African American Soldiers And The Revolutionary War In Virginia
In November 1775, Lord Dunmore, the last royal Governor of Virginia signed a proclamation stating that any able bodied slave of a rebel master could run to his Royal Ethiopian regiment to fight the Americans and gain their freedom. Dunmore did not free the enslaved workers belonging to Loyalist Masters and he did not free his own slaves.
300 Enslaved African Americans Join Dunmore’s Army
Within a week of Dunmore signing the proclamation, over 300 enslaved workers ran to Norfolk, Virginia to join his army. The Patriots were terrified knowing their runaway slaves would now have guns. The Virginia Gazette advised slaves to “cling to your kind masters.” But in the end, around 800 runaway slaves fought in Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment. Their uniforms were emblazoned with the words, “Liberty to Slaves.”
The Attack On Great Bridge In Chesapeake Virginia
On November 15, Lord Dunmore called in his British troops to Kemp’s Landing to defend a large store of gunpowder that had been recently moved there from Norfolk. Militia companies from Princess Anne County, Virginia (present-day Virginia Beach) assembled to fight the British. Virginia’s inexperienced Militia fired too soon. Lord Dunmore’s disciplined regulars returned fire and most of the Patriot Militia scattered. This clear victory for the British made Lord Dunmore overconfident. He decided to attack the Patriots at Great Bridge (in present-day Chesapeake, Virginia.)
Early in the morning on December 10, 1775, The Royal Ethiopian regiment marched across the bridge with the other British troops. The British troops were within fifty feet of the Patriots who were hiding. The Patriots revealed themselves and fired rapidly, decimating the ranks, and the attack quickly turned into a panicked retreat. The battle lasted less than an hour. By the time it was over 100 British soldiers were dead or wounded. Lord Dunmore retreated to Norfolk and boarded his ships.
Lord Dunmore and his troops stayed on these ships in and around Norfolk until May, when he eventually retreated to Gwynn’s Island near the mouth of the Rappahannock River in the Chesapeake Bay. Being on these ships in the cold and damp weather caused a great deal of sickness, including smallpox. Smallpox was widespread in Great Britain — nearly all the British troops in America had caught it as children and those that hadn’t were inoculated before they left England. The enslaved that ran to the Royal Ethiopian Regiment had no immunity to the disease. This meant that smallpox was quickly an epidemic among the runaways. The situation on Gwynn’s Island became worse when typhoid fever also broke out. Slaves continued to run to Lord Dunmore’s Regiment, but because the high mortality rate among the Runaway slaves was so high the Royal Ethiopian Regiment never had more that 150 effective men.
The Fate Of African American Soldiers In The Royal Ethiopian Regiment
By July the remains of Dunmore’s forces sailed north to New York. The Patriot forces then took over the island and the scene that greeted them was a grisly one. Bodies of the Royal Ethiopian soldiers littered the coastline, smallpox victims thrown from the British ships as they sailed away. On the island itself the scene was even worse. One eyewitness wrote, “The deplorable condition of the miserable wretches left behind is beyond description.” The island now belonged to the dead and dying. The sick soldiers were lying out in the open or in brush tents, many of those in the tents were burned alive as soldiers sought to control the smallpox. Lord Dunmore’s Royal Ethiopian Regiment was gone, only in existence for one year. However, not all of the Royal Ethiopian Regiment died on Gwynn’s Island — one of the survivors was Titus Cornelius or, as he was later known, Colonel Tye. His story will be told in the next blog.
Williamsburg Walking Tours Hosts Blind Students from DBVI
For the third year, Williamsburg Walking Tours hosted 30 students from the Virginia Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired for a special 1 ½-hr. tour. On Saturday, July 20, 2019, Co-Owner and Master Storyteller Trish
Thomas entertained the group with little-known facts about Williamsburg drawn from the company’s repertoire of stories from its tours which include:
If you have ever thought Hollywood is searching for scripts when you see tired run of the mill cookie cutter action movies, I can tell you one place they should be looking. The place..the relatively unexplored annals of Black History or African American history.
Bass Reeves is a movie that is begging to be made into major motion picture and I have read of famous actors who have made this a goal. Yes, it was a lower budget production but I just want to see an Academy Award winning actor bring this person to life
The movie being made into a larger budget production is probably inevitable but I do have a few concerns. With most stories Hollywood has to exaggerate to make it more exciting. If you read the historical account of Bass Reeves amazing life, you might realize Hollywood couldn’t include it all. And if they did, who would believe it.
Believe it..here are a few amazing facts that could show a Hollywood script writer a few things or two..by just telling the historical account.
He was a slave turned One Of The First Deputy Marshalls in history
He had over 3,000 arrests
He spoke multiple Native American Languages
He fled captivity after beating up his slave master during a card game
He was an excellent marksman
He was a big man over 6 feet tall
It is said he was calm, cool, and collected
He was an excellent detective
If you want a detailed account of Reeves check out this clip.
