Jamestown Settlement: Powhatan Village


Powhatan Village at Jamestown Settlement

When the English arrived in what’s now Virginia, native peoples had been living on the coastal plain of Virginia for thousands of years. Sometimes known as Algonquians, because of the Algonquian language they spoke and because of their common culture, approximately 32 tribes were ruled over by a chieftain known as Wahunsonacock. The English would call him “Powhatan” and the people he ruled the “Powhatans.” Each tribe had their own chief,  “werowance” (male) or “werowansquas” (female). While each tribe lived in separate villages they shared religious beliefs and cultural traditions.


Powhatan Village

The Powhatan Indians called their land Tsenacommacoh. The seat of power was known as Werowocomoco. Werowocomoco was situated on an ancient ceremonial site and was the center of Powhatan’s chiefdom. Before the English arrived, he had increased his dominion from six inherited tribes to more than 30 tribes.

Everyone paid tribute taxes of deerskins, shell beads, copper, or corn to the local ruler. In turn, the local chiefs paid tribute to Powhatan. They received Powahatan’s protection in exchange for their tributes. In Powhatan culture, kinship and inheritance pass through the female line.


Animal skins for tribute inside a yehakin

Powhatan villages were located along the banks of larger rivers or major tributaries. The nearest Powhatan tribe to Jamestown was the Paspahegh. The Paspahegh had towns upriver from Jamestown situated along both sides of the Chickahominy River. With at least 200 people, the Paspahegh was one of the core tribes of the Powhatan chiefdom. Most Powhatan settlements were much smaller, with less than 100 people.

Ten to twenty houses, known as yehakins, were randomly situated among shade trees and fields. Yehakins were made from natural materials found in the surrounding environment. The yehakin framework was made from saplings of  local trees like red maples, locusts and red cedar. Bark shingles stripped from trees or marsh reed mats covered the framework. The mats could be rolled up in summertime. Yehakins could be small and round or oblong with rounded ends to make them more wind resistant.


Inside a yehakin

Most yeahakins contained only a single room. Furniture consisted of fur or mat-covered sleeping benches built along the walls. Drying lofts were built above the sleeping benches. More beds of deerskin or reed mats could be laid on the ground. A fire in the center of the room was the main source of light and heat. In the roof, a small smoke hole cut directly over the fire provided ventilation. The smoke hole and doors allowed additional light to come through. Houses were mostly used for sleeping and storage because they were poorly lit. The visitor gets an impression of a cozy space filled with the pleasant scent of woodsmoke. I know from visiting Plimoth Plantation that on a cool, damp day, this is where everyone wants to be. I’m not sure I’d like to live there with a bunch of other people but I know different cultures and times have different ideas of privacy.



Powhatan houses were located near the planting fields. This allowed the  which was Powhatans move when their fields were no longer fertile. Their lifestyle followed a seasonal cycle with planting, hunting, fishing and gathering following the rhythm of the seasons. They raised varieties of corn, beans and squash (like pumpkins). Corn was the most important. It could be ground and made it into flat cakes or boiled in stews with beans, squash and wild game or fish.


Cooking demonstration

Half their food was obtained through farming in the summer. Women and children planted corn and bean crops in small mounds, placing squash and gourds in-between. Corn, beans and squash could be dried and preserved for later use throughout the year. Dried gourds were used as musical instruments and for bowls, cups, and scoops. In late winter and spring, they gathered fruit, nuts, grain, tubers, and roots to supplement their diet.


native foods

While women farmed, men hunted. Hunting was the chief occupation of Powhatan men. Powhatan men hunted large game with bows and arrows and captured small animals with traps or snares. The native animals provided the Powhatan with many needed resources and materials such as clothing, food, and tools. It is believed hunting was done mainly in the winter months when brush was sparse and fishing was done mostly in the spring and early summer. The men caught freshwater fish, ocean fish, and shellfish, often trapping fish in weirs stretched across waterways.

Men made tools and weapons from wood, bone, shell, and stone. They made axes, mortars, and pestles by grinding and polishing stone. They could also make arrow points and tools for cutting and scraping striking one stone with another harder stone in an effort to reduce the softer stone bit-by-bit. Men wove fish nets and fish traps from plant fibers.


Setting up a loom for weaving


woven baskets


woven basket

Powhatan women used local clay to make pottery vessels for cooking and storage, produced clothing from deer hides and wove mats out of reeds to cover houses. Women tanned the hides and used bone awls, bone needles and deer sinew to fasten their garments together. Clothing could be decorated with fringe, beads, bones, teeth or painted designs.


