Virginia's Historic Legacy

 


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    Monticello

    Many people regard Jamestown, VA as the birthplace of the nation because it is the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America. With a deeper look one sees that its importance is much more pervasive and it can better be described as the place where our country's initial courtship took place. Here that our nation's most important "first encounters" occurred and roles and a hierarchy would be established that would have a lasting effect. On May 14, 1607 three ships, Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, bearing 104 all male settlers, came ashore on land they called "James Cittie". www.virginia.org

    The Jamestown area was home to approximately 14,000 Powhatan Indians under the leadership of a paramount chief named Wahunsonacock or Powhatan and contact was initially hostile.  The Powhatans resided in a series of villages where men hunted and fished and women tended to other tasks.  

    The colony managed to survive disease, famine, attack and rebellion and spread eastward and in 1619 their perseverance would alter the nation's destiny. The first representative legislative assembly in North America was held from July 30-August 4th in the Jamestowne Church. The assembly was comprised of men representing the 11 major settlements. @commemorate2019 

    There were women in the settlement from 1607 but their numbers were small and their death rate was high. In 1619 the first recruitment of women took place. They were unmarried and women with special skills were specifically selected. More than 100 women arrived the following year making this a benchmark in women's history.

    document about slavery's beginings

    The English warship, the White Lion, sailed along the James River and landed at Point Comfort in August 1619. There, "20 and odd Negroes" were exchanged for food. Captured in West Africa, they were to be transported aboard the Portuguese slave ship São João Bautista to Mexico but were taken aboard two English ships when the vessel was captured. This exchange established the roots of the African slave trade in the colonies and facilitated its direction and entrenchment in the legal, economic and social systems for the ensuing 400-years.

     docent in revolutionaly costume

    These events came together in Virginia in 1619 and set a course for the country that continues to resonate today. In 1619 the vast majority of the country was the colony of VA and the nation's early history played out there in the Historic Triangle and the state has done a remarkable job of researching, preserving, interpreting the locations and being inclusive of all ethnicities.

    American Evolution is a program designed to explore the 400-years of history and culture with an emphasis on democracy, diversity and opportunity. The state will commemorate the events that took place in Jamestowne 400-years ago. More than 20 events and 9 legacy projects have been planned for 2019. The events, beginning in 2018, provide a singular opportunity to interact with history from 1619 through the Civil War. Visitors can opt to tour chronologically, thematically or geographically. www.americanevolution2019.com  

    The natural place to begin is at the National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park (COLO) and Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation (JRF). NPS-COLO is the only known publically accessible site that is authenticated as having been occupied by the first Africans in the English colonies. This active dig site of the entire settlement was first excavated in 1934. It was under the guidance of the segregated CCC and out of this activity came the first African American archeologists. @historicjamestowne

                                                             Arceologist at Wiliamsburg dig

    A civil rights grant has allowed the JRF to embark on the Angela Project, an effort to bring to life and substantiate through artifacts the life of Angela, a slave who arrived from Angola aboard the Treasurer. We know that Angela was part of the household of Captain William Pierce whose home is currently being excavated down to the 1619 level. The kitchen, where she worked, has been largely excavated and allows visitors to revisit Angela in a space she inhabited. Actual artifacts are exhibited. We do not know Angela's age or fate but know she walked these streets. #AmericanEvolution

    replica of hut and woman in Angola

    Jamestown Settlement is an interpretive campus that consists of both indoor and outdoor interpretive exhibits that orient visitors to the story of the nation from the perspective of defining events within the Historic Triangle. Visits begin in the museum with "1607: A Nation Takes Root". This docudrama weaves the story of the interaction of the three cultures that met here over the first two decades. The story of Angela was filmed at the actual locations and sets were built using traditional techniques by Angolans in Africa. www.historyisfun

    Jamestown Settlement Exhibition Galleries are comprised of 30,000-sq.-ft. of exhibition space displaying more than 500 artifacts, interactive stations, films and life-sized dioramas arrayed along the Great Hall that extends the entire length of the building. Galleries are basically chronological, open with an overview of Virginia and then introduce the Powhatans, the Africans and the English. The final interior exhibit is "The Legacy of Jamestown". Of special note is the story of Njinga, the Angolan queen who fought against slavery. 

