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.

 

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