Some historical clips
In depth look at Bass Reeves
A little dry but loaded with information
5 Facts About Bass Reeves
Some more interesting tidbits about this life
Learn Real African American History…Starting In Williamsburg
Real African American History Is Everywhere. Williamsburg, Virginia, and our African American History Tour, is a great diving off point to learn truth. Start your journey here with us
Williamsburg is a crossroad point of America. It is a physical location that encompasses a historic journey of freedom that memorialized a young Colonial nation breaking away from their dominating origin country. This theme is played out throughout the entire United States, encompassing battlefields, museums, books, personal accounts, and the struggle of many people, especially the African American population.
Understanding American history or African American history will take you on many twists and turns down roads that were forgotten, overlooked, or even just more significant than you may have realized. June is the historical month that the 54th Massachusetts African American Infantry was commissioned and created to fight in the Civil War.
The story was brought into the public forefront more than a century after the war with the movie Glory. It is a great story of the struggle of individuals on a bigger stage against the backdrop of a divided racist nation, battling over the moral and political direction of thousands.
One thing black history in Williamsburg, or the United States can attest to is:
Freedom is not free
There is always a fight. The 54th Massachusetts African American Infantry embodied this both historically and symbolically. As the regiment was populated by many freed slaves as well as led by those whose views were heavily abolitionist, the fight for freedom was an active struggle both
On the battlefields of the Civil War and in the society that would have to accept the African American population as legal citizens and contributors to the society
Taking up the call to fight in a war for your country is one of the purest and most visceral responsibilities of citizenship. The 54th answered the call as harbingers of a people who would become new citizens of a hostile nation. The battlefield for African American citizenship would end victoriously in 1865. The battle for total acceptance into American society had just started…
African American History is a definitely one where you have to approach it is a detective. And not just do you have to investigate untruths but also what I call convenient historical absences. By absences I mean things that just seemed to get forgotten by the history books. African American History suffers heavily from significant contributions that mysteriously do not get publicized in the rich pageant known as American history. I guess that is why a historians work is really never done.
April..Jackie Robinson Breaks The Race Barrier In Sports
Nevertheless sometimes history gets it right with respect to black history in Williamsburg and America. Once such place where the overall public perception is very good would be the Jackie Robinson story. Why I am pulling this story out of the hundreds, if not thousands of potential stories that feature African American historical people and stories. Well, the answer is simple..It is April and this is the month Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.
A Rich Historical Account
That alone is a pretty well known fact. Our National pastime, baseball, and America, would be forever changed by this humble historical figure. Ok, that is totally true. He would become one of the best players ever. That is documented. But his life was so much richer, in achievement and historical significance than really gets relayed in a sound bite or two. But for history sake let us go into some quick detail that really builds the dimension of this black historical sports icon.
So I pulled some facts I didn’t know that I wanted to mention here that may not be as well known. Here we go:
Jackie Robinson was an Officer in the US Army During World War 2. Something of huge notoriety in itself
He was not allowed to serve in combat because he refused to sit in a segregated section of a bus in America
He was rookie of the year his first year of Major League Baseball
His number is retired from ALL of baseball..Not Just a Team. This is a huge honor
He received the Presidential Medal Of Freedom, the highest award an American can receive out of the military
He was a huge figure in fighting for civil rights, even after his retirement from baseball
He struggled with diabetes
He was the first African American Vice President of an American Corporation..Chock Full Of Nuts
Every MLB must wear number 42 on Jackie Robinson day, which honors him
He was the first African American TV Sports Analyst On Television For ABC
And there is a lot more..
I could probably go on for about ten more pages, but I think I have done this article justice. Jackie Robinson strove for excellence and justice in just about everything he did. What an incredible American.
The Williamsburg Walking Tour African American Tour
Our African American Tour Of Williamsburg looks at Black history through the interpretation of historical data. By data a true complete history of what actually happened and not historical marketing. Cutting, pasting, and omitting history to create a new history is not tolerable. Our tour is open and honest about the true African American experience in Williamsburg, Colonial America, and beyond.
42 FACTS ABOUT JACKIE ROBINSON
In-text: (Mentalfloss.com, 2018)
Your Bibliography: Mentalfloss.com. (2018). 42 Facts About Jackie Robinson. [online] Available at: http://mentalfloss.com/article/50059/42-facts-about-jackie-robinson [Accessed 23 Mar. 2018].
African American or Black History is a critical, and often inconvenient, expose of true unbiased American history. A history that does not paint America or Colonial Williamsburg as a bastion of freedom, but as a hypocritical battle zone of ideals falling way short of historical data.
Mistruths, historical spins, and suspicious omissions concerning Williamsburg Black or African American history make it critical to peruse through multiple sources, accounts, and critical thinking from multiple viewpoints. Luckily these resources exist for an accurate depiction of African American History, its role in Williamsburg Virginia and the United States.
Too Big A Task For One Article…Or Even Ten Historical Articles
History is a funny thing, I have often hear that history is written by the victors. By victors, those that got away with murder, lies, deceit, and a host of other things which make them more criminal then historian. Unfortunately they can omit that viewpoint. If you came out on top in history why would you want to sully that with something as inconvenient as the truth. But that is not history…that is marketing or historical marketing.
Here are some good starting points I found that give an unconventional viewpoint of African American history in the Pre-Revolutionary period concerning the plight of African Americans in this country. Here are some really notable finds from History.org. This particular history sight can give you links to some significant viewpoints and historical information to develop an understanding of African American historical data.
