Colonial Virginia

Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown make up the Historic Triangle of Virginia, taking you you on an immersive journey from our colonial beginnings up through becoming an independent nation.

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Sites and Experience Highlights in Colonial Virginia.... (click for more)

Jamestown: (One full morning)

First off, there are actually two Jamestown sites to visit. Jamestown Island is managed by the National Parks Service and is the actual site with archeological preservation and educational displays. Next to it on the mainland is Jamestown Settlement which is managed by the state of Virginia and is a recreated site with demonstrators and lots of hands-on exploration. Most groups go to the Settlement since it is more engaging, but both can be done if time is managed well. Both are described more fully below:
Jamestown Island: This is the actual site of the 1607 colony, the first permanent English settlement in the USA. While little remains today, one can walk the outlines of the old fort, witness on-going archeological digs, step into the current church built upon the foundations of the originals, and gaze over the receding banks of the James River. An on-site museum houses many relics from the archeological digs. There is also a recreated glasshouse demonstrating glassblowing, one of the economic endeavors of the early colony.

Jamestown Settlement:
This extremely interactive site uses historic interpreters, recreated structures, and museum displays to communicate how the confluence of European, Native American, and African cultures came together to create the nation we live in today. The outdoor exhibits are where you’ll spend most of your time. The Powhatan Indian village allows you to enter native dwellings, feel native furs, and maybe even take part in native chores and games. At the waterfront, you can board recreations of the three ships that first brought the English colonist. The Fort contains the English dwellings, church, and workspaces and shows how they tried to survive and defend themselves. There are many other displays and demonstrations available, so come ready to ask lots of questions and get involved.


Colonial Williamsburg: (one full afternoon and evening)
Shortly after Independence, Virginia’s capital was moved inland to Richmond, leaving Williamsburg to slowly decay until the 1920’s when it was preserved and restored to become the world’s largest living history museum. A mix of original and recreated structures allows you to step back in time to the early1770’s when Virginia was Britain’s largest and wealthiest colony, and loyal too, but murmurings of independence from dissatisfied patriots can be heard. Walking down its streets, you might run into some familiar characters, such as Patrick Henry, George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson. While the Capitol building and the Governor’s Palace provide a great lesson in history and politics, the other homes and trade shops are a showcase of everyday colonial life. You can visit with trained craftsmen and merchants in such structures as the wig maker, gun smith, the powder magazine, blacksmith, cooper, printer, book binder, silver smith, apothecary, millenary, carpenter, wainwright, coffee house, the jail, and more. You can have a period meal in one of the historic taverns. You can walk the manicured gardens behind the historic homes. You can also visit other historical structures that have never ceased in their original roles: Bruton Parish Church and the Wren Building on the campus of William and Mary, the nation’s second oldest college.

Williamsburg Evening Programs:
Williamsburg provides a variety of evening programs to experience the lantern-lit town at night. The options are:

Lantern Walking Tours: Walking tour of colonial trade shops
Colonial Dance: Dance demonstration and lessons
Papa Said, Mama Said: African-American stories
In Defense of Our Liberty: Musters you into the Continental Army
Discovering the Past: Archeology investigations
Cry Witch: Participatory mock trail
Legends of the Past: Mysterious folk tales in character
Grand Medley of Entertainments: Traveling minstrels and jesters.
Ghost Tour: Unexplained “stories and mysteries” of the past

Yorktown: (on full morning)
Just like Jamestown, Yorktown has two separate entities; one is the battlefield preserved by the NPS, and the other an education center recreated by the State of Virginia, where most groups spend their time. Both can be visited together fairly easily.

Yorktown Battlefield: This is the site of the final major battle of the Revolutionary War and end of Colonial English America. Between September 28 and October 19, 1781, General George Washington and his allied American and French armies laid siege to General Lord Cornwallis’ trapped British army, forcing their surrender. You can walk the preserved fortified lines and batteries, and visit Surrender Field and the Victory Monument.

Yorktown Victory Center: Indoor exhibits walk you through a time-line of the American Revolution, and two outdoor exhibits provide interactive demonstrations: The Continental Army Encampment gives you an inside look at the soldier’s life, living conditions, food, medical treatment, and weaponry. The early-American farm provides a nice contrast to Williamsburg’s town setting, by showing what life was like for a typical middle-class family living off the land, their farm animals and their own resourcefulness.

Connecting Virginia Destinations en route to/from Washington DC.... (click for more)

To and From Williamsburg:
As Williamsburg is usually visited in conjunction with a DC trip, there are several sites that can be visited while traveling to and from DC. These sites will require extra time and perhaps some driving distance, but if planned properly will not require an overnight stay.

Richmond is the current capital of Virginia and thus holds the Thomas Jefferson designed Capitol building surrounded by monuments to the state’s heroes. Apart from being a state capital, Richmond was also the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War as reflected in the White House of the Confederacy and the statues along Monument Ave. Saint John’s Church is the site where Patrick Henry gave his rousing speech which concluded with “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

Pamplin Historical Park & National Museum of the Civil War Soldier is located on the actual battlefield of the Petersburg Campaign of 1865 and contains demonstrators, re-enactors, exhibits, artifacts, and preserved homes to convey the life and times of the Civil War soldier on both sides.

Monticello and Charlottesville will add another half day to your itinerary, but provide a very worthwhile visit to the unique home and plantation of Thomas Jefferson, a testament to his versatility and insatiable curiosity. In Charlottesville itself, the University of Virginia is a lasting legacy of his love for education. Nearby you can also visit the homes of other presidents: James Madison’s Montpelier and James Monroe’s Ashlawn.

Fredericksburg is directly on route to DC and contains the battlefield where Robert E. Lee won perhaps his greatest victory, and hence the North’s most embarrassing loss.

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