Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Everyone Has An Opinion

Saturday October 5, 2013
Williamsburg, Virginia

When we last left the 18th century we had been visiting the capitol building.  But the chocolate had whetted our appetites so I’ve gone looking for a picnic spot and David’s gone to get the lunch

Just across the side lane from the capitol is the Secretary’s Office.  

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Officials decided to build the Secretary’s Office in which to protect the public papers of the Virginia Colony after a fire destroyed the first Capitol Building in 1747.  Completed in 1748, the building was designed to be fireproof.  The building also contained an office for the secretary of the colony.   I’m wondering what in the world is in there now so I step inside for just a minute.   Or so I think………….

The man sitting on the floor is the tentmaker.
Wonder what happened to the Secretary?  Well this is a surprise.  The tentmaker working on the tents for Washington’s army.  I have never thought before about what the army slept in or who made it.

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I watch him work for a while and ask a few questions.  He has been working on a tent but has set it aside (on the lower left of this picture).   At the moment he is working on the bed frame cover for a bed that comes apart for travel and will be in one of the tents.  It is similar to one made for General Washington.  He also tells me that from New Hampshire to Georgia local officials and merchants organized tent production during the early days of the war.  Tailors, sail makers, upholsterers and other trades people turned thousands of yards of linen and hemp fabric into tents of all sizes.   Between October and December of 1775 Williamsburg tailors turned out over 350 wedge tents. WOW!  All made by hand.
In the next room there is a 1/6 scale model of George Washington’s marquee tent.  Two upright poles and a ridgepole support the tent ceiling as the ropes pull the canvas out to the side.  The outer walls or “curtains” are then hung from hooks and eyes behind the scalloped valance.  An inner tent chamber provides additional privacy and insulation from the elements.  Member’s of the General’s Life guard are responsible for pitching the tent and setting up his headquarters.

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Obviously this is the largest of the tents erected in camp.  The soldiers of the army are organized into ‘messes’ of 6 to 8 enlisted men who cook and eat together, sharing a single wedge shaped tent.  Lower ranked commissioned officers share larger tents, while the commanding officer of the regiment and higher ranking generals lived in even larger tents known as marquees like the model of Washington’s above.   

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I learn here that the canvas roof and wall of Washington’s sleeping and office tent – the marquee that is called “the first Oval Office” was acquired by the Rev W. Herbert Burk from Mary Custis Lee, daughter of Robert E and Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee in 1909.    The Museum of the American Revolution which will soon be built near Independence Hall in Philadelphia will display this original tent in a specially designed exhibit theater.  The museum is partnering with Colonial Williamsburg to create a functional replica of the first Oval Office in order to help visitors experience in three dimensions General Washington’s home during the War of American Independence.  I’d like to see that. The tentmaker is currently working on part of that construction.

Now about that picnic lunch spot.

I leave the tent maker and step outside where a throng is gathering in front of the capitol.  Should I keep going or see what’s happening here.  I opt for seeing.  Hope David can find me.

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It seems the people of Williamsburg have gathered to hear the Declaration of Independence.  It has newly arrived in the capitol city only weeks after Virginia’s representatives adopted their own Declaration of Rights and a Constitution for the new state.

There seem to be differences of opinion on a number of issues. 

These two are arguing about the very idea of separation from the mother country.  Work it out the man in blue keeps saying.  We’ve tried says the man in black.

Behind them are two people looking in through the palace gate at the gentlemen reading the Declaration aloud from the balcony.
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ALL men are created equal she exclaims. 
That means you too.  Doesn’t that mean freedom?  Not a chance he says.  We won’t ever be free.  They need us for the work.  But ALL men she replies, they will have to do it, ALL men.   And on it goes.

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On the other side are two women discussing the question of all MEN are created equal.   The older woman is quite concerned about this rash step of independence and thinks the women must stay out of it for they have no business in politics.  They must leave these difficult questions to the men.
The younger woman is very irritated and reminds the older more cautious woman of the letter sent by Abigail Adams to her husband John at the Continental Congress
 “in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation."

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The Royalist becomes very heated during the discussions.
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The older woman very frightened
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The younger woman very determined
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The slave couple very confused and worried.
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As I watch and listen, it all seems very contemporary.

