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A Walking History

February 26th, 2020 Posted by History, tours, Trish Thomas No Comment yet

Trish Thomas posing with a history book

From her earliest memories of grade school, Trish Thomas has always loved history. “I was the strange child who read every biography,” she says. She grew up in Virginia Beach and embraced the history of the area. She followed her passion by majoring in history and cultural anthropology at Old Dominion University.

She met her husband, David, also a history buff, in a yoga class. While Trish worked at a variety of jobs including working for Barnes & Noble, she enjoyed working in museums and historic sites the most. As their children, Emily and Ben, grew up the family participated in Revolutionary War re-enactments as a hobby. Later, Ben also became a Civil War re-enactor. Once, Trish saw him standing asleep on a Civil War battlefield. “That was very authentic,” she says. “Conditions were so harsh that soldiers often slept standing up.” Ben, now 26, works as an electrician.

Emily played fiddles and the hammered dulcimer. She is now 28 and works as a costume designer, a skill she learned from Trish. “We took ballet from the same instructor. A Russian ballet costumer taught me how to make cosBy Susan Williamson tumes, and I shared with my daughter,” Trish says. “Emily makes mostly anime costumes.” For ten years, Trish worked at historic houses in Virginia Beach. An older woman at one of the houses encouraged her to learn to “dress” flax, the process by which one readies flax for the spinner, so that the art would continue. The steps involved are to ret it, break it, skutch it and hackle it.

“In the 18th century, a young girl would be expected to pull ten pounds of flax per day which would make enough linen for a man’s shirt. Linen was a poor man’s fabric; the rich wore wool and cotton. The flax is planted at the first of March. When the seed pods turn down, or after 100 days for really fine linen, the stalks are pulled. The retting process, which separates out the fiber, takes up to a week.”

Trish processes her flax in a horse trough and changes the water every 48 hours. The flax is then dried before breaking it, skutching it and finally combing it with a hackle. By the end of July, the hair-like fiber is ready for the spinning wheel. Trish has tried spinning linen in and says it requires moist fingers. Once spun, the linen yarn is ready for the loom.

In today’s world flax is either grown for seed or fiber, but usually not both, since the stalk is very woody by the time the seed is fully formed. Commercial flax is harvested by machine. Nebraska is one of the leading producers. The plant blooms briefly before forming seed pods and Trish speaks of the beauty of a flax field in bloom with its blue flowers. Flax fields in bloom

Trish often demonstrated the dressing process at historic houses. An audience of older Romanian women at Polar Forest remembered dressing flax in their youth. As a result, Trish was interviewed for a Romanian magazine, although she has never seen the article. Trish worked at the Old Coast Guard Station in Virginia Beach, First Landing State Park and the Chrysler Museum and often gave presentations at small museums.

In 2011, Trish and David moved to Williamsburg and decided to start their own historic tour company, Williamsburg Walking Tours, which opened in 2012. Trish says, “I wanted to portray history accurately, and tell stories about the good and the bad.”

They currently offer three tours: Walkabout History, which covers 1699 through the restoration of Williamsburg; Civil War Tours; and African American History in Williamsburg, 1619 through Reconstruction. The Williamsburg Walkabout tour becomes Williamsburg Door-to-Door Christmas for the month of December. The one and a half hour tours are available 12 months a year. As Trish shares her stories, she admits that the tours sometimes go overtime. Her enthusiasm and wealth of knowledge bubbles out as she speaks.

Among Trish’s favorite clients are the students from the Virginia Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired School in Richmond. Local Lion’s Club member Jack Trotter, along with other local Lions come to assist this tour each year. “Many of the students are just learning to use their sticks and the terrain mix of grass, pavement and cobblestones can be overwhelming,” Trish says. Trish and David were honored to be invited to graduation ceremonies at the school.

Their company also takes PowerPoint presentations of their tours on the road and frequently present customized programs to family reunions of families with history connected to the area. “Often, elderly members are not able to walk very far, so we bring the tour to them,” Trish says. “We research connections to their family or to a particular state or location.”

