Life on Duke of Gloucester Street
Like I said, "Sal" has been after me to take her to Williamsburg for over a year. After all, now that she's an American citizen, she wants to take in the full experience of her newly-found heritage, as well as add to her refrigerator magnet collection. But it's not my fault. She just loves taking on extra work, including weekends. Maybe if I had gone without her on one of those weekends, she would have gotten the hint.
Nah, maybe not.
But about a month ago, she managed to find a crowbar to dig into her schedule for an opening, and I made the arrangements. So when this weekend came, there was no turning back. Williamsburg is less than three hours from DC with a good tailwind, and more than three hours if everybody else has the same idea as you do. This weekend was a beautiful one, so they did.
Williamsburg is one of three small towns in the Tidewater region of Virginia, east of Richmond, which includes Jamestown and Yorktown, which figure prominently in colonial American history. It was also the capital city of the Virginia colony, until it was moved to Richmond during the Revolution. The place was gradually allowed to go to ruin in the decades that followed, until the early- to mid-20th century, when I believe one of those Rockafellers decided to bankroll its restoration. Others followed, and now a private foundation is dedicated to preserving it.
If you stay at the Marriott Residence Inn just northwest of "See Dubya" (the locals' term for the historic district), you are greeted in your suite by a swan fashioned from a towel, by one of the more talented members of the housekeeping staff named Vanessa. (You go, girl!) Of course, we arrived early in the afternoon, a little late to be catching a lot of the sights. Fortunately, we passed by a Prime Outlets shopping complex, and Sal never met an outlet mall she didn't like.
Come Sunday, we headed into town. Duke of Gloucester Street is the main drag in "Colonial Williamsburg." It doesn't cost you anything to watch the fife and drum corps doing their marching thing on the lawn near the Magazine (which is what they call the armory; don't ask me why), or to walk through the lovely gardens in the yards of the restored homes. But if you want to go into the historic tradesmen's shops, you have to get one of those day passes. I managed to convince my travelin' buddy that we should both get them, in light of what was to follow. I had already convinced her that the natives were friendly. What young man wouldn't want to pose with the likes of her, I ask you?
About three in the afternoon, they cordoned off the east end of Duke of Gloucester Street, letting in only those with passes. Hundreds of us would be immersed in a dramatic presentation of "A Colonial Williamsburg Adventure: Revolutionary City."
Sunday's edition is entitled "Citizens at War, 1776-1781" and takes place at various spots around the Old Capitol. This grand building was once home to the original Virginia House of Burgesses (freedmen serving as representatives), the predecessor to the Virginia House of Delegates, the oldest legislative body in these United States.
The story begins on the west side with a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence from a town crier.* Then some guy gets up on a soapbox and extols the heroism of one colonial General Benedict Arnold at Saratoga, New York. Then the scene moves to the south side, where General Arnold rides in with a detachment of British soldiers and Royalist volunteers, as we discover he has had a change of heart. He makes his case to the crowd (which I attempt to incite by shouting "Shame! Shame!" with limited success). After he leaves, the huddled masses head to the backyard of the Coffeehouse, just northwest of the Capitol, to hear the Negro Baptist preacher Gowan Pamphlet give a rousing sermon on reaching the Promised Land that is Freedom.
The final scene takes place just down the block on Duke of Gloucester Street, in front of the Raleigh Tavern, where following a routine by the fife and drum corps to stir up the troops -- that would be us -- General George Washington rides in on his horse to rally the spirits of those assembled, for the impending, and final, victory at Yorktown.
If you're proud to be an American, you can't help but be moved by the whole scene. How much more so to one who is a new citizen, and who has dreamed since she was a little girl, of one day reaching the "land of opportunity."
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And now, for a final footnote. Nearly three years of assisting at the Traditional Mass almost exclusively has succeeded in spoiling me, and we attended the Divine Liturgy that Sunday morning, at the Byzantine Rite Parish of Ascension of Our Lord, which thankfully was located less than a mile from where we were staying. I never thought it would come to this, but with very few exceptions when traveling, I will attend either the Traditional Latin Mass, or an Eastern Rite Divine Liturgy.
I have not reached the point of attending an rogue "traditionalist" chapel -- yet.
Anyway, I'll end this with a closeup of the altar at Ascension Church, and a challenge for you, dear reader. Can you find the tabernacle where the Blessed Sacrament is kept? Trust me, it's there.
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* As I listened to the Declaration being read, I found myself wondering whether history was repeating itself, and found a certain appreciation for those who have protested the current political situation in America. Click here, dear reader, and judge for yourself.