There is historic evidence for all of these concerns at the time of the Declaration and in many ways these issues are the ones still with us today.   How entangled should we be with foreign governments and affairs,  How EQUAL are all men.  Are women yet equal to men in their rights?   It feels very contemporary listening to these words and the concerns of the Citizens of Williamsburg.  I suspect these folks might feel that way too.

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Slowly we all file away from the Capitol and off to our own affairs. 

A small fife and drum reaches the capitol on their way to the military encampment on Nicolson Street.  For lack of any better place to go I follow along behind thinking about what I have just seen.  And wondering where I would have been in that lifetime.

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I walk on by the encampment and down Nicholson Street to the  cabinetmakers.  He has a lovely bench down by the stream and this looks  like a fine picnic spot to me.

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The stream actually flows under the building which is very neat.
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Out on Nicholson, life goes on.  David arrives, we have our lunch, I tell him what I’ve seen, he’s sorry to have missed it.  Next time I’d better go for the lunch.

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After lunch we walk back up to Duke of Gloucester Street to get some pictures of the Raleigh Tavern. 

I love the bust of Sir Walter over the door.  Why is it men in this day don’t look as dashing in that mustache and beard??

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This is the same spot where yesterday the young family was torn apart by the war and the recession around it.

While I am taking my picture, two people come up apparently to take a room at the inn.  But the husband, Thomas Wall,  cautions his wife Sophie that the room is in exchange for his lecture so it may not be the best room in the house.  She was  under the impression they were here for a respite.

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In 1774, the Continental Congress passed a resolution that strongly discouraged many activities that were deemed too frivolous (or perhaps, too British) on the eve of revolution, one of which was theater.  With the banning of theaters, actors had fallen on hard times.  
Wall and his wife found work performing in British Military theatricals during the war and so they traveled with the British army and were subsequently captured and accused of being traitors.

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We are invited in to hear the lecture of the suspected traitor, Thomas Wall,  who tells us his first loyalty is to his family and his second to his country.  He could not let his family starve after the shut down of all the theaters.  He had little choice but is not a traitor by any means.

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When the British and Hessians were captured and sent to Barracks in Charlottesville the Walls were sent with them.  Two of their children died there.   This sad outcome seems enough of a payment for a man simply trying to make a living.  Is it treason???

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Wall was not convicted and later went on to found the first permanent  theatrical company in Baltimore, the Maryland Company of Comedians.

We’re glad to hear Wall was not hanged as a traitor for trying to feed his family during war time.  So many suffer during the war.

Across the street is the milliner.  I am interested in seeing where the well to do have their clothing made so off I go.

I seem perhaps to have walked in on a little client/milliner spat.  I don’t get the whole gist of it but the milliner is taking some grief to which she is replying steadily and in even tones.

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But as the lady leaves, I catch her in a smile.  I can just imagine what she thinks of this uppity attitude.   Now with the lady gone, she tells us about the fabrics and materials used to make the various layers of ladies clothing.  It’s all quite an ordeal.   Fabric has to be purchased and beading and cording.  Patterns and lace made.  Fittings and more fittings.

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I wish I had asked her for whom this wrap was made and on what occasion it was to be worn. 
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Also wish I could have overheard this conversation I observed as I left.  Were they talking about the Declaration or the Milliner??

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The last thing on our agenda today is to attend the public audience with Patrick Henry in the coffee house backyard

Many have already arrived.  The front row has several young women.

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Mr. Henry is right on time and as fiery as he is described.  He is a strong states rights advocate and will have no more of monarchy over here when asked about running for president.  

He speaks extemporaneously about the current political conditions for nearly 45 minutes.  He is quite the talker and walks back and forth across the stage listing the abuses the colonists have suffered at the hand of the king. 

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He serves in both the original Virginia House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress.   He takes several questions from the audience which he answers in part with quotes from his own works.  In answer to a request, he is even gracious enough to repeat his famous speech in support of the Declaration of Independence in full context.   When he gets to the most famous section   "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death",  Bravo, Bravo the crowd returns.

It is a great audience and if you get the opportunity you should definitely see him.

Our day is over and as we leave, we see these soldiers returning to camp.  I wonder where they we will be going next.  How far away from their loved ones will they be.  Will their letters survive to be read by historians?

They look mighty tired.


