What Travel Writers Say

England's Colonial Williamsburg

© By Mike Keenan
  Colonial Williamsburg, 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., is where American politics began. From the nearby Williamsburg Lodge, we had easy access to the historic site which stretches over 301 acres with 88 original 18th-century structures. And when we returned each day, the hotel's impressive display of period furniture, the graceful elegance of furnishings inspired by folk art in the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and furniture from Colonial Williamsburg's collections, helped to keep us in the appropriate historical mood. The idea is that history gradually sinks into the visitor by touring the houses, shops and public outbuildings, carefully reconstructed on original foundations. A flag indicates open sites.


     Two buildings represent the competing interests that led to bloody revolution: the opulent Governor's Palace, embodying stiff British order and the Capitol, witness to the vote for independence. George Wythe, Virginia's first signer of the Declaration of Independence, slept here; but it's obvious that the other George - Washington employed better marketers for the futuristic hotel trade. I enjoyed the costumed interpreters who were happy to explain the surrounding history. In fact, I sat beside Washington in his pew at church.
     The jail was called a gaol then, and at the Capitol, I learned the concept of swift justice. It seems that after any trial was conducted, the jury was required immediately to occupy the room upstairs, and remain there without heat, food, drink and washroom privileges until they rendered a verdict. Swift justice, indeed!


     Here, one appreciates 18th-century rural farming on a Virginia plantation and witnesses African American slave life, making the U.S. election with Barak Obama especially dramatic, although he is of mixed race. Those who pushed hardest for rebellion, wealthy Americans, both before and after the revolution, employed slaves. This included the likes of Thomas Jefferson, who, like most politicians, talked a good game. It would take Martin Luther King's dream a long time to germinate on American soil and soar - when and if Democrats ultimately outscore Republicans in the contest for American political control.
     Here, authentic Virginian plants and blooms unfurl with the seasons in historic gardens. I was impressed with the grounds of the Governor's Palace and enjoyed encounters with the practicing tradesmen with the ring of clanging hammers and the furled smoke of industry. However, for me, the peak tourist moment arrived with attendance at a candlelight concert in the 1674 Episcopal Church on Duke of Glouster St., an evening of English Baroque music, with Purcell's Sound the Trumpet, and excerpts from both Handel's Water Musick and compositions of Maurice Greene. The soprano, alto and organist helped transport us back in time.
     Chartered in 1699, Williamsburg was named in honour of England's William III and here also is the site of the College of William and Mary. The Colonial site is run by a foundation that serves 700,000 tourists a year, enjoys an archeological collection of 500,000 objects, 50,000,000 fragments and 200,000 artifacts, employing 1,919 people with 920 volunteers, in all, quite a massive undertaking.


     There's great shopping in Williamsburg, and the simple yet striking pewter candle holders were hard to resist. For golfers, Robert Trent Jones Sr. created the 45-hole Golden Horseshoe Golf Club. We visited several times before with our children as it's a terrific educational and recreational experience, worthwhile ammunition for a beleaguered parent when hounded for modern conveniences. "Did you kids know how hard it was then...?"
     Williamsburg was capital of England's oldest colony from 1699-1780. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Patrick Henry- you have heard the names. In Colonial Williamsburg, you can walk alongside them. Colonial Williamsburg hosts an excellent resource-filled website for teachers, students and tourists at http://www.history.org/

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

If you go
Visit Williamsburg: http://www.visitwilliamsburg.com/index.aspx
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williamsburg,_Virginia
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Colonial_Williamsburg

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