A 50 Year Retrospective
I won’t be able to say this as well or as concisely as I would like, but here goes.
My wife Nancy and I took a vacation last week. A real vacation. Not “a working vacation” where I squeeze in 30 hours of writing, and my wife reads, and we walk the beach and go to dinner. We stayed busy vacationing nearly every minute.
We came to Colonial Williamsburg, the site of our honeymoon fifty years prior. We were married Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 1969 in Bridgeport Ct. It has been a wonderful, unbelievable, sometimes terrifying, fifty years. I do not exaggerate to say I feel that I am the luckiest person on earth.
We met good friends John and Tamara for lunch in White Sulphur Springs, had dinner with Bill and Babs at The Whaling Company in Williamsburg, and had lunch with J.B. and Patty near Charlottesville on our way home. We share with them so many memories and experiences. In 30 days, it will be our children, grandchildren, and friends with the Irish Spring Festival and WV Irish Road Bowling in the background. We truly are blessed.
We arrived Sunday at our “home base”, The Williamsburg Inn, next to The Historical District and two blocks from many restaurants and shops. We did LOTS of walking. There were no crowds, and while there was plenty of rain, we had two perfect weather days on Weds. and Thurs. to explore the historical district.
Sunday evening was the first of many luscious, filling, restaurant meals, The Blue Talon.
Monday morning, we ate a nice breakfast at our hotel, Traditions, and drove 15 minutes to the new museum in Yorktown. Since I assumed we would be inside, I made a slight miscalculation as to dress and shivered through a tour of a military encampment and Tidewater farmstead.
The demonstration of an 18th century musket and description of thousands of soldiers, bayonets fixed, firing at one another from 300 yards and running at one another from 80 yards apart. Barbaric, terrifying, and sobering to think of. Eight men bunking in an 8 foot by 10-foot canvas tent, and a small, drafty, smoky farmhouse. What a momentous development that tobacco became the South’s main cash crop, along with cotton.
One hour of shivering in the drizzle had us ready for the many displays in the modern museum. We decided not to switch to the local B and B for our last night, so Nancy extended our stay through Friday night. Just like 4-H Camp 60+ years ago, the week beckoned ahead, and then the days and minutes slipped by so quickly. Now we are home, watching the Daytona 500.
Things have changed greatly in 50 years. The theme for Yorktown was “Tenacity”. I first saw a poster with the word “Tenacity” with an African American Woman. I thought it was her name; wrong! The largest displays focused on the little-known women of that era; Native American, colonists, and enslaved women. They all had to demonstrate that trait, tenacity.
As I suspected, the term “slaves” has been replaced by a less dehumanizing term, “enslaved person”. I appreciate that, as we were quite uncomfortable when we were greeted by a gentleman dressed like a slave, a black man, who called Nancy “Queen” and me “King”. We came to like him a lot, but I winced at the terms and to having someone else take our belongings to our room. Too much like the Old South for me.
On Wednesday we began at Jamestown and the reconstructed fort and the ships. When we visited 50 years ago, all we saw were postholes. This time it included a huge museum, fort, and ships. We missed Martin’s Hundred and Carter’s Grove. Next time.
This vacation brought together many of the things that I have been thinking about over the last ten years or so, religion, politics, race relations, the equality of women, gender equity, and our U.S. Constitution.
As we walked past the Raleigh Tavern, we were directed to a “show” that was just beginning. Without breaking stride, we followed the folks who had been waiting outside into the tavern.
As we took our seats, a petite black woman was seated and lying fast asleep on her kitchen table. She was Ann Ashby. She was awakened by the pounding on the door of her nephew John. They skillfully performed a reenactment of John’s informing his Aunt of his intention to join the Revolutionary Army, for the promise of $20 and land. He was born free, and she had been freed via “manumission”, but “free” didn’t mean voting. In fact, it didn’t even permit them to hire a white person to perform a service. It was a sobering reminder what these people and their families had to endure.
We soon discovered that after 4-5 hours of touring and standing each afternoon, we needed a nap, and we did NOT need lunch.
On Tuesday morning, 9:00 a.m., we arrived at a very special venue where we were met by Matt Webster, son of my cousin Cindy and her husband Roger. I confess to “name dropping” later on as we were given and “insiders’ tour” by Matt, who is the “Director of Historical Architectural Restoration” at Colonial Williamsburg.
Matt explained that Colonial Williamsburg is unique in that 75% of its inventory is displayed in the museums and buildings. Other museums have the ratio almost reversed, but he showed us so many things, documents, paintings, furniture, ceramics, weaponry, and roll after roll of wallpaper and carpets. Some parts of this amazing inventory are second only to the Library of Congress. Wow!
We walked by shelves of porcelain, pottery, muskets, swords, and were invited into a lab equipped with an electron microscope. Scholars and technicians worked quietly on their projects and experiments. Matt shared his expertise and enthusiasm for a job he clearly truly loves. We parted with thanks and promises to get our families together. Hope that “great big cousins’ reunion” happens soon!
With guidance from Matt, we arrived, fingers crossed, at the “Donors Center”, the St. George Tucker House, and a reenactment by a talented scholar/actor who portrayed Ann Wager, a “femme sole”, unmarried business-woman who operated the Church of England sponsored school in Williamsburg for African American enslaved children and a few “free blacks”.
