Visiting Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City: 4 Days of Living History

Visiting Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City: 4 Days of Living History

As soon as I opened my eyes I looked out the window and noticed the wet stuff: rain and puddles. Of course this could only mean one thing: off with the tennis shoes and on with the snow boots. Tennis shoes get wet, regular boots can get cold, but snow boots mean walking through puddles with no worries.

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I’ve heard people say that Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City is big. I was prepared for tired feet and long walks but, it turns out, it wasn’t bad at all. The walking did not feel like much and with continuous stops at various places of interest we never noticed the day fly by.

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Easy to read and follow map of the Revolutionary City

The handy must have map (readily available at the visitor center) was the perfect way to orient ourselves throughout the day. On one side you have all the special events for the day and, on the other, you have a map of the city and the time frame that you have to visit any particular location. You can also download the free and useful Colonial Williamsburg App (which we did), but I much prefer the paper version.

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The special programs, daily events and “simulations” are all conveniently on the back of your map

I can’t speak for peak spring and summer season but, during the winter, not every store/house/place of interest is open (some not at all, some not every day). I, of course, did not look at that part of the map until day 3. My mistake meant that I missed out on seeing three different places (a trade, a house, and a tavern). Of course, the upside was that we were able to see everything else and never stressed about times or plans.

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The Revolutionary City is the area of Colonial Williamsburg where you find the trade shops, homes, businesses, and life simulations of the time period. It is a car free zone and, therefore, easy to walk and enjoy with kids. History really does come alive here and it’s great to see the caretakers of this city greet each other as they would have in the 1770’s, wearing their period clothing, and working away on their trade or craft.

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The tinsmith working in his shop, ready to answer questions and show you how he made bowls and lanterns and cups for the soldiers and people in Colonial Williamsburg

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Public Armoury kitchen cook

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Ladies of the house at the Public Gaol

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Militia parade through town

We spent a total of four whole days in the Revolutionary City. For us, it was the perfect time frame. We never felt rushed, we asked as many questions as we wanted, we lingered and made observations, and we enjoyed our visit. We also did not use an alarm clock in the morning, we ate our breakfast while Mackenzie caught up on the weather channel news (my kid loves to watch the weather channel), and we had enough energy at the end of the day to still be happy and excited to go back to the hotel to swim and play. It was the perfect combination of learning and play vacation. I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Breakfast at the Hampton Inn & Suites, Historic District

Could it be done in three days? Easily. Could it be done in two? If you rush, maybe. Could it be done in less than four days in the busy summer season? I doubt it (if you want to see and experience everything that this place has to offer). We never had a line or wait time and it still took us four days. Two of the days we were there from the moment they opened until they closed. Of course not everyone wants to go into every trade and experience every talk or presentation, but I highly recommend that you do.

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What about the kids? Will the kids like it as much as the adults? My short answer is YES! Of course every child is different and I know that my 10 year old uses a different lens than a five year old or a fifteen year old. But the material is presented in such an entertaining way that I doubt my kid realized how much she was learning throughout the day.

How much does it cost anyway?

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Turns out winter brings no crowds AND a price break!

I share our itinerary just as an example of how our family toured the Revolutionary City and loved every minute of it, weather and all.

Day 1 in the Revolutionary City:

We took the bus from the visitor center to stop #1: The Governor’s Palace (you can also walk, it’s a short 15 minute walk with lots to see). It is here that you first learn just how different our expectations are from those of the people that lived in this time period. Most visitors are amazed at the weapons proudly displayed in the foyer. But, our guide quickly pointed out that, in a community with mandatory militia membership and training, the guns would not have been a surprise. The floors however, would have. Most people in this region were farmers and lived with dirt floors. The beautiful floors in the Governor’s Palace would have had them in awe. Everyone in our tour group immediately lowered their gaze from the gun filled walls to the floors. It’s amazing what you do and don’t notice sometimes.

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After walking through the Palace we went to see the kitchen. Proudly the “biggest and best kitchen in Colonial Virginia” the cook was also the highest paid palace employee. Nothing but the best for the Governor and his guests. The big “stove”, the ample working space, the above ground location, the window and natural light, all these details once made this THE kitchen of the 1700’s.

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The cook will happily explain how they made gelatin back in this period. If you don’t know how or what gelatin is made out of you are in for a treat of an explanation

A stop at the Courthouse and the empty chamber became our private classroom. The wonderful thing about travel in the off-season is the amount of personal time and interaction that you are able to receive. Mackenzie was able to play juror, judge, criminal, and officer of the court all in one visit.

