. “Marching into Evening” celebrates America's Colonial story with a world-renowned Fife and Drum Corps! All together now, “I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy; A Yankee Doodle, do or die; A real live nephew of my uncle Sam's; Born on the Fourth of July …” Oh, wait, that song wasn’t written until 1942! One really special attraction was the Liberty Lounge where active duty, retired military and veterans all are welcomed to share a non-alcoholic drink and camaraderie. Time in the lounge reminded me of just
Anyone Need a Hand-Built Cabinet?
The Joinery – Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg VA
how long America had been without major conflict between Vietnam and “whatever it’s called” in the Middle East.
Most attractions and performances are included in the price of admission; however, some are offered with a premium attached. “Donor Visit with XXX” is exclusively for “donors,” those who have incurred more financial sacrifice that the average bear, I’m sure; and one can attend “Walk Through History with a Nation Builder” for $19.00. Period. End of event description. Which Nation Builder? I’m trying to understand why I would be willing to pay $19.00 and an hour of my time with an unknown commodity when the free “Nation Builder” presentations are available with a KNOWN commodity. Additionally, so I was told by the attendants at a ticket venue after I had unsuccessfully tried searching the web site, there is no way for the visitor to determine the presenter without visiting an aforementioned ticket outlet on the day of the presentation! Now that reeks of Colonial era, not 21st Century. With the exception of the two already noted, most of the premium presentations are in the evening which made them less appealing anyway as I was ready to take the dog home by
All Are Nicely Displayed and Well-Documented
The Decorative Arts Museum – Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg VA
5:00 PM! Topics for some of the evening premium presentations offered during my stay included, “Drop Spindle Spinning Class,” “Haunted Williamsburg,” “Cry Witch,” "Pub Crawl,” “The Trial of a Patriot,” “To Hang a Pirate” and “A Look at Little Known Facts About George Washington.” The additional prices varied from $5.00 to $27.00.
My off the cuff remarks about Colonial Williamsburg: 1) If you have time after your arrival, go to the Visitor Center late in the day (when the crowds have subsided) to have an unhurried session with a ticketing agent and then go to the actual Colonial Williamsburg site. No pass is required to walk the grounds, rather monitors are present where a pass is required. Since it never affected me, I don’t know if a pass is required to ride the shuttle. If so, you can drive or take the walking path from the visitor center. I think an orientation stroll through the village would be beneficial when your actual visit begins. 2) The Visitor Center parking lot is large but might get crowded during peak season, especially on weekends. 3) Shuttle buses run VERY frequently in a loop from the Visitor Center to one of about
Early Arrivals Get the Choice, Shaded Seats
“Visit a Nation Builder – Young Thomas Jefferson” – Colonial Williamsburg - Williamsburg VA
eight stops around the historic district. The Palace Stop is the first stop and each shuttle stops there twice – at both the beginning (outbound) and the end (inbound) portions of the loop. Late in the day, a shuttle just beginning the loop is virtually empty; however, after completing the loop (just minutes before returning to the Visitor Center), the shuttles are sardine-can-styled SRO. 4) The historic district is ¾ mile wide by 1 mile long, but there are numerous shaded benches. After getting a couple of your toes wet, it is easy to navigate. 5) You’ll have to try to determine which presentations will be popular, and then GET THERE EARLY. Some folks, including myself, were denied entrance because the venue (or the waiting line as the case might be) was at capacity. 6) The food was mediocre, at best, and pricy (to be kind). What’s new, it’s a tourist attraction! 7) Estimate how many days you will need to harvest the maximum experience and double it. I stayed in nearby Newport News VA where there were attractions of interest, but I never completely sated my Williamsburg appetite and made it to those Newport News attractions.
