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A "Revolutionary" Journey (Williamsburg & Washington D.C.)Author: Host Ciao (More Trip Reviews by Host Ciao)
Date of Trip: December 2008
While I must admit my first plan had nothing to do with the Revolutionary War or most of the big changes or new ideas I came up with or found, I think that this title might just fit. My first thought was simply to go to New York City in December to see the famous tree when it was lit. I had seen it just standing there several years ago, but wanted to see it as it should be seen. Then I began to realize that with future travel plans I have been thinking of and considering my age, I might not get back to the eastern part of the country and be able to wander around as I like to.
So new plan -- why not also go to Williamsburg, a place I had never visited; Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Boston, places I had not visited in over 35 years, as well as New York? From this I proceeded to another revolutionary idea -- I will take the train! My travel agent suggested flying out to the East as more sensible and then "training" between cities before flying home. So that is what I did. His advice was sensible about the order of the cities too.
I flew into Baltimore's airport and took a shuttle bus to the Amtrak station. And here I began to wonder about my travel plans. The train, which had been due in an hour, was already almost an hour late. However, it finally arrived and despite having to creep along at 20 miles an hour on one section of track, we finally made it to Williamsburg about 9:30.
I had decided to stay on site because of advantages I will mention later, and I had chosen the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel and Suites. This seemed the most reasonable of the on-site lodging options at $129 a night plus the ever present tax. This also included a very nice continental breakfast. The room had two double beds, a lounge chair, a table with two chairs, a refrigerator, a TV, and a nice bathroom. And I had a great dinner of corn curls and water!
Staying on site offered a couple of financial advantages. My two-day pass was less expensive at $29 and four extra evening programs I chose to take cost only $6 each instead of $12. I ordered all of these by phone after reading on line about the offerings for the days I would be there. This website offers lots and lots of information. http://www.colonialwilliamsburg.com/ By clicking on Calendar in the upper right corner, you can come to a page of activities for the week and also type in the dates you will be there to see what will be going on. You can also order a very helpful vacation planner.
The following website also offers information about the area including Jamestown and Yorktown. http://www.visitwilliamsburg.com/index.aspx. I was not able to visit these because I did not have a car, but I have been told by friends that they are worth seeing. I did contact a tour company I found mentioned; however, its regular tours had closed for the season. A clerk in the shop of the Visitors' Center told me that Colonial Williamsburg offered buses to these places. I had not heard of this until it was too late to go.
After breakfast on my first day I headed to the Visitors Center. First I checked out the book store and the other shop -- lots of nice items in both. I picked up my tickets there and watched a short film called "Story of a Patriot," starring Jack Lord. I highly recommend it -- a story of a man in Williamsburg who has to decide whether or not to support the Revolution.
From there I took the shuttle bus and with a small group took an orientation tour with a costumed interpreter named Crystle. I saw her sitting and chatting with other "Colonial" women later in the day on the main street. Since the tour ended on the Palace Green I first toured the Governor's Palace. This consists of a very interesting guided tour through the rebuilt palace furnished with some original furniture and some reconstructed to match the period of Lord Dunmore, the last Royal Governor. I also wandered in the extensive garden which was beautiful in November and would be spectacular in spring and fall. A maze and a canal add to the scenery.
In the kitchen building an interpreter was making soup as a demonstration. He also explained the mock food items on the table, mostly very recognizable. Besides the soup he had put together a salad of real greens, the last of the season he said.
From here I walked to the Wythe House, the home of George Wythe under whom Thomas Jefferson studied law. This is one of the original buildings and again it is furnished in the period style of when the Wythes lived there. I also walked through the gardens and saw the privy building and the slave quarters.
I wandered down to the Bruton Parish Church, which is still an active Episcopal parish with youth groups and other organizations. A brief noon service was about to start so I attended with about six other people rather then head some place else and perhaps not make it back there. After the 10 minute service I could stay and take pictures.
Next I went to the courthouse, where the guide explained it to us and mentioned that on the next day there would be some brief enactments of actual trials. This is also an original building. After eating lunch of crab cake sandwich and beer at the Chumley Tavern I toured the weapons magazine. The upper level was full of guns and the lower level was the powder storage area. This is where the Royal Marines at Lord Dunmore's order took all the powder the night before the people of Williamsburg heard about the battle of Lexington and Concord.
All the interpreters in the buildings and also the staff at the tavern are dressed in 18th Century clothes. They are performing tasks as they were done then. The people are also very knowledgeable about what they are doing and about life in that time of our history.
I spent the afternoon "doing" Revolutionary City. While many of the buildings and other areas are free, this is presented in a roped off area of the main street-Duke of Gloucester Street and you need your entrance pass to attend. It is a series of scenes presented at different areas. First we had a demonstration of dancing from the 18th Century on a stage in front of the Raleigh Tavern. We could sit and watch on benches next to that or across the street. We also were entertained with music on a flute and songs including audience participation of "Yankee Doodle."
While still at this place we heard about five minutes of Thomas Paine's "These are the times that try men's souls..." and the whole of Patrick Henry's "Give me Liberty or give me Death" speech. The next scene was in the Coffeehouse Backyard, furnished with another stage and benches. Here we heard "This Freedom Ain't for Me," a conversation between slaves Lydia Broadnax from the Wythe House and Eve from the Randolph House. They had heard of the Declaration of Independence and wondered what the words "all men are created equal" could possibly mean to them.
From there we wandered to the front of the Capital, where we welcomed Mrs. Washington on her visit to Williamsburg. She arrived in a handsome coach accompanied by a military outrider. She received honors in her husbands name for his service to "The Glorious Cause" of liberty. We then heard a wounded man grumbling about not receiving his pension. She also hears him and, much to his embarrassment, calls him up. She talks with him and promises that her husband will see that he receives his discharge so he can collect his pension.
Next we went back to the Coffeehouse Backyard for "Thy Rod and Thy Staff." Here a former slave and pastor of a black Baptist church exults that his church has been recognized by a state or national Baptist organization. (Sorry I didn't write down the name.) Here he is confronted by a woman who appears to be a religious figure who accuses him of selling out to the white man. Eventually she gives him a blessing, tapping him on each shoulder with her staff and giving him a string of beads before she leaves. He is still certain that he is doing the right thing. I was so engrossed by the argument between the two people I forgot to take any pictures of the two of them together. (Believe me that's really engrossed for me!)
The day's program ends with a Founding Father talking about the future of the American Republic. Back at the Raleigh Tavern we heard George Washington's Farewell speech after his two terms as President. I headed back to the hotel briefly and then to the Visitors Center. I wandered in the book store looking for what I would like to buy. Then I took the bus back to the Historical Center for my evening programs.
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