Live in Colonial Times: Experience the Revolution in a Revolutionary Way

Colonial Williamsburg is the restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s largest, wealthiest, and most populous settlement in the New World

The restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s dominant outpost in the New World, Colonial Williamsburg interprets the cultural establishment of America in the years before and during the American Revolution. The story of Colonial Williamsburg’s revolutionary city tells how diverse peoples evolved into a society that valued liberty and equality.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The world’s largest living history museum—with more than 40 sites and trades and two world-class art museums—is full of participatory experiences. Stop by Raleigh Tavern and see the “Revealing the Priceless” exhibition highlighting efforts to tell the story of Williamsburg’s 18th-century enslaved children, women, and men. Take part in a dig into the past. Tour the laboratories in The Wallace Collections and Conservation Building that examine and restore colonial artifacts. For the adventurous, sign up for axe throwing or learn how to fire a flintlock musket.

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Historic church

As someone who grew up attending services with my family every Sunday, I’ve always enjoyed visiting historic churches—especially when they represent a piece of history. The Historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg is one of the country’s earliest African American congregations. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke here in 1962 inspiring the congregation’s participation in the civil rights movement.

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Quench your thirst

Greater Williamsburg is home to a tasty mix of breweries, distilleries, and a winery. It offers a journey through the old and the new—and the exciting—ways of making beer, wine, and spirits. Check out the fun at relative newcomers like The Virginia Beer Co. or the Precarious Beer Project and old standards like The Williamsburg Winery and Alewerks Brewing Company. Leave the driving to others by taking a Drink Williamsburg tour. Cheers!

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Find your outlet

You can’t return home empty-handed. Go shopping. Browse the more than 120 stores of Williamsburg Premium Outlets. Pick up bargains at Burberry, Calvin Klein, Nike, the Coach Outlet, Oakley, Ralph Lauren, L’Occitane, Swarovski, Waterford, and many others.

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Nature abounds

Williamsburg may be known for its colonial history but it’s also a fabulous spot for nature lovers. There are quiet waterways to explore, large parks to wander about in, and pastoral beauty all around.

If you’re interested in getting outside to experience the wildlife, Waller Mill Park is where birders can find everything from warblers to woodpeckers and osprey. It’s only $2 to park and several wonderful trails take you through stands of pine and hardwood including one that takes you to a fine lookout spot.

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The park also features two closed-in dog runs, a disc golf course, a children’s playground, a playing field, and several types of boats to rent including pedal boats, canoes, kayaks, and row boats. Fishing fans can toss a line for largemouth bass, blue gill, white perch, catfish, and other species.

A trip along Island Loop Drive on Jamestown Island provides numerous opportunities to get up close and personal with nature. It’s a short drive (there are two loops; the longest is about 20 minutes) that takes you over pretty marshes and lovely, curving, wooden bridges.

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Take a leisurely drive or bike ride along the scenic 23-mile Colonial Parkway that provides a physical and metaphorical link between Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. Scenic driving, interpretive pull-offs, biking, and fishing are available along this National Scenic Byway. You’ll pass plenty of quiet ponds and skirt along both the James and York Rivers giving you a great chance to spot hawks, herons, and other big birds.

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Take a tour standing in place

Head to Yorktown and hop on a Segway with Patriot Tours for a one- or two-hour tour covering the waterfront and historic Main Street. Riding a Segway is easier than you think. Lean forward, imagine you are moving, and—presto—you are.

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America’s Historic Triangle

Of course, a visit to the area isn’t complete without visiting all the historic sites it’s known for.  Must-sees include the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and Yorktown Battlefield (where the American Revolution was won), Jamestown Settlement (where America’s first permanent English colony comes to life), and Colonial Williamsburg (the world’s largest living history museum depicting life in the 18th century).

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three places in Virginia can lay claim to where America was born. The first permanent English settlers arrived at Jamestown in 1607. At Williamsburg, the ideas of independence and revolution took form. The siege of Yorktown in 1781 was the last major battle of the American Revolution. In this Historic Triangle, discover the history of the diverse people whose lives form the earliest chapters of America’s story. Experience the past and discover commemorative events, educational programming, and entertainment all in one place. Colonial Williamsburg has a Historic Triangle ticket so that you can save when you explore all three places.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jamestown

Discover the world of the settlers who established the first permanent British settlement in the New World at Historic Jamestowne, a National Park Service and Preservation Virginia site. There you can talk with archaeologists about their excavations on the exact site of the first permanent colony in America, experience the first democratic assembly, and visit the Archaearium, a museum that houses some of the two million artifacts uncovered since the Jamestown Rediscovery Project began in 1994.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For another view of the time, visit Jamestown Settlement and watch 1607: A Nation Takes Root, explore artifact-filled exhibit galleries, climb aboard replicas of the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, visit re-creations of a Powhatan Indian village, and walk through a re-creation of the original fort interacting with interpreters.