    Visitors continue to three exterior exhibits, recreations of a 17th-century Powhatan Indian Village, the Jamestown Fort and the three English ships that arrived in Jamestown in 1607. Each area has costumed interpreters who provide information and present demonstrations in which guests can participate.

     docent at living history museum in Williamsburg

    Just as in 1699 Virginia's capital was relocated from Jamestown to Williamsburg your next stop should be Colonial Williamsburg, the largest outdoor museum in the world. This living history museum interprets the nation's 18th-century history through the lens of the inhabitants, notable and average, free and enslaved. There are more than 600 structures, 88 are authentic, 40 sites and numerous tours and programs. During the era 50% of Williamsburg's residents were black and their stories are interwoven throughout.  Tickets, maps and guides are available at the Colonial Williamsburg Regional Visitor Center and are an indispensible planning tool.

                                                             docent at living history museum in Williamsburg

    Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown are the three corners of Virginia's Historic Triangle. The 23-mile Colonial Parkway connects the sites and is marked, scenic and allows us to follow the trail taken by the colonists. www.virginia.org

    The Georgian Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia was built between 1705-1720. It was the residence of seven Royal Governors and two colonial governors, including Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, before the capital made its third move to Richmond in 1780. During the Battle of Yorktown the building functioned as a hospital and in the rear is a graveyard containing more than 150 American soldiers. Both Washington and Cornwallis were in Williamsburg prior to Yorktown and we will follow their revolutionary path. www.colonialwilliamsburg.com

    The 80,000-sq.-ft., $50-million, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown opened in 2017 with more than 500 artifacts and stunning , creative, state-of-the-art technology. The campus, adjacent to Yorktown Battlefield, consists of interior galleries and exterior living history sites. The orientation film, "Liberty Fever", creates a stage for your entrance into the revolutionary period. Characters are drawn from patriots and rebels, all ethnicities and even a patriot's dog. www.historyisfun.org/yorktown-victory-center/new-yorktown-museum

                                                             

    Five major themes are highlighted in the museum, The British Empire and America, The Changing Relationship – Britain and North America, Revolution, The New Nation and The American People. Exhibits are enhanced with the inclusion of dioramas, videos, artifacts and interactive kiosks. Visitors can select a character to follow through the Revolution. Highlights of the tour include a 1790 Wedgwood antislavery medallion, a first edition of Phillis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral and the 1733 portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, one of the earliest portrait of an African who was once enslaved in the colonies. Diallo, a learned Muslim, actually traveled the Middle Passage twice and his biography was published in 1734. http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/bluett/summary

    One of the compelling stories related here is that of James Armistead Lafayette, an enslaved man who served as the Marquis de Lafayette's premiere spy. After the war he was not freed until the Marquis wrote a letter in 1787. He took the Marquis' last name.

    docent at Fort Monroe

    Garbed colonists present hands-on activities and interpret exterior exhibits. These exhibits are roughly divided into two areas, the Continental army encampment and the homefront. The company encampment exhibits include the surgeons', quartermasters' and officer's tents as well as those for regular soldiers. There are also unique displays of a regimental kitchen and women's living and working area. Adjacent to the encampment is the revolutionary era farm of Edward Moses consisting of a 34' X 16' farmhouse, tobacco barn, 12' x 10' slave quarter and 20' x 16' kitchen and garden.

    Old Point Comfort is the home of Fort Monroe National Monument, a 63-acre moated masonry fort completed in the 1830s on the site of earlier defensive structures. The fort contains trails, coastal panoramas, Old Point Comfort Lighthouse, a National Historic Landmark District and the Casemate Museum.

                                                            

    Fort Monroe, referred to as Freedom's Fortress, may be said to where slavery began and where it ended. In August of 1619 the first documented Africans arrived here, not Jamestown, ultimately leading to the American form of formalized slavery. A plaque on the spot where they landed was placed there in 2015. www.FMauthority.com

                                                           

    In May of 1861 three enslaved men, Frank Baker, James Townsend and Sheppard Mallory, rowed over to the Union held fort for sanctuary. The next day their owner pressed for their return under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Major General Benjamin Butler, a lawyer, stated that as Virginia had seceded they were no longer subject to US laws and because the Confederacy considered these men property and used them in the war effort they should be considered "contraband of war" and as such were not to be returned. Quickly word spread and thousands of the enslaved made their way to the fort and freedom. 

