We continued our journey up the East Coast from North Carolina into Virginia.
The first stop was America’s Historic Triangle with three towns that are important to colonial America – Jamestown (the first English Settlement), Williamsburg (the capitol of Britians’s largest and richest colony) and Yorktown (the site of the final battle in the Revolutionary War).
After settling into our campground, we began our tour of the area with a stroll through the lovely merchant’s square in Williamsburg.
The brick streets are lined with shops, restaurants and at the far end lies the gorgeous historic College of William & Mary (the second oldest college in America!). We ate at a great pub, walked around the shops, then strolled the campus.
This photo is one of my favorites of the trip :) I ask them to smile and this is what I get.
There is a great bookstore in the same area where we spent over an hour on both days. Ryan browsed downstairs while the kids and I went up to the Children’s section to read and play. I adore a good illustrated children’s book and read a handful. This one was our favorite of the day – such a witty, clever story surrounding the leaders of the Revolution and totally appropriate for this leg of the trip.
The following day, we ventured to Jamestown where the first settlement in America began in 1607.
Side note: there actually was an earlier settlement on Roanoke Island, NC where we visited on our previous stop. There is mystery as to what happened to the 117 colonists which is super fascinating. Read more about it here.
There are two ways to explore Jamestown: the Historic Jamestowne national park and the Jamestown Settlement. We visited the Settlement which has a full gallery with the history, artifacts and videos inside the visitors center and a replica settlement that you can walk through which is very hands-on.
We learned about the houses that were built, the struggles that the early colonists faced, what types of plants they grew and their relationship with the Native Americans who were already living in the area.
The Powhatan people and the English Colonists built an interesting relationship that was beneficial to both (and harmful as well). We loved walking through the Powhatan village and learning more about their culture and trying out a few of their everyday activities (like removing the fur from a deer hide using a deer hoof!)
The colonists came to America aboard ships and just a few steps away were three replicas on the James River. Again, they have it set up for visitors to climb aboard and have a look around.
I ended up chatting with one of the men in costume who was so knowledgeable about early American history. I am sure I learned much of this in school, but it all left my brain long ago so it was like all of these lightbulbs kept clicking in my head.
So that’s why the British came! (The Virginia Company was funded by weathly Englishmen with the goal of claiming land in America in hopes of discovering gold and silver and producing profitable crops).
Pocahontas ties in here! (She was from the Powhatan tribe, married Englishman John Rolfe – not John Smith as the Disney movie portrays – and was a quick celebrity in England as an example of a ‘civilized savage’.)
The few hours that we spent at Jamestown was very informative and it was helpful that much of it was hands-on for the kids.
We started with the National Park where we joined a Ranger talk that walked us through the battlefield and explained its significance.
Again, I’m sure I learned all of this in school (and I promise I was a good student!), but I was so fuzzy on this part of history before visiting.
Over 150 years after the first settlements were established in America and after years of being unfairly ruled by the British government, revolutionists joined together to declare independence from England. Many things led up to the Revolutionary War (i.e. the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere, The Declaration of Independence) which ultimately ended with the battle at Yorktown.
George Washington, along with Count Rochambeau and their combined Franco-American army defeated the British at Yorktown which would ultimately lead to the British Parliament turning against the war. While Yorktown was not the last battle, it was the most significant and a huge turning point that resulted in America’s independence.
After walking the battlefield, seeing original cannons (!), driving the path where the soldiers encamped and fought, we visited the Victory Center. This was set up much the same as the Jamestown settlement with a gallery (currently under construction to be opened this fall as the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown) and a re-created Continental Army encampment and Revolution-era farm.
This costumed soldier taught us about life in the army, he shared with us the war strategy, how to fire a musket and how to march in formation. We all were quite entertained.
We also sat in to listen to the army surgeon and hear about the medical practices of the time. The boys asked a million questions and our oldest volunteered to learn how the surgeons of that time removed iron musket balls from wounded soldiers (I’ll just say it was ridiculously unsanitary and excruciatingly painful). Again, the hands-on nature made history come alive for all of us.
From the Victory Center, we walked along the river back to our car that was parked about a mile away at the battlefield. Our walk took us through the little town of Yorktown and past old, historic buildings that have stood for nearly 300 years.
To get to our car, we walked through a pathway that was once a major thoroughfare to bring the tobacco from the plantations down to the river for shipping. There is also thought that British General Charles Cornwallis set up a temporary headquarters in the bank of the hillside along the path before the final battle. If those tress could talk!
Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown were added late to our itinerary and I’m so glad we moved things around to fit them in. We all learned so much, the timeline of early American history clicked and we had some great relax time at the bookstore and at our campground.
We moved onward from Williamsburg to a little town of Crozet, Virginia which is just outside Charlottesville.
We planned on visiting the area to see Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, and when I was booking our campsite I recognized the name of the town. It just so happens that one of my besties from college lives in Crozet, just a few miles from where we camped. We were able to squeeze in a visit with Jen and her twins (who are exactly Audrey’s age) and hear all about the local favorites.
Dinner one night was spent on the lawn of King Family Vineyards. You really couldn’t find a dreamier place to sit out, let the kids run, sip their delicious Crose (get it? Crozet/Rose?) and take in the most breathtaking views of the green landscape against the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I am not sure what I am doing here with my arm … but seriously, isn’t this the most beautiful scenery?!
We stayed at the best campground yet where Audrey had the whole bouncy thing to herself and took full advantage of it. There was a pool, a playground, a stage for events, a little stream. It was delightful.
One night Jen and her girls came for s’mores. This was only the second time we’ve pulled out the fire, our camp chairs and the s’mores sticks!
Our main purpose for visiting this part of Virginia was to see Thomas Jefferson’s historic plantation, Monticello.
We began our time with the family-friendly tour which was a great choice for our family. Our tour guide walked us through the rooms on the main floor of the house, giving details on the life of Thomas Jefferson as well as information about the architecture, purpose of each room and notable furniture and decor pieces.
We all felt so inspired by Thomas Jefferson and his love of reading, architecture, innovation. He was an important figure in government – author of The Declaration of Independence, George Washington’s Secretary of State, the second Vice-President, third President, supporter of the Lewis + Clark expedition, and founder of the first state university, University of Virginia – as well as an avid gardner and self-taught architect.
The home and gardens are as lovely as I imagined.
We sat in on a talk on slavery at the plantation. There is a fascinating family tree that connects Jefferson to Sally Hemmings – the half sister to his first wife, Martha, who was a slave on the plantation and mother to six of Jefferson’s children. Read more about it here. Seriously, so interesting.
He wasn’t a perfect man, by any means, but his leadership in our young country was paramount in gaining independence from Britian, the formation of our government and the development of state universities.
This part of the country is just beautiful. Have I mentioned that? It really is.
The rolling hills, lush greenery, farms dotting the landscape, the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We were smitten with it all.