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Battle of Williamsburg map

Battle of Williamsburg map

Map of the Williamsburg battlefield (May 5, 1862), with current endangered sites circled.

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Revolutionary City in Colonial Williamsburg begins another season…

Revolutionary City in Colonial Williamsburg begins another season tomorrow, 3/12: http://www.colonialwilliamsburg.com/visit/whatToSeeAndDo/activitiesAndPrograms/RevolutionBegins.cfm

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Educator speaks up for social studies science testing…

Educator speaks up for social studies-science testing in third grade, at risk w/ VA General Assembly bill (S.B. 185): http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/oped/2012/jan/27/tdopin02-heubeck-third-graders-need-science-social-ar-1643050/

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“Women! What’s botherin…

“Women! What’s bothering the queer little creature now?”

John Smith, talking to John Rolfe about Pocahontas (Captain John Smith and Pocahontas, 1953)

 

“The Citie of Henricus” 400 Years Later

Historical interpreter and steed, Henricus Publick Days (Photo, Lisa Heuvel)

One of my favorite Virginia public history sites is Henricus Historical Park because of its evocative 17th-century  interpretive and environmental atmosphere.  On September 17 and 18, Henricus will celebrate its annual “Publick Days.”  This event continues the 400th anniversary of Henricus’ establishment, with over 100 living historians participating on site.  Located in Chesterfield County, Virginia, the park recreates the the Anglo-Virginian settlement founded four years after Jamestown’s 1607 establishment, and also the Powhatan Indian town located in the vicinity.   Named for King James I‘s first son, Henry, “The Citie of Henricus” was an attempt to solve two of Jamestown’s continuing  problems: unhealthy climate and location.  By planting Henricus upriver on the James River, founder Sir Thomas Dale sought an effective replacement capital for the colony which Middle Plantation — renamed as Williamsburg — ultimately became in 1699.

As governor, Dale envisioned fortifications at Point Comfort (Hampton), the Indian town of Kiskiack (on York River), Jamestown, and two additional sites, including what would become Henricus.  He wrote in a August 17, 1611 letter to Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, a member of the Virginia Council: “I have surveyed a convenient, strong, healthy, and sweet seat to plant a town in.” He recommended adding a fifth site ten miles further upriver at the Falls to complete his plan to secure the Virginia Peninsula for the English.  Dale promised Cecil that colonists would then hunt, fish, and cultivate the land, so that “we should no more lament of us of want or scarcity of any provision.”  Dale’s determination was met by Native resistance and by some of his own men abandoning their tasks to go AWOL into Indian territory.  However, Thomas Dale was no stranger to enforcing martial law.  He proved it at Jamestown in a new regime meant to set the colony to rights.  His contemporary George Percy wrote that Dale executed captured offenders in terrifying ways at Henricus to set an example for others.

Representation of the Indian town of Arrahateck, at Henricus Historical Park (Photo, Lisa Heuvel)

Dale’s  intent to create new settlements or plantations along the James was realized, but the push outward into Powhatan Indian territory factored in the Native uprising of 1622.  Henricus was destroyed and the intent to locate a college there also ended abruptly; as a result, Harvard College in Massachusetts took precedence as America’s first higher education institution, founded in 1636.  Virginia lagged behind for decades as planners, promoters, and administrators sought to re-energize that dream, eventually realized with the 1693 royal charter for The College of William and Mary.

Today, Henricus Historical Park commemorates some “what ifs” of Colonial Virginia history in an educational — and peaceful — way.  Dale and other early colonial administrators expected prosperity through encouraging land ownership for the colonists, building an ironworks at the Falls, and a lingering hope of discovering gold in Virginia.  Of these, only settlement succeeded in the early  era.  Both ironworks and gold mines did come later in the Commonwealth’s history, fulfilling those early dreams.  For more background on the early period, watch this video from Henricus Historical Park, “Henricus:  A Citie of Beginnings.”

The Past Comes Home

In the museum world, provenance is essential.  Objects without a history are lost over time, orphaned by chance and lack of documentation.  Sometimes, the information embedded in the piece itself is enough to secure its protection as a cultural relic, despite the loss of human information.

Archeologists, curators, and other professionals bemoan such disconnects: Simply put, objects outlive their owners or become separated from them.  All too often, they float incognito in antique shops, resale stores, and yard sales, seldom rediscovered except by those who sense their significance and pursue it.

The ability to tie an object to its history is a connecting link between the past and present.  Whether it’s in a museum collection, the media, or someone’s home, what we as humans really want is a story.

Who made it?  How?  What was its purpose?  No matter what an object may be, it undeniably carries different meanings to different people:  One person’s passion for vintage  stoneware jugs equals another person’s love of first edition books or stamps.   The story below concerns sentimental objects within families and the occasional miracles surrounding them, and this writer saw it unfold.

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Seeing Beauty in a Historic Swamp

For 20 years, photographer-author Waverley Traylor has chronicled the sights, sounds, and stories of the Great Dismal Swamp, a historic wilderness covering large parts of Virginia and North Carolina.

A floating island on Lake Drummond (Island of the Swamp Fairies), in the center of the Great Dismal Swamp/ Waverley Traylor

The swamp’s human occupation timeline goes back thousands of years to about 12,000 B.C.E. with Native peoples. In the 1700s, famous visitors like William Byrd  and George Washington came there.

Enslaved African-Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries sought freedom within its waterways and shadowed interiors. This May 12-14, the swamp’s history, natural wonders, and especially the hundreds of bird species seen there will be celebrated at the Great Dismal Swamp Birding Festival.

Born in Chesterfield County on a farm worked by his family from the mid-17th century until 1985, Traylor began taking photographs as a boy. He continued shooting pictures through high school, military service, and since 1990, his transition to professional photography.

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