Skin ready for tanning

As you can see above, Powhatan men and women painted their faces. They used a mixture of red paint and nut oil for paint and used bear fat to ward off winter cold and summer insects. Women’s bodies were tattooed with abstract designs or pictures of flowers, fruits, snakes and lizards. The elite wore beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings- status symbols at the time. The more common folk made jewelry from shell beads, freshwater pearls, copper and animal teeth or bones. 17th-century Powhatan men and women commonly wore an apron of deerskin around the waist. Men wore fur cloaks, loose sleeves and leggings. For trips to the forest, they wore Moccasins.

Children worked as well, diving their work by gender working alongside their parents. Children could also be used as runners, as the Powhatan did not have horses at this time. Young children may also have been used as scarecrows, sitting in small houses in the middle of their corn fields.


Powhatan village

The Powhatan participated in an expansive trading network of luxury goods. The elite used this type of trading as a means to increase social status. Indians who lived upriver could trade freshwater pearls for ornaments made from large marine shells collected by eastern people. The Powhatans also traded for scarce metals like copper from groups outside the chiefdom. They traded for puccoon, a red dye used to make a highly valued paint with those to the south. When the English arrived, the Powhatan saw a chance for expanded trade opportunities.

After several confrontations

Werowocomoco was abandoned in 1609 after Powhatan became wary of the Englisg and Powhatan moved to another location further away from Jamestown. Virginia Indians may have continued to live there for a time. The English took over the land by the 1630s, patenting extensive farms.

More on what happened to the Powhatan and Virginia Indians after the 17th century in another post.

The village is interesting because it’s interactive and you can experience Powhatan life. I didn’t ask any questions or engage in conversation. The indoor museum was very thorough but the interpreters are happy to explain and answer questions.

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Jamestown Settlement Part 2

A few more pictures of the fort before moving on to the Powhatan village.

The armory was the one building with an interpreter to speak to. He explained how people tend to think of armor as Spanish, but the Jamestown colonists needed to protect themselves against the Spanish to the south and sometimes the Indians.  I’m aware of English armor. I’ve seen Miles Standish’s suit of armor in his (recreated) house at Plimoth Plantation.

I especially liked the little period details that make the 17th-century come to life. In the photos below you’ll see shoes and a chamber pot by the bed, pottery and scenes of domestic life.

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Chickens crowd the workshop area. They were pretty loud but avoided the camera. These chickens were used for eggs and meat. Today I would imagine the museum uses them as pest control as well.


Thatched roof from the inside

That’s all from the fort but I will be learning more from their online programs during this period of sheltering in.

Jamestown Settlement

While I was in Virginia in October, I had the opportunity to visit the Jamestown Settlement museum and fort. Getting there from Williamsburg on public transportation was a pain, the ticket price is expensive, the museum was overrun with elementary school children on field trips but the museum was well worth the visit and the price. It includes galleries, interactive exhibits, films, a special exhibit hall, the outdoor fort and Powhatan village and the replica ships. I didn’t have time for ALL of that. I suggest carving out an entire day open to close in order to see everything.

The main galleries discuss the history of Jamestown in great detail, including the hard stuff like interactions with the Powhatan and African slavery. You can take a virtual tour free through an app.

In 2019 he Commonwealth of Virginia acknowledged four historic events that took place in 1619: the first legislative assembly meeting at Jamestown; the first official English Thanksgiving at Berkeley Plantation; the arrival of the first documented Africans; and the recruitment of Englishwomen to join the colonists in Virginia. The Jamestown museum had rare documents, artifacts and exhibits commemorating these events.

Jamestown was founded in April 1607 when 104 men arrived on three ships: The Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery.


Replica of one of the three ships carrying Englishmen to Jamestown. I saw the Susan Constant on her 2007 tour.

They were gentlemen, laborers, sailors, a preacher and other assorted men. Reasons for coming were varied: converting the Indians to Christianity, specifically the Church of England so they could establish an English hold on the New World and thereby exploit resources to use in England. Others hoped to find the mythical gold and riches some hoped to to discover a northwest passage to the Orient. The Virginia Company,  of London, a joint-stock commercial organization provided the rights of trade, exploration and settlement in Virginia.

The men spent two weeks exploring the area before selecting a spot on the James River with deep water deep water anchorage and good defensive position. On May 14, the passengers came ashore began work on the settlement. Initially, the colony was governed by a council of seven, with one member serving as president.

The English settlers soon built a fort for protection against Spanish raids. A contemporary account of the original fort as seen in 1610 describes a triangular shaped fort with walls of planks and posts. Bulwarks at each corner supported artillery.


