2014 Session 2 – Week 1

By all accounts, the first week of the Pre-Collegiate Program is the most challenging.  The students find themselves in unfamiliar environments surrounded by 60+ strangers.  But Pre-Col students persevere.  Driven by the desire to meet new people and a willingness to let our instructors turn everything they know about American history on its head, they take it in stride and keep moving forward.  The reward?  New friends, new stories, and  a deeper understanding of history.  Here’s a look at just a few of the places they went in that first week:

Jamestown Island

A soldier brought in chains to a foreign land, saved by a beautiful princess, and escaped on a ship back to England in the nick of time. No, it’s not a Disney movie; it’s the repetitive plotline of a bombastic autobiographer. From a Christian Crusader in Transylvania to the savior of James Fort, Captain John Smith’s truthiness became the center of the “Colonial” group’s next discussion: why exactly did Jamestown so spectacularly falter in its early years?

On Wednesday, Jamestown Rediscovery Archaeologists Dave Givens and Jamie May showed our students around the active excavation site of the early sixteenth-century military fort. Longtime Curator Bly Straube gave our students a behind-the-scenes look at the collection vaults housing over twenty years of artifacts from the site. From a fully articulated, half-buried horse skeleton to the butchered bones of a teenage girl, our students gained even more evidence to interpret for themselves what exactly happened at Jamestown.

Jamestown Settlement

After seeing the foundation of the original fort and the actual artifacts pulled from its excavation, the students headed over to Jamestown Settlement for a more interactive experience.  Here, students were able to interact with historical interpreters, walk through a recreated fort and Indian settlement, step on board an authentic replica of the ships that brought explorers across an entire ocean and up the James River, and even try their hand at a few trades.

Bacon’s Castle

The “Colonial” group closed out Week 1 with a trip across the ferry to see Bacon’s Castle in Surry, VA.  Though named after the leader of Bacon’s Rebellion, Nathanial Bacon, the home was actually built and owned by the Arthur family.  Still standing after almost 350 years, the Arthur family’s home survives as the oldest brick home ever built in colonial Virginia, with original floors that date back to the 17th century and a brick addition that dates to the mid-19th century.

The “Civil War” group also had cause to visit Bacon’s Castle during Week 1.  While they also had an opportunity to tour the house, the main reason for visiting was to tour the surviving slave quarters.  This structure trumps many ideas of what people think of when they think about where/how slaves lived, particularly in southern Virginia at the dawn of  the Civil War.  The two-story quarters were raised off the ground to allow for air flow and to prevent flooding.  They also had glass windows, fireplaces, and a small covered porch off the front entrance.  The quality and stability of these quarters rivaled—and in some cases surpassed that found in the homes of poorer white families during the same time period.

Hot Water

That same day, Civil War students also visited the site of a free black settlement right here in Williamsburg.  Termed Hot Water, the community came to be after William Ludwell Lee passed away in 1803.  In his will, he decreed that all of his slaves be freed and allowed them to remain living on the property rent-free.  The original homes did not survive, but historically-accurate recreations were erected very recently that allow our students to study another facet of 19th-century African American history that is often misunderstood and underappreciated.

Monticello and Ash Lawn/Highland

The academic discourse on slavery has often included the non-disputed truth of the Founding Fathers: four out of the first five presidents owned slaves. On Friday, our “Civil War” students visited the homes of two of these presidents – James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello – to analyze how slavery remained engrained in their lifestyles despite the American rhetoric of independence and equality.

Written by Jennifer Fox with contributions from Amelia Butler, Nichole Lidstrom, and Kyra Zemanick.

Published in: on July 22, 2014 at 2:06 pm Comments (0)