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January 30, 2007

Colonial Williamsburg’s Feb. 15 Electronic Field Trip tackles disturbing historical subject

Colonial Williamsburg
Sound engineer Chuck Smith monitors sound levels during filming of Colonial Williamsburg’s Electronic Field Trip “The Slave Trade.”

For Black History Month 2007, Colonial Williamsburg’s Emmy-award-winning interactive Electronic Field Trip series examines the transatlantic slave trade and stretches beyond the colonial period to 1845 – 38 years after the passage of the 1807 United States law abolishing the international slave trade.

"The Slave Trade” explores why the transatlantic slave trade was so difficult to stop, how slave traders
circumvented the law, and what methods were used by those who worked tirelessly to enforce the new law. The script, written by William E. White, Colonial Williamsburg’s executive producer and director, educational program development, follows a series of stories connected by the narration of Sojourner Truth, a woman born into slavery in New York who was later emancipated and worked to abolish slavery. Abigail Schumann and Linda Randulfe co-produced the story with Schumann directing.

“Congress had declared the slave trade to be an act of piracy, but the practice continued because the institution of slavery itself had not yet been abolished,” explained Frances Burroughs, director of operations for educational programs. “British and American navies patrolled the coast of Africa in an attempt to end the traffic in human beings. The horrors these ships’ crews witnessed is well documented.”

The third act of the program recalls an incident drawn from the journal of master’s mate John C. Lawrence, who served aboard USS Yorktown. It recalls the 1845 voyage of the Pons, a three-masted barque that sailed from Philadelphia to Rio de Janeiro with an American captain and crew. In Brazil, the ship took on a ruthless Portuguese captain, Gallano, and a foreign crew. The Pons sailed to the West Coast of Africa, where the ship was loaded with its illegal cargo of slaves. It was there the American captain and crew left the Pons to return to Philadelphia by way of another ship, thereby eluding capture by the British or American navies. Colonial Williamsburg’s Electronic Field Trip recounts what happened when the Pons was intercepted by USS Yorktown and boarded by American officers and crew.

"The subject matter was well-known, but we had to find a way to film the ship’s scenes,” said Randulfe. “We found the solution in our own back yard when we learned the schooner Virginia, docked in Norfolk, was available for lease to film crews.”

“Although the Virginia is not an exact replica of the Pons, she is a three-masted vessel with the same general look, which made the ship suitable for our purpose. Supporting the educational mission of the Virginia Maritime Heritage Foundation, the non-profit agency that operates the schooner, goes hand-in-hand with Colonial Williamsburg’s educational mission,” added Randulfe.

Produced by Colonial Williamsburg’s Division of Productions, Publications and Learning Ventures, Electronic Field Trips are broadcast one Thursday each month from October through April at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Eastern time on participating PBS stations and cable channels. Registered users may also view the program via the Internet. The programs consist of a one-hour live broadcast which includes a story on subjects from the colonial period through the early life of the United States. The productions are supported with comprehensive lesson plans, glossaries, timelines, Internet activities and online connectivity to Colonial Williamsburg historians.

Students in participating schools may call the program from their classrooms during the broadcast to ask questions of historians on the air. For “The Slave Trade,” the on-air experts will be Harvey Bakari, manager of African-American history interpretation for Colonial Williamsburg; Rose McAfee, who portrays Sojourner Truth; John Hamant, who portrays Rhode Island merchant Franklin Henry, ca. 1805; and Bill Weldon, who portrays Captain Bell of the Yorktown.

The next program in the series will broadcast March 22, 2007, with “Made In America,” which examines how technology has revolutionized the nature of work over three centuries.

The series concludes April 26, 2007, in time for the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Jamestown, with the premiere of “Jamestown Unearthed,” which looks at how history is written and re-evaluated as new methods of study are introduced and archaeological discoveries offer new clues to interpreting history.

As the nation’s leading educational resource for early American history, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation uses the Internet and interactive television technology to bring the 18th century to life for more than one million students throughout the United States each year. For more information or to register for the Electronic Field Trip Series visit or contact the Electronic Field Trip registrar at 1-800-761-8331 or by e-mail at

Media Contact:
Barbara Brown
(757) 220-7121