Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Going back to 1776 in Colonial Williamsburg

We spent a day in the 18th century in Williamsburg, once the capital of Virginia.

If you haven't seen the commercials, Colonial Williamsburg is a refurbished town, with live actors, or interpretors, re-enacting the activities of the time. There are wheelwrights, milliners, shoe makers... even slaves and free Blacks.  Throughout the day, you encounter them in their various shops and on the streets.  According to the wheelwright, the skilled laborers actually go through an apprenticeship to learn there craft and the work they are doing is real, not just for show. For instance, he was working on two projects - carving a section of a wooden wheel, using a tool that would've been used in colonial times, that would go on a wagon used in the town, as well as making a cannon wheel for a museum in New England. Of course, I made stops in the spinning shop, where the woman was spinning wool into yarn, and bookbinder. Interesting to see that some of these crafts have not changed much in hundreds of years.

The townspeople were fascinating in that they seemed to know a lot about their particular craft (it was just as intriguing to hear them field questions, as to hear  their own presentations), had  opinions about other folks (the shoemaker clearly expressed disdain for the cobbler), and portrayed a well-rounded and informed  history of the time and their character. Many of the people talked about what was going on in other parts of Virginia or pieces of trivia about the Governor's palace. The slaves mumbled to each other that nothing was going to change as the Declaration of Independence was read out loud.  There were re-enactments of one man's decision on joining the military and a slave jumping the broom ceremony.  It all felt like you had stepped back and were eavesdropping on history. To the point that when the townspeople nervously yelled that the British soldiers were coming, my kids got up and ran with them.

You need a pass to go into the various shops, available as one day, multiday, or annual passes. We received annual passes as part of our room package at Williamsburg Woodlands. If you go, check the various room deals; this one turned out to be a little less than what I would've paid for hotel and five day passes. There's a daily schedule of events, when shops are open and special activities.  Take note of any special things you want to see, as once you start wondering around, you might forget.

A day in Colonial Williamsburg transports you back to a time when cooking was done with food grown nearby, clothes were recycled and repaired as an economic necessity not as fashion, and when towns were filled with skilled "smiths." It was also a time when women couldn't vote, nor could poor men, and slavery was still legal.  There's stepping stones going into Williamsburg that remind you of the differences. It's an educational and entertaining day, and makes you appreciate walking back into the present.

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