Fact or Fiction? Questions about Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg Mythbusters

by Debi Lander, an AOL Travel Contributor

This article appears on the AOL Travel Website, however, the author’s photos have been substituted here.

Colonial Williamsburg is the quintessential living history museum. The site includes 301 acres with 88 original buildings, 500 reconstructed houses, shops, public buildings, working craftsmen and costumed interpreters. The popular tourist area, close to Richmond and Norfolk, is known as the Historic Triangle of Virginia, which also includes Jamestown and Yorktown. Take the following true-false quiz and see if you are one of the Williamsburg mythbusters.

1. The College of William & Mary, founded in 1693, is the second oldest college in the United States.

TRUE. Harvard was the first school of higher learning founded in 1636. Classes at the College of William & Mary began in temporary quarters in 1694, until the Wren Building was constructed. The Wren Building, which is the oldest college building in the country, has been returned to its original design by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The College of William and Mary was named in honor of the reigning English monarchs of the time, and was a key factor in establishing Williamsburg as capital of Virginia in 1698.

The College of William & Mary
327 Richmond Rd
Williamsburg, VA 23186

2. The popular fictional American Girl character, Felicity Merriman, hails from Colonial Williamsburg, and her story is set in the year 1774.

TRUE. Original American Girl doll founder, Pleasant Roland, wanted to find an appropriate Christmas present for her nieces. She disliked the high fashion Barbie-type dolls; hence, didn’t want to buy a baby doll. While in Williamsburg, she came up with the concept of American Girl dolls and formed The Pleasant Company. Ms. Pleasant followed her own American dream, selling off her company to Mattel in1998 for $700 million. And that’s not a Williamsburg urban legend.

Colonial Capitol Building, Williamsburg, VA

3. Patrick Henry made his “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” speech in the Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg.

FALSE. Patrick Henry made his impassioned cry against the English in the House of Burgesses on March 23, 1775, in St. John’s Church in Richmond. Henry was calling for military action against the approaching British army. The urban myth claims that the crowd jumped up and shouted “To Arms! To Arms!” after the speech.

Historians have begun to question the authenticity of Henry’s alleged words, because they were unrecorded until 18 years after his death, but we will never know.

4. Virginia has had three capital cities: Jamestown, Williamsburg and Richmond.

TRUE. Jamestown was the first English settlement in the U.S., and also the first capital of Virginia. The capital moved to Williamsburg from 1698 to 1780, making it the political, social, and cultural hub in Virginia. It then moved on to Richmond at the urging of Thomas Jefferson, who feared the Williamsburg location was vulnerable to a British attack. During the Civil War, Richmond became the capital of the Confederacy and remains the capital of Virginia today.

5. Virginia was named for England’s “Virgin Queen,” Elizabeth I.

TRUE. Virginia was named for England’s famous unwed queen, Elizabeth I. Interestingly, Queen Elizabeth II has visited Colonial Williamsburg twice. Her original trip in 1957 celebrated the 350th anniversary of England’s first settlement in the New World at Jamestown. Her most recent visit in May 2007 occurred during the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown Settlement.

6. The establishment and reconstruction of the colonial capital of Williamsburg was the dream of an Episcopalian priest.

Sign marks the Tavern on Duke of Gloucester Street

TRUE. In 1907 Reverend W.A.R. Goodwin, the pastor of Williamsburg’s Bruton Parish Church, worked to save the original structure. Shortly thereafter, he moved away, but returned to the city in 1923. After seeing the deterioration of the other colonial-era buildings, he dreamed of saving them.

Goodwin looked for support and financing from a number of sources and finally inked a plan with philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Their combined efforts created Colonial Williamsburg, with detailed plans for the accurate restoration of much of the city.

Bruton Parish Episcopal Church
331 W Duke of Gloucester St
Williamsburg, VA 23185

7. Williamsburg fine dining restaurants, Christiana Campbell’s, Chowning’s, King’s Arms, and Shield’s, taverns prepare their food on the open hearth.

FALSE. Although the food served in these Williamsburg restaurants can be traced back to similar fare served to colonists, Williamsburg mythbusters know that the ingredients and preparation take place in modern kitchens. The servers, however, are dressed in period clothing and the dishes, flatware and goblets are authentic reproductions of 18th century items.

Christina Campbell’s Tavern
101 South Waller St
Williamsburg, Virginia 23185
Hours vary

Chowning’s Tavern
109 East Duke of Gloucester St
Williamsburg, Virginia 23185
Hours vary

King’s Arms Tavern
416 East Duke of Gloucester St
Williamsburg, Virginia 23185
Hours vary

Shields Tavern
422 East Duke of Gloucester St
Williamsburg, Virginia 23185
Hours vary

8. Colonial Williamsburg has been criticized for becoming almost a theme park of reenactments.

TRUE. Foundation president, Colin Campbell has said, “Presenting American history in a place that is both a tourist attraction and an education landmark leads to inevitable strains between entertainment and authenticity.”

Sadly, Williamsburg mythbusters, even the Foundation’s 1996 publication conceded that “Colonial Williamsburg bears the burden of criticism that the restored town appears too neat and clean, too ‘spick-and-span’, and too manicured to be believable.”

The Corner Chat- Williamsburg Reenactors