manage to pull myself away from Williamsburg to spend a long morning at the second of the historic triad, Historic Jamestowne
and Jamestown Settlement
in, tah dah, Jamestown VA. Historic Jamestowne is exactly what the name states – historic. My first stop was the NPS Visitor Center where placards outline the trials and tribulations of 104 English men and boys after they landed at a place they named Cape Henry on May 13, 1607. The interface between the Native population and the colonists is addressed, the development of the new government is outlined and the arrival of “20 and odd Negros” aboard a Portuguese slave ship in 1619 is noted. Those first Africans were probably in a capacity more like indentured servants than slaves, but the foundation for race-based slavery was established. Outside, a short walk leads to the actual site, on Jamestown Island, where numerous masonry foundations (of extreme archaeological interest) and the eerie feeling of having walked in the steps of the likes of John Smith and Pocahontas (of extreme Uncle Larry interest) are found. Removed from the somberness of ghosts from the past, I made a stop to see the birth of some new creations at the 1608 Glasshouse
artisans are receptive to visitors’ questions, the craft is interesting and the stop is worth 15-20 minutes of your time.
Jamestown Settlement, on the other hand, is a family affair divided essentially into four parts. Since the highs were forecast to be in the upper 80s to low 90s, I decided to tackle the three outdoor attractions first. Immediately, I encountered a sizable group getting an orientation pep talk under a shaded canopy. I invited myself to the offering, and there were no objections or demands for renumeration. I decided to enjoy the guided tour and then return for photographs at my leisure. Our guided tour sequence was the Powhatan Indian Village, the James Fort and the Jamestown Settlement Ships
, so … I’ll be starting with the ships – just so it’s easier to place the photos in the blog!
From largest to smallest, the English ships were the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery. Susan Constant
was rated at 120 tons with an overall length from tip to stern estimated at 116’ and carried 71 colonists and crew. The 40-ton Godspeed
was a fully rigged ship estimated to have been 68 feet in length and carried 39 men. Discovery
or Discoverie, was a small 20-ton, 38-foot "fly-boat" that carried 21 passengers and crew. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been on 20-25’ watercraft on rough lakes, and I can’t even imagine attempting to cross the ocean on such a small vessel. My fifth-wheel is 35’, and I can’t even imagine inviting 20 of my best, recently-showered friends to a party. I can’t even imagine being on an unpredictable, unforgiving ocean in a 38’ ship with 21 stinking strangers or, at most acquaintances, for what should have been about two months let alone, with unfavorable winds, 144 days. How much did they pay those sailors? That’s not enough!
On December 20, 1606, the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery set forth for the New World. The route included a stop in the Canary Islands and Puerto Rico and, with better wind, would have taken about two months to traverse. After an unusually long voyage of almost 4 ½ months and the death of only one passenger, the expedition reached the southern edge of the mouth of what is now known as Chesapeake Bay in April 1607. In the following days, seeking a suitable location for their settlement,
the ships ventured upstream along the James River and made landfall on April 26, 1607. Both the James River and Jamestown were named in honor of King James I. On June 22, 1607, Christopher Newport sailed back to London with Susan Constant and Godspeed carrying a load of supposedly precious minerals, while leaving behind the 104 colonists and Discovery which was to be used in exploration of the area. In the summer of 1608, in the months between the first and second supply missions, Captain John Smith left Jamestown on Discovery to explore the Chesapeake Bay region and search for badly needed food. He covered an estimated 3,000 miles and produced a map that was of great value to explorers for more than a century. The ships are pretty cool, the sailors are incredibly knowledgeable and accommodating and the history is awesome.
I wandered over to the recreated triangular James Fort
and then into Powhatan Indian Village
. I must be candid. By this time, it was beginning to get pretty warm for a wimp: A) I had heard most of the highlights during the guided tour, B) in my travels and visits to many Lewis and Clark sites, I have seen many
Numerous Furs and Tools of the Trade Are on Display
Powhatan Indian Village – Jamestown Settlement - Jamestown VA
similar attractions, and C) since the theater and the galleries at Jamestown are air conditioned, I stayed long enough to take some of the aforementioned deferred pictures before heading inside. Both are interesting and offer a number of artisans busy at work plying a variety of trades, but neither has as much staffing as the ships portion of the attraction and, thusly, don’t offer as much opportunity to ask questions. I was fortunate enough to see a matchlock musket firing demonstration. Pretty cool.