Trish and David added the Civil War tour after she read the book, Defend This Old Town by Carol Kenttenburg Dobbs. “During the Civil War, Williamsburg was full of amazing single women. Their everyday stories are both funny and tragic.” Williamsburg was a closed city and considered a safe place, but food was scarce and many of the formerly prominent families became insolvent.

Trish says, “A visitor in 1870 noted that many houses had been torn down for kindling, firewood and bricks. Those who left their homes lost them. Union soldiers took what they wanted.”

Today, Trish notes, Colonial Williamsburg continues to evolve from its beginnings. “One of the things I like is that Colonial Williamsburg will change things as new historical records are unearthed.” She says some people like to take a tour before buying a ticket to Colonial Williamsburg, while others tour after visiting the historic buildings, summarizing the importance of what they have seen.

Trish says Williamsburg before Rockefeller was a pleasant 20th century town, as can be seen in the Harvard Archives film, shot in 1930. In 2014, a Colonial Williamsburg photographer videoed the same route. The two films can be seen side-by-side in the video, Williamsburg Then and Now which is available on YouTube. Local reaction to the restoration was mixed and Rockefeller was, after all, a Yankee. But as some local women were quoted, “Yes, but he’s our Yankee.”

By using stories such as this, Trish and David augment the mission of Colonial Williamsburg and the sharing of subsequent history. Trish is a lifelong learner and continues to research local history through letters, papers and journals, always looking for more stories. She is fascinated with the people of the area and stories of how they lived and she is equally interested in the people who join the tours. “My favorite part,” she says, “is that by the end of the tour, I have always learned something new.”

For Trish Thomas, lifelong learning about history is a passion. Today, she and David use their knowledge and enthusiasm to make history come alive for others.


Article written by Susan Williamson January 2020 edition of The Williamsburg Next Door Neighbor publication.

African American History Tour In Williamsburg

Virginia African American History: The Short, Sad History Of Lord Dunmore’s Royal Ethiopian Regiment

November 1st, 2019 Posted by African American History, Black History, tours No Comment yet

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.”

african amercian history and the revolutionary warThe 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 african american soldiers in the revolutionary warRegiment

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 History Tour

Williamsburg Walking Tours Hosts Blind Students From The Virginia Department Of The Blind And Visually Impaired

July 30th, 2019 Posted by African American History, African American History, Battle of Williamsburg, battle of williamsburg tour, black history, tours, trip advisor reviews, williamsburg, Williamsburg, williamsburg va civil war tour No Comment yet

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

williamsburg tour guide

Trish Thomas

Thomas entertained the group with little-known facts about Williamsburg drawn from the company’s repertoire of stories from its tours which include:

Thank You To The James City Lions!

On an extremely hot day, the James City Lions graciously provided water and guide assistance for this remarkable tour. Private tours and customized on-site presentations are available for family, civic and other groups visiting Williamsburg.

Schedule A Tour

Call 757-634-2452, visit TripAdvisor to see reviews, or go to our Williamsburg tours page for more information.




African American Historical Photo

Remembering African American History In June: The 54th Massachusetts Infantry

June 5th, 2018 Posted by 54th Massachussettes, African American History, African American History, Black History, black history, jackie robinson, williamsburg No Comment yet

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.

williamsburg on site history lectures and tours

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

African American Historical Photo

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…

Williamsburg black history

African American History Tour Of Williamsburg

Come learn about this struggle in Colonial Williamsburg and America on our African American History Tour.

Other African American History Articles

Jackie Robinson

Williamsburg Black History




haunted williamsburg tour

Williamsburg Ghost Walk

October 11th, 2017 Posted by tours, williamsburg No Comment yet

creepy williamsburgMention 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.

haunted williamsburg tourAnd 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

Contact Phone Number: 757-634-2452

Contact Form 

Our Service Area

trip advisor reviews tours williamsburg

Trip Advisor Tour Reviews

September 12th, 2017 Posted by Christmas, thanksgiving, tours, traditions, trip advisor reviews, williamsburg No Comment yet

trip advisor reviews tours williamsburg 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 heretrip advisor tour reviews 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.

Links to Trip Advisor review page