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.

williamsburgpatrickhenry6

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.

williamsburgpatrickhenry2

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.

williamsburgpatrickhenry3

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.

williamsburgpatrickhenry4

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.

williamsburgpatrickhenry5

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 1

In the afternoon, as the rain tapered off, my friend and I browsed some of the trade shops. I continued my visit the next day when it was too cold and windy to stay outside for too long.

I was especially interested in the spinning, weaving and dyeing house as I do spinning and weaving at the museum where I work. I teach elementary school groups about textile production including showing them how to card and spin a piece of wool on a drop spindle and do simple weaving on a small upright loom. In colonial New England people made their clothes at home out of necessity. In Virginia the situation was quite different as they were a much wealthier colony.

williamsburgweavingshopblankets

Textiles woven in Colonial Williamsburg

Until just before the Revolutionary War most people imported textiles from Britain. Because of non-importation agreements and war, British textiles became scare. A clothing factory opened outside of Williamsburg in 1776. They mostly made cloth for the military.

Spinning was a domestic chore not much practiced in colonial Virginia, as it was very time-consuming, and most cloth was imported. It would take 12 spinners of wool to keep the weaver busy at the loom, and 100 spinners of cotton to keep him busy.

Dyes came from the natural world. Cochineal, an insect from South America,makes the color red. 70,000 cochineal are needed to make a pound of red dye. Brown comes from walnuts, blue from indigo from South Carolina, Spain, or South America. Purple comes from the Spanish log wood tree, and turmeric from India gives yellow its hue. Orange comes from the root of the madder plant.

williamsburgdyedyarn

Dyed yarn. Red was a color associated with poor people while green was for the wealthy because it required double dyeing in yellow and blue.

Weavers were men who served a 7-year apprenticeship to learn their trade.

williamsburgweaver1

Press the pedals underneath, throw the shuttle through, repeat in the other direction

Weavers can create plain or intricate patterns depending on how they set up the loom and the order in which they push the pedals that move the harnesses of the loom in the correct sequences.

He insists it isn’t hard to learn. Weaving is MUCH easier to do when you have a long arm span and long legs to reach the pedals. It’s easy enough to make a simple stripe but to create more complicate patterns requires more knowledge and artistry.

Colonial Williamsburg’s weavers weave on two types of looms that represent the types available to eighteenth-century Virginians. The smaller is a cantilever loom, developed during the eleventh century in Spain. The larger is a four-post box loom, created in England in the sixteenth century.

 

To learn how to weave, Colonial Williamsburg offers weaving workshops.

For more information on the historic trade, visit the Weaver page of Colonial Williamsburg’s website.

Museum of Newport History

While in Newport, I visited the Museum of Newport History in the Brick Marketplace. It was my first time visiting this little museum and I was quite impressed. Like most tourists, I usually visit the mansions and know quite a lot about Gilded Age history. Colonial Newport is new to me.

Newport was founded by seekers of religious toleration. From 1639 when the Newport charter was signed, Newport was home to Anabaptists, Antinomians, Quakers, Jews, and others could worship without fear of persecution.

Great Friends Meetinghouse (Quaker)

Great Friends Meetinghouse (Quaker) is the oldest surviving house of worship in Rhode Island, dating to 1699. This building was the largest and most recognizable building in town during the colonial period. It was expanded in 1705 and 1729.

Touro Synagogue, the oldest Jewish congregation in Rhode Island and one of the oldest in the U.S.A. It was dedicated in 1763.

Touro Synagogue, the oldest Jewish congregation in Rhode Island and one of the oldest in the U.S.A. It was dedicated in 1763.

By the beginning of the 18th century, Newport was a thriving seaport : one of five leading ports in America. Newport flourished as a center of business and cultural activity. Enslaved Africans contributed to this success and the museum does not shy away from discussing this difficult topic.

Newport was not only a thriving seaport, it was home to many types of businesses, including the newspaper business.

18th century Newport businesses

18th century Newport businesses

The Newport Mercury newspaper was founded by Benjamin Franklin’s brother James and continued by James’ wife Ann, after his death. The museum features an exhibit set up to look like an early printing office. This 17th century printing press was instrumental in passing along news to colonial Newporters and was also a source of income. This press was owned by James Franklin and was targeted by the British during the Revolutionary War and they used to print official documents and newspapers. It has survived for 4 centuries standing as a testament to the power of the written word.

A Colonial era printing press

Late 1600s printing press owned by James Franklin

Colonial newspaper (reproduction)

Colonial newspaper (reproduction)

Printed by Ann Franklin, the Copy of Some Queries was printed in 1739.

Printed by Ann Franklin, the Copy of Some Queries was printed in 1739.

