Virginia - Williamsburg & Jamestown

Hi-Jackin' the Stripes


Good ole Sir Walter Raleigh, the 16th century explorer, soldier, writer, puddle cover-upper, original tobacco smoker, first fan of potatoes, and a favourite of the Queen, named the state of Virginia after Elizabeth the virgin Queen.

Perfect hide n' seek spot when you weigh 2,400 pounds

We swung into Richmond, the capital city of the south, the place is alive with history. It was an elegant town that I wish we had had more time in to further explore the cobbled streets and alleyways of Shockoe Slip, and investigate the creepy Edgar Allen Poe Museum

However, we did have time to skittle down Tobacco Row to find the “Lurking Indian”. I can honestly say I have never seen anything even remotely like it - a 2,400 pound giant Native American, that once stood in a ballpark, now props up the building of an old tobacco company, this giant goliath of a fiberglass phenomenon was peeping over the top of the building, as if about to climb out. It was thrilling and mind boggling in equal measure. 

Despite the cold, the sun was shining, it was time to press on to see Colonial Williamsburg. I knew there would be revolutionary war reenactment types (in full regalia) knocking about but I wasn’t prepared for the size, level of detail, and commitment put into recreating Williamsburg as it was in the 18th century.

18th Century Uber
The town permanently lives in the year of 1774 (don’t we all have a year we permanently live in!), back when Williamsburg was the capital of the English colony of Virginia. Patriot leaders, shopkeepers, freemen and slaves all potter about the town going about their business. As the entrance sign says “The air is filled with revolution” (I think my daughter has a similar sign on her bedroom door).

We blended with other tourists filtering around through history. It was beautifully maintained, an idyllic setting, it was not a thousand miles off present day Nantucket! (which is my benchmark for posh quaint America - for stories on Nantucket read here). Horse and carriages trotted past, women and men in 18th century garb nodded hellos, engaging us in ye olde conversations about the apothecary and whatnot?! I found the response of “Indeed” and a stiff nod covered everything.

Gaol - Don't pass Go, Don't collect 200
We visited the old gaol and were a given a tour by the ‘gaolkeeper’. Back then prisons weren't intended for long periods of detention just a holding cell until the sentence was given. The prisoner’s sentence usually being "Hang by the neck until dead, dead, dead". If your sentence was commuted, your hand was branded T (for thief) or M (for manslaughter). The most interesting fact that lead me to guffaw out loud, was that inmates were allowed to order 'take out' to their cell from their favourite tavern!! Only in America. 

I love antique vintage furniture so I made a beeline for the Cabinet Makers. John the Cabinet Maker (or to use his nickname ‘Ikea’) was in full 18th century character, he explained that he had just arrived over to the colony by boat, and could assure us his cabinets were of the finest quality as he had learned his trade in London town. Then he got back to his cabinetry, not a skandi instruction manual in sight :) 

Throngs of people moved in and out of the Silversmiths. I slid in to scrutinize the wears as people stood in a row to have their cups engraved by the burly Smithy. I walked out with a simple, beautiful pewter Jefferson cup with “We the People” emblazoned on it. Thomas Jefferson commissioned a silversmith to make a cup based on his own design, they are still being sold in Williamsburg today. 

Dom and Róisín went to investigate the local taverns for a bite to eat. They were fully authentic, dimly lit with women in frilly hats serving up meat pies and soup. 

Meanwhile I nipped into the 1700s answer to Walgreens and happened upon a doctor who was lamenting his lack of medicine, as his supply of the potions and herbs he used from South America were being blocked by the British ships (If I had a dollar everytime Walgreens used that ole excuse, I tell ya!). The Apothecary stood tall amongst the multitude of cubbys that made up his magnificent apothecary chest of drawers (I want an Apothecary Cabinet in my home sooo badly).

Poxy Potions
The tall Chemist spotted me staring and asked me very loudly if I had any ailments such as shingles or smallpox (how very dare he, its been months since I had a pox or a shingle!). It was a smidge embarrassing as every tourist eye in the Chemist’s shop turned to look at me, part of me wanted to embrace the theatrics and play along, another part of me really didn’t want to (why do I have to play the smallpox victim, why can’t I be the doctor!). I eloquently mumbled “Me?,.I don’t know” and scarpered out the door (frantically checking myself for any mysterious rashes). 

After lunch, which in honesty was not terribly appetising, we scrambled about some more, it was a kick to mix among this living museum. The first flag of 'America' flew pride of place everywhere - 13 stripes representing the first colonies and the Union Jack in the corner to acknowledge the colonies were under British rule. 

We moseyed over to the ‘market’ where I couldn’t resist buying a pilgrim hat for Róisín. We stayed for a lone solidier’s reenactment of a gun salute, it was LOUD.

I love history and was dying to get more facts, figures and stories to go with the performance art. So we moved on to the Jamestown Historic site. There was no pomp, peasants or posers there, it was ruins and historical plaques (your imagination filled in the rest). Jamestown was home to the first British settlement in the New World - the "Birthplace of America". We were visiting just before Thanksgiving, so the site took on an extra meaning.