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Yorktown

Explore Yorktown Battlefield, a National Park Service site. Then stroll through the 18th-century village of Yorktown. The American Revolution Museum at Yorktown tells the story of the nation’s founding through immersive indoor exhibition galleries and films and outdoor living-history experiences. It offers unique looks at the lives of everyday people overtaken by revolutionary events. Inside, nearly every attraction is interactive. Outside, there are old-fashioned interactive options. Drill in an Army encampment. Help fire artillery. Pick up a recipe from colonial cookbooks at the bakehouse. Tend to the crops at a 1780s colonial-era farm.

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Colonial Parkway

The Colonial Parkway is a 23-mile scenic roadway stretching from the York River at Yorktown to the James River at Jamestown connecting Virginia’s Historic Triangle—Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown.

Worth Pondering…

The truth is, I love history and studied it in college, with a particular focus on early American history. My love is so deep, in fact, I went to school at The College of William & Mary in Colonial Williamsburg.

—Alexandra Bracken

Historic Triangle: 400 Years & Counting

Virginia’s Historic Triangle is full of living history and fun for the whole family

Traveling through America the past is often hidden, masked by strip malls and suburban sprawl. However, restoration and reconstruction projects are occurring in cities and towns across the nation to preserve our past for future generations.

The Historic Triangle is formed by Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown Battlefield, three cities that were instrumental in America’s development, freedom, and democracy.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On May 14, 1607, the ships sent by the Virginia Company of London, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, landed at Jamestown Island with 104 passengers—all men and boys. They began building America’s first permanent English settlement, predating Plymouth in Massachusetts by 13 years.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Decimated by disease, famine, and Indian attacks, less than half of them survived the first year. However, with more settlers arriving every year and the establishment of their first cash crop, the tiny settlement began to flourish.

Historic Jamestown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through living history, a film, and gallery exhibits, the aspirations of these pioneers and the hardships they faced are depicted at Jamestown Settlement. Located about a mile from the original site, Jamestown Settlement is 10 minutes from Williamsburg, Jamestown’s successor as capital of the Virginia colony.

Historic Jamestown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your visit to Jamestown Settlement begins with an introductory film that presents an overview of Jamestown’s origins in England and the early years of the colony. Exhibition galleries chronicle the nation’s pre-17th-century beginnings in Virginia in the context of its Powhatan Indian, English, and western central African cultures.

Leaving the indoor exhibits, visitors arrive at the Powhatan Indian village where costumed interpreters discuss and demonstrate the Powhatan way of life. From the Indian village, a path leads to a pier where the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discover are docked. Visitors can talk with costumed interpreters about the four-and-a-half month voyage from England.

Historic Jamestown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Triangular Fort James is a recreation of the one constructed by the Jamestown colonist on their arrival in 1607. Inside the wooden stockade are wattle-and-daub structures and thatched roofs representing Jamestown’s earliest buildings including dwellings, a church, a storehouse, and an armory.

More settlements followed and it was in Williamsburg that the seeds of revolution were sown by the intellectual and independent thinkers who flocked to the city.

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Become a resident of a city on the verge of war—or in the midst of it—as you explore the government buildings, shops, homes, gardens, and taverns of Williamsburg. Encounter townspeople on their own soil as they live through a time of change and uncertainty. Buzzing with political discussion and dispute, the city comes alive. Enter the residents’ homes or learn about their workplaces; see where they sleep, where they eat, and where they socialize.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of the buildings, like the Courthouse, Magazine, and Wetherburn’s Tavern, have stood in Williamsburg since the 18th century. Others, like the Capitol and Governor’s Palace, have been reconstructed on their original foundations. Some of the buildings are used as private residences and offices. Flags out front indicate areas open to guests.

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The port city of Yorktown forms the third point of the Historic Triangle, famous for its decisive battle and end to the Revolutionary War.

Yorktown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you stroll through historic Yorktown, let the past envelop you as you immerse yourself in 300 years of history. Here you can experience many 18th century homes, visit the location where the surrender terms for the Battle of Yorktown were negotiated or the home of the Virginia militia with its walls still bearing the scars of cannonballs fired upon the village in 1781. Explore the battlefields, fortifications, and historic buildings where American independence was won.

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Americans won their independence here during the last major battle of the American Revolutionary War on October 19, 1781, when British troops surrendered to General George Washington and his French allies.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Yorktown Battlefield is joined by the scenic Colonial Parkway to Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestown and is located just 12 miles east of Williamsburg.

Worth Pondering…

On the whole, I find nothing anywhere else…which Virginia need envy.

—Thomas Jefferson