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Didn’t make it to church four Sundays in a row? Refused to pay the fine? Back in the day you would have found yourself in the pillory, in broad daylight, in front of the town’s market. In a society where your reputation is everything finding yourself here for 2-3 hours was NOT good

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The stocks were routinely used to hold drunkards throughout the night

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39 lashes were distributed as punishment on this devise. Passed out after 15? It’s ok. The community will let you go home and heal and, on your honor, you are simply to return for the rest when you are healed from the first set!

We continued to walk and visit the shoemaker, the magazine and guardhouse- where Mackenzie was able to handle a musket and cannon and learn about the various ways that you can make the components for gunpowder (hint: it involves two types of bodily waste and a taste test!), and the post office.

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At the opposite extreme of the city we toured the Capitol building and the Public Gaol (jail). At both, the fun facts about life in colonial Virginia made the tours meaningful and memorable.

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The Capitol building. Notice the two sides: one for the elected representatives and one for those appointed

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The toilet in your jail cell

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Your view from inside a jail cell. If you found yourself here there were two paths: innocence and home or death. There were no guilty verdicts with time in jail as the sentence. If found guilty it was off to the gallows.

Back at the hotel there was swim time and play time and even some reading time before lights out.

Day 2 in the Revolutionary City:

The sun is shinning, the clouds are not grey or pouring, and the temperature might even beckon taking off one’s coat. After a slow morning and a weather channel-question filled breakfast, we are off to see more of the Revolutionary City.

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You can enjoy a carriage ride through the Revolutionary City for $15 USD per person

Today we experienced the whole gamut of colonial life: Mackenzie donned a colonial period dress, we saw a militia regiment around town, we witnessed a parade, ate lunch in a tavern, and learned more than I could share.

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There’s just something about dressing up for the occasion!

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Hungry? We highly recommend Shield’s Tavern

Once we felt hungry we knew there was only one thing to do: try a local tavern! In this case: Shield’s Tavern. For the record: yes, it is more expensive than simply driving ten minutes and eating at another location. Yes, it is yummy food and we enjoyed it enough to return. And yes, it is much more than just an eating experience- it is a full blown educational opportunity! I was pleasantly surprised when we didn’t just receive great service and delicious food but also a lesson on courting rituals of the time period, proper dress suggestions, a talk on children’s games and daily life, and musical entertainment that included an explanation of how the music fit in with the ritual of eating. It turns out that eating at the taverns within the Revolutionary City is as much about the learning and fun as it is about the food.

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We really did appreciate the menu front and center outside of Shield’s Tavern (both for the adults and the children) in the group

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As with most of the activities in the Revolutionary City, the children’s menu doubles as a learning tool. The alphabet is printed on the back of the menu, along with the way in which a child may twist and turn his/her body in order to form the individual letters! Mackenzie thoroughly enjoyed this!

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The kiddo settled on chicken strips and apple sauce… and she couldn’t stop talking about how yummy the chicken was! She recommends it for the kids

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Mommy ordered the Ale-potted Beef and it was delicious (highly recommend it)

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Of course we had the Double Fudge Chocolate Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream!

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Turns out that during this time period most folks would show up at the tavern with their violin or guitar or other musical instrument to play for their friends. Since the tavern knew we would forget ours, they kindly had someone walk around and demonstrate musical joys of the time period. Aside from playing beautiful music, these musicians are also a wealth of knowledge and are happy to answer any and all questions you may have.

Today we went to the Public Armoury (blacksmith, tin shop, and military kitchen tours), asked a million questions at the milliner and tailor shop, learned all about money and the importance/ meaning of silver at the silversmith’s, went for a visit at the apothecary, and tried some delicious and thick hot chocolate at Charlton’s Coffeehouse. All are a must when visiting the Revolutionary City.

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Blacksmith shop

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Tinsmith shop- did you know they could make a cup in 30 minutes?

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Apothecary- this is one place we loved to visit in the slow season. We had a thorough introduction to the role of the apothecary and were able to ask many follow up questions.

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Tasting Hot Chocolate at Charlton’s Coffeehouse. It was thick and creamy and full of spices and taste!

After all the learning we did it was off to visit the Prentis store, the market house, stroll through the Colonial garden and be awed by the Bruton Parish Church.

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Packets of ink powder mean you can go home and continue with learning about life during this time period. Yes, we did buy some ourselves.

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We were at the Revolutionary City from 10am to 4:30pm and still managed to take a swim and play with daddy at the end of the day.

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Hotel indoor pool all to ourselves

Day 3 in the Revolutionary City:

By day 3 it’s fair to say that we all needed a bit of a break. There was a lot more running around, doing gymnastics on the grassy field, and goofing off today. It’s exactly how we live our lives: play and learn hard until we need a break. Then, break. It took us a bit longer to get out of bed today, we lingered around breakfast, and Mackenzie even finished reading her book on the American Revolution this morning.

