Walking from the Visitors Center to Colonial Williamsburg, we were immediately intrigued by the 10 plaques embedded in the sidewalk. Each one indicated a date and what was or was not in existence in Virginia from that date backward.
As we progressed, or perhaps regressed, in time; we became increasingly aware that the USA we know, was a thing of the past, or perhaps is to be a thing of the future. (Time travel always confuses the heck out of me!) We were clearly being prepped to enter a different era-- and Colonial Williamsburg did not disappoint.
We clearly went over 88mph in our DeLorean
From the moment we entered Colonial Williamsburg’s streets, the change was palpable. Everywhere we looked, everything we saw was genuine 18th century life so much so that Claudio and I felt as if we were out of place with our funny clothing, ghostingly wandering this living world that is no longer supposed to exist.
Nothing plastic, rubber or anything electrical in sight. Even the man who was bringing wood into the bakery for use in, what else but the wood burning oven, used a heavy, hand-made, wooden-wheeled wheelbarrow.
Compare it to Disney; when you enter the Magic Kingdom, you are most certainly transported to another place, but you are always aware that it is a fantasy world. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy… they are all characters who appear periodically to interact with the guests, but there is no sense that the characters or Disney itself is doing anything other than providing the ultimate escape. Colonial Williamsburg is different. It is real, at every level of its operation. The Silversmith was filling an order to engrave a brass plate from which the Milliner next door was going to print fans for ladies to use on hot, humid Virginia days. The Shoemaker was making a pair of work shoes that had been purchased by the gentleman working in the Foundry. The Printer was hard at work putting out the latest news (well, at least one week old) to be sold at the Greenhow General Store. Colonial Williamsburg is a thriving community in every sense of the word. So, with our 21st century water bottles filled, we embraced what was to come as we curiously stepped into the 18th century.
Trades – the heart and soul of Colonial Williamsburg
Being the nerds that we are, Claudio and I were fascinated by the many trades-people who were working in the Colonial Williamsburg stores. We must have spent 30-45-60 minutes in each shop speaking with the incredibly knowledgeable and skilled craftspeople at work, most of them completing their apprenticeship or journeyman-ship.
The men in the printer’s shop demonstrated the process while making terrible puns about “the power of the press” (referring to the force they exerted when pressing the paper to the type plates) all the while instilling what I can only describe as fervor over the importance of a free press. Some concepts rightfully stand the test of time. After explaining the difference between a shoemaker and a cobbler (the cobbler only repairs shoes), the shoemaker went on to explain the apprentice and indenture system and how instrumental it was in the colonies’ commerce. An apprenticeship spanned approximately 7 years, during which time the apprentice lived with his or her master. In return for room and board, the young person (usually 13-14 years of age) gained a vocation as well as, sometimes, instruction in such things as home economics or societal etiquette. This arrangement made apprenticeships quite appealing for families with little money, families seeking to send their children to the new world or for orphans who needed a means by which they could survive.
People – Colonial Williamsburg’s Living History
In Colonial Williamsburg, people do not perform, they converse and they interact. Built upon quality research, each person whom we met had something interesting to relate about their current time and situation. Many of the points made were done in such a manner that they were deeply thought-provoking as we mentally stepped momentarily back to 2018.
We met Aggy, one of 27 domestic slaves belonging to Peyton and Elizabeth Randolph. Aggy spoke very candidly with us and the other domestic slaves whom she had called together in order to discuss a new law that was being implemented regarding the ways in which a slave could acquire his or her freedom. Aggy’s much older Master had expressed every intention of freeing both her and her soon-to-be-born child upon his death, but Aggy worried that, although her Master had acknowledged the child as being his, his kin would not honor his will.
Shortly after, we heard an impassioned speech by none other than Thomas Jefferson. He immediately expressed concern that he would not be considered appropriately attired since he had only just arrived by stagecoach; however, in observing the casual nature of everyone else’s dress, he joked that his alarm had greatly diminished. However, after that short levity he continued on with a very stern and strong warning to future generations regarding inalienable rights such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech and other universal truths.
As the sun set...
Colonial Williamsburg doesn’t ever really close. Individual buildings close, but the town itself is a town, and therefore, like any other town, you are free to walk the streets any time of day or night. This was particularly interesting to experience after hours. Twice, Claudio and I found ourselves the only humans in sight. Standing quietly so as to actually feel the ghosts of those who came before us is a unique and humbling sensation.
...we came back to future 2018 with a renewed appreciation.
I just realized that Huey Lewis’ Back in Time has been surreptitiously playing over and over in my brain as I have been writing. Rather than being annoying, it has supported my disposition at the moment. I appreciate the simplicity of the time we visited. I am acutely aware of how difficult life was (just making tea was a time-filled process) and wonder how this life juxtaposed against where we are now. I have no profound closing thoughts, but know we are thankful to be back -- from being back in time...