     

    Edgar A. Poe was stationed here from 1828-29 and Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned here after his capture. A tour of the Casemate Museum has a gallery on the African American story and a replica of Davis' cell. On November 1, 2011, President Obama signed a proclamation creating Fortress Monroe as his first national monument. www.nps.gov/fomr  

    Freedom Park is a real Virginia gem filled with extraordinary experiences including mountain bike and multi-use trails, wildlife viewing, the Williamsburg Botanical Garden and GoApe Treetop Adventure Course and Treetop Junior Course. Additionally this 600-acre park preserve tells a singular African American story. @goapeusa  

    William Ludwell Lee died at the age of 29 and his will stated that the majority of his slaves were to be freed on January 1st of the following year. Those over 18 could stay on a designated part of his land, where a free house was to be built for them, if they wished. They could live there for 10-years  rent free. Those under 18 were to be taken north of the Potomac and educated at his estate's expense. A portion of Freedom Park is the site of that early black settlement from 1803-1850. @jamescitycounty

     

    Three cabins have been recreated to depict those years in the settlement. The homes are historically accurate and authentically furnished. The Freedom Park Interpretive Center provides information, recovered artifacts and information on the residents and their descendants.

     

    Kingsmill Resort & Spa is perfectly situated for touring The Triangle and provides a plethora of activities, dining options and accommodations. The only AAA Four Diamond Condominium Resort in historic Williamsburg, it offers cottages and guestrooms.  The views are awesome and the service is nonpareil. www.kingsmill.com

    Eight Virginians have been elected as President of the United States, four being among the first five presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe and Virginia is a microcosm of both colonial society and the American culture that flowed from it. Great care has been taken to interpret history holistically and there are numerous museums, historic structures, tours and hundreds of markers to guide you along. Every site with African American links relates that part of the story highlighting the contradictions of life and liberty in the US. www.visitcharlottesville.org

    The first land patents were issued in 1727 but Albemarle County was officially established in 1744 and named in honor of the second Earl of Albemarle. Charlottesville became the county seat with a main street that previously served as a Monacan Indian trail from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Richmond. The 50-acre, hilly, village was named after Princess Charlotte who would later become wife of King George III. Charlotte, considered the first black Queen of England, was a direct descendant of the African branch of the Portuguese Royal House. www.albemarle.org

    Peter Jefferson, father of Thomas, purchased land in 1737 and his son's ties to this region would be permanent. Thomas was born on a 200-acre tract of land on Shadwell plantation in 1743.  The home burned down in 1770 but the name lives on. Shadwell's restaurant, winner of the 2017 OpenTable Diners' Choice Awards, is noted as serving the best seafood in Charlottesville. Their crab cakes are particularly popular and are made of lump crabmeat from the Chesapeake Bay with no bread filler. www.shadwellsrestaurant.com

                                                            

    In 1987 University of Virginia, UVA, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thomas Jefferson is credited with the concept and design of the "Academical Village". He wanted to encourage interdisciplinary studies and dialog. The basic design included pavilions to function as professor's housing, dining hotels, student single room dormitories and the Rotunda. The Rotunda, modeled after the Pantheon was to be the site of examinations, a library, worship services and a focal point of the university. The cornerstone of the $400,000 university was laid on October 6, 1817, attended by Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. www.virginia.edu 

    UVA is currently committed to completing "Virginia Mist", a granite memorial to the enslaved laborers who were instrumental in building and maintaining the university. The school owned 100 slaves, rented about 40 and it is believed that throughout time more than 4500 enslaved worked at UVA from 1817 until 1865. Two male slaves, used to clear the land, were the first on site and by 1832 UVA owned four. Ultimately there were approximately 1 slave per 20 students. Slaves often accompanied the students and Edgar A. Poe during his tenure rented a local slave from his master for personal use. Poe's room, West Range #13, has been restored to its 1826 appearance. Visitors can peer through a glass door and press a button for narration. www.virginia.edu/slaverymemorial