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We even walked into the Revolutionary City, enjoying the view and the fresh air in no rush.

When we finally made it into the Revolutionary City we enjoyed the Wheelwright, the play booth and Wythe House. The Wythe House was particularly interesting as we got to stand on the same floors as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington! It’s fun facts like that which makes history come alive all over Colonial Williamsburg and the Revolutionary City.

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Looking out of the same window as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

After the house tour we walked to Raleigh’s Tavern and joined the “Pleasures of the Dance” program. With a group of about 14 people we learned two dance ‘routines’ of the time period and laughed and danced with each other. I love the dances and Mackenzie enjoyed the fact that they were choreographed- everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing.

A quick trip to the William Pitt Store for another book for the kiddo to read and then a late lunch at Chowning’s Tavern rounded up our day. After lunch at Shield’s Tavern the previous day, we had high expectations for this place. They delivered. Impeccable service, tasty food, musical entertainment, and “locals” who were happy to teach us a game of dice, a magic card trick, and talk to us about the customs of the day.

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The regular menu is different from Shield’s Tavern but, it turns out, the children’s menu is the same

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On the back of the menu you can read about Josiah Chowning and his life story

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Andy ordered the Virginia Pork Barbeque Sandwich and really liked it. I was going to have a bite but, before I knew it, he had devoured it all!

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I ordered “A Tasting of Soups”. This was a yummy sampler of their three soup offerings: Brunswick Stew, Roasted Corn Chowder, and White Bean and Ham Soup. It was all yummy but if I had to pick a favorite it would be the Brunswick Stew.

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The kiddo ordered the “Beef and Potatoes Pasty”. It was very much like a small beef empanada.

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Music, conversation, and a relaxing but jolly atmosphere… what more could one ask of lunch?

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These hard to please critics approve

Day 4 in the Revolutionary City:

Today we all woke up ready to conquer the world and learn anything and everything there is to know about Colonial America and Williamsburg. We got an early start to breakfast, had only a few questions about the weather in far flung places, and were off to catch the bus at the visitors center.

On our last day we had a plan and stuck to it. I present it as a list because that’s exactly what I did: I labeled each place we wanted to visit with a number. Timing was important today because several of the trades and special programs offered had a specific time frame and if we missed them we would not be able to enjoy them.

  1. Joiner
  2. Geddy Foundry (one of our favorites)
  3. Orientation Walk (you would think we would do this on day 1, but I like taking the orientations at the end)
  4. Military encampment
  5. Public Gaol simulation: “God Save the King” program (a must see)
  6. Printing Office and bindery

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7. Post office

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We like to send postcards home capturing a sentence or two of our favorite moments on the road

8. Geddy House

9. Courthouse simulation: “The Examination of Joe & Dick, Black Loyalists” program

10. Wigmaker (highly recommend)

11. Gunsmith shop

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Being the only ones in the shop has its privileges. We were able to learn how to make this firearm from start to finish! Like it? For only $20,000 USD and after an 8 to 10 year waiting period you can have the shop make you one for yourself!

It was our favorite day and before we realized it was 4:30pm and the gunsmith helper started to turn off the lights! It was ok because we had been there for a while and he had more than answered all of our questions. We were just not ready to leave this amazing place. So we bought a piece of the magic to take home.

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I love the wrapping paper!

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A nice “local” taught us to play Shut the Box and we loved the game

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so we decided to take one home with us!

We decided to heed the advise of one of the tavern entertainers and head to Sal’s by Victor, a local Italian restaurant (not to be confused with Sal’s), for dinner. You know you’ve made a great choice when you are seated and you can hear an elderly couple, speaking in Italian, and talking with the staff like they are family.

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Simple and delicious restaurant. Order the breadsticks with cheese. You will thank me!

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My dinner. Amazing.

And so it is that after four full days experiencing the Revolutionary City in Colonial Williamsburg we prepare to head home: smarter, relaxed, and incredibly happy to have come in the winter.

As you can see, snow, rain, mud, puddles, wind and even just plain cold are no match for the amazing opportunities that Colonial Williamsburg has to offer. And I say that knowing that we have barely scratched the surface of everything there is to do in the area. We already know we will be back!

 

Note: This post is the third of five that I am writing about our trip to Colonial Williamsburg. If you would like to follow along the whole adventure please follow the links below to the other entries and enjoy.

I. A Family Trip to Colonial Williamsburg, in Winter

II. Arriving in Colonial Williamsburg on a Rainy Day

III. Visiting Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City: 4 Days of Living History

IV. Top 10 Kid Activities in Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City

V. 15 Things We Learned from Visiting Colonial Williamsburg in Winter

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