It makes me wonder how far we actually have come as a species.  Are there fewer wars now in a 100 year time than there were say from 1500 to 1600 or 1700 to 1800??   Have we learned anything from the loss of life and property that are the ruins of war???    Being in Colonial Williamsburg may give you your own opinion.


  1. Here, here Abigail!! And I must say the same for the oratory of Patrick Henry! He speaks for many today as well as he did in his own time. I am not a student of war, but my impression is we have not learned much, if anything about averting war.

  2. I love how you tell all the stories! It all seems so real. There was so much suffering in that war as in ALL wars. So unfortunate. Amazing speech by Patrick Henry-the ability to quote like that is so impressive. What an educational and entertaining day!!

  3. Thanks for sharing this. I really enjoy the fact that the "characters" are "in character" with their own stories, worries, opinions . . . truly living history. Interesting to see how little things have changed, really, with life issues. You tell the stories and convey the experience well. Thanks!

  4. I wish every school child could have the opportunity to visit Colonial Williamsburg. . .how effective they are at making history come alive. . .wonderful post!

  5. This part of your blog made me smile:
    "When the British and Hessians were captured and sent to Barracks in Charlottesville the Walls were sent with them."

    Why is that? Well, I learned that my great-great-great-great grandfather, Leonard Kratz, was a Hessian soldier imprisoned at the Albemarle barracks; after his release, he missed the chance to be returned to Germany, so he got a job as a guide for a German-Virginia family, taking them west. He fell in love with their 16-year-old daughter, Mary Munger. When Mary's parents wouldn't allow her to marry this older man, he said, "Well, then, I'll just leave you here in the wilderness." So they capitulated. Leonard and Mary married, were later captured by Indians, were later reunited — he dying in 1829 and she in 1840. What a story! I visited the marker for the Albemarle Barracks, just up the road, on Barracks Farm Road. And for all these years I'd thought I only had Scottish and Irish ancestry, and only in Canada and Michigan!

  6. Even though I am not actually there, I find myself caught up in the stories and feel like I am right there in that period. What an interesting place to visit. I can't wait to go there.

  7. I'm guessing few visitors embed themselves in the history of what is going on as well as you do. Bravo!

  8. I must say that until all of your recent posts, I never gave the possibility of visiting Colonial Williamsburg much thought. Now, I'm very much looking forward to going & experiencing it. It's so much more than I expected or imagined. Thank you for opening my eyes.

  9. Wouldn't that be a great field trip for students to learn history in a much more animated way? It certainly would teach our history in a way that would keep more interest!

  10. wonderful post..felt like I was right there beside you...you are quite the story writer...:)

  11. I'm with Carrie.....I love how you tell these stories! So fun to read.

  12. Beautifully told...you brought history to life!! Williamsburg goes higher and higher on our TODO list:o))

  13. I never thought about that either … my stars! those tents sewed by hand…

    I knew I liked Abigail Adams…. what an interesting interesting post, Sherry… I'm really loving all this history business…. I slept through it all in high school.

    You are a wonderful narrator… seriously.

    and you ask how far we have come? with this shit for brains Congress we have now? You know what might be THE thing… is to have ever single member of our government … attend this event.

    Recite the Pledge of Allegiance and read …. READ the Constitution … if they can't read? then have someone read it for 'em…. shit for brains politicians

  14. Great post! Some times I think we really have not gotten that far in 240 years.

  15. Williamsburg should give you a commission on how many people will now be visiting after reading your excellent posts. You certainly captured the flavor and perspective of those days and you didn't even use a Time Machine! ;c)

  16. This is really so interesting Sherry!!! You make these things/concerns come alive!!

  17. I've seen your name around on the blogs I read and can't believe I haven't been following your blog yet! This Williamsburg stuff if fascinating, I had no idea that's what it was like there. Definitely going on our list of places to visit. Great posts, and very interesting to be reminded that things stay the same even as they change.

  18. I haven't given much thought to returning to Williamsburg - it's been probably 20 years since we were last there. It looks to have changed a lot and your account makes returning seem like a really good idea. Thanks.

    Unfortunately, mans nature has not changed much in the last 10,000 years so mostly what we learn from wars is how to do a better job of killing each other. Wars are ultimately about power, pride and possessions.


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