“I’ll Rochambeau Ya For It” Part 2: Colonial Williamsburg

It has now been so long since I wrote the first installment that I barely remember what I wanted to say in this one. (Thanks, holidays, seasonal job, and cross-country move for a new job!) Fortunately, I only had a half-day at Williamsburg, so there is not really much to remember!

The highlight of my day was that I got to tell Benedict Arnold to suck it. I don’t think he heard me, which is a real shame. I imagine that actor gets that a lot.

It all works like this: there are loads of shops and demonstrations all day long, but the real fun comes in the late afternoon when the actors come out to put on a show. There were four sessions which, disturbingly, took place several years apart. These change from day to day. On the day I was there, I got 1) a Continental Army recruitment event, 2) a handful of slaves contemplating escape to join with the British who “promised freedom” (um hmm), 3) new British officer Benedict Arnold coming straight off sacking Richmond to sit on Williamsburg and shut its Revolutionary mouth, and 4) a pep rally with the Marquis de Lafayette who was on his way to victory at Yorktown.

Let me backtrack a bit to the phrase “sacking Richmond.” This was something I hadn’t heard of. Sometime between penning the Declaration of Independence and the end of the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson was elected Governor of Virginia. He moved the capital from Williamsburg to Richmond and, feeling British heat down south, moved all the state guns and things that went boom to a building outside of town. This is always a good idea. Especially when your enemy is a traitor with a friend or two still on your side to tell him where to find the basket with all your eggs.

So, Benedict Arnold rode to Richmond to get the guns and, the cherry on top, Thomas Jefferson. Being a lover not a fighter, Jefferson ran, thus setting the stage for generations of liberal hate in Virginia. Arnold then burned all the weapons and a whole lot of Richmond to the ground on the way through. I like to imagine that Arnold sat on the pile of ashes like a dragon stroking its treasure until Our Hero the Marquis de Lafayette rode in to chase him out and rescue damsel Jefferson. In reality, Arnold moved on to loot a few more towns while Lafayette slipped in behind, took Richmond, and tracked Arnold south until Arnold left for New York due to a gout flare-up. Sexy, Benedict. This left Lafayette to hold off Cornwallis until the Washington-Rochambeau party made its way into town. This is significantly less awesome than the Jefferson-Arnold-Lafayette chain of events that I imagined, but it does bring us back to the story at hand.

Since I went to Williamsburg in early September, I have the feeling that I missed most of the activities that probably go on during the summer. There was also the annoyance that everything seemed to cost extra, and the restaurants didn’t have much in the way of vegetarian fare. The things that “cost extra” might have been a blessing in disguise if I’d realized beforehand. If you don’t go in any of the buildings, you can walk the streets for free, and the evening events are almost as good as the stuff during the day. Had I realized this, I might have skipped general admission and just bought my evening ticket since I got there so late in the day.

But then I would have missed getting a tour of the capitol with “Patrick Henry” and telling “Benedict Arnold” to suck it.

The capitol building is, unfortunately, a reconstruction due to fire. Apparently it’s also a reconstruction of an earlier version of the building and not the Revolutionary era structure.

WilliamsburgCapitol1

Still, “Patrick Henry” did a really good job of telling us where things would have happened anyway, and that actor was so completely immersed in character that it was a whole lot of fun. Occasionally, he would go off on a philosophical tangent, raise his voice, and get this crazy little gleam in his eye, but then a moment later he would be mild mannered and gentlemanly again. Bravo.

(I don’t think I was supposed to take this picture, but I post this here because “Patrick Henry” was awesome.)

PatrickHenry1

In other news, I don’t know who this guy is, but I like the (18th century) cut of his jib.

RandomC18WilliamsburgGuy

And here is “Benedict Arnold” on horseback moments before the redcoats in front of him threatened to bayonet me for standing in his way.

BenedictArnoldAndFriends1

I need to just take a minute here and wax poetic over how great this actor was. His goons rounded up all the tourists and forced us to listen to his spiel, and he was actually convincing. He told some sob story about how he did what he did because he loved America, and he made a good enough case that it was really hard to hate him afterward (but no less fun to do so).

Now for a corps of Continental Army drummers.

WilliamsburgDrummers

These guys were just pretty. Everyone was. I wish I had more photos of the costumes. They were all really nice. The problem with 18th century clothing in America, though, is that it all kind of looks the same after a while, and the women’s clothing is so plain as to be boring. I promise I’ll have some really nice period costume porn when I post about the next day at Mount Vernon, though. Patience!

I can’t wrap up this installment without a mention of Lafayette. His act was the day’s big finale, and as you can see below, Gil brings all the ladies to the yard (and one awkward-looking dude).

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I don’t know who these two soldiers were, but I like to imagine that they were trying to work out Lafayette’s broken English amongst themselves:

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And then we have the actor playing the Marquis, who, appropriately, I caught with his mouth open shouting about something or other and swinging a sword. That’s my Lafayette. I don’t know who this guy is, but he really seemed to enjoy himself. Also, he was really loud. I have to believe that that was an accurate portrayal.

WilliamsburgLafayette1

The night’s activity was a ghost tour, which wasn’t like any ghost tour I’ve ever seen. We were taken into several buildings, which were all dark and lit only by candlelight. Once we were seated and quiet, an actor would come in who was “the ghost” and who would pretend to be the spirit of a real person who had lived and died in the town. There was some powerful stuff in that tour and some legitimately creepy stuff. Lot of crazy crime and broken hearts in Williamsburg’s history. I highly recommend this if you find yourself in Williamsburg when they’re doing one.

And that wraps up Williamsburg. It’ll probably take me another three months to get installment #3 (Mount Vernon!) up, so hold tight!

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4 responses to ““I’ll Rochambeau Ya For It” Part 2: Colonial Williamsburg

  1. You should have been a history teacher! Loved Williamsburg the one time I was able to visit.

    • I know, right? And the reason I didn’t was that I didn’t want to start over again/be in school so long. If only I’d known then what I know now.

  2. I think that’s the same Lafayette that was there when Clayton and I were there, ~a year and a half ago. He was most excellent. If you liked the little afternoon scenes, as I recall you do need a paid ticket to see those…walking the streets is indeed free, but they actually close off the streets to all but ticketholders for the “Revolutionary City” events. We want to go back sometime – despite having multiple days there, we still didn’t see everything!

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