James Fort

The colonists were instructed to first build the public buildings. The original buildings included a storehouse to hold supplies and exports, an Anglican church and a guardhouse as headquarters for military activity.


James Fort

The colony had many of problems to begin with: no fresh water, no farmers, and weather problems led to lack of food and a “starving time” and war with the Indians. At this time, 4,000 Algonquian-speaking Indians ruled by the powerful leader Powhatan, inhabited the area.

In September 1608, the infamous Captain John Smith became leader of the colony. He established a “no work, no food” policy.  The famous story of John Smith being captured by the Powhatan and rescued by Pocahontas likely never happened or was an elaborate adoption ritual. Pocahontas was a little girl of about 12 at the time, not a comely maiden who fell in love with the Englishman. (Sorry Disney fans). John Smith tried, unsuccessfully to purchase the fortified Powhatan town known as Tsenacomoco in order to settle English colonists there.

After Smith was injured by burning gunpowder the following year, he returned to England leaving the colony in trouble. Thus followed a period of warfare between the colonists and Indians as well as the deaths of the colonists from starvation and disease. When the colonists ran out of food, they urged pressured the Virginia Indians for help, which the Indians refused. Powhatan ordered a siege of the English fort, which lasted through the winter of 1609–1610 causing warfare and starvation for the settlers. The colonists endured by eating snakes, rats, mice, musk turtles, cats, dogs, horses, and possibly even each other. Only about 60 colonists survived by May 1610.

Finally, when all hope seemed lost, a supply ship arrived in the spring of 1610. The ship also brought new settlers seeking wealth in Virginia. They brought with them a charter from King James I. The charter provided for stronger leadership. A governor would serve with group of advisers. During this period martial law was introduced and those who did not obey were harshly punished. The new governor, Lord de la Warre, launched a holy war against the Indians. It was bloody and gruesome on both sides. Pocahontas was kidnapped and instructed in Christianity. She was used as a bargaining chip but her father stalled on negations with the English. The war ended basically with a truce and Pocahontas chose to remain with the English and become a Christian. In 1614 she married the planter John Rolfe and peace prevailed for the next few years.


Chesapeake Log Canoe

A hollowed out log represents the type of watercraft that dominated the Chesapeake in the 17th-century. Each canoe was made from a single log, hollowed out by burning. These shallow canoes were ideal for navigating and fishing along the Chesapeake waterways. Fashioned from single trees by Powhatan Indians, the log canoe was the dominant watercraft at the time English colonists arrived at Jamestown in 1607. The suitability of this open, shallow vessel for navigating and fishing along the Chesapeake waterways led to its adoption and assimilation by European colonists using imported tools and technology. The English adopted and adapted the log canoe.


Boat building represents English, Virginia Indian and West African boat building techniques

Upon arriving in Virginia, the English expected tap the rich resources of land and water. Fresh and saltwater fish, as well as shellfish, helped supplement the food rations colonists were given by the Virginia Company. Englishmen fished with hook and line as well as with nets. Virginia Indians fished the local waters as well. Fish was one of their main food sources, especially in spring. Some Africans who arrived later had lived on or near rivers at home. They were familiar with fishing from canones made in a manner similar to those of the Powhatan. Coastal fishing was important to the West African economy. In Virginia, fish supplemented the diets of the African servants and slaves.



The gardens represent English foodways. The English diet was heavily grain based. They were used to eating a grain-based porridge known as pottage and bread, cheese, a variety of vegetables and sometimes meat. When the English arrived at Jamestown, they relied more on native crops such as corn because English grains couldn’t grow in Virginia and supplies did not arrive frequently. Their diets became dependent on hominy, a corn-based porridge that sometimes included meat.

The recreated Jamestown fort represents the time between 1610-1614. The outdoor fort area was recreated based on archaeological evidence found at the Historic Jamestowne (operated by the National Park Service. I went there in 2008).

Inside the walls of the fort, the largest, most imposing buildings are what was known as row houses. One row house is set up for the most prominent members of the colony and the other is the governor’s house.

The governor’s house is a 66- by 18-foot, two-and-a-half-story building recreated from archaeological evidence. It has a cobblestone foundation, walls of wattle and daub, wood plank floors, and a thatch roof.

This house would have been the chief administrative center of the colony.


Business would be conducted in the governor’s home

Two doors on each side open into small “lobbies.” The first floor hall or main public room features a table with a fancy armchair suitable for an important person such as the governor.

The governor’s house features extremely fancy furnishings



Fancy table and chair, elaborately carved desk in governor’s house

Next to the main room is the parlor where the governor may have entertained guests. This room is furnished with a smaller table and chairs, clothes press and cupboard.