Inside, Jamestown Settlement offers a documentary FILM, "1607: A Nation Takes Root," which is shown every 30 minutes. Check this out: A) The film “traces the evolution of the Virginia Company that sponsored the Jamestown Colony, examines the relationship between the English colonists and the Powhatan Indians, and chronicles the arrival of the first recorded Africans in 1619.” B) On the other hand, the GALLERY exhibits “explore Jamestown’s beginnings as a business venture, the impact of European colonization on the Powhatan Indian culture, and the origins of the first known Africans in Virginia.” Do the words of “B” restate the words of the “A?” Perhaps some college grad newbie is paid by the word! Perhaps the
The Small Selection of Artifacts on Display Is Interesting
Jamestown Settlement Museum and Gallery – Jamestown Settlement - Jamestown VA
exhibits are there to reinforce the message in the film. The film is well done and worthwhile. A detailed timeline traces history in Virginia from Prehistory to 1700, which obviously focuses on colonial Virginia, and a slavery in Virginia timeline outlines some of the ludicrous laws that were enacted in the era. Women in the Virginia colony includes the solicitation of women to travel to the New World to wed those on the “men only” ships that first arrived – after all, how could a colony succeed and prosper without progeny. A Special Exhibition, "TENACITY: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia" (ending January 5, 2020), is very well done and, for the locals, is almost worth the price of admission by itself. The film and the gallery are well done in spite of the doublespeak from the web site. Jamestown Settlement is worthwhile for the busy tourist if there is time. I’ll expound on that later.
The final attraction in the Virginia historic triad is Yorktown. Like Jamestown, Yorktown has two components – Yorktown Battlefield (NPS) and American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. My first stop was the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center
where I watched the 15-minute orientation film, "The Siege at Yorktown,"
and wandered through the museum exhibits which focus on the 1781 Siege of Yorktown. There is a 7-mile battlefield road auto tour which I chose to forego because, in all candor, I had a date with Patrick Henry in Williamsburg at 3:30 PM.
As I was driving to the next attraction, I happened upon the Yorktown Victory Monument
. The monument was authorized by Congress on October 29, 1781, just after the news of the Yorktown surrender reached Philadelphia, but actual construction didn’t begin for 100 years and wasn’t completed until 1884. It’s an impressive monument, and it’s impossible to miss on the way to the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown
in Yorktown VA. For as much as I try to temper my expectations, particularly where I have no first-hand recommendations from other travelers or visitor center attendants, I sometime walk away from an attraction quite disappointed. Not so the case with American Revolution Museum at Yorktown – I was in awe. The first offering is a timeline from 1750 – when the American Colonies had already reached a population of one million while that of Great Britain herself was only six million – until Fall 1779, when the last allies of Britain, the Iroquois, were
devastated in Western New York.
The exhibit examines the causative agents that generated discord amongst the colonists, the Loyalists who remained true to the British Crown and the Patriots who supported revolution and independence, and profiles some of the major players in that debate. The impact of events like the Boston Massacre
on March 5, 1770, which served as a rallying point for leading Patriots such as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams; and the departure from the Virginia Colony of Royal Governor Lord Dunmore after the victory by colonial militia forces at the Battle of Great Bridge
on December 9, 1775 is noted. Sprinkled throughout the museum are placards with short biographies of dozens of the major players as they relate to the subject at hand. Some, like Thomas Paine, George Mason and Benedict Arnold, have very recognizable names and others are more obscure, like John Murray (Fourth Earl of Dunmore and Colonial Virginia Governor) and Baron Friedrich Von Steuben (the Prussian Army officer who was allowed to join the Continental Army after Benjamin Franklin’s endorsement). Then, we learn of Franklin’s procurement of French assistance and the French Navy’s consorts with the likes of John Paul Jones. The museum continues after victory and
Above the Timeline, Art Brings the Events to Life
American Revolution Museum at Yorktown - Yorktown VA
independence are achieved, examines the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation
, highlights the westward migration and explores the ongoing social issue of slavery. Unfortunately, there was some self-induced pressure to keep my 3:30 PM date with Patrick Henry in Colonial Williamsburg so I found myself rushing through the exhibits and taking photographs of placards I could read at my leisure later; however, the average bear could easily spend the entire “Wow!” day at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and leave with a nice, concise introduction to the Revolutionary War. Highly recommended.
