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US: Past, Present, Future

We’re excited to invite you to US: Past, Present, Future, a national conversation series exploring the vital intersection of current events, our shared history, and the enduring promises of America.

Join us this year for monthly virtual conversations, including two cornerstone events.

Up Next

October 16 at 4 p.m.

Cornerstone Event: Museums and the 250th National Anniversary

As we look ahead to the 250th anniversary of declaring independence, join Jamie O. Bosket, President and CEO of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture; Christy S. Coleman, Executive Director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation; and Cliff Fleet, President and CEO of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, to explore the role of historic sites and museums in commemorating and pursuing our founding ideals.  

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Upcoming Conversation Schedule

  • October 16 at 4 p.m. — Cornerstone Event: Museums and the 250th National Anniversary
  • November 20 at 4 p.m. — CW Conversation: American Indian Heritage Month
  • December 18 at 4 p.m. — CW Conversation: Preservation

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Previous Conversations

CW Conversation: Education

Education has the power to liberate – and the power to control. How did Williamsburg’s Bray School approach the education of enslaved and free Black children? Join in the discussion with panelists Nicole Brown, a character interpreter portraying Bray School teacher Ann Wager for Colonial Williamsburg and MA student in American Studies at William & Mary, Deborah Canty-Downs, a teacher at Katherine Johnson Elementary School and educator with The Bob and Marion Wilson Teacher Institute of Colonial Williamsburg, and Dr. Julie Richter, Director of the National Institute of American History & Democracy and Lecturer at William and Mary’s Harrison Ruffin Tyler Department of History.


Whether you’re looking to read up on this topic before joining the conversation, or want some further reading afterward, here’s our recommended reading.

Colonial Williamsburg Resources

  • Colonial Williamsburg’s Nicole Brown portrays Ann Wager, teacher at the Bray School for 14 years, as part of its Nation Builders program, which portrays real historic figures associated with 18th-century Williamsburg.
  • Meet Ann Wager, CW YouTube video. Ann Wager made a living as the only teacher for the Bray School, educating enslaved and free Black children in Williamsburg for 14 years. Hear her answer questions about her experience.
  • LIVE from History: Ann Wager, CW YouTube video. Join Ann Wager in 1765 as she explores the various ways women receive, provide, and utilize their education in Virginia.
  • ‘This was the Bray School’ by Colonial Williamsburg’s Paul Aron explores the 18th-century school for Black children and the meaning of the education provided there.
  • Being Uncomfortable in Character, a blog written by Colonial Williamsburg’s Nicole Brown that discusses the challenges of portraying Ann Wager.
  • On A Mission by Nicole Trifone, formerly of Colonial Williamsburg, discusses Ann Wager’s purpose in teaching free and enslaved black students at the Bray School was grounded in religion.
  • Williamsburg Bray School Initiative, this webpage contains links to news coverage and a video explaining the Bray School initiative.
  • Redefining Family Resource Book contains information about education and the family on pp. 195-226.


Resources
from other Cultural Institutions


Further Reading

  • Anderson, James D. Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.
  • Bly, Antonio T. Breaking with Tradition: Slave Literacy in Early Virginia, 1680–1780. Ph.D. diss., College of William & Mary, 2006.
  • Cornelius, Janet Duitsman. When I Can Read My Title Clear: Literacy, Slavery and Religion in the Antebellum South. Univ. of South Carolina Press: University of South Carolina Press, 1992.
  • Gerbner, Katharine. Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World. Early American Studies. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.
  • Glasson, Travis. Mastering Christianity: Missionary Anglicanism and Slavery in the Atlantic World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Morgan, Philip D. Black Education in Williamsburg-James City County, 1619–1984. The Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools and The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 1985.
  • Oast, Jennifer. “Educating Eighteenth-Century Black Children: The Bray Schools.” M.A. Thesis, The College of William and Mary, 2000.
  • Oast, Jennifer. Institutional Slavery: Slaveholding Churches, Schools, Colleges, and Businesses in Virginia, 1680-1860. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2016.
  • Rowe, Linda. A History of Black Education and Bruton Heights School, Williamsburg, Virginia. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. 1997.
  • Rowe, Linda. Women and Education in Eighteenth-Century Virginia, CW Interpreter, Summer 2002, pp. 23-28
  • Van Horne, John C. “The Education of African Americans in Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia.” In The Good Education of Youth: World of Learning in the Age of Franklin, edited by John H. Pollack. Oak Knoll Press: University of Pennsylvanian Libraries, 2009.
  • Van Horne, John C. and Associates of Dr. Bray (Organization). Religious Philanthropy and Colonial Slavery: The American Correspondence of the Associates of Dr. Bray, 1717-1777. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

CW Conversation: Business and Politics

Strong in the American identity is the ability to change and improve. How did businesspeople in Williamsburg adapt to find resources, labor, and a market? How did they respond to political action that threatened their way of life?