Two bedrooms, one on either end of the building, are interpreted as rooms for the governor and for his higher-up servants, like his physician or secretary. Two chimneys with back-to-back fireplaces provide a hearth in each of the four rooms.


The governor’s bed chamber features a bed with fancy, carved bed posts and canopy


A smaller, less elaborate bedroom for a member of the household


This house is clearly the home of an important person. The fine furnishings, such as elaborately carved wood furniture and Turkish carpets covering tabletops were very expensive. The governor may have used these items to show off his wealth and status in the colony.


Suit of armor reminds visitors of the very real threat of Spanish invasion

The men tried different businesses to keep the colony going. They had glassmaking, a woodshop, pitch and tar and potash manufacturing and a blacksmith.


Woodworking Shop


Blacksmith’s Forge


I didn’t make it to the glasshouse but I watched a blacksmith demonstration.


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The leatherworks and tannery: Animal hides were used to make leather pouches, horse bridles, sword scabbards, book covers, gloves, etc. Cattle, swine, sheep and goats were the most frequently used animal skins. Read all the gruesome details on the National Park Service’s site for Historic Jamestowne. I can’t bear to read about it.


Red kidskin

This red piece of hide is kidskin. I can see why it was used for gloves. It’s so soft. I felt squeamish about touching it but in the interest of historical learning I did it.

I stopped in the recreated wooden church. According to the hornbook, this is a Church of England church, “a Protestant church that followed Anglican doctrines combining Roman Catholic (unbroken connection to the early church) and the Protestant churches (non acceptance of Papal authority). In the United States today it would be closest to the Episcopal Church. The first colonists were chiefly members of the Church of England, although a few may have been of other Protestant denominations or even Catholic.”


Recreation of the second church in Jamestown

Even this primitive church is much fancier than the New England meetinghouses and plain churches I’m used to. The church was ordered repaired by Lord De La Warr in 1610. He had the furnishings improved. The wattle and daub church was designed with a thatch roof, a joinery technique that dated back to 15th century England, and mortise and tenon joints with wood pegs.


Church ceiling beams and thatched roof

During the time of martial law (1610-1619), everyone was required to attend services twice daily with severe penalties for repeated offences. All colonists were required to swear allegiance to the Church of England. Longer services were held on Sundays with sermons and religious instruction.


Plain, hard, wooden pews


The original 17th century church is historically important for two reasons. On April 5, 1614, Pocahontas married John Rolfe. The third church was significant because it was the site where the first Legislative Assembly met in 1619. (Government meetings of the Council were likely commonly held in hall of the Governor’s house but it was not suitable enough or suitable enough for a meeting of the Governor, the Council and 22 represenatives). This meeting allowed representatives to pass laws pending approval from the Virginia Company. This is where American government began. Inside the gallery, I had the opportunity to view The Proceedings of the First General Assembly of Virginia, July 1619 by John Pory. This 400-year-old, rare document is on loan from the National Archives in the UK. It’s the first time anyone on this side of the Atlantic has seen this document in 400 years! It was here, in the original church that American government began, as documented in the Proceedings. The colonists voted to select two burgesses (representatives) from each settlement to represent them and speak for them. The first assembly passed laws that represented concerns of both the Virginia Company officials and of the local residents, served as a court for hearing petitions from colonists and established the basic procedures of Virginia government.

(fort tour to be continued)

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Colonial Williamsburg: Governor’s Palace

As the sun set on my final day in Williamsburg, I took a quick self-guided tour of the Governor’s Palace. I really, really wanted to make it to the kitchens but didn’t get done in enough time. Costumed interpreters were stationed throughout the house to answer questions. I didn’t take notes so I hope I remember the rooms correctly.


Governor’s Palace

Construction began in 1706, stalled due to lack of money, began again in 1711 with the completion of the entrance hall. The word “Palace” was first used for the governor’s house about 1714. Each governor made repairs until 1749 when the Palace was declared “ruinous”. The original Palace was renovated in the 1750s. The Palace hosted extravagant events such as galas and balls for Williamsburg society. The original Palace burned down in 1781 and the site eventually passed to the College of William & Mary until the 1920s when The CW Foundation purchased the property and began excavating and researching the site. The present structure was rebuilt between the 1950s and 1980s and renovated again in the 2000s to reflect the occupation of Lord Dunmore, the last of the royal governors, and his family.

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The entrance hall features accurate replication of the arms arrangement of the time when Lord Dunmore, the last royal governor, lived here. The arms represent a show of power and wealth. They were meant to send a message about imperial might.

