Time Traveling in Colonial Williamsburg

The Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia was the official residence of the Royal Governors of the Colony of Virginia. This is a reconstruction of the original building.

The Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia was the official residence of the Royal Governors of the Colony of Virginia. This is a reconstruction of the original building.

As an author of historical romance, I’ve often wished I could go back in time to see what daily life was like for the characters I write about.

A trip to Colonial Williamsburg, where the fake and real are artfully blended to recreate Virginia’s colonial past, is probably the closest a writer can get to time traveling.

So I set out to visit the quaint town that was once the capital of Virginia, Britain’s largest, wealthiest, and most populous outpost in the New World.

The historic area of covers 301 acres; 88 of its buildings are original structures from the 1700s, while other houses and shops were reconstructed on their original foundations.

The people who work there, known as interpreters, dress in period costume and address visitors in the formal language one might have expected to hear 200 years ago. It was a time when a lady never exposed her elbows and life expectancy was between 42 to 48 years old.

These ladies told me they like wearing stays because they are “comfortable & support you.”

These ladies told me they like wearing stays because they are “comfortable and support you.”

Costumed attendants also practice the ancient crafts, such as blacksmithing and brickmaking, in much the same way they would have in 1700s America.

The writer in me was fascinated to get a close-up look at this living history museum.

I started at the Millinery Shop to get a look at clothes and accessories from the colonial era.  The lady’s shift we saw was cut very wide to give the wearer more padding. Not exactly something a modern woman would want!

photo 1

Gentlemen’s riding breeches, these are leather, at the Millinery Shop.

 

photo 2

A man’s banyan with a floral pattern. Few colors or patterns were associated with gender back in colonial times.

 

A man's wrapping gown for casual dressing at home or at one's shop.  So yes, they were seen in public dressed this way.

A man’s wrapping gown for casual dressing at home or at one’s shop. So yes, they were seen in public dressed this way.

The rebuilt buildings were interesting but I was most fascinated by the original structures from the 18th century. The furnishings inside these houses are not original but they are period-appropriate pieces.

This parlor belonging to the lady of the house is painted blue because it was seen as a passive and feminine shade.

This parlor belonging to the lady of the house is painted blue because it was seen as a passive and feminine shade.

 

Wythe House, built in 1750, features the bright wallpaper that was a sign of wealth.

Wythe House, built in 1750, features the bright wallpaper that was a sign of wealth.

More signs of wealth: bright paint colors in two rooms.

More signs of wealth: bright wall colors in two rooms.

As a big fan of food, I paid special attention to the dining rooms, where the tables were laid out with fare residents of the home might have consumed.

Three meals were served each day: breakfast, dinner and supper. Dinner, what we now call lunch, was the biggest meal of the day and supper was often the leftovers from dinner.

Dinner at Randolph House might have included a leg of lamb, baked fish with peas, and sweet potato pudding. Pies without a top crust were called puddings.

Dinner at Randolph House might have included a leg of lamb, baked fish with peas, and sweet potato pudding. Pies without a top crust were called puddings.

 

Desserts in Colonial America included dried fruits and nuts, ginger cakes, pound cake puddings, red wine with lots of sugar and apple pie.

Desserts in Colonial America included dried fruits and nuts, ginger cakes, pound cake puddings, red wine with lots of sugar and apple pie.

And if your meal didn’t sit well in your belly, it was time for a visit to the apothecary.

I was amused to learn laxatives were the most-prescribed curative in 18th Century Williamsburg. Syrup of violets was used to ease this uncomfortable problem. Camphor was an inhalant to open nasal passages and also for muscle aches and pains. Sulfur helped with skin conditions and cloves eased tooth aches.

My favorite Colonial Williamsburg medical treatment was chocolate, which was recommended as a cough suppressant.

Spanish flies were used to ease urinary tract infections and also as an aphrodisiac.

Spanish flies were used to ease urinary tract infections and also as an aphrodisiac.

Overall, it wasn’t exactly time traveling but my visit to Colonial Williamsburg did give me a glimpse into the past and I was inspired when I sat down to write again; my characters and the times in which they lived came to life a bit  more vividly in my mind.

What about you? As an author, what inspires your writing? As a reader, what inspires you to read novels set in different time periods?   

I picked up this Colonial Williamsburg tote bag on my visit. I'll gift it to a blog visitor who leaves a comment. Thanks for stopping by!