Finding Shocking Facts In Unexpected African American History
One section I would key in on is the section on finding slaves in unexpected places. A quick click of this link will quickly give you a new inconvenient perspective on how prevalent slavery was in the entire Colonies including the Northern States, which have often been historically recognized as bastions of freedom. Historical record shows that there were thousands of enslaved African Americans in towns like Boston and Philadelphia. Even more shocking is you find out that Benjamin Franklin was a slave owner. And apparently historical accounts showed that many slave owners had moral reservations about it. I guess truth is stranger than fiction.
Take Up Your Rifle And Fight.. Freedom Optional
Another article link that was well worth the click was that talking about African Americans who fought in the Revolutionary War. Even with a proclamation allowing the enslaved Africans to win freedom by fighting for the Colonial cause, this really wasn’t the case. Many fought for both sides, as slaves, and stayed that way at the end of the war. In 18th Century America, the British believed in the institution of slavery just as their Colonial brethren.
I guess freedom is very selective, even for those who die on the battlefield, winning it for others.
Wiliamsburg African American History Tour
Our most popular tour by far. This is, in many ways, for the reasons we have talked here. In a world where historical re-enactments seem so convincing, how do you know you are getting the whole story. Unfortunately you don’t. Let us be that contrasting viewpoint to a very convincing display of Colonial American history. Make sure that the people, accounts, and period costumes making that seem so convincing, are accurate.
Williamsburg History Tour
We also offer a walk about history tour of Williamsburg Virginia. This is a fantastic journey into the history of this Colonial microcosm of 17th century life around the political birth of our nation.
There is an old saying, history is written by the victors. If you ever read a native American account of what American Thanksgiving is, you will understand what I mean. Thirty or forty years ago it felt like there was little unrest about what seemed like historical norms. Concerning Thanksgiving:
The Indians in Massachusetts had a friendly harvest meal fostered by the Native Americans helping the colonists
This truth has been carved and etched in commercialized American folklore. As I have written before, Peanuts specials, textbooks, documentaries, and countless Thanksgiving feasts have been built upon this quiet truth. A truth that, as we moved into the late 20th Century.. appeared to be be built on total lies, deception, and murder. Everything about it is nothing more than a commercialized fable culminating with a cartoon turkey and a happy pilgrim. In fact just about everything we took as solid red, white, and blue bedrock has turned to crap. Think about it.
I don’t know when it started but at one point in my youth I heard that Columbus Day was a joke. Columbus was a rapist and murderer that perpetuated a genocide that led to scores more in North America and ended with a nation prospering over a bed of injustice. Wait a minute, Columbus was a hero right? He sailed the sea to discover America and blaze a path that led to the great crimson, blue, and white superpower we are today. Columbus day may have been one of those unfruitful minor holidays that only bankers got off but how could a man we awarded with his own day be this evil? Where did we go wrong in our thinking and make such a tragic mistake? How could we not see that Columbus was nothing more than a Nazi sailing the seas to doom the EXISTING residents of North America? And this shock has followed as one historical event or trusted institution comes under scrutiny as a lie. It seems to be one thing after another. Conspiracy movies, Presidential wiretaps, the reality that our country was built on oppression and slavery and the sad reminders of a decimated Native American nation who live in the shadow of an extermination program our country fostered…
Flash forward to 2017
Following a brutal election season, we were reminded that America is not a coherent symbiosis of Freedom. It is not even a melting pot. It is a mess of lies, mistruths and angry minority groups looking to rewrite a new history challenging the heavily propagandized version we were fed. Maybe a better image would be a melting pot full of things that don’t mix. I picture masses of different material boiling over, cackling, and exploding, with deplorables crawling over the side, leaving the confines of what should be a peaceful creation.
From stories of groups, proclaiming life, then assassinating cops on site, to a struggle of whether to partition a border, we are reminded that our history is a fabric of deleted truths and selfish ambition. We are reminded that no choice really sounds good and no piece of history is really clean. I mean were they founding fathers or slave owners? Are we a prosperous nation, or benefactors of slavery?
Back to Thanksgiving
So I am preparing for Thanksgiving in 2017, light years from an elementary school where I made pilgrim and simplified native American costumes to celebrate this happy holiday. I will prepare a traditional meal full of things that weren’t even at the first Thanksgiving. Not little things like the wrong kind of corn, but big things like turkey (yes, there was probably no turkey at the first Thanksgiving). I am thankful for food, shelter, and clothing, but in the back of my mind I am reminded of a Native American population that views Thanksgiving with resentment and anger, watching the descendants of a group of invaders prospering from their genocide. We are a long way from Charlie Brown Thanksgiving specials now. In fact the first Thanksgiving was not even in Massachusetts in 1621, but in Virginia in 1619, celebrated by a group who would later be slaughtered by the original settlers of the land, the Native Americans. My guess is this Native American group did not view the Colonists arrival and future conquest with “Thanksgiving.” This Thanksgiving story would not have a made a good kids special. Can you imagine a cartoon where we show the colonists lying in a pool of blood while the Native Americans celebrated their freedom from the invaders from Europe, followed by a feast with song and dancing.