The ballroom was added in 1752, following the a trend among English aristocrats to build special rooms dedicated to dancing and socializing. The back wall holds portraits of King Charles II and his wife Catherine of Barganza because Lady Dunmore had Stuart blood.

Heading upstairs…

The first bedroom is for the young ladies. Lady Catherine was the eldest, born 1760; Lady Augusta in 1761, Lady Susan, the youngest daughter but one born in 1767 and Lady Virginia born in Virginia in 1774. This camp bed belonged to the young ladies’ governess. I assume the doll belongs to one of the younger daughters of Lady Dunmore. I like how she’s all tucked in under the beautiful compass blanket.

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Colonial Williamsburg: R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse

The 18th-century coffeehouse stood as an alternative to the taverns. At the coffeehouse, men (no ladies were allowed) could sip coffee, chocolate and tea. Men could come here and smoke tobacco, play games and most importantly, discuss the issues of the day. In the coffeehouse, men of all walks of life came together to discuss new ideas. Those who didn’t have a voice in court were heard in the coffeehouse.

R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse is a newly recreated building at the eastern end of Duke of Gloucester Street near the capitol. Guests are led through the building by a coffeehouse employee and can sit and enjoy a hot beverage while discussing a news story or topic of discussion.

R. Charlton was a initially a wigmaker and his wife a dressmaker. They renovated a 1750 store to make it a clean, well-lit space.

The tour starts outside on the porch. The covered porch kept drinkers dry on rainy days and provided a neutral space for men to gather. Inside there are two main rooms side by side. The plain room is for the ordinary folks. It’s simply decorated and a casual place to hang out.


newssheet and games at R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse



games, pipes and a newssheet on the table at R. Charlton’s Coffeehouse


Men could play dominoes or smoke a pipe at the coffeehouse

The second room is more refined with all the latest in fine furnishings from England.


Fancy wallpaper from England adorns the walls of the room for the well-to-do


a grandfather clock, a mirror and nice pictures adorn the nicer of the two rooms


geometric print rugs were very fashionable


The wallpaper looks like a geometric print from a distance but actually features large flowers


a fancy tallcase clock

Charlton’s coffehouse also features a cabinet of curiosities with bones and skeletons of local fish and mammals.


animal bones, porcupine quills, shark casing, seashell and other curiosities


More fancy wallpaper in Mr. Charton’s office


Mr. Charlton’s desk

The public room in the back features a drinks bar and seating. They also served food.

On my visit we discussed a topic of interest in one the newspapers of the day: should you keep old love letters? The amicable debate considered all sides of the issue: who were the letters from- an old lover or a deceased partner? Do you have children? Do you want them to know what you were thinking and feeling at that time of your life? If you were married to the letter writer and have children, don’t you want to preserve the letters for them and their children and so on? As an archivist, I’m firmly in the camp of saving letters no matter what.

Here at R. Charlton’s, all drinks are made as so not to disorder anyone’s stomach. For ready cash or fine credit Mr. Charlton will add a little something extra to your drink. 

I tried the amazing hot chocolate, made from American Heritage Chocolate by the Mars corporation. It was warm, spicy and sweet. It hit the spot on a cold, windy day. I had to go buy some at the visitor’s center gift shop to bring home.


American Heritage Hot Chocolate by the Mars corporation

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Colonial Williamsburg: Historic Trades Part 4

The Apothecary Shop

I visited the apothecary on my last visit in 2008. I probably wouldn’t have stopped in again if it weren’t for my young niece who wants to be an herbal healer. Medicine in colonial times was quite different from today.

In Colonial times, the Apothecary was a pharmacist, doctor and surgeon all rolled into one. Apothecaries provided medical treatment, prescribed medicine, trained apprentices, performed surgery and acted as man-midwives.

Apothecaries were expensive and people often diagnosed and treated their own illnesses based on folk remedies. Every good colonial household had an herb garden. Housewives were knowledgeable about herbs and their uses. Household gardens contained a wide variety of plants for both food and medicine. Personally, I’d take my chances with folk remedies passed on from mother to daughter. However, many of the remedies mentioned in Every Man His Own Doctor, an 18th-century home medical text, are hair raising and not to be practiced today.

The Pasteur & Galt Apothecary Shop on Duke of Gloucester Street is the site where two apothecary-surgeons practiced in the 18th-century.  Williamsburg apothecaries not only practiced medicine but they also sold cooking spices, candles, salad oil, anchovies, toothbrushes, and tobacco.

