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Tea Party Migrates to Colonial Williamsburg

August 1st, 2010

 

The Tea Party activists have been drawn to Colonial Williamsburg and its portrayal of the Founding Fathers this past year. The executives who oversee the events here have noticed the influx of those who are trying to discover the founding fathers and connect with them. According to the Washington Post:

“If people . . . can recognize that subjects such as war and taxation, religion and race, were really at the heart of the situation in the 18th century, and there is some connection between what was going on then and what’s going on now, that’s all to the good,” said Colin Campbell, president and chairman of Colonial Williamsburg. “What happened in the 18th century here required engagement, and what’s required to preserve democracy in the 21st century is engagement. That is really our message.”

The foundation that runs the programs at Colonial Williamsburg is nonprofit and nonpartisan, so neither Campbell nor other employees would venture an opinion on the significance of the tea party. But they welcome the business. Like most museums and historical sites, Williamsburg suffered during the recession; even before that, attendance had been dropping for more than a decade. In the late 1990s, annual ticket sales topped 1 million. Last year, that number had dropped to 660,000.

There is a great deal more interaction with the actors who portray Virginia’s prominent ancestors. People don’t always get the responses they want:

Please flip the page….

Campbell’s hope is that such visitors come away having learned something about the nuance and messiness of history — a theme that runs through all of Colonial Williamsburg’s programming.

Sometimes, the activists appear surprised when the Founding Fathers don’t always provide the “give ‘em hell” response they seem to be looking for.

When a tourist asked George Washington a question about what should be done to those colonists who remain loyal to the tyrannical British king, Washington interjected: “I hope that we’re all loyal, sir” — a reminder that Washington, far from being an early agitator against the throne, was among those who sought to avoid revolution until the very end.

When another audience member asked the general to reflect on the role of prayer and religion in politics, he said: “Prayers, sir, are a man’s private concern. They are not a matter of public interest. And nor should they be. There is nothing so personal as a man’s relationship with his creator.”

And when another asked whether the Boston Tea Party had helped rally the patriots, Washington disagreed with force: The tea party “should never have occurred,” he said. “It’s hurt our cause, sir.”
[Bold is mine.]
That may not have been the answer the man expected from the father of our country. But even in that spirited crowd, no one was going to tell George Washington he was wrong.

Can you imagine going on an historical tour and having someone in the audience chiming in all the time? The know-it-all types are the bane of a tour guide/actor’s existence. I worked Michie Tavern (Going up the road to Monticello, outside of Charlottesville.) when it was just an historic site; before it was remade into a working historical tavern. We had to go room to room with a scripted speech. The old lady who owned the place used to hide behind the doors and listen to make sure we didn’t go off script. One of the show-offs would crank up at least once a day and get us in trouble with the dragon lady.

It sounds like these costumed Washingtons, Randolphs and Masons are professional actors and welcome the audience participation more than college-age tour guides working for a buck-twenty five an hour or some other slave wages did. It probably makes the day go faster to get some feed back. Usually period actors know their historical stuff backwards and forwards.

Regardless of one’s political persuasion, the sudden interest in Colonial Willaimsburg is a good thing for Virginia. We have been here all along and any money spent in Virginia helps our state and it helps the country recover from the recession.

Meanwhile, Americans continue to flock to historical sites and continue to engage the actors in similar conversations:

“General, when is it appropriate to resort to arms to fight for our liberty?” asked a tourist on a recent weekday during “A Conversation with George Washington,” a hugely popular dialogue between actor and audience in the shaded backyard of Charlton’s Coffeehouse.

Standing on a simple wooden stage before a crowd of about 100, the man portraying Washington replied: “Only when all peaceful remedies have been exhausted. Or if we are forced to do so in our own self-defense.”

The tourist, a self-described conservative activist named Ismael Nieves from Elmer, N.J., nodded thoughtfully. Afterward, he said this was his fifth visit to Colonial Williamsburg.

“We live in a very dangerous time,” Nieves said. “People are looking for leadership, looking for what to do. They’re looking to Washington, Jefferson, Madison.”

“I want to get to know our Founding Fathers,” he added. “I think we’ve forgotten them. It’s like we’ve almost erased them from history.”

It’s a common point of view among tea party activists. They say their unhappiness with Washington reflects how far the federal government has strayed, through taxation and regulation, from the Founders’ intentions.

“They all should come here and listen,” said Bob Rohrbacher, a retired plumber from Floral Park, N.Y., who opposes President Obama and was inspired to visit Williamsburg while watching Glenn Beck on Fox News. “They’ve forgotten about America.”

