We have been on vacation, and oh ... the things we have seen.
Our primary mission was a visit with my mother's identical twin sister and her husband, down in North Carolina. My uncle's health has been slipping over the past year, and I wanted him to meet my husband while he is still living at home and able to participate in a visit.
On the way south, we visited Colonial Williamsburg where we spent three nights and two full days. My husband had been there many years ago with his family and had always wanted to return. As for me, I have dreamed of making visits to the historical places of early America where I might tread on the same ground as our beloved forefathers.
When I was in school, history was pretty much the most boring of all subjects. Though in fact, it was not history itself that was boring, it was the manner in which it was taught. It was not until I could, as an adult, reach for and read books regarding specific times and subjects of history of interest to me that history began to spring to life within my mind and heart. I have been particularly interested in our forefathers; I want to know what was on their minds, in their hearts and souls ... why did they have the thoughts they did, take the actions they took, and make the sacrifices they made in the establishment of America as an independent and democratic nation.
I wanted to understand the philosophies that inspired them, the policies they disagreed with, the struggles they faced amongst themselves so that I could better understand and value my own relationship with my country. Some years ago, over the 4th of July weekend, I read a book titled "Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May to September 1787" by Catherine Drinker Bowen and it became one of my favorites of all time. The writer pieced together the events and circumstances that resulted in the drafting and eventual ratification of The Constitution based on journal entries, letters, etc. from the people involved at the time. For me, the book read like a novel and I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the subject ... young or old.
Williamsburg, if you are not familiar with it, is a city of considerable historical importance to America, for it is the place where many of the key figures in the shaping of the country lived, met, worshiped, made decisions, and took actions which intimately affect our lives today. Though there was a time when Williamsburg was fading away and might have been lost completely, today many of the original buildings have been preserved and those that had been lost or destroyed by various events have been reconstructed on the very ground where they stood long ago.
The weather while we were there was perfect: clear blue skies, random scatterings of puffy little clouds, temperatures in the upper 70's during the day and upper 50's in the mornings. Never too cool, never too warm. There were no times of heavy crowd congestion because we visited so late in October.
I am grateful we had a full two days to explore the village, because we never felt rushed or thwarted from seeing or doing any of the items of interest to us. The restored and reconstructed buildings were spectacular, the interiors and artifacts were immaculate, and some of the folks who interpreted various anonymous and famous characters from the colonial days did a marvelous job of bringing that time in history to life.
We began our tour on foot (if you choose, you may take a shuttle bus from the Visitor's Center to any of several points within the Historic Area), walking from the official Visitor's Center across the Pedestrian Bridge toward the Historic Area. Just across the bridge, before entering the village, we stopped by Great Hopes Plantation which is a recreation of a small period plantation. The plantation was manned by African American interpreters who gave us an informative tour of the buildings and grounds as well as an education in what life and living would have consisted of for African slaves during Revolutionary times.
Next, we headed into the Historic Area and made our way to the Governor's "Palace". I say "Palace" in quotes because it is not a palace by European standards, and is instead a rather large handsome home from my perspective. I am, however, certain it was palatial compared to how most people in America lived at the time.
The second day of our visit we stumbled upon a presentation of General George Washington making a speech which he originally delivered in New York during the early part of the Revolutionary War. When we saw the "General" arrive for the outdoor speech, we decided to sit for a few minutes and see what it was like. Sitting on rough log benches under the mottled shade of some lovely bark-less trees, we both became so mesmerized by interpreter Ron Carnegie that we could not pull ourselves away.
Following the speech there was an open question and answer period in which General Washington fielded any and all questions offered by visitors. Mr. Carnegie stayed in character and true to the date of the speech he had just delivered throughout a very long question and answer period. There was not one point of that history and its time line that anyone in the audience knew better or more accurately than he did.
There was something about his presentation that left us both feeling a magical connection with the actual life, times, and events of our colonial forefathers. Later we visited Bruton Parish Church: built in the 1600's, the original building is still standing today.
"Among the men of the Revolution who attended Bruton Parish Church were Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, George Wythe, Patrick Henry, and George Mason. But the building's history, and that of its churchyard, goes back further in time.Dating from 1715, the present structure is the third in a series of Anglican houses of worship that began in 1660." ~ www.ColonialWilliamsburg.com
The pews where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other famous people of the time regularly sat are marked with placards and I have to say, when I stood on the floor of that church knowing those great men had stood on the exact same floor in that exact same place, and I looked at the very pews where they once took their devotions, it was moving beyond words.
I love the fact that my husband and I are equally moved by such things and that we both have a terribly deep appreciation of the opportunities and experiences that abound in a place like Colonial Williamsburg. To be able to share such an adventure emotionally with someone you love adds tangible depth to an already tight spiritual bond.
Side Bar: Interesting to note, while Colonial Williamsburg is a commercial, living history museum, there are people who actually live as residents in the village. How curious it must be to live within a museum, for children to grow up within a zone of daily time travel seeing the old mixed in with the new.
Return to Blog: Along with beautiful old buildings and lovely tree lined streets, we saw many animals throughout the village ... oxen, horses, dogs (visitors may bring dogs on leashes by the way), birds, chickens, pigs, and the like. We had apples with us for munching, and a couple of times my husband treated an ox or horse to one of the apples. Later we overheard a message playing on a shuttle bus reminding visitors not to feed the animals ... whoops!
We both loved the interiors of various shops where interpreters performed various arts and crafts of the time including woodworkers, blacksmiths, tailors, jewelers, gun smiths, saddle makers, etc. The tools and supplies on hand in the various shops were awesome to behold and delicious to ponder.
At the end of our second day, as closing time for the shops and other buildings in the Historic Area drew near, we waited near the stairs of the Courthouse for the arrival of General Washington on horseback. After a good-sized crowd had gathered, we heard the distant sound of the Fifes and Drums, heralding the impending arrival of the General. As the Fifes and Drums drew nearer, the music and beat of the drums created a growing sense of excitement in my heart. I felt truly transported to the powerful feelings such times and scenes must have inspired to people of the day.
When we caught sight of the Fifes and Drums, we could see they were accompanied by marching soldiers and it was apparent visitors to the museum had been "recruited" to join the troops, marching along in civilian clothes, awkwardly trying to keep step in formation with the professionals. Once they all arrived and assumed position on the street in front of the courtyard steps, we heard the rapid clip clop of horses hooves ... General Washington had come to address his men and the citizens of Williamsburg as he prepared to leave for Yorktown.
It was an emotional ending to an educational two-day trip back in time. We ended our day at the King's Arms where we were served a delicious authentic colonial meal and entertained by period interpreters. My favorite dish was the creamy Peanut Soup ... oh, yum, yum, yum.
Our visit to Williamsburg was my husband's doing and planning, and a dream come true for me. As we sat down to dinner that second night, I was overcome by tears for a moment because I felt such happiness and gratitude. It was a powerful, humble, and fulfilling start to the best vacation experience I have had.
Next week I will share the continuing story of our vacation, as we ventured down into North Carolina to touch bases with a handful of my relatives and my Southern roots.
Meanwhile, I have knitting news ... here is a peak at a Christmas present I am knitting for my husband's nephew's baby boy ... a sweet little hugs and kisses sweater. More details about this project early next week.
Below you will find a few more photos from Williamsburg for your enjoyment.
Have a great weekend!