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May 1, 2012

In 1820, Jefferson Warned of the Union’s Destruction

Bill Barker, Colonial Williamsburg's much-celebrated Jefferson performer, leads a cast of historical icons who reveal crucial events that have defined freedom and slavery in the years since the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, now in his twilight years, ponders the Missouri Compromise, and wonders whether the union can survive, or is worthy of the ideals of the American Revolution during Wolf by the Ear: Thomas Jefferson and the Pursuit of Freedom at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 4 at the Kimball Theatre in Merchants Square.

In late March of 1820, Jefferson awaits the news of whether Missouri will be admitted as a free or slave state. The vote by Congress will either signal the eventual abolition of slavery in the United States or perpetuate the institution into the nation’s future, thereby threatening the survival of the Union that he, George Washington, John Adams and others had risked their lives to create.

Jefferson reflects over the years since the American Revolution and recalls crucial moments and events when choices regarding slavery had been debated, leading to the crisis over the looming Missouri Compromise. Appearing in his recollections are Patrick Henry and Edmund Randolph debating ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the Haitian revolutionary Jean Jacque Dessalines and Henry Clay, the renowned orator and Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Admission is $24.95. For more information, call (757) 565-8588 or visit

Programming continues on May 5 with “Seven Score and Ten: The 150th Anniversary Commemorative Ceremony of the Battle of Williamsburg.” At 2 p.m. on Market Square, guests are invited to join units of the Confederate and Union Armies in a tribute to the nearly 4,000 casualties of the Battle of Williamsburg. Nationally renowned Civil War historian Professor James I. Robertson Jr. delivers the keynote address, “The Uncontrollable War.”

Robertson is the Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus in History at Virginia Tech. He is also executive director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies and is a charter member of Virginia’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. He served as executive director of the U.S. Civil War Centennial Commission to mark the conflict’s 100th anniversary. Robertson is the author or editor of more than 20 books that include award-winning studies of the Civil War. His massive biography of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson won eight national awards and was used as the basis for the Warner Bros. movie, “Gods and Generals,” for which Robertson was chief historical consultant.

In conjunction with the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Williamsburg, May 5, 1862, the Revolutionary City: The Path to Civil War focuses on events from the nation’s earliest years and how those events foreshadowed the American Civil War.

  • Promises of Freedom, from Dunmore’s Proclamation to the Emancipation Proclamation begins as a Civil War era enslaved character ponders the “just issued” Emancipation Proclamation that gave freedom to enslaved people in slave states. He recalls ancestors telling of earlier promises of freedom offered during the period of revolution and how those promises were kept or not at 3:30 p.m. May 5 in the backyard of the Coffeehouse. Admission is included in all Historic Area tickets.
  • Storm on the Horizon: Slavery, Disunion and the Path to Civil War finds George Washington and Thomas Jefferson reflecting on the future of the Republic, the blessings of Union and threats of disunion at 4:05 p.m. at the Raleigh Tavern. Admission is included in all Historic Area tickets.

    Colonial Williamsburg’s African American programming is made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment of Humanities, Mr. and Mrs. Richard D. Parsons, Douglas N. Morton, Marilyn L. Brown, the Norfolk Southern Corporation, the Charles E. Culpeper Endowments in Arts and Culture of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Altria Client Services, AT&T, Philip Morris, Dominion Foundation and IBM.

    In 1999, Colonial Williamsburg benefactors Gretchen and the late Bill Kimball made a major gift to renovate the historic facility and to transform it into the multipurpose Kimball Theatre. The 35-seat screening room was underwritten by a grant from the Gladys and Franklin Clark Foundation. Other generous donors continue to make gifts to endow Kimball Theatre programming. Their names are listed on plaques in the theater lobby.

    Located in Williamsburg’s Merchants Square, the beautifully restored Kimball Theatre presents films, live performances, musical concerts and special programs. Creative programming alliances with the College of William and Mary, community organizations and Colonial Williamsburg link the past with the present. The 410-seat theater also houses a 35-seat screening room which enables the theater to offer films to the community seven days a week, even when live performances are staged in the main theater.

    Media Contact:
    Penna Rogers
    (757) 220-7121

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