All history books are not equal. Some, especially ones popular now that are  being espoused by political activists, are skewed and represent someone’s point of view, rather than being true to traditional history. Who is to say who is right and who is wrong? I tend to believe the history books that have been around for years, even if they do tend to glorify our local heroes like Jack Jouett and Thomas Jefferson. I have even read a few books in my day where I had to really dig to determine who really won the Civil War.

Hopefully, the Civil War Sesquicentennial will bring in even more tourists with deep pockets who want to learn history. We can only pray that people will open their eyes to what happens when a nation can no longer find common ground.

  1. Second-Alamo
    August 1st, 2010 at 08:26 | #1

    When will ‘others’ start demanding representation in Williamsburg even though they weren’t a major part of the actual history in the forming of this country? I must admit that Williamsburg still remains as American as most small towns were up through the 70′s. It’s the one place where descendants of white European immigrants can walk around and be proud of their heritage without having to listen to all the negative brain-washing BS from all the organized non-white groups! Come to think of it, how long before they start to label the place racist as they did with the Confederate flag?

  2. August 1st, 2010 at 08:51 | #2

    Who exactly do you want to keep out? There were certainly blacks represented in Williamsburg as long as I can remember.

    The gays used to have a little placard in the new, renovated Jamestown. Something to do with some theory that James was gay and some of the original settlers were gay. It seemed a little far fetched to me. I wasn’t sure it was a necessary component to the display.

    So what do you think about some of the misrepresentations that are coming out about what the founding fathers believed or said?

  3. Second-Alamo
    August 1st, 2010 at 09:08 | #3

    When you look at the background of some of the present day ‘role models’ and cringe that they are considered ‘role models’ by many, then it makes it even harder to accept the negative reflections on our nation’s founders by those same people. Call it wishful thinking, but we all need ‘role models’ to aspire to, and our founding fathers should remain free of blemishes if for nothing more than providing a sense of what can be achieved when people work together for a common goal. Others will try their best, and may eventually succeed, in tearing down the nation’s early ‘role models’ to the level of their pathetic excuse for present day ‘role models’ just so they can feel better about themselves. This is the sad state of some in present day society.

  4. August 1st, 2010 at 10:50 | #4

    Are you talking about Ben Franklin’s 21 illegitimate children or the Jefferson affair with Sally Hemmings or George Washington’s old bitch mother who hounded him like a dog?

    I think these people can still be role models even with flaws. I just think we cannot put words in their mouths like some oare trying to do nowadays. I don’t think their flaws detract from what they did to lay the foundation of this country.

    The one thing I always suck air over is how many people who are touting Democracy as a uniquely American concept overlook the fact that the founding fathers came along during an age of enlightenment that was very European.

  5. Second-Alamo
    August 1st, 2010 at 11:07 | #5

    Well there you go! Thanks for the historical update. Did that come directly from one of those liberal text books? Was there any dirt on MLK by chance?

    • August 1st, 2010 at 11:41 | #6

      No. I have known about Franklin most of my life. TJ–all that recently came out what, 10 years ago. There is DNA evidence. The gays at Jamestown, I just noticed that when I was there about 15-20 years ago after the historical part had been renovated.

      I found out about Mary Washington when I was a student at Mary Washington. It was sort of a joke. She was very abusive to her son.

      MLK isn’t a founding father but sure, there is lots of dirt on him also.

      Merriwether Lewis was also a depressive. It is thought that he killed himself. Does that detract from what he was able to accomplish? I don’t think so.

  6. Second-Alamo
    August 1st, 2010 at 11:49 | #7

    Isn’t that great! DNA evidence convinces an entire population about the activities of one of our founding fathers hundreds of years ago, but won’t link OJ to a murder scene. How appropriate! Got to love it.

    • August 1st, 2010 at 13:21 | #8

      @SA, they are only human beings, not gods. Why is it necessary for them to be perfect?

      Why do you want to live with myths? The Sally Hemmings situation has been suspected for hundreds of years. Now science has evolved to the place where it can be confirmed. I think it makes Jefferson more human. The social structure was just different then than it is now.

      Cindy is right. Many of the greatest thinkers or those who have made the greatest contributions often have feet of clay. Jefferson’s library was sold off to pay off his debts. No credit cards back then.

  7. August 1st, 2010 at 12:22 | #9

    Moon-howler :Are you talking about Ben Franklin’s 21 illegitimate children or the Jefferson affair with Sally Hemmings or George Washington’s old bitch mother who hounded him like a dog?

    Thank you, M-H for starting my day off with a laugh. These were, indeed, humans, as we all are. As a writer, most of the people I look up to for their brilliant and wonderful written words, were, in real life, depressed, alcoholic or deeply in debt (or paying off relatives’ debts).

