Day 6: July 4, 2017
241 Years Later

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Three readings of the Declaration of Independence are scheduled for today. I figured hearing the first one was appropriate, especially as it would be done by the man who wrote it. I was a bit surprised to see so little activity on my walk to the Capitol. The Palace Green was almost empty and I saw almost no one other than town folk getting ready for the day until I reached Capitol Circle. Even there the crowd was not large a quarter hour before the scheduled reading.

The crowd was still not huge but had grown considerable when, with about five minutes to go, a fife and drum corps could be heard approaching. The marchers had no more than reached the capitol grounds when a tolerable copy of Thomas Jefferson was introduced. In the real 1776, the Declaration was read in Williamsburg on July 25 about three weeks after it was signed in Philadelphia we can do much better than that in our recreated 1776. Today's reading was cheered at several points and young Tom led the crowd in three cheers at its conclusion.

The reading was closely followed by another Independence Day event behind the courthouse. This was the Salute to the States. After the infantrymen delivered a Feu de joie, they stacked their muskets and became artillerymen. Now the individual salutes began. For each of the original thirteen states, a cannon was fired, a song performed and a flag presented.

All in all, it had been a most rousing morning and now the shops were open, the wagons were rolling, and the tourists were milling about.

I had eyed Wetherburn's Tavern on the way to the capitol and I now returned for a tour. Many buildings in Colonial Williamsburg, including the capitol and palace are reconstructions. Weterburn's is a restoration. This is exactly what one of the top tier taverns of the eighteenth looked like. Travelers, almost exclusively men, could get a drink, have a smoke, and maybe play some cards to pass the time. Meals were served on tables in the next room and the men slept upstairs. There were a couple of rooms that could be rented in their entirety if you wished to spend the money but most would have stayed in the "standard" room shown. The first four to arrive would have spots on the beds. Later arrivals slept on the floor. Everyone paid 7 1/2 pence for their places. The travelers' slaves slept with the owner's slaves for no charge.

The "Great Room" shown in the last picture was added about 1750. This is where eighteenth century VIPs dined on special occasions or more often if they were wealthy enough.

When I picked up my pass last night, notices were posted that the carriage rides were sold out. It's a very busy day here. I popped into the printing shop and it was packed. The printer was quite entertaining. As he printed, he talked about the mechanics of his press, the history of printing in America, and current (for 1776) events. The kids that were excavating the nearby cellar of a store appeared to really be enjoying themselves. It seemed that about a fourth of the kids not digging in the cellar were whining about the temperature, exhaustion, hunger, or thirst. That described a goodly number of adults, too. I entered the armory and almost immediately regretted it. It was as crowded as the print shop with the additional challenge of maintaining two-way traffic on the narrow spiral stairway.

Lines weren't outrageous but they existed and they were enough to keep me away from other tours. I'd targeted "A Public Audience with the Marquis de Lafayette" but would probably have given it a skip if it wasn't outside. It turned out to be a highlight of the day. I happened to see the Marquis emerge from a nearby building and snapped a picture as he walked toward the stage. On stage, he told the story of his involvement with America in a fair amount of detail with a bit or humor and a great French accent. At the end of the presentation he took questions from the audience and remained in character as he responded with answers that elaborated nicely on the question. That impressed me even more than the scripted performance. The day was hot and the Marquis was not dressed lightly. As his time on stage neared three quarters of an hour, he announced that he would be heading for the shade of a nearby tree but would be happy to answer more questions there. In the shade he was instantly surrounded -- mostly by young women. There's nothing like a good accent to fuel an interest in history.

Following Lafayette's presentation, I headed off to the cool of my motel room. When I returned at about 8:30, Palace Green looked nothing like it had in the morning. Chairs and blankets had started to appear in the early afternoon and now the Green was a solid mass of people. The Declaration of Independence was read from the palace balcony a few minutes before 9:00 but I could hear just a few words and the occasional cheer. Fireworks were scheduled for 9:30 but began a little early at 9:20. A solid twenty minutes of booms, bangs, and bright colored flashes followed. Happy Birthday, America.

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