Some ingredients used in colonial remedies are the basis for modern medications. Shown here are chalk for heartburn and digitalis made from the foxglove plant used to treat heart problems. Other modern remedies known in the 18th-century included calamine for skin irritations, and cinchona bark for fevers. Cinchona bark contains quinine for malaria and quinidine for cardiac conditions.


colonial era medicines in the foreground with a leather splint in the background


Digitalis: A tincture made with with Foxglove to treat heart problems


Ipecac, a powerful emetic (“it makes you barf!”) declared a school child


Black Pectoral Troches licorice cough drops


“cardiac troches.” ground oyster shells, chalk, sugar, and nutmeg. These contain calcium carbonate were used as antacids.



Colonial Williamsburg: Visit With a Nation Builder: Part 3

Gowan Pamphlet



African-American Baptist preacher, young Gowan Pamphlet passionately shares his story with an audience

My last visit with a nation builder was with fiery, passionate young Baptist preacher Gowan Pamphlet. Gowan Pamphlet, an enslaved Baptist preacher preaches messages of equality before God. He is owned by Mrs. Jane Vobe, owner of the King’s Arms Tavern. Don’t feel too harshly towards her, he says. She’s had her own troubles. (She can’t legally free him under the law. It’s very difficult at this time to free slaves). She once had her tavern at the other end of the town from where it is now. When the Methodists set up a meeting house across the street she wasn’t pleased at first. She soon saw the light and got the message about equality.

Gowan was well-educated in manners, etiquette and services for genteel tavern diners. This serves him well as a preacher. When he was ordained in 1772, he became the only ordained black preacher of any denomination in the country. He gives fiery speeches about freedom, believing the conflict with Britain will escalate into war and soon everyone will be free. He later followed his calling and risked his life to build Williamsburg’s First Baptist Church. Large gatherings of African Americans were prohibited out of fear of slave uprisings and Baptist preachers faced harassment as dissenters from the officially recognized Church of England.

Gowan Pamphlet believes war is imminent, America will win and the slaves will be free. It was tough to listen to his optimism knowing that his hopes were unfounded.


African-American Baptist Preacher Gowan Pamphlet shares his hopes for the future

wow! This interpreter, whose name I have discovered is Joseph Feaster, really gets into his role. He is loud enough to hear from the top of the amphitheater and when I moved closer I could see him spitting as he talked. I can only imagine what Mr. Pamphlet would have sounded like in his meetings. He explained the difference between church vs. meeting. Since the Church of England was the official state religion, all others were outlawed so when people gathered for services, they couldn’t officially announce they were going to church or they’d be arrested. They were simply going to a meeting. This was something I never understood before, in spite of living in the land of meeting house, the first colony to separate religion from the state.

Mr. Pamphlet was excited when I told him I’m from the state where his religion was founded and in his day (1774) they are building a brand new, large meeting house. I wish he could have visited and preached there but his spirit lives on in Colonial Williamsburg. The amount of information I found about this man is rich especially considering he was a man of color.

I’ve always been impressed with Colonial Williamsburg’s first person interpreters. Their depth of knowledge and skill at portraying a real person from the history books or a person forgotten by the books is just incredible. I’m even more impressed that they have uncovered lost stories of African-Americans to include in their historic programming. It’s been 40 years since they first began African-American interpretation and that interpretation is constantly evolving.

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Colonial Williamsburg: Visit With a Nation Builder: Part 2

Caesar Hope

Colonial Williamsburg has moved away from the reenactments in the streets towards telling specific stories about specific people. This allows them to tell more stories than just the figures represented by the history books. I chose to learn more about people of color in 18th-century Williamsburg. I attended an audience with Caesar Hope, barber.

Caesar Hope tells his story. He is quite the character and writing down his story doesn’t do him justice. He started by critiquing the choice of an older man in the audience to wear a beard and the man kept trying to justify his choices rather than play along with the reenactment allowing Caesar to give him fashion advice and explain what he can do for this man.


Caesar Hope tells his story

Born in Africa and kidnapped as a small boy, he was sold into slavery in Virginia. As an adult he was manumitted and took up the profession of barbering, something he had learned from his first owner.

Caesar serves the most elite gentlemen in Williamsburg. He is known more for his conversation and wit than his barbering skills!


Caesar Hope tells his story

Caesar is working hard to save money for his wife and son. He and his wife agreed he would first free their son and then Mrs. Hope if he could. Sadly, it will take him many years to save up to buy his child and probably his whole life before he can afford his wife. Even then, they will still legally be slaves, as his property according to the law.

The audience mainly wanted to discuss this last point, about how much money Hope’s wife would cost to buy and the intricacies of slavery at this time. I was more interested in Caesar’s Hope’s personal story and his job but there wasn’t ample opportunity for my to ask more questions.