    I guess that’s what gets me about a lot of the people who are criticizing others — they have an idea of historical figures in their head, but they haven’t really explored their lives. Or they pull a fact here or a fact there out of context to the wide picture of the times. I encourage everyone to visit Virginia, really visit it, from Winchester to Petersburg to Roanoke. Read about it, starting with all the historic local sites in Manassas and Prince William County, and take some classes or seminars.

    And in context, our 200+ years here is a drop in the bucket to world history. Europeans laugh at the ignorance of Americans about things that are right under our noses.

  8. Second-Alamo
    August 1st, 2010 at 13:32 | #10

    MH, you missed my point on the DNA issue. It is a case of selective acceptance. Happens all the time. The science and people’s acceptance of the results are based on more than the science alone.

    As far as the founders not being perfect, so what. Why not dwell on the positive for the sake of moving forward instead of constantly trying to analyze every minute of a person’s life just to placate those who want to find some flaw to compensate for their own lack of achievement.

  9. Rez
    August 1st, 2010 at 13:55 | #11

    @Moon-howler
    Wolfie, actually science is not able to be definitive. Doesn’t matter to me what happened but DNA testing only can say that a male Jefferson fathered at least one if not all of the Hemming children. The people in any given time are a product of the time that they are in.

    http://www.monticello.org/plantation/hemingscontro/hemings-jefferson_contro.html

  10. DB
    August 1st, 2010 at 15:59 | #12

    Read Chapter 3: The Men Who Would Be Kings in Kathryn Joyce’s book Quiverfull, Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. The chapter describes when “four thousand, ultraconservative, largely homeschooling Christians gathered in June 2007 to correct a national mistake.” The tea-partiers are small fish compared to the Vision Forum ilk.

  11. August 1st, 2010 at 16:39 | #13

    @DB, scary. Tell us more.

    @Rez, you are right as far as definitive. However, the off-spring have already had family reunions. Throw in history, science, etc, I think it is generally accepted. It wasn’t for a long time. When I was growing up, giving much credit to the Sally Hemmings theory would get a person shunned.

    @SA, I think I must be missing your point. Are you saying that people are willing to accept something less than positive about white people but not accept stuff about non-whites?

  12. DB
    August 1st, 2010 at 17:14 | #14

    There is so much scary to tell: Jonathan Falwell Jr. :”There are many out there who want to change our history. We as Christians must never let this happen.” And then three years later, the whole Ergund Caner debacle at Liberty? Oh the the dean of the theological seminary changed/lied his entire bio, denigrates female and minority students who attend the university on tape yet John jr. supports him? Those who question? Pharisees.

    Doug Phillips and Jerry Jr. were quite snug in 2007 . As for Dougie boy and his wife Beall, well one can read Created to Be His Helpmeet, or To Train Up a Child. The former explains how a woman must submit at all times, and her failure to do so is why her husband hits her. The latter explains the biblical principals behind hitting infants with wooden spoons, the biblical necessity to control a willful child, and how pvc piping should be used as corporal punishment. I. Kid. You. Not. Welcome to scary world.

  13. August 1st, 2010 at 20:25 | #15

    Where does the abuse to children and infants happen? How come no one has called the cops on them? Is this like a snake handler cult?

  14. DB
    August 1st, 2010 at 21:53 | #16

    Um… parents have killed their children/adopted children while following the advice in To Train Up a Child, yet the Phillips manage to skirt responsibility (corporal punishment is biblical afterall). Gotta read the book by Joyce, gotta read the blogs written by those who escaped the movement. razingruth, nolongerquivering, freejinger.yuku etc.

  15. DB
    August 1st, 2010 at 22:10 | #17

    And if you’re feeling really brave check out both books by the Phillips: Created to be His Helpmeet, and To Train Up a Child. And no this is not a snake handler cult. It’s a conservative right wing cult…ya know the ones that are raising God’s end-time army.

  16. August 1st, 2010 at 22:36 | #18

    Um,…..
    What does DB’s posts have to do with the Tea Party and Williamsburg? Am I missing something?

  17. Second-Alamo
    August 2nd, 2010 at 05:43 | #19

    MH, I think #7 pretty much says it all if you really think about it.

  18. Second-Alamo
    August 2nd, 2010 at 06:28 | #20

    The problem in the world today is that people’s ability to travel to other countries is on the rise while people’s desire to improve their own country is on the decline. It’s much easier to move to a better neighborhood, even though you can’t afford to live there, than to work to improve your own. I just viewed several videos from Europe where they are having huge problems with people illegally flooding in from other countries. Border security will be on the rise around the world as a result. A nation can’t survive with an ever increasing uneducated, unskilled, and unemployed population.