Oh, yes, near the end of my journey through the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, I happened upon a painting which struck me immediately. A lead statue of King George III on horseback stood in Bowling Green, a park on the southern tip of Manhattan Island in New York, New York. Just five days after the Declaration of Independence was ratified, an angry mob toppled the statue. The statue was pulled down for two reasons. First, it was a symbolic act of dissolving all connection with tyrannical rule; and, second, the statue was made of two tons of lead which could be melted down and made into musket balls
for use in the war for independence. Pretty ironic. The 1859 painting, "Pulling Down the Statue of George III" by Johannes Adam Simon Oertel, depicts that mob in action. As I said, the painting struck me immediately, and I had visions of the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in Baghdad, Iraq on April 9, 2003 which became the symbolic end of the Battle of Baghdad. It doesn’t take a lot to keep the mind of an oldster occupied!
Sorting through the wheat and the chaff is impossible in The Historic Triangle as personal interests, taste and circumstances enter the equation. For families with smallish children, Jamestown Settlement will keep them entertained while Historic Jamestowne is more suited to older children and adults who want to “walk in the footsteps of .…” Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center and American Revolution Museum at Yorktown are much more suited to adults than youngsters. The former addresses a single battle while the latter focuses on the politics which led to the fight for independence. Colonial Williamsburg, in my opinion, has it all for the entire family – “in period” enactors, costumed docents, cannon firings and marching bands, artisans at
work, well preserved landmarks – the list goes on and on. I hope to return to the area for a month so I can take in even more of the “Visit a Nation Builder – XXX” presentations and to see some of the other offerings I had to delete from my “would sure like to see” list as well as those deferred Newport News attractions. A week was not enough, and for those of you with only a day, “I’m am genuinely sorry.”
I had visited “The Historic Triangle” from April 03-10, 2012 and my recollections were quite different, so I thought I’d read the previous blog to compare notes AFTER I had written this blog to avoid tainting this narrative. My visits were as different as night and day, but the blog titles are nearly identical. The 2019 version being “The Historic Triangle” – Jamestown. Williamsburg and Yorktown VA whereas the 2012 blog is titled, Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg VA - The Historic Triangle
. In 2012, I was still a relative newbie in The Great Adventure and was financially unsure of my cash flow situation, so I was much more fiscally conservative than I am today. No, I am not more affluent but I know I
can spend a few bucks here and there without having to dig into the savings account every month to pay the bills. I had spent the entire day at each of the two NPS facilities (essentially free with the NPS Lifetime Senior Pass), attending ranger presentations at each and driving both the Yorktown Battlefield Tour Roads and the Historic Jamestowne Tour Loop Drive – none of which happened in 2019. I spent the entire day at Jamestown Settlement watching the enactors and artisans at work and most of the day at Yorktown Victory Center
, the precursor to the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown (opened Fall 2016). The second portion of the Yorktown day, I made a drive through part of Historic Williamsburg and walked around the campus of the College of William & Mary – neither of which happened in 2019. I never even paid the “exorbitant” (in 2012) fee to get into Colonial Williamsburg!!! Then, in 2019, I learn there is no fee to enter the historical park, and one can wander the historic district and many sites at will; however, a pass (fee) is required to enter many of the venues. I know I’ve gotten older and my optical prescription
The Westward Migration Produced New Challenges
American Revolution Museum at Yorktown - Yorktown VA
has changed because the glasses I was wearing in 2012 were very different than those I wore in 2019. To those planning to visit “The Historic Triangle,” I would suggest reading the 2012 blog for a very different perspective (and additional photos).
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