I hate to traffic in superlatives, but Colonial Williamsburg forces my hand. We spent nearly seven hours, saw less than a third of the park and loved every minute of it.
I was here some 31 years ago as a young national political reporter covering a Democratic National Leadership conference. The meeting was prep to the party’s selection of a 1988 presidential nominee and the DLC was trying to move the party to the center. It was at this conference that I met Sens. Sam Nunn of Georgia, Joe Biden of Delaware and Al Gore of Tennessee. I also met Govs. Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Chuck Robb of Virginia.
(Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt was influential in this crowd and I remember Sen. Nunn as particularly impressive; I don’t remember much from that meeting about the guy from Arkansas. My oversight.)
I’m sure I saw a portion of the colonial village then, but my head was so into earning with this assignment the right to cover the 1988 presidential campaign that I don’t recall much about Colonial Williamsburg – except that all the speakers gave such long-winded answers to interview questions that I nearly busted deadline. (No matter: I won the assignment and spent much of 1988 living out of a suitcase in Iowa, New Hampshire and across the south in the build up to Super Tuesday.)
Fast forward to last week and Georges and I bought the all-day $41 passes. We started out at the governor’s palace, which dates to 1710. Our Long Island-accented guide, dressed in period-appropriate garb, explained that it was the official residence of the Royal Governors of the Colony of Virginia as well as home for two of Virginia’s post-colonial governors, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.
From there, we strolled down Duke of Gloucester Street. We visited the cooper, the silversmith (pictured) and the dressmaker – all in character and eager to talk about their work and their way of life.
A favorite was the woman who spun her own thread and then used it to weave her own rugs and blankets.
I love to quilt and many years ago I knitted slippers and crocheted afghans. In another life, I might have been a weaver, I told G.
What might you have been, I asked? A cooper? A silversmith?
A chef de cuisine, he said – without hesitation.
(So much for suspending reality.)
We also visited with the blacksmith and the tin maker. The woman wig-maker had quite the story to tell, her rapid-fire British accent carrying her listeners along like buoys in the current.
We made it to the courthouse in time to participate in a 2:30 trial. We were instructed on the jurisprudence of the day and then assumed various roles in a re-enactment. You can see G seated next to the British presiding officer.
The justices (G and company) ruled for the plaintiff in a particularly knotty (and real life) case involving an alleged blockage to privately held marshland.
Carriages rolled by on the streets, women in 18th century finery strolled the sidewalks….
At 4 p.m. we caught Thomas Jefferson’s hourlong lecture in the Museum of Art. So much of what this president had to say about the significance of science and facts, the value of education, the importance of an informed electorate, the prevalence of fake news, and so forth, is hauntingly on-point today – more than 200 years later.
The actor, Bill Barker, is outstanding. Turns out he’s a real-life historian/actor who has spent his life impersonating the nation’s third president. He even answered impromptu questions from the audience in perfect 18th century vernacular.
He has played Jefferson in a variety of venues, including in the musical 1776. According to the Colonial Williamsburg website, he’s performed as Jefferson at the White House, the Palace of Versailles and throughout the United States, Great Britain, France and the Las Vegas Strip.
We enjoyed the folk art exhibit in the museum, especially the collection of historic African-American quilts, and visited the African American Religion exhibit across the street. The preacher there – with a voice reminiscent of James Earl Jones – made clear what courage it took to be Baptist in an era where swearing an oath of loyalty to the Crown was required to gain a license to preach.
We didn’t leave the park until after 5, and we could easily have spent a whole additional day there.
Still, we timed our visit perfectly. As we exited, the skies opened up and poured buckets of rain for the next 48 hours.
We ditched plans to visit Richmond and headed north to escape the rain in Prince William Forest Park near the nation’s Capitol….