Thursday, June 05, 2003

English Goods Were Ever The Best

When I told the first-person interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg’s Peyton Randolph House that we had come into Colonial Capital City from Richmond, they wrinkled their noses and described it as a smelly backwater. Well, at least it's no longer especially pungent. Even without studying, I could make era-appropriate replies (well, except how long the trip took); I nodded and was charmed when Mrs. Randolph spoke of having been at Wilton recently. Despite the fact that all the characters expressed confusion when a 60ish gentleman in our group said he came from “Gen. Sam Houston’s great state” – he kept repeating his clever line. Could he think of no other line; did he not know that 1774 came before Houston; or did he not listen to the first woman who explained how first-person interpretation works?

We watched Jack Lord in "Story of a Patriot", visited Bruton Parish Church, the shops, the Capitol, the Randolphs, and the county courthouse. We dined at the Kings Tavern (much more affordable than I imagined, and a good meal). At the courthouse (used by the city of Williamsburg until the restoration, in the 1930s!), visitors participated in a re-enactment of a day in court. The judges accepted a letter proving that a man accused of non-attendance at church had become a Presbyterian; they ordered a North Carolina man’s horse and tack held until he changed his worthless Carolina paper into Virginia money and paid his debt to the tavern owner; and they dismissed a woman’s complaint against the unsanitary conditions in the city market.

Ten years ago, when I did a year at the College of William & Mary, Professor Tate presented an "annotated" talk on "Story of a Patriot." He was an advisor to the film, and indeed his name appears as another faux Burgess elected with Lord's character, Fry. Mr. Tate loved the use of cinemascope, especially the way the first sceen opens up to show a rolling field. As I recall, he felt the history was historically sound, and the story was clear. He pointed out at least one break in costume continuity, which I missed this time. For me, on this visit, the movie really did work to set up the day's visit and remind me of events. As I recall, we grad school geeks liked quoting the phrases "weak and pusillanimous" and "English goods were ever the best." Mr. Randolph reminded us of the latter sentiment when he mentioned that no one would wear coarse Virginia-made fabrics.

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