November 23, 2004
Interpreting the evolving Peyton Randolph complex
The Peyton Randolph complex is Colonial Williamsburg’s re-creation of the town’s largest 18th-century domestic work site and an intricate part of interpreting the pre-Revolution (and Revolutionary 1775-1776) lifestyle in Virginia’s capital city.
While that interpretation has evolved over the years, the addition of several outbuildings, including the granary, storehouse, dairy and kitchen that include slave quarters, now gives Colonial Williamsburg’s staff new venues in which to interpret the lives of 18th-century enslaved residents such as Billy, Betty and Eve who lived and worked on the extensive urban plantation.
In 2005, interpretation at the site will move from 1774 to 1775 and 1776, after the death of Peyton Randolph, president of the 1st and 2nd Continental Congresses. The dramatic events of 1775-1776 propel the interpretation of disenfranchised women and the enslaved into a new realm of significance. With Peyton’s death in 1775 at age 53, his widow, Betty, now has to manage 27 slaves during the turbulent Revolution. This also provides Colonial Williamsburg a rare opportunity to delve even more deeply into the daily lives and activities of these slaves – counted among the enslaved 52 percent of Williamsburg’s population -- and their relationships with the law, society, other slaves and whites, as well as their master.
But just as important, this new interpretation will continue Colonial Williamsburg’s educational mission at helping the “Future Learn from the Past” by telling the story that shaped America from the point of view of both free and enslaved Virginians. When guests visit this site in 2005, they will indeed be stepping onto an activity-based living history site with increased hands-on opportunities that will eventually incorporate most of the outbuildings to illustrate the daily and seasonal lives of families in the midst of the American Revolution.
Lorraine C. Brooks