Think for yourself
So how do you reconcile all this? I wish I had an answer. I will take the high road and say two things:
Get the facts..all the facts
Think for yourself
Look for multiple opinions and versions of history. Study both and think critically. You will have to learn to live in the ambiguity of knowing that human nature didn’t fade away when Columbus stepped foot into the “new world”. History is messy, bloody, unsatisfying, and often cruel. You will have to write your own conclusions and carefully see different viewpoints, not the easy acceptance of what is fed to you by historical marketers.
Get The Truth…From Williamsburg Walking Tours
We present the truth about Colonial America, Via Williamsburg, with a goal of telling the truth, not marketing something that appears to exonerate the deeds of the path. Join us on a tour now and start to think for yourself.
Mention going to the Williamsburg Ghost Walk or Ghost walk tour to anyone and you will get a mixed response. On the one hand it seems unnatural to pay to be scared while walking the cobblestone streets of Colonial Williamsburg. On the other hand, we, as a human species WANT TO KNOW. We have a deep need for truth. And I mean all types of truth. Whether that history is monumental, sad, terrifying, or part of the realm of the unexplained, curiosity can overrule fear, at least for a while.
Colonial Williamsburg Ghost Tour
Which brings us back to the ghost tour. Every year hoards of people come to hear about the unexplained paranormal past(and present) of Colonial Williamsburg. It is unexplained history. Emotional history of restless people and events that apparently, due to many accounts, are occurring around you with some interval of frequency.
And they cause you to feel fear
Some ghost stories are so over the top that most people probably dismiss them as not even in the realm of possibility. Some ghost style experiences are more caricature and drama shock like haunted houses and haunted theme parks like Howl O Scream (which is a ton of fun). But these scare you and you move on. REAL ghost stories of Williamsburg Virginia’s Colonial era send a chill down your spine. They make you think and they stay with you long after the tour is over.
Real People, Real Lives
These ghost stories aren’t about fictional Halloween characters like Dracula or shredded zombie Europeans. These are REAL people who had issues and problems just like you and I face. Many are unresolved conflicts and emotions, spilling into our time from centuries ago. This is another type of history, real history…or at least really distressing history.
You won’t see this kind of honesty about historical ghost hauntings in the Peanuts version of history either…
By Peanuts version of history I mean the marked up marketed and elegantly packaged version of history that we read about. You never see Charlie Brown look at Snoopy in traditional television specials turning to Snoopy and asking about apparitions in the night. This is just not good for public relations. This is a world where normal people live normal lives in a normal timeline. They are happy stories and nothing is bizarre or out of place.
So bite the bullet and register for OUR ghost tour
We promise to give you the real stories, no matter how eerie and unsettling they are.
Our Contact Information For Williamsburg Ghost Tours
Trip Advisor Reviews of Williamsburg Walking Tours
Millions of people go to Trip Advisor to choose the right food, attractions, and places to stay. And there is a reason they do it. That reason is there is no hiding boring attractions, marginal food, or subhuman accommodations from the vigilant hands of people who have tried them. No fancy ad firms, phony slogans, or jingles. If you really have a good place to visit, Trip Advisor reviews will say so.
5 Stars on Trip Advisor
Getting 5 stars on Trip Advisor is the highest rating you can get. So the fact that we have a 5 star rating is incredible. Our very adherence to truth over historical marketing has struck a nerve with visitors who want history, not alternate history if things were as perfect as some would want you to believe.
Williamsburg Walking Tours offers historical, painfully unbiased and truthful, tours of Colonial Williamsburg,. And the popularity of the truth is shocking. People do not want phony history of how great things were that include omissions of horrible truths that occurred. A good tour is about knowing the truth.
This goal of Williamsburg Walking Tours to give you truthful historical tours has proven very popular. And no place is this more evident, than on our Trip Advisor Reviews. We have placed some of these here in the form of screenshots of reviews we pulled from this site.
Please look around Trip Advisor and review our ratings. You will see that the vast majority rated our tours excellent. This includes our Ghost tour, our African History tour, and our General History Tour. All three are designed to take you into the deep visceral details of what really happened here, not what you see on sugar coated promotional campaign.
Everything is dainty bright and nice. Beautiful outfits, gorgeous wooden homes. Everything is in place to show A microcosm of a perfect day in Colonial American life. Granted it’s accurate with the exception of the fact that history is not always so nice, forgiving, or even fair.
Colonial Williamsburg is a shining example of successful colonization by the English colonies in the New World. But it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t the first try either. It was a success in a string of very difficult efforts that ended up in disappointing, even deadly endings.
The Not So Successful Colonization..The Roanoke Colony
To really understand the struggle you have to go back to the Roanoke colony in the 16th century. This was an earlier colonization effort in the New World, in what is now modern day North Carolina. August marks the anniversary of the disappearance of this colony from the face of the Earth. Even today we have no idea what happened to them. The settlers were sent there to set up camp and found themselves in the company of indigenous peoples who were much more experienced with the land. And to the best of our knowledge probably did not see foreign settlers as a positive event when they claimed existing territory for themselves.
