Book Review: Link to the Past, Bridge to the Future by John P. Hunter (Four Stars)

Book Review: Link to the Past, Bridge to the Future: Colonial Williamsburg’s Animals by John P. Hunter

Four Stars

An enjoyable, lavishly-illustrated report on the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s ongoing effort to identify and preserve history animal breeds typical of the Colonial experience.

A good overview of efforts to date with a short narrative of the history of that animal type in colonial America and how the breed selected came to represent that species.

A fine memento of a visit to Colonial Williamsburg. Coffee table book for those who still have coffee tables.

Drama Review: Lafayette in Two Worlds (Four Stars)

08lafayette2Drama Review: Lafayette in Two Worlds

Four Stars

“The easy part was winning the war. More difficult to get these thirteen states to get along and plan for the future,” Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette quoting George Washington.

Colonial Williamsburg has discovered a winning formula with these “conversations” with historical characters. In this case, we are guests at a “town hall” meeting in Paris in 1802 to hear the Marquis’ perspective on the revolutions in America and France.

Lafayette, as presented by Mark Snyder, is well-informed and passionate about the cause of liberty, equality and fraternity. He enjoyed an insider’s view of both the American and the French Revolutions. His personal relationship with Louis XVI, George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte give him rare insights. Guess which told him, “Never disobey me again?”08lafayette

If one may criticize, as presented, the Marquis’s noble French accent is daunting to lazy American ears. Likewise, the rapid pace of his presentation often outstripped the comprehension of the audience. He recalled facts, names and dates instantly.

Especially poignant is the tale of Lafayette’s attempts to secure the freedom of black American James Armistead, who spied on Cornwallis during the Yorktown campaign by the simple expedient of being his every present, but ignored valet.

It’s a shame these presentations are uniformly scheduled at 1:15 PM (with different characters recurring on “their” day) because that renders them inaccessible to all but vacationers and retirees.

Some presentations curtail with the end of the tourist season, but new programs are in work. Look for Lafayette on the Rights of Man in September. Check Colonial Williamsburg’s website, which unfortunately is not structured for easy searching of these conversations.


Drama Review: Becoming Mrs. Washington (Four Stars)


Drama Review: Becoming Mrs. Washington

Four Stars

Wednesdays at 1:15 PM Hennage Auditorium (museum admission required), Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

“I wasn’t raised to run a plantation, I was raised to be a domestic goddess.”

Among our favorite interpretative dramas at Colonial Williamsburg is this representation of Martha Dandridge Custis upon her arrival at Mount Vernon in 1759, just after her marriage to colonial Colonel George Washington.29martha1

Not some dry, academic lecture, this reflection makes Martha’s youth and history come alive. She reveals both the status of women in eighteenth century society and how she came to become the wealthiest widow in Virginia.

While this presentation purports to take place elsewhere, it reflects on Martha’s New Kent county youth and her family’s home in Williamsburg, next door to the site of the hospital through which guests enter the art museums.

Worth an hour out of your visit to CW. A welcome chance to sit and cool off from our warm, muggy Virginia summer.

Drama Review: Educating Thomas Jefferson: Philosophy, Law, and the Enlightened Mind (Five Stars)

29olderDrama Review: Educating Thomas Jefferson: Philosophy, Law, and the Enlightened Mind

Five Stars

Based on public and private writings of George Wythe and Thomas Jefferson, this presentation explores ideas in governing one’s life and one’s country. Colonial Williamsburg (CW) re-enactors pack a lot of information and entertainment into an hour. The program displayed the brilliance and the blindness of the Enlightenment and how it contributed both to the American Revolution and to today.

The presentation posits two meetings between Thomas Jefferson and his teacher and mentor (and fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence) George Wythe. The first days before Wythe’s death when Jefferson was president; the second one thirty years earlier when Jefferson is governor of Virginia. Laden with historic and personal quotes and epigrams, it’s almost too much to take in. Education made real and fun.

Wythe is under lauded in current history and unknown outside it. He, as much as Benjamin Franklin, was the philosophic father of Independence and the early republic. He taught law to Jefferson, Madison, Munroe, John Marshall and later Henry Clay. He was the first professor of the first law school on the continent and practically invented American jurisprudence.29younger

Worth not just an hour, but a trip to Williamsburg. (Admission to CW required.) But that’s not all. This is just one of a dozen offerings each week by CW in the Hennage Auditorium ranging from debates between Jefferson and Patrick Henry to solo presentations by free blacks in Williamsburg to the thoughts of Martha Dandridge Custis as she becomes Mrs. George Washington. All well done and worthwhile.

29marthaAnd, I’m sorry to say, all under promoted by Colonial Williamsburg. It’s difficult for someone who doesn’t already know about this series to find them, even on the CW website. It’s a shame because CW and the re-enactors obviously put a lot of effort into the series. And CW is not supported by a cent of tax money; they have to earn the utilities, wages, construction and other expenses.

I have been visiting Colonial Williamsburg for over fifty years. I loved it the first time; I love it more today. It gets better and better. And, for many Virginians, it’s a short drive and the small expense of an annual pass away.

Check it out.

(I have been remiss in not reviewing earlier presentations. I will try to correct my omissions.)

Firing a Flintlock at Colonial Williamsburg


(not flintlock firing program participants)

Want and need seldom coalesce as conveniently and enjoyably as they did March 30, 2016. In the process of writing a Revolutionary War novel, I had questions about the process and feel of firing a flintlock musket of that period. Such an experience is not readily available.


The range, safely away from populated areas

By happy coincidence Colonial Williamsburg, about an hour from where I live, recently inaugurated a flintlock firing program. I inquired and found the requirements simple and suitable. So, while my wife photographed the sheep, flowers and people in Colonial Williamsburg’s historic area, three other gentlemen and I were transported to the new black powder firing range.

Williamsburg’s program is convenient, safe and well-presented. Each two shooters are paired with an instructor, while the remaining costumed attendant acts as range safety officer. State-of-the-art noise reduction Continue reading