Guess What Day It Is: Week 14
When I first set eyes on Colonial Williamsburg I was fourteen years old. I visited with my family during the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration. I have a faded picture of myself sitting on a cannon in front of the Governor’s Palace. I spent every possible minute soaking in the history of Colonial Virginia’s capital city. Virginia was the largest, wealthiest, and most populous of the 13 colonies – here since 1699. Williamsburg has been continuously lived and worked in for 321 years! I am a certifiable history hound but if you have even the tiniest bit of interest in early American history, you cannot fail to fall in love with Colonial Williamsburg.
Today I am following the Colonial Parkway, a scenic drive unlike any other in the country, and I don’t say that lightly. The National Park Service really works to make it feel like a trail from centuries ago. It sets the scene and puts you in a frame of mind to fully appreciate the history here. The parkway connects three sites crucial to early American history called the Historic Triangle. Beginning with Jamestown, the first permanent settlement of English colonists in American that dates back to 1606. The second is Colonial Williamsburg and third is Yorktown, where George Washington with the help of the French defeated British General Charles Cornwallis and his redcoat army.
I had not previously visited Historic Jamestowne, the actual location of the fort and settlement from 1607. Perhaps the most famous stories from this period are that of Pocahontas, John Smith and John Rolfe – here you can walk in their footsteps and the remains of the original site, all of which have been painstakingly unearthed by archaeologists. What is here today are the remains of the church where Pocahontas married and the Historic Jamestowne’s Glasshouse. America’s first industrial manufacturing business was making and exporting glass to England. Ultimately, glassmaking wasn’t a successful endeavor. It was John Rolfe who discovered that Virginia was ideal for growing tobacco to export. Slaves were then brought to grow and harvest the tobacco, and our country’s fate began. Just down the road is Jamestown Settlement. A massive living history museum that examines the lives of the Colonial settlers while they were still in England, tracing the stories that led them on their journeys to the New World and recreations of the original three ships that brought the Colonists over, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery.
In my opinion, Colonial Williamsburg is the crown jewel of the Colonial Parkway. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clop down cobbled streets lined with gabled houses and stately brick buildings. A broad throughfare – the Duke of Gloucester Street – called the “most historic street in America” by FDR – leads to the Governor’s Palace. Fife and Drummers march and everyone in period dress and the enchantment of Williamburg’s glorious past transport you back two centuries in time. The one time capital of colonial Virginia, then a quiet college town, now the world’s largest living history museum. It has survived wars, economic downturns, and yes, disease. In 1927 the Reverend Goodwin, rector of the Bruton Parish Church invited John D. Rockefeller, Jr and his wife Abby to visit Williamsburg and convinced them to put their money behind the monumental historic recreation of Colonial Williamsburg. Today, Colonial Williamsburg includes almost all of the area of the capital as it was in the 18th Century, including Bruton Parish Church. This is the place where young Thomas Jefferson was educated at the College of William and Mary, listened at the door of the House of Burgesses while Patrick Henry denounced the Stamp Act and was the last Virginia governor to occupy Williamsburg Governor’s Palace before the capital moved to Richmond in 1780.
The third and final stop on the Parkway is Yorktown. I have been looking forward to touring the newly opened American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and am thrilled to find that it is extraordinary. “The Siege at Yorktown” film is honestly the best and most captivating “museum film” I have ever seen with an enthralling story line, shown on a 180-degree big screen with superb sound effects. Fog filling the theater while we watched transported me right onto the battlefield. The exhibits span the period of time between the Boston massacre and the Treaty of Paris – signed on September 3, 1783, ending the War of the American Revolution. Outside the museum is a living-history area where reenactors tell the stories of the soldiers, doctors, and Colonists that lived during the American Revolution. A soldier demonstrates how to fire the muskets. Next, I follow the Yorktown Battlefield trail to check out the fortifications still left there and to stand where the soldiers faced off – there is just something about standing in the spot where the war was fought that makes you thankful for your freedom. Surrender Field is the most famous stop on the trail and as the name implies – this is where on October 19, 1781, Cornwallis’ army marched onto the field and surrendered thousands of men and artillery. My previous trips of the Historic Triangle had not included downtown Historic Yorktown. As I walked Main Street, located on a bluff above the floodplain, what struck me first was the sheer loveliness of this waterside town. An English visitor to the town in 1736 wrote: “You perceive a great Air of Opulence amongst the Inhabitants, who have some of them built themselves Houses, equal in Magnificence to many of our superb ones at St. Jame’s … Almost every considerable Man keeps an Equipage … The Taverns are many here and much frequented … The Courthouse is the only considerable public Building, and is no unhandsome structure … The most considerable Houses are of Brick; some handsome ones of Wood, all built in the modern Taste; and the lesser Sort, of Plaister. There are some very pretty Garden spots in the Town.” I think that says it all. My final stop is the beautiful Yorktown Victory Monument – commissioned by the Continental Congress in 1781 to commemorate the great victory at Yorktown. Finally constructed between 1881 and 1884 this majestic monument is an 84ft marble column topped with a statue of “Lady Liberty” overlooking the York River.
The Historic Triangle shares American’s enduring story and feeds my spirit. Each time I visit it opens my eyes and broaden my horizons in unexpected ways. It not only holds a special place in history, it holds a special place in my heart.
Missing you, stay safe
Travelers join Daytripping Destinations from all over the country. For flexibility, all our tours depart from major airport locations with the first night accommodations at a convenient airport hotel.
They are a class act.