Even worse, it is very likely that human nature took over. Human nature in any culture, whether native American or European, can very aggressive. How do we know that the native Americans didn’t view the colony as an opportunity for gain, human capital, and blood sport.
No Dainty Costumes Here…
This is not a pleasant thought about colonization. Even in the modern day lost colony rendition of what happened, there is no deep explanation or speculation given as to what happened to them. And this omission is not because others did not think about what I am saying here. It is very likely that the disappearance was marred by tragedy, brutality, and cruelty.
Based on other experiences with colonization in the 16th century and 17th century it is very likely that one or a combination of regular events stepped in to change the destination of the colony on Roanoke Island.
The people from Europe coming to a new climate very likely encountered germs and disease. These could have had a ravishing affect on people as sickness can spread really fast. It is not unlikely that some or all got infected and died. Disease is a factor that can not be overlooked.
If you look at 5000 years of human history it is marked with 0ne group of people conquering another….everywhere. The need for power, domination and resources has influenced one group to attack another for centuries. In fact it hasn’t stopped. So it’s really possible that local groups who did not see the Roanoke Colony as visitors but invaders were targets of the opportunity to conquer.
Even in a land as big as ours it is possible the resources ran out. The Colonies limited understanding of the new world and it’s land could very well mean that they ran out of ways to get food and water. This usually leads to a migration, which is a common practice when resources diminish.
This refers to the fact that in a hostile environment or a new environment, like the New World,people just fall away by attrition. Maybe a few of the settlers got a disease and died. Maybe a few drank unsafe water and died. Maybe a few of the Colonists went hunting or exploring and did not come back. Some may have had violent conflicts with natives. The simple fact is they could’ve just whittled down to such a small number, that they were just a handful of people foraging for survival. And yes, in that scenario it is possible a handful of them could have joined the native Americans.
This might seem cruel, but when I was a little kid seeing the reenactment of the Roanoke Lost Colony, it did not leave me with an easy feeling. Even though I just witnessed settlers marching off peacefully with the Native Americans, I was not at ease that this was a definite, or even likely possibility. What I felt was an uneasy feeling that maybe that’s not what really happened. I was very young and my parents were not going to allow me to see anything but the Peanuts version of history. I mean can you imagine a little kid watching a bunch of people dying painfully of disease are getting slaughtered by natives or worse. It would definitely be an R-rated experience. Regardless of the very classy way of presenting it, I have never been back. I don’t want to say or think about what really happened to the people, because I intuitively feel like I know what happened to them.
Marketing Not History
This is where history gets funny. Mankind starts writing history to fix what he wants us to understand and believe, not what actually happened. I called this fantasy theory and it’s something that we do not do have on our tours because that is not what history is. Making things the way you want them to be, or to pacify feelings of guilt, disgust, or longing, is historical marketing. History is truth. History is messy. History is uncooperative.
The fantasy theory that we all want to believe is that the natives married some of the settlers, and they went off to live with them by choice. From there they must have lived happily ever after.
A Galaxy Far Far Away
I am going to put it in perspective with a hypothetical. Let’s say we colonize a planet that we’ve discovered has life or consistent life. Say you left and came back a year or two later and they’re all gone. Would you assume they just wanted off happily ever after with the local people?
Could you consider the possibility that what they thought life was going to be like on this planet was not the way it actually was And there were some new challenges they were not ready for?
Now let’s put a different perspective on it. Let’s just say in America, in your small coastal town, a group of people just show up. They came off a boat and you did not invite them. Then they set up camp. First they don’t look or talk like the locals. So you send an envoy to them to try and see who they are. As a prudent person you know that you have to at least protect yourself so you make preparations of defense. You and your local group and city meet to talk about who these people are. You notice that they’re using your water resources. They need part of your food. And they’re wandering your lands. Even people who are part of your community aren’t allowed to wander other people’s land without permission. So why would you tolerate this from a group that you see as trespassing.
Do you view these people as friends? Do you see them as squatters, invaders, or do you just accept you must share your land and resources with strangers? Maybe a better question is why would you even entertain the possibility that they have any claim to your land at all?
If you continue this scenario you’ll quickly get to the conclusion that unless these people submit to you and follow your rules they don’t belong in your community. Of course, what happens when they claim your community for themselves and do not want to leave. Maybe you let them stay. Maybe you tolerate them. Maybe you remove them, albeit violently.
The point I am making is you do not see the harsh sacrifice that led to a successful colony like Colonial Williamsburg It is more than just a beautiful microcosm of successful colonial life and colonization. It is the byproduct of sacrifice by many people to get to this point. Human arrogance, naïveté, and just bad judgment cost lives and energy to reach this point. In fact other Colonization efforts would fail en route this success.
Real history encompasses the good and the bad. It encompasses the daily struggle, the risk, and mistakes of mankind to get to a positive outcome. When you look at the Roanoke colony you see that it wasn’t always a Peanuts Christmas but a struggle that we should be grateful they undertook.
Come learn history the real way. Enjoy your real tour of Williamsburg. This is not a PR tour or a marketing propagandized version of what they what someone wants us to say. This is truth..this is real history.
