Day 29: Plying Their Trade

The Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Photo: Jenny Williams

Williamsburg, Virginia, is a cute little town, and there is a lot here. The College of William and Mary is here, along with Colonial Williamsburg, a section of town that was preserved and re-established as a center of Colonial American life. The people are very friendly (well, they are paid to be, but it seems genuine), and the town is well-packaged to be a tourist/educational site. Buy an admission ticket and you get access to enough sites, activities, demonstrations, and performances to educate and entertain you for several days. You are given very helpful maps (including maps for kids with special activities to earn prizes), access to a hop on/hop off shuttle bus, access to plenty of clean bathrooms, and all the help you need. Colonial Williamsburg is why we are here. It’s also why I restrained myself from buying much at other gift shops before our arrival. I remember the Williamsburg gift shops. All too well.

The Courthouse, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Photo: Jenny Williams

We started this morning at the Visitor’s Center where we can park for free and then take the shuttles around the town. We picked up our tickets from Will Call and hopped on one of the first buses out of the station. On a friend’s recommendation, our first stop was the hedge maze at the Governor’s Palace. It was already hot, but the kids and I walked around the maze for a while. But the maze wasn’t thick, and there were so many different pathways and shortcuts that there were no deadends and it was impossible to get lost. It did help to be short, though, because the shortcuts were open spaces within the hedges. After a while the kids gave up and the boy said, “It’s too easy, mom.” I agreed.

We then made our way to the DeWitt Wallace Museum where we had some craft time doing Scherenschnitte, or German paper cutting. It was a lot of fun. It turns out that both men and women did this craft back in the day. Both of my kids and I enjoyed it. In fact, the boy wanted to do more, even though we had to leave. I wish we could have stayed, but I didn’t want to miss the Children’s Orientation Walk. I learned where to get the scissors we used, though (which made all the difference), so we can do this at home.

The ladies' room sign at the Visitor's Center in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Photo: Jenny Williams

At the Children’s Orientation Walk, the lady tour guide tried to make Williamsburg interesting for children. It didn’t work on my cranky boy, who was already hot and bored, and out of sorts because I dragged him away from the paper cutting. But we did get some good hints of places to not miss, and the kids got to try a couple of traditional games at the end of the tour. One was a hoop and stick game, where two kids have Y-shaped sticks and toss a small-ish hoop filled with interlaced string back and forth. The other was called stickball but looked a bit like lacrosse. Some things I learned from the walk are: Williamsburg is set up as a town from 1770. In 1699, the capital of Virginia moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg because it was on higher land and there were fewer bugs.

After our walk, we headed toward the Cheese Shop for lunch. I was glad that my friend Jeff reminded me about the Cheese Shop. I went in intending to get us all sandwiches, but then I noticed another counter with a much shorter line. You could buy individual loaves of bread or sandwich rolls, meat and cheese by the pound, and other things for your picnic. Um, sounds like sandwich fixings to me! So for $12, I got more food than we needed for lunch, for much cheaper than three sandwiches. We had French bread, applewood smoked cheddar, and delicious turkey, and the girl and I had a small sausage type thing later in the day (lest you think we forgot a food group, we also had some squeezie applesauces with us). The boy even ate some of the turkey! I was amazed. I intend on eating lunch there tomorrow and the next day, and perhaps some dinner as well.

The men's room sign at the Visitor's Center in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. Photo: Jenny Williams

Next, at the weavers, I learned that in the winter people wore wool. In spring and fall they wore a wool/linen blend, and in the summer, all linen. No cotton, apparently. They used many things to dye fabric, but nothing would result in the color green. So they had to dye fabric yellow, then overdye it with indigo. But they usually just kept things white. That way they could bleach them to keep them clean. Then if the fabric ended up too stained, they could just use black walnut to dye them brown. They tried to grow silk worms and make silk, but by the time they got the mulberry trees right, they’d run out of food, or something. So they switched to tobacco, which they sold to England, and made tidy profits.

At the wig maker’s, we learned that most people didn’t have wigs, because they were too expensive. They cost about 2 pounds, 3 shillings, which at that time could also buy half an acre of land or two oxen. Those that had wigs had, on average, four or five of them. Kids also wore wigs, sometimes. Girls would start wearing them around age 10, boys around age 7. They would have their heads shaved first. The wigs were intensely hot to wear. They were powdered for more formal occasions. No thanks. And apparently George Washington agreed. He had his own hair, and had someone help him arrange it.

We then went to an interactive performance called Pleasures of the Dance where we learned a bit about country dancing (no, not the two step – look up English Country Dance for more information). We got to see a demonstration, and then they led two groups of people to learn two different dances. My kids were in the first group and did very well. They also learned how to show their courtesies (like a bow and a curtsy). The boy kept making wrong steps, but his partner told him that he did well anyway. I sat out to watch the kids, and because there were too many volunteers as it was.

We then visited the silversmith and saw the different stages that cups, spoons, and ladles go through when being made. A woman was also making a long, thin rod of silver, to be used as jewelry in the future.

We then saw the milliner and learned about pockets that are separate from clothing.

We visited the bindery and learned about books. The guy working there was very amusing. His humor was lost on half the people watching, but what do they know. I liked him a lot. Apparently blank books sold much better than ones with printing at the time. Blank books could be used as ledgers for government workers, business men, or anyone needing to keep track of things. Printed and bound books could only be purchased by the very rich. They also printed books without binding, because binding a book raised its price drastically. Even unbound books were expensive, but could be saved up for if needed. I can’t wait to go back tomorrow to the same trade shop where it’s a printing shop in the morning.

One interesting thing about visiting the trades (such as the weaver, silversmith, and binder) is that the tradespeople just keep talking. You go in and they are talking about something about their trade, answering questions and occasionally demonstrating something, and you just come and go as you like. I wouldn’t mind revisiting some of them, since you’d probably get different information each time you went. Still, we have plenty more trades to visit, and I can’t wait.

We tried to get a photo of the kids in the stocks by the courthouse, but the stocks were literally too hot to touch. We’ll try again tomorrow.

We went to a thing called Crack the Code, which talked about secret codes during the Revolutionary War. Codes by the Virginians, George Washington, the British, and others were addressed. The kids got to do some assignments during the talk, which were interesting and introduced me to a couple of codes with which I was not yet familiar. Score. We also discussed the difference between codes and ciphers. According to the lady in charge, a code is when a group of letters, symbols, or numbers stand in for specific words. In a cipher, it is a one-to-one correspondence for letters to stand in for other letters.

We then headed to the closest shuttle stop and finally managed to get on a bus to take us back to the Visitor’s Center. Note to self: Never take a shuttle bus after 5pm from the last stop before the Visitor’s Center. We had to wait for about four buses before there was enough room for us. We did a bit of shopping at the Visitor’s Center gift shops, and then we drove back to the hotel.

And now I’m soaking my feet in a bathtub full of cold water to help my painful feet while my kids sing They Might Be Giants Here Comes Science songs in the next room.

For the first time on this trip, today I feel like I didn’t take enough pictures.

Drove: Around town.

State: Virginia.

Weather: Very hot and very muggy.

Kids: Both had minor breakdowns today. The heat gets to everyone.

Best Parts of the Day: Hearing the tradespeople talk about their trades, our lunch at the Cheese Shop.

Worst Parts of the Day: The heat and humidity, the aching feet.

Total GeekDads and GeekMoms Visited: 9.

About Jenny Bristol

Jenny Bristol is a lifelong geek who spends her time learning, writing, homeschooling her two wickedly smart kids, playing board games, and mastering the art of traveling on a shoestring.
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