I picked up this Colonial Williamsburg tote bag on my visit. I’ll gift it to a blog visitor who leaves a comment below.

 

Advertisements
Leave a comment

16 Comments

  1. JB Schroeder

     /  September 2, 2014

    I love this, Diana! Such fantastic pictures–and right up my alley this minute as I am reading the 8th book in the Outlander series, which is largely set in Colonial America! Super cool!

    Reply
  2. Hi JB – I had no idea the latest Outlander book is set in Colonial America! I wonder if the author visited Colonial Williamsburg 😉

    Reply
  3. Rhonda Kirby

     /  September 2, 2014

    I have visited Williamsburg and thoroughly enjoyed it. I would love to win this tote! I love to read stories in various time periods! It allows an escape and mini vacation as well as learn how people lived in the past.

    Reply
    • Hi Rhonda – That’s also what first drew me to historical romance. I loved being entertained while also learning about different periods in history. And I have to say, the tote is pretty nice! Good Luck!

      Reply
  4. Oh how amazing. As a reader I love the historical backgrounds of where the authors got their information from to create this fictional story. Like if there were some facts I didn’t know about and was set as the plot of the story then it’ll get my attention to read the book and even do more research on it on my own.

    And then as an aspiring writer, I guess it’s more of what interests me or something I think I’ll like to get to know more about through research….

    Reply
  5. Hi Ki Pha – I do the same thing! I am often inspired to research a historical event or time period after reading about it in a work of fiction. Thanks for stopping by the blog!

    Reply
  6. I love the photos! And chocolate…yes! I really want to go back to Williamsburg. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Diana Quincy

       /  September 2, 2014

      Joanna – I went without the kids this time so I was really able to linger and ask questions. The costumed attendants probably got tired of me!

      Reply
  7. Great post Diana! I enjoyed the photos. It’s been a long time since I visited Colonial Williamsburg, and I’m inspired to visit again soon. As historical authors, it’s so exciting to see how people lived in the past. I love the clothing and furniture pictures!

    Reply
    • Diana Quincy

       /  September 2, 2014

      Hi Tina – We were there four days and I feel there was a lot that I missed. I’m guessing another visit is in my future!

      Reply
  8. Love the post, Diana. I went to Williamsburg last year during a ridiculously hot spell. I don’t know how the women could handle all those clothes, and I felt sort of guilty complaining about the heat while I stood in a tank top and shorts. 🙂 I was limited in how much I could do because of the kids, but I enjoyed the Colonial section. I like how creative they had to be with their resources. I bought these rectangular soaps that smell wonderful and last. I like reading books set in places I’ve never been to. They had a scavenger hunt type of adventure for the kids to do. It forced them to go to different places in search of clues and they learned a little about history along the way.

    Reply
  9. Hi Maria – The first time we visited as a family was a few years ago and being with the kids did limit just how much we could explore the colonial area. This year the boys — who are now teenagers — went to the nearby theme park while Mr. Quincy and I took out time in the historic area, so I could really dig in this time.

    Reply
  10. Molly R. Moody

     /  September 5, 2014

    As a reader I think I prefer historical stories for two reasons, first and foremost I’ve always been interested in what it was like back in colonial and Pioneer times, and second I believe that books are the closest I’ll ever come to traveling back in time.

    Reply
    • Diana Quincy

       /  September 5, 2014

      Hi Molly – Thanks for stopping by. I also like the way historical fiction transports you to another time — you get to suspend reality in a way that you are not always able to with books set in the modern day — although I love those too!

      Reply
  11. Jaye Marie Rome

     /  September 9, 2014

    I love this post, Tina. We had such a great time in Williamsburg. Besides being fascinating, it also reminds us how lucky we are to have the conveniences we have today, lol!

    Jaye

    Reply
  12. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  September 15, 2014

    I love this post. I have decided the only way to travel to a historic location is to go with a true historian. Looks like you had an amazing time.

    Reply

Talk Back to the Femmes....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Recent Releases by the Femmes

  • JB Schroeder

  • Joanna Shupe

  • Tina Gabrielle

  • Maria K. Alexander

  • Michele Mannon

  • Diana Quincy

  • RoseAnn DeFranco

  • The Femmes:

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 13,646 other followers

  • Top Posts & Pages

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Stuff

%d bloggers like this: