A Tale of Two Capitals

On Monday, the two seminars headed back out on field trips, focusing this week on the two great wars in Virginia history and the two capitals that were their stages.

 

The Civil War Seminar headed down to Hampton, VA to follow the steps of the Union forces as they attempted to capture Richmond in 1862. Fort Monroe was the key federal stronghold in the otherwise Confederate State of Virginia and as as the students explored the ramparts of this nineteenth-century military structure, they learned about the concept of contraband. Starting in 1861 Union General Benjamin Butler accepted escaped slaves from the rebel-held territory surrounding Fort Monroe, calling them “contraband” property and refusing to return them to the Confederacy. By the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, tens of thousands of slaves had found freedom at the federally-held Fort Monroe, bringing up the question, did Abraham Lincoln, with his Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, free the slaves or did they free themselves?

Fort Monroe and Williamsburg Redoubt 1 

 

The Colonial Seminar headed back out to the Historic Area to explore urban agriculture in the market town that was eighteenth-century Williamsburg. The students met Dr. Julie Richter and explored the Peyton Randolph House along with Great Hopes Plantation where they discussed how middling planters of the eighteenth-century attempted to achieve gentry status by growing tobacco with a small number of slaves. Later in the afternoon, the students attended a sermon by a costumed interpreter playing Reverend John Camm, an upholder of kingly authority and strict social hierarchy on the eve of the America Revolution which would turn out to be a great comparison to the populist ideals of Patrick Henry on the next day’s field trip.

 

In the evening, both seminars watched the expert costumed dancers of the Williamsburg Heritage Dancers perform English country dances, even inviting some students to join in. Toward the end of the performance, lightning flashed in the tall windows of the Great Hall of the Sir Christopher Wren Building so we loaded the students up in vans and headed back to the dorms in the drowning rain that finally broke the oppressive heat.

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