    Jefferson School African-American Heritage Center is housed within a 1926 building that was the only area high school for black students. It was desegregated in 1959 and fully integrated in 1967. The Center seeks to honor, preserve and promulgate Charlottesville's African-American legacy. The permanent galleries of Pride Overcomes Prejudice are divided into, The Freedom Generation (1865-1895), The Migration Generation (1895-1926), The Community School Generation (1926-1939) and The Civil Rights/Massive Resistance Generation (1939-1959) and The Desegregation Generation (1959-1970). The Contemporary Gallery presents a series of changing, provocative, art exhibits. A schedule of events and programs is available online. Visitors can obtain a copy of the African American Trail for Albemarle/Charlottesville guide here. It lists 21 sites, a map and biographies. For more details on Jefferson School. For school site www.jeffschoolheritagecenter.org

    Highland was the official residence of the fifth President James Monroe from 1799 to 1823. Monroe was born in 1758, the second of 5 children, in Westmoreland, VA. In 1790 he purchased land in Charlottesville that held a stone house and the land upon which UVA stands. In 1793 he purchased 1,000-acres from Jefferson and William Carter. His home, Highland, later called Ash Lawn, offers a 40-minute, 28 site, self-guided tour that includes a residence, gardens, overseer's house and slave quarters. At one point there were as many as 250 enslaved making Monroe one of the county's largest slave owners. He believed in gradual abolition but never freed any slaves of his own. The reproduced slave quarters allow visitors to walk through and view demonstrations of the work done by the enslaved. www.highland.org 

                                                          

    Graduate Hotels are well -curated hotels that marry the college experience, local flavor and prime locations and the Graduate Hotel Charlotte is no exception. The hotel is located a 5-minute walk from UVA and a short drive to the other sites on this tour. From the moment you enter you experience outstanding hospitality and a series of touches that are reminiscent of college days. Room keys are ID cards, pictures of well-known UVA graduates. Accommodations are inviting and complete with Malin + Goetz amenities and great mountain and UVA campus views. There are two dining venues, the Heirloom Restaurant and the Sheepdog Café. The rooftop Heirloom Restaurant offers expansive views of the area and great food. The Sheepdog  is casual and has both indoor and outdoor seating. A 24-hour fitness center is located on the second floor and bikes are available. A stay here is a great experience. www.graduatehotels.com/charlottesville

    Virginia is the 5th largest producer of wine in the US and there are 30 wineries within a 30-mike radius. Visitors can follow the Monticello Wine Trail so named because of Jefferson's love of winemaking and the fact that this is considered the birthplace of American winemaking. www.monticellowinetrail.com 

    I have found that the way to truly begin to understand the private side of an individual's personality is to visit their home and peer into their personal spaces and presidential homes are very popular. The most visited of these homes is Mount Vernon, residence of George and Martha. Mount Vernon is located in Virginia 16-miles south of Washington, DC. and approximately 90-miles south are the homes of the third and fourth presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Their plantations, Monticello and Montpelier, are a few miles from Charlottesville and within close proximity of one another. www.visitcharlottesville.org 

    Both estates strive to present the personal and professional lives of these men as well as the enslaved who were also residents. The goal of both sites is to alter the prevailing narrative and depict the slaves as individuals with families, friends, desires, personal spaces and separate lives. www.virginia.org

    Monticello, the more famous of the two, was the home of Thomas Jefferson from the ages of 26-46 years old. Jefferson owned several properties and approximately 600 slaves and most worked at Monticello. Plan to spend several hours visiting all the sites. Tours begin with an orientation film and proceed into the gallery to view four exhibitions. Shuttles take you around the grounds and to the mansion. www.monticello.org

    Most people are familiar with the house because it is depicted on the nickel but they have little idea of the intricacies of its design. The interior of the home is 90% original as are 30% of the glass and 60% of the furnishings. Slaves including master carpenter John Hemings completed much of the building. Your tour begins in the 2-story entry where Burwell Colbert, the enslaved butler, greeted guests. It is filled with artifacts, many Native American. Antlers are the only original item, the remainder are recreations made by descendants of the original artisans.

    Jefferson read and wrote in 7 languages and his library held over 700 books. The displayed books are the same titles and editions as the originals. Jefferson's bed was situated in an alcove and on one side was his study, on the other side his dressing room. He died in this room. In 1998 DNA linked Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman, to the Jefferson Family and it is believed he fathered her children. Currently they are excavating a room that they believe was hers and a Hemings Family Tour is offered. www.home.monticello.org

     

    The house was designed with the dependencies all connected along passageways. The most interesting areas are the Wine Cellar, the cook's room and the kitchen, said to have been the best equipped kitchen in America. Be certain to tour Mulberry Row, where free and enslaved craftsmen lived, and the slave cemetery. Your final stop will be Jefferson's grave in the family cemetery.

