Last week, my husband and I spent our vacation in Williamsburg, VA. We both visited Colonial Williamsburg as children, but we had a new perspective seeing it with fresh, adult eyes.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, Colonial Williamsburg provides an immersive experience into 18th century America just before the Revolutionary War. Williamsburg, which was the capital of Virginia during the colonial period, was one of the most vibrant economies at the time. It was also the home to William and Mary College, where U.S. presidents (Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler) and other prominent political figures received an education.
During the war, the capital moved to Richmond and Williamsburg settled into a quiet town revolving around the college. In 1926, Rev. Doctor W.A.R. Goodwin had an opportunity to share with John D. Rockefeller his dream of restoring the city to preserve its rich history. Over the next decade or so, historians and archeologists recreated the town as it was in the mid-1700s, all funded by Rockefeller. They included the original buildings, such as the Governor’s Palace, the Capital building, and various taverns, churches, and houses. Considered a ‘living-history museum,’ you can walk around today and receive mini-history lessons from characters dressed in colonial garb. It’s a fascinating experience.
The highlight of our trip to Colonial Williamsburg was our stop through the Raleigh Tavern, where we met a Thomas Jefferson impersonator. He was intimately versed in both the history of the time and the life of Thomas Jefferson that we felt like we were talking to the man himself! (Chatting with other staff, we learned they had stringent requirements for their actors to be knowledgeable about the historical figure they represented). We sat in the room for an hour while ‘Thomas Jefferson’ engaged us.
So, in honor of Father’s Day this weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you some fun things I learned about one of our Founding Fathers.
The Declaration of Independence
After the Continental Congress voted for independence from England, Thomas Jefferson was part of a committee of 5 men commissioned to write the Declaration of Independence. The others were Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston. Ben Franklin was the first choice to write the draft since he was already such a trusted voice in the colonies and beyond. He declined. Next, the group approached John Adams. He too refused. Then, it came to Thomas Jefferson, who also did not want the burden.
Keep in mind, a document such as this was considered treason to the king of England. Things could go very poorly for the person who wrote it if the new country did not win its independence.
However, Ben Franklin convinced Thomas Jefferson that he should be the one to write it because 1) he was a Virginian; it should be written by a Virginian considering they were the first colony to vote for independence and 2) he was the best writer of them all.
So, reluctantly, Thomas Jefferson drafted one of the most important documents of our history.
Patrick Henry, also a Virginian, is known as the Voice of the Revolution because of his fiery and impassioned speeches. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase: “Give me liberty or give me death!” While he had a grudging admiration for Patrick’s oration skills, Thomas Jefferson quite disliked Patrick Henry. He thought he was arrogant and spoke a lot without really saying much.
Patrick Henry wasn’t fond of Thomas either and wrote that he spoke haltingly with a stutter. I found online an excerpt from one of Thomas Jefferson’s letters describing how he made a fool of himself in front of a lady at a ball. It made me chuckle, so perhaps you’ll be amused by it as well, but it seems to prove Patrick Henry right.
“I had dressed up in my own mind such thoughts as occurred to me, in as moving language as I know how, and expected to have performed in a tolerably creditable manner. But, good God! when I had an opportunity of venting them, a few broken sentences, uttered in great disorder, and interrupted with pauses of uncommon length, were the too visible marks of my strange confusion."
Thomas Jefferson redeemed himself through his writing, however, as he is known as the Pen of the Revolution.
I hope you enjoyed the little history lesson as much as I did.
Happy Father’s Day to you all!
Photos of Colonial Williamsburg