As a child, one of my favorite vacation spots was Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia. We usually visited in the summer which equated to unbearably high temperatures and humidity, (what the Tidewater region is famous for), I still loved being there; however, I could never imagine the first settlers at the Jamestown colony having to wear heavy, woolen attire during a Virginia summer. Many children hate history and are bored by it; I, on the other hand, could not have loved it more.
The private Colonial Williamsburg foundation represents the historic district of the city of Williamsburg. During colonial times, Williamsburg served as the capital of the colony of Virginia and was the center of government, education and culture. After the capital of Virginia moved to Richmond, Williamsburg rescinded into the shadows, many of its colonial era buildings becoming old and decrepit until the 1920s, when the historic district was restored under the financial largess of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and his wife Abigail. Although some of the buildings are recreations, others are originals from the 18th century.
Being at Williamsburg is like taking a step back into the past, the 18th century to be exact. Growing up in Philadelphia, nicknamed the Cradle of Liberty for the role it played during the founding of the United States, I was well accustomed to reenactors dressed in colonial garb. However, unlike on the streets of my birthplace where if you stepped a block or two away from the colonial grid you’re smack in the 21st century with traffic and other modern inventions, Colonial Williamsburg is the 18th century to a T. No cars go down its main drag, Duke of Glouster Street and there are no Starbucks on every corner. Instead you have horse drawn carriages and taverns where colonial men would drink along with a bar “wench” or two.
What I loved most about Williamsburg was that it had a working relationship with the American Girl doll Felicity, a fictional character who lived in Williamsburg before and during the American Revolutionary War. After having read her six books that incorporated many of the buildings and real life people that lived in Williamsburg during the 18th century, it was incredibly neat to see and experience things in person-visiting the Governor’s Palace where Felicity was invited to attend a ball in Felicity’s Surprise and buying colonial style root beer and soap from the John Greenhow store which served as the model for the store that Felicity’s father owned. My favorite though was the purchase of the Felicity teacup and teapot, replicas of the set that was illustrated in the book Felicity Learns a Lesson. In it Felicity is faced with the quandary of whether to drink tea, which during the 1770s meant remaining loyal to England, the Mother Country, or being a patriot and supporting the colonies’ fight for independence. Patriots, those who wished to be independent of England, drank coffee instead. I actually had the opportunity to attend Miss Manderly’s (Felicity’s teacher) Tea at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, a tea lesson for modern girls such as myself on the “proper way” to drink tea. I supposed I would have been more of a loyalist, as I love a good cup of tea and would be most disheartened if I ever had to do without.
I have not been to Williamsburg in more than a decade but I think the thing I would look most forward to doing is having a meal at one of their four (if not more) colonial taverns. All four-Christiana Campbell’s, the King’s Arms, Shield’s, and Josiah Chowning’s-actually existed during colonial times and their menus offer modern day diners the opportunity to sample colonial era cuisine. I’ve eaten at all four but my personal favorite would probably be Christiana Campbell’s. Its homemade biscuits are simply delicious.
Living in Pittsburgh, Colonial Williamsburg is an even farther drive than when coming from Philadelphia; however, I do hope one day to return there as an adult as it is a place I would love to rediscover.