Friday, November 29, 2013

Back in time

We have just escaped from a time travel experience created by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and the National Park Service. 

Colonial Williamsburg, located within the city of Williamsburg, Virginia is an eighteenth century village alive with actor-citizens going about their lives of work, society and politics (to tour online click here).  For us, it was an experience unlike any other. In Colonial Williamsburg, actors portray different historical figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and PatrickHenry, as well as lesser-known tradespeople, servants and slaves. We got to ask their impersonators questions, learn interesting facts about their lives, and hear their views about the political climate just before the Revolutionary War in Williamsburg. One can actually go online to the Foundation website and meet these folks, finding facts and anecdotes that historians have learned about each person.
Edith Cumbo, Citizen of Colonial Williamsburg
We also heard from actors portraying actors who were destitute after the Continental Congress had banned the theatre and all forms of acting, along with horse racing, gambling and other idle pursuits unsuitable for a time of war and austerity. And we met Edith Cumbo, an 18th century free black woman, who told us that there were as many Africans as Europeans in the town in 1774, many of whom were free tradespeople like herself. Historic records prove that she did indeed exist because there was a court case recognizing her right to own land, as well as a record of the punishment of an assailant, one of the first documents of a battered woman in America fighting back.

We ventured into dark businesses and taverns in a cold, drenching rain, as grateful as the impersonators for the well-stocked fireplaces and stoves. We also enjoyed talks and musical performances at the very modern museums (endowed with Rockefeller money), which from the grounds looks like just another colonial brick building. Descending into the bowels of this huge museum, one is greeted with gallery after gallery of colonial ceramics, firearms, furniture, toys, portraiture and several halls with visiting exhibits.  
One of these, “Threads of Feeling,” was a very moving exhibit of tiny ribbons and scraps of fabric that accompanied some of the thousands of children that were surrendered to the London Foundling Home, an institution that claims to be the oldest known children’s charity in the world. These tiny remnants and scraps reflected countless stories of loss and sorrow: babies abandoned, often by destitute mothers who hoped that the institution could better provide for them. 

Finally the sun emerged on Thanksgiving Day as we headed south to the site of the ill-fated Jamestown colony on the banks of the James River. This sad saga is lavishly interpreted in a huge building of galleries and exhibits, along with a living history representation of a Powhatan Indian village, the old Fort James, and replicas of the vessels that brought colonists, slaves, soldiers and sailors to the site in the years before Plymouth was even contemplated. We were distressed with the lack of interesting female stories and the (seemingly innocent) acquisition of slaves by the colonists from the Portuguese. What was interesting is that Thanksgiving is an annual feast day at the site and both camps, Indian and English were cooking to illustrate what might be typical fare for a holiday. The Indians were butchering deer and turkeys and seafood and making soups, jerky and hominy while the colonists were butchering a pig and making mincemeat pasties, custards, cookies and cakes. 
Wreath in Williamsburg doorway

We enjoyed a modern and typical Thanksgiving meal in the museum café, had a nice stroll in the 40 degree sunshine, and rolled onto the free ferry to cross the James River in style. 

On this glorious weekend of thanksgiving we send our greetings to all our dear friends and relations. We feel indeed blessed to be able to enjoy these travels in good health and high spirits. Thanks for following along.

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