It was a document that would change history. In an era of Monarchs and landed gentry the idea of freedom for all was probably like going to the moon. People do not surrender power easily and a troubled King 3000 miles away would no doubt view the document as rebellious and ridiculous. Without any thought to the possibility, King George, or any pontiff of the day, would quickly dismiss the Declaration as hogwash by a group slated to be crushed by an imperial army. So why do it?
Why The Declaration?
I have read the reason for writing it was as a response to the King’s decree that the founding fathers were traitors. Not that the document would change the mind of anyone, but it does at least serve as a voice from the founders as to why they were rebelling. This is logical since the King never gave a voice to the colonies. This bone of contention continues to be promulgated in this document. Now that all protocol was off the table, there was no reason to hold back on their feelings towards the King. The declaration was the closest thing the future leaders of our nation would have to confront the king with their complaints. It also reaffirms that they were justified in their actions.
In June 1776 a five man team was assembled to draft what would be the Declaration of Independence. The beginning of a new type of thinking was starting. An idea of a nation not under Colonial rule, and not under control of one man, was struggling to emerge. Led by Thomas Jefferson the writers of the Declaration of Independence, would help usher in a new era where common people would have a say in government, not just the elites.
Another oddity of the Declaration of the Independence that many may overlook, is that it was not sent at the beginning of the war. War had been going on in the colonies for a year at this point. War was on and the will of our future nation was pitted against the mightiest empire in the World.
It may seem silly but self expression was a big issue by the Founders with the King. Having no voice fuels a certain type of rage. This rage poured out in the form of armed rebellion. The Declaration serves as a written record of our justification, that they were right to leave English rule. It affirms that the cause was just. It creates a record of why it was done for future generations.
War, would of course determine if this new American idea would be allowed to flourish. Without victory, our American Revolution would be nothing more than a footnote in British history of a rebellious colony and their insurrection. But our Declaration was backed by victory. Our will was stronger than the British. Not just did we declare independence, but we had enough resolve to become a nation.
Of all the topics looking at daily life in Williamsburg, courtship and dating don’t jump out as particularly engaging topics. Yes, all cultures have courtship or dating rituals. This being the month of Valentines Day I felt it appropriate to at least try and promulgate the way this aspect of socialization and life was for the English settler and colonist in Williamsburg, Virginia.
But from the outset I had trepidation about doing it. Not because I am afraid I will discover stories that are too torrid for The Williamsburg Walking Tour blog, but fear that the subject may be too stoic and boring. In fact, when I look at the fashions of the 18th century, I am not exactly seeing the club scene.
Corsets, firm religious values, head to toe clothing, manual labor, and the rigors of modern life do not immediately lead me to believe that eros love was really on the mind of the colonist in York County or Williamsburg. But this is not totally true. As always things are not historically the way we think they should be, but follow a different somewhat less predictable route.
Survival First: Love & Life in the Jamestown Settlement
“Love” in the colonies does start out that way. In fact some of the sources I found portrayed life in the Jamestown Settlement to be focused on word “survival”. Not a lot of courting when life is a daily struggle to eat and survive. Thus, marriage was as much about keeping the population going as satisfying the need to be together. But as time went on this started to change.
Valentine’s Day In The Colonies: Fact or Fiction
The historical record of Jamestown did not surprise me, but what did was the role of Valentine’s Day in the 18th Century. I was almost sure that Valentine’s Day was a commercialized rip off of the exploits of the valiant St. Valentine, who was killed because he married people when marriage was outlawed. I just assumed the holiday was puffed up in the 1920s,1940s, or 1950s into the card and candy creation we celebrate today. I was certain that stoic Williamsburg Settlers had no interest in a fluff holiday like Valentine’s Day. But again, this was not so…
The Colonists Did Do SOME of the things we do today as part of the Valentine’s holiday shindig. According to an article I saw on the History Channel website here are some unexpected facts about the Valentine’s traditions in America.
Colonists did exchange handwritten notes expressing love and feelings
Americans started exchanging them as early as 1700s
Members of all social classes did this
What? Weren’t arranged marriages the way of the world in these times. There is no sending Valentines when you are betrothed to a partner you haven’t even seen until the day you walked down the aisle. But as I researched further I found a statistic which kind of summed up how arranged marriages did not affect every Colonist, or even a majority. In fact this statistic kind of shocks me. It stated:
“30 to 40 percent of American brides were pregnant at their weddings.”
This has be a misprint, but it is not. Apparently love finds a way, even in an era of arranged marriages. In fact I would call this the age of musket weddings(instead of shotgun weddings) since I cannot see any Dad, in ANY era, not pressuring the beau to walk down aisle with his paramour when his grandchild is in utero.
And as I thought about it I am not as surprised as I was at first. I mean we are a rebellious unruly people. We rebelled against a King and the most powerful empire of the day over taxes and our right to be represented. If we would do that, rebelling against Dad and Mom about who you are going to date is probably not that big a deal.
And as I continued to research (I am not even going to touch Bundling bags), there is more and more evidence of a dating independence starting as the Colonies expanded in a new world with no caste and completely malleable social order. I guess this is just another case where we as Americans do things our way. And by our way we follow our passions, on the battlefield, in the state houses, and…the bedroom.