  19. George S. Harris
    August 2nd, 2010 at 07:40 | #21

    @cargosquid
    I was wondering the same thing CS. It is interesting to watch how these things can stray off down some path that leaves you wondering–”Did I miss something or what?”

    What also amazes me with this is the idea that people must believe the actors–yes actors–at Williamsburg and other historical sites are somehow reincarnations of the people they are playing. The really good reenactors can keep the conversation within the era they are portraying. If you would ask “Thomas Jefferson” if he has heard about the immigration issue in Arizona he would probably ask you, “Where is Arizona?”

  20. August 2nd, 2010 at 07:45 | #22

    @ Cargo, I guess it means I need to put up an open thread.

    @SA, I know Europe has had major troubles with immigrant populations. I don’t know how much of that is legal vs illegal. And I think you make a point about moving being easier than fixing what’s wrong.

    On the other hand, if I may be the devil’s advocate for a second, how do we get workers for jobs that are unskilled when we have an expectation of high school graduate in this country? Why should a person who has even a 10th grade education think they are candidates for some of the jobs that our immigrants do? They have been pumped up in schools and on TV to believe they are too good for that kind of work?

    You don’t see Americans vying for some of the jobs that the immigrants want. They think they are too good to do them. (and I don’t agree that they are too good to do them but that opinion is irrelevant.)

  21. George S. Harris
    August 2nd, 2010 at 10:15 | #23

    @Moon-howler
    And @ SA–”…moving being easier than fixing what’s wrong.” Isn’t this the history of immigration? Pilgrims moved to this country because they couldn’t fix the religious persecution. Irish moved here because they couldn’t fix the potato blight. Jews moved here because of pogroms. And we could go on and on and on. People go where there is opportunity.

    There is an interesting Wikipedia article about illegal immigrants here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegal_immigration

    I am not sure I totally agree with MH about why Americans are unwilling to take certain jobs. I believe that it may be that we do too much for folks and demand very little in return. I still remember the late 1930s and 1940-41 before WWII–Many people were willing to work for a meal. My parents were some of the Okies who went to California (my Dad’s parents lived near Watsonville) where they picked fruit and vegetables. They worked in a fruit drying house and did all kinds of odd jobs to keep body and soul together. There was no welfare, no SSI, Medicare, or any of the social welfare programs we have today. I’m not saying these programs are bad, but for those who could or would work–it should be a requirement. Before the great interstate highway program, much of this contry’s infrastructure was built by the WPA and forests were replanted, etc by the WPA and the CCC.

    We aren’t hungry enough and if we were we might move somewhere else! ;-)

  22. PWC Taxpayer
    August 2nd, 2010 at 10:51 | #24

    IMHO, Williamsburg is used by the Tea Party as a baseline not a goal. I don’t think any serious tea partier or anyone else wants to go backward. Wiiliamsburg also sets the baseline for what we were supposed to be about in terms of individual liberty, freedom and opportunity – at least the theory in the face of required compromises. It should be messy – freedom is harsh and incorrect. The fear and resistance is to this moving forward crap – and onto another very different track of excessive government management and dependence. And the trades-off for this security, this dependence is ultimately less freedom, less individualism and – yes – less opportunity. Other nations/peoples have tried to eliminate the risks of life (food, jobs, healthcare) and were ultimatley very sorry they did. In each case, politically based advancement replaced individual work, expression and innovation. We are already headed in that direction.

  23. August 2nd, 2010 at 11:54 | #25

    Actually George, I don’t disagree with you at all re what people would be willing to do.

    I expect we do do too much for people if they won’t take honest work. However, I know lots of people who didn’t graduate high school and who don’t have a GED who would turn up their nose at stoop work, working a crab or oyster house or flipping burgers. I also know people who would be grateful for the work.

    When a high school education is a minimum standard nowadays, even if people don’t graduate, it has created a class of people who simply don’t want to do unskilled labor.

  24. August 3rd, 2010 at 16:33 | #26

    @Moon-howler
    Yep–In the last few days I have met several people who are hanging on by the skin of their teeth–they are willing to work and are working, but getting crappy pay and crappy benefits, if any. Today, I talked to a man from Ghana who is now working as a health care aide. In Ghana, he was a heavy equipment operator, but cannot get certified here without going through some very expensive recertification programs. Another man I talked to today works at a Giant store. While I don’t have numbers, Giant is doing like many large businesses now days–hiring people part time, paing starvation wages with little or no benefits. The guy I talked to today gets about 25 hours a week so he does window washing as a second job and is afraid to tell Giant since he is convinced they will cut his hours even further.

    I spoke to two ABC employees yesterday–both oare part time–no benefits–no retirement–no health benefit, etc. but they do have a job and would be willing to work more but …

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