By the middle of the 18th century, a new middle class had emerged in Newport. In the 1750s, the parlor symbolized a new concern with refinement and gentility. It was often remade in the latest style. This room is where guests were received and the family’s finest objects were displayed. This middle class parlor shows off a family’s locally made furniture. The c. 1750 table features drop-leaves to expand for use and put down for storage. The museum believes this piece was made in either the Townsend or the Goddard furniture shops. The provenance is traced back to Henry Marchant  (April 9, 1741 – August 30, 1796), a lawyer, judge, delegate to the  Continental Congress from 1777 to 1779, and signer of the Articles of Confederation for Rhode Island. Henry Marchant may have placed this table in his law office.

A middle-class room

A middle-class room

The chest-on-chest may have been made by John Townsend (1732–1809) for Peleg Clarke, a merchant in the tea trade working in Newport and Boston. The Townsends were the most well-known cabinet makers in Newport. They made cabinets, chairs, and other furniture. Job Townsend (1699–1765) and his brother Christopher (1701–1787) started the family furniture business.  John Townsend (1732–1809), the son of Christopher Townsend and Patience (Easton) Townsend is belived to have made this chest-on-chest. Chest-on-chests were often showcased in a family’s parlor serving as repositories for linens, papers, and other important items.

The lovely portraits on the walls are Captain Isaac Stelle (1714-1763) and Penelope Godson Stelle, his wife. Captain Stelle was a merchant, chandler, Warden of Trinity Church, and Captain of the Newport County Regiment. Captain Stelle was an active participant in the Triangle Trade. The portraits were done by Robert Feke (c.1705 or 1707 – c.1752), one of the best known portrait makers in colonial America. He lived in Newport for a short time before his death in 1742 and painted only nine paintings.

There was also a section on the French in Newport. This French map shows the defenses in Narragansett Bay where the allied forces were in January 1781. The red line shows where the French took advantage of the natural geography of Newport harbor to fire on the British.

In 1778, the French sent an expeditionary fleet under the command of Comte D’Estaing to aid the Americans, arriving in Newport on July 29, 1778.The plan of action included simultaneous naval and land engagements. The plan failed, due to the arrival of British reinforcements and a freak storm that damaged D’Estaing’s ships. Aquidneck remained in the hands of the British until 1779.

French map showing the defenses in Narragansett Bay.

French map showing the defenses in Narragansett Bay.

Charles-Henri Hector d’Estaing (1729-1794)

Charles-Henri Hector d’Estaing (1729-1794)

Charles-Henri Hector D’Estaing was from a noble French family who had ties to the Crown. Following the recognizance of American independence, the Crown appointed d’Estaing as first commander of the fleet sent to aid American forces in New York and New England. Arriving in Narragansett Bay on July 29, 1778, d’Estaing decided to engage the British fleet offshore. This was a costly error. He should have added to the land forces prior to the Battle of Rhode Island. D’Estaing’s made one strategic blunder after another and was recalled back to France in 1780.

Diorama depicting the arrival of the French in Newport.

The arrival of Rochambeau and his troops. Diorama by Mme. Fernande Metayer, Paris, 1976.

The French returned victorious on July 11,1780 under the command of Comte Rochambeau.  They found a city destroyed after three years of British occupation.  Newport in 1780 was no longer a prosperous port. Newporters were weary of the long British occupation and welcomed the French with parades, proclamations and parties. Until June 1781, French officers were quartered in the homes of Newporters, living beside the people of Newport and becoming integral to the social tapestry in the city.

Newport's Liberty Square

Newport’s Liberty Square

Near the Brick Marketplace is Liberty Square. Dating back to the colonial period, this park was donated to the Newport Magistrates in the mid-18th century. Members of the Newport Artillery donated the square for the purpose of establishing a “Mustering Place,” where free men would assemble and speak freely .The square belonged to the people of the city; free from ownership by any corporation or individual. It remains a small reminder of how Rhode Island and Newport were at the forefront of establishing the freedoms we take for granted today.

Illuminating the American Revolution / French in Newport

Several weeks ago, a Revolutionary War reenactment was held at the Colony House in Newport, RI to welcome the tall ship Hermione.

One of five rotating capitals in early Rhode Island.

Newport was one of five rotating capitals in early Rhode Island.

The date: July 10, 1780. Newport had been occupied by the British for three years since December 1776 until the fall of 1779. The British brought chaos and destruction and over half of the town’s population fled. From July-August 1778 French forces under the command of of the comte d’Estaing attempted to help American troops and planned a siege of Newport from the British. First they miscalculated and then a large storm blew in so the French were forced to retreat. They tried again two years later. On July 11, 1780, the Marquis de Lafayette arrived on the Hermione with 5500 French troops to march with the Comte de Rochambeau.

