Sweat poured off Patrick Henry’s face as he stood in the hot, 85-degree heat, speaking passionately on how he felt about what had just occurred in this town. The hope of rain that we’d had a few minutes before had been snatched away, and the sun was beating down on us once more. It was May, 1774, and Lord Dunmore had just stolen all the gunpowder from Williamsburg’s public magazine.
After the town had risen in protest, he’d threatened to dissolve the House of Burgesses, the council of citizens who led the city.I was lucky witness to this speech that Patrick Henry was making in secret behind the coffee house on Duke and Gloucester Street. At least fifty people of any age sat around him on this hot day. He spoke just what he thought about King George III, his Loyalists, and Lord Dunmore.
He was waving his cane around and the tails on his long coat swayed back and forth as he moved to and fro. He knew a war was coming (we all did), and he spoke his feelings on that.There was only one problem with this scene. I was wearing contact lenses, blue jean shorts, and tennis shoes! Many around me were dressed the same way, except for those who had rented costumes from the visitor’s center.We were at Colonial Williamsburg, in Virginia.
It wasn’t May 1774. It was really June 2007, and all of us had come visiting the historical area. We weren’t really listening to Patrick Henry in the flesh, but an actor portraying him.
However, as strange as it may sound, all these facts were amazingly easy to forget as we sat there behind the coffee house. I truly and honestly felt like I and others around me were really part of a secret meeting with Patrick Henry. We were able to ask questions of him.
It was at this point that the actor showed his phenomenal improvisation skills. He spoke of ‘dreams’ he’d had about meeting John Adams, and famous things he would say. He also spoke of the ‘nightmare’ he’d had about a federal government and written document (this document, in fact, is our Constitution that has kept our country strong for over 200 years).
I was very tempted to ask ‘What would you say if the document you speak of was to become known as the oldest living document in history?’What held me back? I didn’t want to ruin the moment for myself. It all felt so real that I didn’t want to remind myself that I was from 2007. Of course, I might have been a little shy, as well.After he finished speaking, he led all of us to the capital building at the end of Duke and Gloucester Street.
There, we waited for Lord Dunmore to come out and make his announcement about the House of Burgesses. While we waited, we got the chance to talk to a Loyalist man (an actor planted in the crowd). We mostly kept silent about our beliefs when speaking to him, but were very open while booing Lord Dunmore.As the afternoon went on, so did a couple of years! We watched the Loyalist man we’d spoken to get persecuted for speaking against America and its cause, a man and his wife debating on the husband’s call to war, and watched a general recruit more men.
The afternoon ended with us marching back to the capitol building in jubilation and confidence! We listened to Patrick Henry and other men speak on the war. Cannons were fired, making me jump a foot in the air! If one thing is clear about my entire trip, it’s this: Colonial Williamsburg is a place where American spirit comes to life. We had the unique privilege to go there and feel what people felt then, and see what people saw then! When we went back for a second day, we witnessed the Declaration of Independence being read to Williamsburg from the capital building for the first time. It was an experience like no other. It made me truly proud to be an American, and proud to be a part of a nation that has such powerful emotion and will of man behind its making. This is a place where every American can experience an awakening to where our free nation came from, and where their roots began. There is no place like this in world; I can guarantee it.
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