On Tuesday, My Own True Love and I visited Jamestown Settlement. Wednesday, we moved on to Colonial Williamsburg.
I considered not even writing about our day in Williamsburg. I’m willing to bet that most of you have a picture of it in your head, even if you haven’t been then. Besides, Two Nerdy History Girls do a better job of talking about the Williamsburg experience than I ever could.
So what changed my mind? The contrast. It’s amazing what a difference twenty-four hours and 165 years can make.
In 1610, Jamestown was a three-sided fort, designed to protect a handful of men against attack by Native Americans from land or the Spanish from the sea. The settlers were still trying to figure out how to make their new colony profitable for the investors back home. (They tried to grow silkworms and mine copper before they hit on tobacco.) Their houses were built like village cottages, with wattle and daub walls, thatch roofs, and open hearths. When the imported beer ran out, they drank water, with deadly results.
By comparison, colonial Williamsburg, flash frozen in 1775, looks almost modern. There were shop-lined streets, with an ancestor of Starbucks where Patrick Henry preached revolution.** It was possible to post a letter, buy a newspaper, and get a cup of coffee. There were a couple of taverns where a man could have a meal. (Order the Old Stitch if you like dark beer.) The city was not walled, though a substantial armory stood near its center.
Some of that modernity is an illusion. (As one costumed interpreter told us, they can’t reproduce the smell.) But the amount of change between Jamestown and Williamsburg was, if anything, greater than the amount of change between the American Civil War and today. It’s easy to forget.
**He still does, every morning at ten o’clock.