The things you learn when you actually go to a place you’ve read and seen television show about! Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia got some attention when I took Dr. John Lupold’s course at Columbus College in historic preservation. The course was not extremely popular. I was the only student in the class. I don’t know why. It was really interesting and changed my views on rundown old buildings. They have important stories to tell. Colonial Williamsburg really came to life when I visited there recently.
The Governor’s Palace was built in 1706 for the British Governors of the Colony of Virginia. It is anything but rundown. It is quite opulent. It’s not the real thing, though, but we’re told it is very much like the real thing before it burned. Like most of the buildings in Colonial Virginia’s second capital city - Jamestown was the first - it’s a replica, We can thank philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife for all those replicas, including the second Capitol of Virginia.
John Murray, better known as Lord Dunmore, was the last British governor to preside in that building. When the American colonists took over in the Revolutionary War, he, his wife, and three daughters went back to England. Patrick Henry, of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame, became the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first governor and not only presided in the Capitol, but also moved into the Governor’s Palace. Thomas Jefferson, the second govenor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, also lived there.
Lord Dunmore, however, did some interesting things during the war, one of which was to issue a proclamation freeing slaves in the Colony of Virginia who would fight on the British side. Some 2,000 took him up on the offer. However, as you know, the British didn’t win, and slavery remained in effect in Virginia until President Abraham Lincoln freed them during the Civil War.
The employees and volunteers working at Colonial Williamsburg do a great job of giving visitors a feeling for what it was like to live in Colonial Williamsburg. They wore the clothing and spoke the language of 18th Century America. They also have finely developed senses of humor. Speaking in the present tense, the guide who took us on a tour of the Governor’s Palace had a great rapport with the tourists, especially the children. When she explained that Lord Dunmore’s wife insisted that he sleep in the same bed with her because she wanted to know where the governor was at night, an eight-year-old boy who she had cultivated said, “That would do it,” everyone laughed.
The day is climaxed with a parade by a fife and drum corps, an appearance by “Maj. General Lafayette,” the French soldier who became an American hero in the Revolutionary War – the guide said when he returned to visit after war, he was so admired that he never had to pay for his ale in a tavern – and the firing of an 18th Century cannon.