August 10, 2013
This action-packed day begins at the visitor center at 8:45, watching a film that provides us with our orientation to RevQuest, a game where we play the role of patriot spies trying to find clues that will help us defend the colony from the British. Over the course of the day, we will find “friends” wearing black and white striped ribbons at several different locations throughout the town, and use different methods they provide us to decode encrypted messages. It is a fun way to explore Williamsburg while learning about different ways that spies of the time tried to communicate in secret.
We join a bunch of patriots and sympathizers debating on the village green. It seems that many kegs of powder were removed from the magazine last night around 3 a.m. on the governor’s orders. We join the patriots in storming the Governor’s mansion, then stop after the governor threatens us all with dire consequences (like being hanged as traitors).
We tour the home of George Wythe, a man who revolutionized educational methods and taught many of the patriots like Thomas Jefferson. In the back yard of the house, we do a fun science experiment developed by Joseph Priestly, and Granddad plays a strategy board game with a costumed interpreter. She beats him handily.
Out in the garden, we learn another game that was played by young people, using a spindle that has a ball with a hole attached to it by a string. The costumed interpreter makes it look easy to get the spindle point into the hole, but we find it very difficult. The interpreter says, “If you only own one toy, it better be a little bit hard.”
We tour the Capitol on a special tour led by a very eloquent Thomas Jefferson, Governor of Williamsburg.
After the Capitol, we go directly to Gaol, where we stay in a gloomy cell longer than expected, due to a rain shower.
The rest of the afternoon is spent dashing from building to building between heavy storms. As a result, we know way more about the silversmiths’ work than we would ever otherwise have learned. We spend a very long time there while the rain comes down in torrents and the electric candle lights flicker more than normal. Ironically, we all hold our breath, worried that the power may go out, and give us a truly authentic historic experience.
Natalie delighted in finding things that were not appropriate to the time, but we were most appreciative of the air conditioning in the buildings on this day with temperatures in the high 80s and humidity hovering near 100%.
We dine at Chowning’s Tavern, where a musician plays music from the 1700s on a fife, a wooden flute and a dulcimer while we enjoy a meal that might well have been served back then.
The server tells us that the water she offers us is not authentic, since water drunk here back in the 1700s would make you sick if it didn’t kill you, due to their lack of sewers and other sanitation measures. So, everyone drank beer instead. Women here made beer in three strengths--weak for their babies, a little stronger for children, and very strong for adult consumption. Natalie stuck with water.
We also learn that 40% of the taverns around town were owned by women, and many were respectable places for women to eat and drink, but not this one. Chowning’s served working men, and men that came from far and wide to be tried at court here for their offenses.
We decline our server’s offer not to charge us for our dinner if we leave Natalie behind with her to become an indentured servant. She thinks Natalie would be a particularly good servant, since she has such nice teeth. She explains other people’s tooth options to Natalie--poor people were just missing teeth with no replacement, wealthier people could have wooden false teeth carved to fit in their mouths, and some people would even purchase teeth from others with good teeth like Natalie, and have a skilled artisan insert them into carved gums. This option in particular really grosses Natalie out.
After dinner we attend a dance by candlelight at the Governor’s Palace. The costumed characters perform some of the very intricate dances for us, but they invite members of the audience to join them for over half of the dances, which are performed in lines and circles--very elegant versions of square dancing. They teach us “honors” (how to bow and curtsy), so we can be mannerly on the dance floor when beginning and ending our dances with them. All three of us have a turn on the dance floor for at least one dance, but Granddad gets chosen twice, a fate he bemoans.
On the way back to our hotel, we stop into Bruton Parish Episcopal Church to catch the last few pieces of a magnificent candlelit organ concert. The music was out of the timeframe of the rest of our day (all 19th and 20th century), but the church dates back to 1715, and has been renovated to look just as it did back then, including candle sconces along the walls next to every pew and a massive candle chandelier above.
We can’t imagine how anyone could pack more into a day at Williamsburg than we did!