     

    Montpelier was the home of James and Dolley Madison after his presidency. The estate had been in his family since the 1730s and after his birth in 1751 his father built the current house. Rooms were added to the home and later he added wings on either side. He and Dolley, America's first First Lady, would live there until his death.

    Dolley was a Quaker who wed John Todd, a lawyer, at the age of 22. They resided at 4th & Walnut in Philadelphia from 1791-93. In 1793 Dolley's in-laws, husband and baby died. In 1794 Aaron Burr introduced Madison to her and later that year they wed. Tours of the Dolley Todd Madison House are offered seasonally. www.phlvisitorcenter.com/attraction/todd-house

    James Madison was the 4th President of the United States, the Father of the Constitution, the Architect of the Bill of Rights and owner of a plantation with more than 275 slaves. Touring Montpelier is a totally unique experience because it deals with all of the historic contradictions in our culture. Madison and other founding fathers set forth the ideal of freedom for everyone but slavery at its height was a more than $3-billion industry and every state benefitted from it. In most cases profit trumped moral imperatives.

    There are two exhibits and an introductory film inside the Visitor's Center. Grills Gallery features items connected with the Madisons including Dolley's engagement ring. The Center's Exchange Café offers a wonderful dining experience. Their barbecue is ranked #1 in the area and 30th nationwide. Everything is made using fresh local produce. 

    The home has been architecturally restored and it is exciting to see and learn the history. Madison retired here in 1817. By the 1830s Dolley bedroom was in the left wing and Madison, who was ill, slept in a room behind the dining room. He became paralyzed and was attended by Paul Jennings, a slave, for many years. He died in 1836, the last of the Founding Fathers. Dolley sold Jennings after Madison's death to Daniel Webster. Webster allowed him to purchase his freedom. He wrote a book, "A Colored Man's Reminiscences of Madison". In 1844 Dolley sold the 2,650-acre estate for $35,000 to pay debts. Dolley died in 1849 and was buried in Montpelier in 1858.

    The story of slavery at Montpelier and in society is told in the best exhibit I have seen. Two cellar galleries interpret the private and public lives of the slaves in state-of the-art displays. "The Mere Distinction of Colour" is based on oral histories of Montpelier's slaves. Uniquely the film is presented as shadows on the walls evoking the ephemeral existence of the enslaved. A slave cemetery and six cabins dating from the 1700s are featured on the tour. www.montpelier.org

    Montpelier/Highland is the first historic site in the United States to offer Augmented Reality tours using smart glasses that showcase 3D reconstructions, animated characters, videos, and text appearing on the landscape. Additional areas on the our include walking trails, gardens, 200-acres of Piedmont Forest and archeological sites. www.Highland.org

    The George Gilmore Cabin is located nearby. He was a slave born on the Montpelier plantation. He purchased 19.11-acres of  land and his cabin is the nation's first Freedman's site. Montpelier's 1910 Train Station has been restored to its Jim Crow era appearance. Displays are based on oral testimony by area residents.             

    The original 3000-acres that is now the Clifton Inn belonged to Peter Jefferson and later Thomas Randolph, Jefferson's son-in-law. The building was a warehouse and the stone foundation is part of the hotel's main house. This historic property features luxurious accommodations in the main house and in the dependencies. The restaurant offers gourmet cuisine and exemplary service. This is perfect for meetings, a romantic getaway, a retreat or reunion. www.clifton-inn.com

     

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    Public Disclosure-- Please Read
    I recently learned of a FTC law requiring web sites to let their readers know if any of the stories are "sponsored" or compensated.  American Roads and Global Highways' feature writers are professional travel writers. As such we are frequently invited on press trips, also called fam trips. Most of the articles here are results of these trips. On these trips most of our lodging, dining, admissions fees and often plane fare are covered by the city or firm hosting the trip. It is an opportunity to visit places we might not otherwise be able to visit and bring you a great story. However, no one tells us what to write about those places. All opinions are 100% those of the author of that feature column.  

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