Daily Life and Social Graces, Williamsburg, Virginia, Day 3

Day three was all about the social lives of the people in the 18th Century. They had a very defined social system. We had the privilidge of touring 3 18th century homes that were examples of the three main social classes.

The first home we toured was the Benjamin Powell HouseWilliamsburg, VirginiaThis was an example of a family that was fairly well off, but not gentry. They were called “Middlings” Today they would be considered upper-middle class.

Colonial WilliamsburgAt the Powell home we learned about the social practice of having a dinner party. Did you know in Colonial times they did not pass food from person to person? Instead, they passed their plates and each person was responsible for putting a food item on that plate. It got pretty confusing!

Colonial WilliamsburgThey had two mattresses on all of their beds, one made of horse hair(for summer) and one made with feathers(for winter). The hangings were for summer to keep the bugs out! Also, before they made sure their sheets were always tight around their mattress so that bed bugs wouldn’t get out and bite them, thus the phrase “good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” was born!

WilliamsburgThis was, essentially, their bathroom. It is located in the bedroom. The top is the washbasin and the bottom is the chamber pot.

WilliamsburgTheir kitchens were always in a separate building outside of the house. It was way to hot in the Virginia summers to have a kitchen indoors. Also, the smoke associated with an open fire would not be very comfortable indoors. The cook(most likely a slave) lived in the kitchen.

WilliamsburgSlaves were very important to daily life in Virginia. Slaves were often tutors to the white children.

Before we left the Powell house we got to play a few games. The first was a game that the slave children would play with sticks.

The second, and one of my personal favorites, was the rolling hoop game. We had a blast playing this game!!


After the Powell House, we moved on to the “Higher Class.” We visited the Peyton Randolph house. Mr. Randolph was a member of the “Gentry.”

Colonial WilliamsburgThe house was painted red because red was the most expensive paint color back in the day. Painting the house red was a sign of wealth and power.

Colonial WilliamsburgThe red color is present inside the house as well.

This is a closet or storage room.

Dining area is Much fancier!!

After touring the Randolph house, we had lunch at Chowning’s Tavern. We had some GREAT Virginia BBQ.

After lunch, we got a much different view of Virginia life. We traveled to Great Hopes Plantation and saw how a rural farmer would have lived.

Colonial Williamsburg

One thing was immediately evident. Life on the plantations was much more difficult than Gentry or Middling life.  That, and they relied much more on slave labor.

Tobacco was a major crop for Virginia. While we were visiting the plantation, we inspected the tobacco plants for worms. This was a difficult task and it was so HOT. I cannot imagine doing that ever single day.

tobacco farm We then toured the slave quarters.

Great Hopes PlantationGreat Hopes Plantation

I have some great video that I need to figure out how to post. We had a great guide who taught us all about the way slaves coped with their lives on the plantations. He told us stories and taught us songs. I bought a great CD called From Ear to Ear that has many African songs, I also got Under the African Sky which is a CD of African stories. I think my students are really going to love them.

Slaves did have some(very little) opportunity to earn money. They often had a garden and would sell their produce in town.

This was often frowned upon by the master, but at the same time, it was food he did not have to provide them.

Our time at Great Hopes Plantation was very eye-opening. Many Africans did not even make it to Virginia and the small amount that did faced a rough life. A popular misconception is that all the Africans that were taken were uneducated. That is completely false. Many were doctors and scholars in their country. We heard a lot of sad stories at Great Hopes.

That evening was our first free evening. Me and several of the teachers booked an evening program called “Ghosts Among Us.” Which told the ghost stories of Williamsburg. Before our program, we went down to Merchant’s Square and got something to snack on.

WilliamsburgAfter the tour we met up again for some GREAT seafood at a resteraunt called Barrett’s. Virginia, being so close to the coast, has yummy seafood!

Here is a picture of us right before walking back to the hotel:

It was a very tiring, and very HOT day(105 degrees and 87% humidity!!). Once again I went to bed, completely and totally exhausted!!




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