Day 30: Colonial Life

The Kitchen at Powell House. Photo: Jenny Williams

Sorry to keep complaining about the weather, but it really is awful. Mid 90s and at least the same amount of humidity. It really feels like a steam bath. At some point, you just have to resign yourself to it, and to feeling gross and nasty, and just go out and do your thing, but it saps your energy and ability to think so quickly that it’s hard to get as much done as you’d like.

The Blacksmith. Photo: Jenny Williams

Utterly related: Never have I craved ice cream as much as I have in the past week and a half. While I love ice cream, it’s not something I usually crave. But the heat and humidity have gotten to me to the point where I feel that I require the stuff. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I haven’t been able to find it as often as I’d like.

Today we toured the Governor’s Palace kitchen. The woman in there was making real food, but then just letting it sit out. I’m not sure what was then done with it. The trash? No one ate it. There was a pineapple included in the spread of food, which was evidence that it was a rich man’s meal. A pineapple in 1770 would have cost three days wages.

The Shoemaker. Photo: Jenny Williams

We then headed to the Powell House, where kids could participate in the daily life of a household of the time. The kids went into the (very hot) kitchen that had a fire burning. It heated the room way past 100 degrees to the point where going outside in the 95-ish degree weather felt cool. The kids got to use a mortar and pestle to break up sugar into powdered sugar, and they learned how to tell if an egg was bad or not (put it in water, and if it floats, it’s bad). They then cracked the (good) eggs into a bowl and whisked them with a bunch of twigs tied together. We learned that it was illegal to buy anything imported from anywhere but England. A Dutch oven might have been made in Holland, but in the colonies you had to purchase it from England, who had imported it from Holland. In the main house at the Powell House, they played a couple of educational games that taught math, words, and geography.

Fife and Drum Corps, I Think. Photo: Jenny Williams

At the Apothecary, we learned that you could buy anything that you could pay for. There were no controlled substances. Also, you could self-medicate, and ask for anything you thought would treat your ailment. If you weren’t sure what to take, and the apothecary could give you off-the-cuff advice, you just paid for the medicine. If he had to use his knowledge and training to think up some treatment to help you, you paid an extra fee for his advice. Also, medicine that was called a “pill” had to be basically ball-shaped. The medicine we take today is in tablet, capsule, or caplet form, but they aren’t pills.

Townsfolk. She was lamenting him going off to fight in the war. He thought it was his duty. Photo: Jenny Williams

We once again had lunch at the Cheese Shop. This time it was half turkey, half ham. I had asked for the regular baked ham, but I’m pretty sure they gave me Virginia ham instead. It’s a good thing we didn’t get much of it. It was very tasty, but as many of you know, Virginia ham is very salty. Once, long ago, I made the mistake of ordering a decently large portion of it for a meal. Tasty, but you need that scoop of corn pone to get it down, and the scoop is never large enough. Along with our meat we had this semi-soft cheese that was a bit like Muenster, but stronger. It was fantastic, and went really well with the ham. We got individual rolls instead of one big loaf of bread this time, and we got another little sausage to share. Another fabulous lunch.

The Palace Green. Photo: Jenny Williams

After lunch it was back to the DeWitt Wallace Museum for a lesson on heraldry and coats of arms. We learned about England’s coat of arms, and those of trades such as the coopers. We also learned about the United States seal, as a kind of coat of arms for the United States. We learned that the English coat of arms used to have two lions, but when James III of Scotland became James I of England after Queen Elizabeth I died, he changed one of the lions to a unicorn, thus inspiring the song The Lion and the Unicorn. The lion stands for strength and the unicorn stands for purity of heart. This tour and activity was interesting for all, but also was intended for kids. The lady in charge (Christina, who has been the lady in charge of everything we’ve done at that museum) handed out white covered hardback small blank books to each kid, along with a pencil. They could take notes inside, or do what they like, but at the end of the walk the kids could all design their own coat of arms on the cover of the book. My daughter came up with an interesting fire-breathing dragon/unicorn/heart design. My son drew a house.

England's Coat of Arms. Photo: Jenny Williams

We went by the shoemaker who told us that shoes cost 4 to 6 shillings a pair, and that most people bought four pairs per year. Four shoemakers can make 24 pairs of shoes in a week. Custom shoe sizes could be done and cost the same, but they take longer, so most people just bought a size that was in stock. I would love to have a pair of shoes that fit me exactly.

In the courthouse we learned that there were no judges, only justices or magistrates. There had to be four of them there to hold a trial. They weren’t paid and didn’t need to have legal training, and were appointed by the royal something-or-other, so they were all rich men. The court clerk, on the other hand, needed seven years of training and was consulted throughout the trial as needed. It sounds like he did all the real work of the court, and did take his pay out of court fees. He also wrote down all the important bits from the trials, such as the outcomes.

The Capitol. Photo: Jenny Williams

We also started something today that I wish I had known about yesterday. It’s a new way to involve kids in the Colonial Williamsburg experience and is called RevQuest. You start at the Visitor’s Center and they give you each a blue bandanna with “RevQuest” on it, and an envelope of secret documents. It’s your job to decipher clues, have clandestine meetings with people who can give you information, and text your answers to a certain number. There are three parts to the mystery to solve, but we only got set up and did the first half of one of them. Tomorrow’s goal is to get the rest done, visit a few more trades, and go to a music event in the afternoon (a Colonial sing-a-long!). I really hope we can get all that in, so I hope to do a bit of RevQuest homework tonight, to get prepared for tomorrow.

Drove: Around town.

State: Virginia.

Weather: Very hot and even muggier, if that is possible. It honestly did feel like a steam bath.

Kids: Complainy, but not as bad as I thought they would, given our discomfort.

Best Parts of the Day: Lunch at the Cheese Shop, being around the awesomeness of Colonial Williamsburg even if my brain wasn’t fully engaged enough to enjoy it to its fullest.

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

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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1 Response to Day 30: Colonial Life

  1. With regard to the heat and humidity, we should hit up our local ice pop store, Locopops, once you guys arrive. Ice cream is good, but it can’t hold a candle to a mojito ice pop or their mango chile flavor.

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