Cooper, R. (2013) 5 courtship rituals from colonial America. Available at: http://theweek.com/articles/462497/5-courtship-rituals-from-colonial-america (Accessed: 1 February 2017).
History.com (2009) ‘History of Valentine’s day’, history.com, .
Citations, Quotes & Annotations
Cooper, R. (2013) 5 courtship rituals from colonial America. Available at: http://theweek.com/articles/462497/5-courtship-rituals-from-colonial-america (Accessed: 1 February 2017).
“30 to 40 percent of American brides were pregnant at their weddings.” (Cooper, 2013)
Note: from article about out of wed lock marriage
History.com (2009) ‘History of Valentine’s day’, history.com, .
Think of Summer time in Colonial Williamsburg and you get visions of kids going to the exhibits, incredible weather, theme parks, and days of endless fun that go deep into the warm evenings. That is the vision many have of summer in this Colonial town. Now Think of Winter time in Colonial Williamsburg.
Not sure what came to your mind but I know I get pictures of snowfall, stoic red brick buildings, a cold quiet somber place, still beautiful but in a different way. Pleasant and happy do not come to mind. There is a reason. Winter often means tough weather and is a challenge to deal with it’s often harsh punishing effects.
The Harsh Colonial Winter
Winter, as a season, a condition, and a challenge have indelibly helped shaped history, even in this urban remnant of our Revolutionary period known as Williamsburg. Thus, I thought it deserved mention as part of history, if nothing more than as a grinding wheel that has challenged our settlers from the minute they experienced their first harsh North American Winter.
I saw a great article on History.org and it became clear that Winter has shaped or helped influence events from the time of the founders onward. Here are some of the interesting facts I pulled about the specter of Winter in Colonial Williamsburg and America. Here they are:
The founding fathers, like Jefferson and Washington, mention their many dealings with the cold hard Virginia Winters in various memoirs and documents of the period
Brutal winters almost ended the Colonization of America in the vicious winter of 1609-1610 in Jamestown in which the settlers were starving, and dying, at a rapid pace
Winter almost wiped out the Pilgrims up North in the Winter of 1620-1621 as they were woefully unprepared with enough food, and knowledge to survive.
Winter, among other elements, shaped the architecture of the day as homes needed to be wood or brick dwellings with a robust centralized stove to heat the edifice. The original huts were just not practical to survival(and kind of depressing).
Not to unlike life in Europe, the shadow of an oncoming winter shaped the preparations of clothing,food, and firewood through the warmer months to survive the cold ones. In fact, this was the pattern of daily life for most since life cannot continue unless certain preparations are made to sustain life at freezing temperatures and brutal weather.
Winter Has Shaped Human History
Winter, even in modern times, has shaped human history. Wars, armies, habits and technology all conform to the will of cold air, ice, and snow. In Colonial Williamsburg, and the rest of Colonial America, it commanded respect and shaped the lives of our Nation as the Founders struggled to develop permanency in this new land.
Want To Find Out More?
Take one of our Williamsburg Walking Tours for a deep uncensored look into real Colonial History. From slavery to hauntings, we do not hold back or create a fictional view of the American experience.
McGrath, J. (2015) Scrub up like a mars-bound astronaut with this water-recycling shower. Available at: http://www.digitaltrends.com/home/the-shower-of-the-future-uses-90-percent-less-water/ (Accessed: 6 January 2017).
Citations, Quotes & Annotations
McGrath, J. (2015) Scrub up like a mars-bound astronaut with this water-recycling shower. Available at: http://www.digitaltrends.com/home/the-shower-of-the-future-uses-90-percent-less-water/ (Accessed: 6 January 2017).
Chestnuts roasting against a hearth in the Colonial Williamsburg atmosphere. Trees, with the smell of fresh pine, adorned with handcrafted ornaments to guests visiting the lively town that once housed founders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as they fought to hammer out a new nation. Christmas carolers singing together in the cool December Virginia air. All this paints a beautiful picture of a Colonial Christmas Tradition we enjoy, both as a caricature of the pristine upstanding colonists, and as a testament to holiday traditions that have carried on into our homes in the modern era.
But there is a problem.
This wasn’t the way Colonials celebrated the holiday season. In fact it was a vastly different experience and atmosphere for them then the the hypercharged traditions of decorations, music, food, and customs. Here are some Colonial America Christmas facts you may not have known:
Colonial Christmas In Williamsburg
Christmas was a holiday for adults
Christmas was centered around the adults and not the children in Colonial America. The traditions of Christmas being for children came from non English European influences in the decades after Colonial America.
Christmas Trees were not the main symbol of the holiday season
The Christmas tree, more of a pagan or Germanic ritual, did not emerge as a staple of the holiday season until later.
Decorations Were Austere
Yes, the Colonists had decorations during the modern Yule Tide Season. But
they were centered around natural materials of the day, which found themselves in things like the hanging of the Mistletoe and homemade wreaths. Things like ivy, holly, and berries were some of the things used to adorn these simple displays.
New England Colonists Did not Celebrate Christmas
What? New England, the home of the picturesque Thanksgiving feast with joy, peace, and gratitude between the English and Wampanoag Natives did not celebrate Christmas. It was viewed as a Pagan holiday. There were religious traditions but the marriage of Christianity to a hyper commercialized secular pagan ritual was foreign to the early English settlers.