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Colonial Williamsburg: Visit With a Nation Builder Part 1

Patrick Henry

Meet Patrick Henry orator, statesman, first elected (non-royal) governor in Virginia. lawyer, patriot and founder of American independence.


Patrick Henry after his speech comes down to interact with people one-on-one

He had a lot to say about his past. The Interpreter was great. He spoke with enthusiasm and humor, especially for a man nearing the end of his life. (Patrick Henry would die the following year). The Interpreter effectively conveyed Henry’s life story in an interesting manner but the political history was too much information and not enough detail for me until I looked it up. After the presentation, he answered questions knowledgeably and agreeably. Then he stepped down from the stage to meet and greet people wanting to take pictures, shake his hand and discuss his impact on modern day politics.

My pictures didn’t come out so well because I was too far away. I kept moving closer as people left to try to capture his face. The zoom lens can only reach so far, unfortunately.

Colorful character Patrick Henry tells his life story. A self-starter, Henry studied law on his own. He first became famous in 1763 for calling the King a tyrant who would be disposed because the far away King refused to pass a law made by the representatives of the American people. Two years later he spoke out against the Stamp Act in the Virginia House of Burgesses. He compared King George III with dictators like Caeser and Charles I of England. On May 29, 1765, he introduced seven radical resolutions in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Five of the seven resolutions were adopted on May 30, though one was reconsidered the next day (after Henry’s departure) and removed.


Patrick Henry relates his life story

He was a very passionate speaker and got the Burgesses (representatives) all riled up because they thought his words were treason. Henry managed to win the men to his side and led every protest for American rights and independence.

Henry was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774. On March 23, 1775, he gave his infamous speech arguing the Congress should put together an army to fight against the British. He gave a dramatic speech, holding his wrists together like they were chained. Henry raised his wrists towards the heavens and stated dramatically “Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty” (imagine Henry bursting from his imaginary chains and grabbing an ivory letter opener) “Or give me death!” (picture Henry pretending to stab himself.” No one spoke for a few minutes. History will credit this speech with tipping the scales towards independence. (Listen to his speech given by Richard Schumann who interprets Patrick Henry for Colonial Williamsburg)

The interpreter was really into his speech, he was spitting a bit as his voice rose.

Henry led the militia against Lord Dunmore and called for Lord Dunmore’s removal after the Governor tried to steal the town’s gunpowder. On May 2, Henry collected the militia of Hanover County and marched toward Williamsburg. He sent a message to the governor demanding that the gunpowder be returned to representatives of the colony. Governor Dunmore wrote the Virginians a bill of exchange for value of the powder, then issued a proclamation outlawing “a certain Patrick Henry” for disturbing the peace of the colony.


Patrick Henry answers questions from the audience

Henry served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, was a member of the Virginia committee of Correspondence, a delegate to the Virginia Convention, and a delegate to the Virginia Constitution Ratification Convention. Henry was commissioned as Colonel of the First Virginia regiment on Saturday, August 26, 1775, by the third Virginia Convention. Henry was a delegate to the Continental Congress buy resigned his position to return to Virginia to begin organizing his regiment.

On June 29 was elected the first governor of the Commonwealth under its new constitution, adopted the same day. Patrick Henry served five terms as the first and sixth governor of Virginia.

Henry was succeeded as governor by Thomas Jefferson but the two were not particularly friendly. There was some animosity between them during the war years when the British advanced on the capital of Virginia. In January 1781, British forces under Benedict Arnold, sailed up the James River and captured Richmond, the capital at the time. The government fled to Staunton, minus Governor Jefferson, whose term had expired. Jefferson took refuge at his farm in Bedford County, and because Virginia had not had another election, the Commonwealth had no governor for ten days. Several legislators, including Patrick Henry complained of Jefferson’s actions and called for an inquiry into the conduct of the executive. Patrick Henry explains how he thought Jefferson should have been impeached. (That will NEVER happen again… he adds). The Battle of Yorktown effectively ended the war before an inquiry could be held. The Virginia legislature decided against holding the inquiry and congratulated Jefferson on winning the war. Patrick Henry did not seem to thrilled by this.

Patrick Henry served as governor again from 1784-1786. He was the longest serving governor of Virginia and will always be on the record as such due to term limits.


Patrick Henry tells his life story

Henry explained his feelings towards the Constitution. He opposed ratification because he felt it put too much power in the hands of the federal government without a bill of rights. He feared the absence of a bill of rights was a power grab by a few (as in Jefferson and Madison). Virginia agreed to ratify the Constitution when the Bill of Rights was added but Henry felt they did not adequately safeguard the rights of the people. He emphasized the rights of the people -rights NO ONE can take away from us. Fortunately the audience didn’t get into a political debate while I was busy trying to take notes.