Plymouth Massachusetts is name checked by history as the site of the first Thanksgiving, there is documentation talking of a grateful feast that occurred after a plentiful harvest. However, experts feel Jamestown, as the first British settlement, was the likely the real site of the first Thanksgiving (and it was probably a less palatable affair than the nicer Plymouth feast years later).

John Smith - from English pirate to American Governor
The Jamestown settlement was sponsored by the Virginia Company of London chosen for its good defense from the Spanish and likelihood to be near riches from the New World that could be sent back to England. I always thought the colonisation of America had stemmed from Regal vanity/greed and Explorers ambitions, I didn’t realize that ‘corporations’ would ‘sponsor’ a settlement, investing it with people, the return on their investment was the riches they could reap! Wow, that really puts the history of the term ‘Corporate Globalisation’ into a new light for me. 

It turns out the Virginia Company didn’t do their due diligence, the settlement was built on a malarial swamp. During the "Starving Years" 1609-1610 the settlers survived on the starch from their shirts, leather, rodents and whispers of cannibalism. Only 60 of the 500 settlers survived this period. It is considered by some as one of the most controversial times in America's history. Shocking! Next time I’m crippled by anxiety over what to order at In-n-Out Burger I’ll remember those 60 settlers chewing down on leather and God knows what (Good Grief). Interesting to wonder how many descendants of those 60 people litter the population of white America today (How many are vegan? How many know about the picked-clean skeletons in their ancestral closets?). 

It is well documented how these early settlers took land that didn’t belong to them and forced themselves into a country already occupied by natives, thus ravaging the native populations with New World diseases, sensibilities, and at times, savagery. A dark start to modern America. 

The early settlers did forge something which every American today can get behind, the seeds of democracy. Their legacy also includes representative government, legislation and the English language, culture and religion.

Pocahontas - over 100,000 of her descendants roam America today
The legendary Pocahontas (daughter of a Native American Chief) was a frequent official visitor to Jamestown. During tensions with the English and the natives she was kidnapped by the English and while held in captivity she learned English, converted to Christianity and married an Englishman: John Rolfe (apparently she made all these decisions of her own free will, hhmm, that’s a lot of free will for a captive). 

Rolfe brought her back to England where she was introduced as a Princess from the New World, a “civilized savage”, in the hope of stimulating investment in the Jamestown settlement. She was the toast of the nobility but unfortunately she became ill on the visit and died at the mere age of 22. She left behind a son. Today countless Americans claim to have traced their ancestry back to Pocahontas and John Rolfe. No one has claimed ancestry back to “John” the Cabinet Maker. 

John was indeed a popular name back in the 1700s and a lot of what we know about the settlement was actually thanks to John Smith. A wild explorer who had many adventures under his belt before the Virginia Company hired him as a settler. He attempted a mutiny on the boat ride over, was arrested upon landing, then freed and ultimately rose to become governor of Virginia. 

He was quick witted, cunning and able, he learned the local Indian language so he could trade and rule them. He documented all his travels (#travelblogger #loveyourworkJohn). Some thought his accounts were arrogant as he played a large role in all his stories (uh oh, sounds a little bit close to home @lettersfrombeyondthepale) but historians have crossed referenced his work and it appears to be largely true. His maps of the settlements gave the world it's best picture of how things looked and how life was over 300 years ago. 

We stormed across the fort ramparts, we sniffed around the archeological digs, we paused in the ruined church where Pocahontas got married. We fell in step with an endearing elderly Park Ranger who was genuinely excited about the significance of the settlement and urged us exuberantly to take in as much history as we could.

Before I had time to say “Keep Calm and Carry On” Dom had spotted a Union Jack flag flying over the camp and cornered a passing historian (bearing a clipboard) into a debate over the accuracy of the flag. Dom felt surely the Union Jack (a flag combining England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) post dated the settlement. The English settled in Jamestown in 1607, the United Kingdom was formed over a hundred years later. The historian was sure that the research had been done, the flag was accurate and “authentic”, it was a British ships flag and England, Wales and Scotland would have had the same King. 

Fearing one of them was going to strangle the other with said Union Jack, myself and Róisín ran interference until the historian (and his flapping clipboard) disappeared into the “authentic” malarial swamp of history. The car ride after involved a contemplative, and at times self-argumentative, dissertation from Dom on the history of British flags, myself and Róisín slept. 

If you can get over flag-fury, I think Williamsburg and Jamestown are worth every American’s attention. History happened, get amongst it.
Virginia Beach Baby
We arrived in Virginia Beach late at night. Róisín and I were tired (from sleeping), and Dom was flagged out. But there was still time for Dom and Róisin’s ritual splash in the pool (which was a snake of rivers and waterfalls!). They staff were so nice, they even let us sit in the hotel movie theatre after hours by ourselves and watch a movie of our choice (The Incredibles). This was a budget hotel folks, kudos to you @HolidayInn and your personal touch, noted!

The next morning we ambled along the expansive boardwalk looking at the stretches of endless beach, we had pancakes in a Pocahontas themed restaurant, random people wished us a good day. It was a lovely last day in historical Virginia. 

It was time to hit the road again and meet up with brother who was flying into DC to have Thanksgiving with us. 

On to DC to see Trump’s antics first hand!

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