(Oh and by the way what you know about the first Thanksgiving is also wrong, read about it here)
Santa Claus, the jolly caricature of holiday magic and joy, was foreign to the Williamsburg colonists. It would be awhile before he became the centerpiece to happy children waiting for him to bring him presents.
So What Changed?
A lot of different theories here, each with their own merits. The biggest reason is the company expanded and begin to fill with people of other cultures who did celebrate a much different Christmas than the stoic English settlers. Just like our food, our holiday customs begin to incorporate ideas from other cultures, usually migrating from an ocean or more away.
What Really Happened in Williamsburg during…
So what else is different. Well American history is often abridged and reshaped to fit someone’s specific world view of what they WANT things to be. It is not always the accurate truth.
Williamsburg Walking Tours explores the real Williamsburg and Colonial America through different guided offerings, bringing insight to any Americans who partake in it.
Are you ready to take your Williamsburg historical Thanksgiving quiz?
Which one of these two statements is historically true?
The pilgrims in Massachusetts and the Wampanoag Indians came together for the first Thanksgiving.
The Virginia settlers got together at the Berkeley plantation, in Williamsburg in early December, to commemorate their arrival in the New World with a ceremony that was the first American Thanksgiving, years before the Pilgrims had what many consider the first Thanksgiving.
If you’re a believer in the first one I have a shock for you. The right answer is number #2, first Thanksgiving was in Williamsburg Virginia
For some of you I’m guessing there’s a little bit of shock associated with that statement. Maybe even denial. I mean this is the stuff of fairytales in American historical folklore. Everything from the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special ,to about 1 billion different items with orange brown and red turkeys on them, attest to the American Thanksgiving being in Massachusetts with the Pilgrims. Just the possibility of this could nullify decades of macaroni turkey art, Pilgrim costumes, and elementary school plays re enacting these events. And on top of that, no one wants to think they are living a lie.
Even the history channel has gone into the actual historical account of the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrims from England, telling the story of how they barely survived on what they had, coming together for the first Thanksgiving in the building of this new grand free world…in the North.
But the evidence against the Pilgrim Thanksgiving is both extensive and authoritative. I pulled some information from a Washingtonian article. Here are some of the indisputable facts:
The Berkeley company gave a written mandate to the Virginia Settlers that their arrival day be celebrated as a day of Thanksgiving in 1619, two years before the Pilgrim Thanksgiving.
Retired William and Mary President D Lyon Tyler found documented written records about this first Thanksgiving that were originally published in New York in the late 1800s.
President Kennedy had Arthur Schlesinger send a telegram to Virginia State Senator John Wicker claiming it was true in 1962.
President George W. Bush also publicly acknowledged this fact.
But I don’t see the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special being banned or pulled from television. My children have no clue of this new revelation. And while there are people who have celebrated this American History Alternative Festival for decades, most Americans are not going to abandon this tradition of a Pilgrim Thanksgiving.
Is a Williamsburg Virginia Thanksgiving really worth considering?
American history is filled with accounts of at least two versions. One version of American history seems to be a homogenized ultra kind cartoon style version where we are always right and no “real” harm is done to anyone. It kind of leaves you with that feeling for those who weren’t allowed to celebrate at either Thanksgiving, or be free, really did not have it all that bad.
The Williamsburg version comes from the tradition of alternate history..
This version attests that the facts aren’t that accurate and America was really not that nice. I mean, younger people must have always been suspicious that the Pilgrims feasted with a Native American group, but future settlers would turn on the Native American groups that helped the first settlers to survive. Definitely not a great historical example of gratitude. And rather than hide this fact, the country does not deny this incredible contribution by Native Americans or the brutal treatment of them in the decades after the First Thanksgiving.
Stuck Between A (Plymouth) Rock And A Hard Place Named Williamsburg
We sit in an ambiguous situation. We still hold to the Pilgrim Thanksgiving myth but know that there was another earlier Thanksgiving in Williamsburg. Maybe it is foreshadowing of the competitive conflict that would emerge between Northern and Southern Americans as time went on, going from small Colonial roots, to a nation divided on Southern and Northern cultural lines in the 1860s, each vying to create an America based on what they wanted.
But why not have both versions?
Why can’t we just celebrate both. Why not have the original Thanksgiving and maybe a Thanksgiving Harvest Festival Meal on the date of the historical first Williamsburg Thanksgiving. Even better yet why not just give both colonies credit and write a history where both colonies quickly came to a tradition of a feast of gratitude in the hostile new world. A few years difference is not that big a deal. In fact, it would be great to reconcile both groups of colonists, though different and in opposite locations, which would form an America we live in today. An America where we need to accept the differences and historical mistakes that haunt our past.
I think in general we need to revisit the past and make sure our accounts are accurate. Maybe even commission a second Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special where the Peanuts gang learns of the true first Thanksgiving and comes to accept it. Maybe they could call it ‘there are 2 versions of Thanksgiving Charlie Brown.”Not sure if there are any takers for that idea but..
Happy Thanksgiving (whichever version you celebrate)
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