Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Day 22-23: Williamsburg & the Colonial Triangle

We left OBX (the locals version of the name for the Outer Banks) in the rain and headed up for Jamestown, the site of the first British settlement in the US. We took a route that took us onto yet another ferry, this one across the James River.  I suspect it would have been photogenic but for the rain. We did however see a world class number of ospreys...
Mom, dad & kids
...probably 12 in total, plus a couple of bald eagles to boot. There were several ferries plying the James that day.
No idea where they go
The ferry lands right at Jamestown. This is an historic but really uninteresting place. The British may have settled here, and with 104 people built a nation here, and have had that settlement here for ~150 years, but it's all gone now. So you get to drive around forests and marshes they called home. Boring.

We hopped on the Colonial Parkway, a purpose built road that has limited access and also goes by historic stuff. A pretty and quiet drive -- almost enough to make you believe there isn't a WalMart, Home Depot or Busch Gardens theme park full of roller coasters just out of sight. There is, unfortunately.

Just down the road (5 miles?) is Williamsburg. This town is tough to describe. It calls itself Colonial Williamsburg, because the majority of the buildings are from colonial times, and have all been rebuilt or restored as they would have been in the early 1700's. In addition, it was a local capitol for a while. In and of itself, this makes for pretty and quaint buildings (though the architectural style was uninspired). I offer the following photos mostly without captions as there isn't much to say about them.

Yes, there are pastures in town. And sheep. 

The former Governor's residence 
So what makes this place a bit (a lot?) more unique is that the "residents" of the town are all dressed up in colonial garb (perhaps they are not residents. Perhaps they are employees). You can go inside many of the buildings, for they are restored inside as well, but this will cost you. In the windows of the "shops" are things from the 1700's, too.
Sealing wax in the Post Office window
Though they are not, in fact, shops, but restored buildings that charge admission and sell virtually nothing. They also have crimes and punishment from the period.
Stockades and the like
The residents daily re-enact marches and rebellions, talk like they did in the 1700's, ride horses and buggies and yes, talk on cell phones like they did in the 1700's (at least they're on them when they're off shift).

Williamsburg is like a giant fake history theme park. The buildings are pretty, for sure. But there rest we found mighty tacky. We were glad it was raining and that we were there near closing time, as it kept away a lot of the tourists, and kept the actors residents from being too obvious.

On the 3rd corner of the Colonial Triangle, some 15 miles from Jamestown and the site of first British settlement, lies Yorktown, where Washington defeated Cornwallis and kicked the British out in 1781. To be frank, I was hesitant to go there, fearing an overly patriotic, "God Bless America" kind of national monument. One Mt. Rushmore is enough. But we were pleasantly surprised.

Perhaps this was in part because it turns out that Washington needed the help of the French -- a LOT of French -- to defeat the British. For instance, it was a French blockade of the mouth of the Chesapeak that prevented Brititsh seapower from coming in and supporting Cornwallis. Not a single US ship was involved in the battle. Over half of Washington's army were French (and German, it turns out) under General Lafayette, and they did most of the Battle of Yortown's heavy lifting. So it's hard to go "rah, rah, we beat them" under these conditions.

The Yorktown battlefield's eathworks have been reconstructed, and period cannon involved in the battle sit in place.
From the British lines looking at the US trenches 
This mortar is engraved 1777
French cannon and mortar 
The view of the British line from the French line
The French/Americans had to overcome two outward defensive ramparts that were heavily fortified before they could move their guns close enough to blow the British apart.
Rampart 9, taken by the French 
Rampart 10, taken by the US
As with all wars, folks died.
They are always unknown
This was an interesting battlefield, and you could see that Washington was a pretty smart general the way he fought the battle (that, and Cornwallis wasn't so smart the way he defended the town).

Next stop: Washington, DC.

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