Reenactors in the guise of townspeople gathered at Newport’s Colony House for a day of events. I tried to aim for the reading of the Town Council Proclamation, but due to getting carsick on the bus, had to sit down in the Visitors’ Center for awhile before walking over to Colony House. (Carsickness also prevented me from taking a water taxi to Fort Adams to see L’Hermione).

Newport citizens mingled with each other and guests speaking about the Revolutionary War time period in Newport from the perspective of their character.

Reproductions of colonial newspapers helped visitors get a feel for what was going on in New England at the time. The articles on the French arrival in Newport are especially fun to read.

click to see the full size picture and read the articles.

click to see the full size picture and read the articles.

click to see the full size picture and read the articles.

click to see the full size picture and read the articles.

colonialnewspaper3The “townspeople” distributed candles to all the guests and led an illuminated procession across the square to the Brick Marketplace gift shop/museum. The candles managed to stay lit despite the ocean breeze.

“Three cheers for King Louis!”

In addition to the reenactment, Colony House had a display of archival material and museum pieces relating to the French in Newport. I especially liked seeing the original handwritten documents. It was amazing to read the actual documents that helped contribute to the formation of the United States.

A promissory note from the War department of the American Army of Rochambeau 26 August 1782

A promissory note from the War department of the American Army of Rochambeau 26 August 1782

Col. Henry Sherburne’s Military Logbook, 1778 displays an entry from August 8, 1778, the eve of the Battle of Rhode Island. Sherburne was in Tiverton, Rhode Island, the headquarters for the American troops. He recorded the hierarchy of command, including which regiments will be under Lafayette’s control. His handwriting is surprisingly easy to read for a time period when spelling was creative and handwriting vastly different from our own.

click to see full size photo and read Sherburne's log.

click to see full size photo and read Sherburne’s log.

click to read

click to read

A letter from Gen. Rochambeau to an unknown correspondent. 27 June, 1782

A letter from Gen. Rochambeau to an unknown correspondent. 27 June, 1782

The sign states :  “This letter describes the movement of the French and American troops and artillery along the York River in June 1782. . . . Writing from Williamsburg, this letter demonstrates Rochambeau’s concern for new defenses at Yorktown and a reinforcement of troops along the seaboard in the event of another British offensive.”

Reproductions of maps from the Library of Congress provide a better idea of what the city looked like in 1780, where the defenses were and where troops were located.

French map showing locations of French troops in Newport.

French map showing locations of French troops in Newport.

French map showing French squadron entering Newport under battery fire and forcing its way through on Aug. 8, 1778.

French map showing French squadron entering Newport under battery fire and forcing its way through on Aug. 8, 1778.

French map showing the different operations of the French fleet and American Troops commanded by Major Gen. Sullivan against the English land and sea forces from Aug. 9, 1788 to the night of Aug, 30-31when Americans made their retreat.

French map showing the different operations of the French fleet and American Troops commanded by Major Gen. Sullivan against the English land and sea forces from Aug. 9, 1788 to the night of Aug, 30-31when Americans made their retreat.

Colony House also had an exhibit of items from the Newport Historical Society, such as this silver spoon.

Rochambeau spoon

1730-1750. Sterling silver. L. 12-1/4 in. Acquired from Mrs. May H. Bowen, 1964.3.

This is a spoon engraved with the Rochambeau crest and presented to Jabez Bowen, the deputy governor of the new state of Rhode Island and his family by Rochambeau to commemorate Rochambeau’s stay in Providence. It look just as beautiful as it must have in 1780. It must have been a great treasure for Mr. Bowen to save and pass down with the wonderful story. (Spoon, Joseph Gabriel Agard (French), ca. 1730-1750. Sterling silver. L. 12-1/4 in. Acquired from Mrs. May H. Bowen, Newport Historical Society1964.3.)

Panel displays also explained more background information. A sign displaying quotations from the diary of Baron Louis de Closen, an aide de camp to Rochambeau, was especially interesting. The Baron noted many differences between French and American manners. He saw Americans as more uncouth than the French, except for the women, of course! The courage of American men is also duly noted, despite their indifferent appearance and more slovenly manners.

Newport Through French Eyes

Thousands of French soldiers came to occupy the city. Many Newporters were excited to welcome the liberating strangers, but others worried the French would be a repeat of the British – bad guests. Those who were happy about the arrival of the French held an evening illumination in which citizens of Newport put candles in their windows on all the streets leading out of town. These quartering notices inform Newporters of the French occupation.

Quartering notices for citizens to house the French Army during the winter 1780-1781.

The French stayed in Newport until 1781. In March 1781, George Washington arrived in Newport and met with General Rochambeau to plot out their next move. Rochambeau and his troops left Newport and met up with Washington and his troops in Yorktown, Virginia, ultimately securing a victory over General Cornwallis and the British. Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown marked the beginning of the end of the Revolutionary War.