I asked about his first wife, Sarah, who was mentally ill. He explained that after the birth of her 6th child she became disoriented and confused, not speaking and she stopped recognizing her children. Whether this was postpartum depression or not there is no way of knowing given the lack of medical knowledge at the time but modern scholars feel there is a connection. She continued to decline, becoming violent, and the family physician recommended taking her to Williamsburg to the hospital there. After touring the hospital, Patrick Henry decided it was too cruel to allow his wife to be imprisoned there. He had a “commodious establishment” made for her in the basement. It wasn’t the dank, dark, dungeon his enemies would have you think but actually sunny and comfortable. There she had light, food and water, was attended by a nurse and visited by her family. Sadly, Sarah never recovered after died after 4 1/2 years. I had read a novel, in my younger days, Or Give Me Death by Ann Rinaldi. In the novel Sarah Henry throws herself out the window crying “Give me liberty, or give me death!” thus inspiring her husband’s speech. (and my question) However, historians don’t know the truth and this seems to have been a fun piece of fiction for young adults. It seems like the truth is that her family loved her and tried their best to care for her with the limited medical treatment available at that time. It breaks my heart for her and the family who watched her suffer. I asked because I felt it was important to Sarah Henry to have her story told. I realized when I asked that this must be a frequently asked question. A tougher question would have been “Did you cover up your wife’s illness because of your political ambitions?” No doubt there would have been a great answer to that question too.


Patrick Henry shares his story 

Patrick Henry married again after a suitable period of mourning in 1777. His second wife bore him another 11 children and survived. He will die next year in 1799 at his home on Red Hill Plantation in Campbell County. (How he knows this, he didn’t say!)

You too can have the pleasure of an audience with Patrick Henry thanks you YouTubers. I wish I had been close enough to take a video but I got there too late for a good seat.

This is a great program and I recommend visiting with as many nation builders as you can. Thomas Jefferson is still my favorite but Patrick Henry is wonderful too.


Colonial Williamsburg: Historic Trades Part 3


The firm of George Wilson, who moved to Williamsburg from Norfolk, Virginia in the late 1760s. In 1773, George Wilson specialized in “Boots and Shoes for Gentlemen.” Boot making was considered the most sophisticated and prestigious branch of the trade. It followed a centuries-old tradition. The making of boots and shoes for men and the making of shoes for women were separate pursuits.

Shoemaker and apprentice explain the process of making shoes

Shoemaker and apprentice explain the process of making shoes

Men could select shoes from a stock of “sale shoes” in popular-styled, already-sized shoes. Alternately, if his feet were an unusual size, he could order a pair made order, which required a day’s wait. The firm’s specialty was boots for riding. Wilson’s sister-in-law was the proprietor of the shoe factory of Mary Wilson and Company.

Apprentice demonstrating process of working leather into shoes

Apprentice demonstrating process of working leather into shoes

The chart on the wall shows the prices of goods sold.

handwritten price chart on wall

The chart on the wall shows the prices of goods sold.

Printing and Binding Office

The printer spent hours just to produce a newspaper or book. Setting type for one page of the weekly newspaper required 25 hours of hand labor.

Printer using large wooden printing press

Printer demonstrating hand press

The type is set in the galleys backwards, locked into the chase and secured. Learn more about the process of printing  Colonial Williamsburg Almanack

In the 18th-century the book binding office served as a stationer’s, a post office, an advertising agency, an office supply shop, a newsstand, and a bookbindery. It sold magazines and books, maps and almanacs,and even sealing wax!

Bookbinding office books

The place to buy your paper goods

Books were sold unbound. Customers liked to choose their own bindings to show off status and wealth or to personal tastes. Here you could have a book bound from start to finish.

large wooden bookbinding tool

tool of the trade

Groups of printed pages or signatures of four, eight, 12, or 16 pages contained two or more pages on each side of a sheet. When folded and cut the signatures presented the text in the proper order for binding.

A bookbinder compiled the signatures and beat them with a heavy hammer to make the sheets lie close. He arranged them on a sewing frame and stitched them together at the back fold with linen thread. As he sewed, he looped the strands around thick hemp cross threads, which created characteristic horizontal ridges across the spine and unified the assembly. were laid on a sewing frame and stitched to cords at the back fold with linen thread. These cords formed horizontal ridges across the spine

The book binder demonstrates sewing a book.


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