Just imagine, a world where “the masters” were paranoid over the possibility of a slave revolt and a common belief that African Americans had no soul and should not be educated. But the Anglican Church wanted more Christians, so the colonies reluctantly accepted four such schools in the entire colonies. She withstood much skepticism and criticism and taught for a dozen years, perhaps 350 children, and assured us what while she never questioned slavery, she learned they then can learn and do indeed have souls. She then stepped out of character and answered our questions, and boy were there some good questions. Ann eventually married and had two children and then dropped from history.
The next day, we dutifully lined up, as Lauren the Director had suggested, at 9:30 a.m. sharp and lucked out when a couple had to cancel because of illness. We got to spend an hour with President Thomas Jefferson, aka Bill Barker, who has performed as Thomas Jefferson for 26 years. He took my question about his relationship with James Madison first and spoke to me for 20 minutes! That was an amazing experience. He has done vast research over the years and was a strong defender of any critics of his alter-ego. I did not push my luck and ask him of his beliefs regarding a deity. But I think that he, like Einstein, believed in “Spinoza’s God”.
One thing he stressed is the importance, then and now, of separation of church and state. The freedom of the human mind clearly includes freedom from believing what you, they, or I believe. No person, sect, church, or government can force itself on a citizen, regardless of what Jerry Falwell or Franklin Graham would have you believe! Nor can government tax us to benefit religion. That’s why “One nation under God” is a violation of The Constitution and our freedom.
Below are many, many resources for anyone who would like more information on the Colonial Williamsburg sites and some of my reading during the last five years. I am committed to writing and setting an example for our “modern world”. Let’s leave the tribes, conflict, violence, and hate behind.
Here are some conclusions I have reached:
America has come a vast distance; the defeat of slavery, The Civil Rights Movement, the counter-attack to the counter-revolt of the Jim Crow South, racial integration of the military; integration of schools (Brown vs. Board of Education), human rights, and women going from 10%, when I attended, to 50% of law school students; and a black President and almost our first women president. Almost.
With all that change, America had a huge hiccup. By scaring white working-class people, the “filthy rich”, big business, big insurance, and big “pharma”, the Tea Party, the radical religious right, white nationalists, and die-hard racists have formed a coalition that has temporarily blocked what I believe are inevitable changes.
Watching the thoughtful, intelligent, educated people who visited Colonial Williamsburg, I believe that the rational people will have a resurgence, and the fear-mongers, racists, and reactionaries will be superseded. My caveat is my fear the Democrats will over-react and allow naive, ultra-liberal, and anti-Semitic influences alienate people like me.
Gay Americans are not going to give up their right to marry. Women are not going back home to raise the children alone. Black Americans are tired of being second and third class. The diverse peoples who are coming to America are not going to stop coming. Technology is not going to slow down. The age of the lunch-bucket and a lifetime in one job is over.
Our poisoned environment will not continue to tolerate the abuse. Our climate change will be with everyone living now for their entire lives.
The forces of chaos will try to prevail. Natural dangers and powerful weapons will place humankind at great risk. Will we survive?
I hope so, and I hope that we will increase our ability to foster equality, respect, civility, rationality, and education, deep and broad, specialized and generalized, technical, vocational, and liberal education. All of these will be essential to our survival.
As I head into what is likely the last 1/3 of my life, I want to learn more every day, to help people every day, and to stay as healthy and sharp as I can. If I am ever able to retire, I hope to work on memoir and our family’s history. I want to be a good husband, father, and grandfather for every minute I am able. Amen.
The Brush-Everard House: https://www.history.org/almanack/places/hb/hbbrush.cfm
The St. George Tucker House: https://www.history.org/almanack/places/hb/hbtucker.cfm
Chowning’s Tavern: https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.com/eat/chownings-tavern-resorts
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum: https://www.colonialwilliamsburg.com/art-museums/rockefeller-museum
The Governor’s Palace: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Governor%27s_Palace_(Williamsburg,_Virginia)
The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World: New Expanded Edition: https://tinyurl.com/y4o63nzj
The Hidden Brain Podcast, a 51 minute show on “The Divided Brain”: https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510308/hidden-brain
A Small Town Lawyer’s Reading List from “Perspectives of a Small Town Lawyer”: https://hunterlawfirm.net/a-small-town-lawyers-reading-list/
A Small Town Lawyer Should Engage In Thinking:
Some Suggested Reading.
Kurt Anderson: “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500 Year History”
Susan Jacoby: “The Age of American Unreason”.
Susan Jacoby: “Freethinkers – A History of American Secularism”
Michelle Obama: “Becoming”
Catherine Nixey: “The Darkening Age – The Christian Destruction of the Classical World”
Bernard Mayo: Editor: “Jefferson Himself”
Kevin R.C. Gutzman: “James Madison and the Making of America”
Steven Weinberg: “To Explain the World – The Discovery of Modern Science”
Yuval Noah Harari and Derek Perkins: “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”
Yuval Noah Harari and Derek Perkins: “Sapiens – a Brief History of Mankind”
Yuval Noah Harari and Derek Perkins: “Homo Deus – a Brief History of Tomorrow”
Matthew Stewart: “The Heretical Origins of the American Republic”
Craig A. James: “The Religious Virus: Why We Believe in God”
Ronald C. White: “A. Lincoln; a Biography”
Ronald C. White: “American Ulysses: A Biography of Ulysses S. Grant”
Doris Kearns Goodwin: “No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II”
Doris Kearns Goodwin: “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”
Ron Chernow: “Hamilton”
Ron Chernow: “Washington, a Life Ron Chernow: Grant”
This post was written by Burton Hunter