The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Williamsburg, Virginia, United States
Colonial Williamsburg interprets the origins of America (USA), the tension between slavery and freedom during the American Revolution, and the development of American democracy through the everyday stories of men and women who lived in eighteenth-century Williamsburg, Virginia. Exhibits, site tours, and street scenes weave together a complicated, often conflicting, story of a revolutionary city whose residents viewed the notions of liberty and equality from different perspectives. Costumed interpreters bring to life Williamsburg's men and women—black, white, Native American, enslaved, indentured, and free—and the challenges they faced together during this pivotal time in history.
More than half of Williamsburg's population in 1775 was enslaved. Revolution created new opportunities for these African Americans and in the process, divided families and communities. Some individuals encouraged loved ones to join them in seeking freedom with the British, while others remained at home or sought out Patriot forces, in the hopes that victory might spell the end of slavery in a new independent nation. Colonial Williamsburg programming highlights the resolve of enslaved people to determine their own fates during the Revolution and, in the retelling of their stories, examines America's founding paradox—that freedom for some relied upon the enslavement of many.
CWF preserves, restores, and operates Virginia's eighteenth-century capital as a twenty first-century center for history and citizenship. Innovative and interactive experiences, such as Revolutionary City® street scenes and the RevQuest: Save the Revolution!™ series of alternate reality games, highlight the relevance of the American Revolution to contemporary life and the importance of an informed, active citizenry. The Colonial Williamsburg experience includes more than five hundred restored or reconstructed original buildings, renowned museums of decorative arts and folk art, extensive educational outreach programs for students and teachers, resort hotels, restaurants, retail stores, a spa and fitness center, and gardens. Philanthropic support and revenue from admissions, products and hospitality operations sustain Colonial Williamsburg's educational programs and preservation initiatives.
Brief History of slave trade, slavery, and the American Revolution
Though the transatlantic slave trade began in the sixteenth century, the first Africans to be forcibly brought to British North America arrived by 1619 in Virginia's capital, Jamestown. Early forms of forced labor in the emerging colony consisted of white and black indentured servitude, as well as Native American and African slavery. Virginia legislators legally codified slavery and restricted the rights of free blacks by the 1660s. After the colony's capital was moved to Williamsburg in 1699, Virginia continued to grow as a slave society, dependent on the forced labor of about 42 percent of its population. As enslaved people struggled to forge meaningful lives in bondage, they helped to build a thriving commercial society through field work, skilled trades, and domestic labor. Some men and women fled their circumstances for uncertain lives at the fringes of slave society. Most, however, remained enslaved and claimed whatever they could to improve their circumstances and maintain ties to their families and communities.
As white Virginians declared independence from Great Britain, the ideals of their leaders, based upon liberty and man's natural rights, exposed a deep contradiction: their freedom depended upon slavery. During the American Revolution, approximately five thousand free blacks and slaves joined the American Continental Army, while more than twenty thousand blacks supported the British forces. Since 1979, Colonial Williamsburg has interpreted these complicated eighteenth-century stories though groundbreaking African American programs, supported by rigorous scholarship.
Brief History of Colonial Williamsburg
In 1926, the Rev. Dr. W. A. R. Goodwin, rector of Bruton Parish Church, approached John D. Rockefeller, Jr., about restoring the small town to its colonial past. The reconstructed Raleigh Tavern opened as the first public exhibition building in September 1932.Guided by the goal of providing an opportunity to inspire future Americans by the patriotism and purpose of the past, Rockefeller supported and financed Williamsburg's restoration until his death in 1960. Today the restored 301-acre Historic Area comprises 88 original buildings and hundreds of homes, shops, public buildings, and other structures that have been reconstructed, most on their original foundations. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is a private, not-for-profit educational foundation that receives no regular state or federal funding.
In 1979, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation began to incorporate African American history and culture into its research, programs, and site interpretation. Historians, archeologists, architectural historians, curators, and others provide the scholarship necessary to craft responsible African American public history programs. Grants and endowments to CWF have funded major African American history initiatives, including the reconstruction of a rural slave quarter at Carter's Grove Plantation, the 1994 re-enactment of a slave auction, and a wide variety of interpretive programming throughout the Historic Area that brings to life the everyday experiences of African American men, women, and children.
Costumed historical interpreters share stories of the American Revolution in a variety of programs, including “Revolution in the Streets,” which offers guests the opportunity to interact with diverse people. Guests can explore African American resistance in the midst of a revolutionary society on walking tours or in visits to the historic sites of the Peyton Randolph House or Great Hopes Plantation. The African American Religion exhibit traces the religious heritage of the African American Baptist congregation in Williamsburg in the late eighteenth century. In addition, the Equiano Forum on Early African American History and Culture is an ongoing series of lectures about the transatlantic slave trade and resistance.
CWF's outstanding collections encompass nearly 70,000 examples of American and British fine, decorative, and mechanical art; 5,000 pieces of American folk art; more than 40 million archaeological artifacts; 15,000 architectural fragments; and more than 12,000 rare books and approximately 200 manuscript collections. These materials all shed light on life in Virginia, the American colonies, and the greater North Atlantic from the seventeenth century through the Early National period.
Colonial Williamsburg is the host of Slavery and Remembrance, a website jointly sponsored with UNESCO's Slave Route Project. CWF employs innovative technologies to engage the public in the continuing conversation about the American Revolution, citizenship, democracy, and the paradox of American freedom and slavery..
Colonial Williamsburg is part of coordinated local, regional, and national tourism efforts that attracts multicultural local, regional, national, and international visitors of all age groups.