Colonial Williamsburg

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The blurring in one of my photographs shows that the sharp crack of musket fire caused me to jump when the volley started. We were watching a short re-enactment of American military prowess in the Colonial period in Williamsburg, Virginia. The centre of this town is closed to traffic and is preserved as an historic site. The period is the late 18th century when Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia under British rule and America was at war with Britain as a result of Congress voting for independence on 2nd July 1776.

The preserved area covers 300 acres, about 8 blocks wide by 3 blocks deep, and has 40 or so original or reconstructed historic buildings including the Governors Palace, the Capitol, the gunsmith and foundry, the public armoury, the workplaces of the wheelwright, basket maker and milliner, and two public taverns. All these buildings are open to visitors and many are hosted by interpreters who play the parts of those who inhabited the buildings in the Colonial period.

You can walk straight into this historic area from modern day Williamsburg, it’s not separated in any way, but the best place to start a visit is at the large, modern Visitor Centre. I thought this centre wasn't particularly well sign posted, but perhaps I missed some of the signs as I struggled to drive on the wrong side of the road to get there. The effort was rewarded by arrival into a huge free car park. Tickets to gain access to the historic buildings are on sale at $42 per day for adults and $21 for children. We didn't buy tickets because it was too late in the day. We didn’t arrive in Williamsburg until 3.30pm, and many of the attractions close at 5pm. The price seems high but I have no doubt it will be good value.

The Visitor Centre is linked to the preserved site by both a walkway and shuttle buses, we took the ten minute walk through pleasant woodland to get to the site. There's no charge to walk around the streets, look at the buildings and soak up the atmosphere which is enhanced immeasurably by the presence of many actors dressed in period costumes; ladies, servants, soldiers of all rank going about their business in the streets. I didn't see any slaves however, no doubt they'd be hard at work in the cotton and tobacco plantations of Virginia. The only traffic in the streets is horse drawn so it’s very relaxing to walk around. Shortly before 5 o'clock a band of fifes and drums marched up Duke of Gloucester Street and wheeled right into Market Square behind the Courthouse. They were joined there by militiamen and women and were inspected by their officers. General George Washington then rode in on his horse to address and inspire them. This was followed by some musket firing practice to prepare them for the siege of Yorktown in September 1781, before the British surrendered in October. This re-enactment was an interesting and enjoyable entertainment and a great photo opportunity.

We’d arrived late in the day at Williamsburg because we’d visited the Berkeley Plantation on our way here (see separate review). My recommendation to anyone planning a day in Colonial Virginia however, would be to focus on Williamsburg, to get to the Visitor Centre early and to buy tickets for admission to the historic buildings. I’m sure you could easily spend the whole day here and still not see everything. The Berkeley Plantation may be historical, but in my view it’s not in the same league as Williamsburg for general interest and entertainment.

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