These are the questions we'll explore during this US: Past, Present, Future virtual talk with panelists Michele Mixner DeWitt, Assistant City Manager and former Economic Development Director with the City of Williamsburg and Karen Clancy, our Master Weaver, Spinner, and Dyer,  moderated by Hope Wright, a Colonial Williamsburg Actor Interpreter.


Whether you’re looking to read up on this topic before joining the conversation, or want some further reading afterward, here’s our recommended reading.

Colonial Williamsburg Resources


Resources
from other Cultural Institutions


Further Reading

18th Century

  • Adelman, Joseph. Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of printing the news. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019. 
  • Axtell James. “The First Consumer Revolution: The Seventeenth Century” in Natives and Newcomers: The Cultural Origins of North America.  Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2001, chap. 4. 
  • Breen, T. H. The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Carson, Cary. Face Value: The Consumer Revolution and the Colonizing of America. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017.
  • Hancock, David.  Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste.  New York: Yale University Press, 2009.
  • Matson, Cathy. Merchants and Empire: Trading in Colonial New York. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. 
  • Matson, Cathy (ed).  The economy of early America: historical perspectives & new directions.  University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, c2006.
  • Nash, Gary B. The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979.
  • Rockman, Seth.  Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2009. 
  • Yokota, Kariann Akemi. Unbecoming British: How Revolutionary America Became a Postcolonial Nation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.


19th Century

  • Licht, Walter. Industrializing America: The Nineteenth Century. Baltimore, IL: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.
  • Mihm, Stephen. A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  • Sellers, Charles. The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Tangires, H. Public Markets and Civic Culture in Nineteenth-Century America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
  • Walker. Juliet. The History of Black Business in America. Second edition.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.
  • 20th Century
  • Cohen, Lizbeth.  A Consumer’s Republic: Politics of Consumption in Post War America. New York: Vintage Books, 2003.
  • de Grazia, Victoria. Irresistible Empire: America's Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard University Press, 2005. 
  • Gill, Tiffany M. Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women's Activism in the Beauty Industry. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2010.
  • Gordon, Robert J. The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The US standard of Living since the Civil War. New York: Princeton University Press, 2016.
  • McGovern, Charles. Sold American: Consumption and Citizenship, 1890-1945. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. 

CW Conversation: Building the Nation

Join our panelists Thomas Duckenfield, Trustee for the Nomini Hall Slave Legacy Project, Dr. Andrew Levy, Author of The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves, and Gerry Underdown, Actor Interpreter with Colonial Williamsburg, as they discuss those that physically built the nation, those that built the nation with enlightened ideas, and their combined lasting legacy.


Whether you’re looking to read up on this topic before joining the conversation, or want some further reading afterward, here’s our recommended reading.


Colonial Williamsburg Resources


Resources
from other Cultural Institutions


Further Reading

  • The Declaration of Independence: A Global History. By David Armitage. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  • Flushed with Notions of Freedom: The Growth and Emancipation of a Virginia Slave Community. By John Randolph Barden. PhD diss., Duke University, 1993. ProQuest 9416895.
  • Art, Mystery, and Occupation: Building Culture in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg, Virginia. By Elizabeth Cook. M.A. thesis, William & Mary, 2010. The thesis highlights the free and enslaved men who built this city and represents the sort of craftsmen who worked in all the colonies to build the physical structures in which colonists and their enslaved and free workforces lived and worked.
  • The Journal & Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian, 1773-1774: A Plantation Tutor of the Old Dominion. By Hunter Dickinson Farish, ed. Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg, 1943.
  • The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves. By Andrew Levy. New York: Random House, 2005.
  • Institutional Slavery: Slaveholding Churches, Schools, Colleges, and Businesses in Virginia, 1680-1860. By Jennifer Oast. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • A Politician Thinking: The Creative Mind of James Madison. By Jack N. Norman Rakove: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017.
  • Those Who Labor for my Happiness: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. By Lucia Stanton, Lucia. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press in association with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2012.
  • "The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret": George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon. By Mary V Thompson.  Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019.
  • Race and Liberty in the New Nation: Emancipation in Virginia from the Revolution to Nat Turner’s Rebellion. By Eva Sheppard Wolf. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.


CW Conversation: Juneteenth

General Order Number Three, which officially informed enslaved Texans of their legal freedom, stated that emancipation involved “an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property.” Have we achieved the promises of Juneteenth, and how should it be observed? Join Deirdre Jones Cardwell, Programming Lead and Actor Interpreter with Colonial Williamsburg, Richard Josey, Founder and Principal Consultant for Collective Journeys LLC, and Michael Twitty, Culinary Historian, in a discussion about the story, significance, and meanings of Juneteenth.


Whether you’re looking to read up on this topic before joining the conversation, or want some further reading afterward, here’s our recommended reading.

Colonial Williamsburg Juneteenth Resources
Colonial Williamsburg has created several related web resources, including an informational What is Juneteenth? page, a calendar of Juneteenth special events  at Colonial Williamsburg, and a Juneteenth Historical Timeline that provides history and context for the commemoration.

Juneteenth Resources from other Cultural Institutions
The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture offers The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth and the Library of Congress blog offers: The Birth of Juneteenth; Voices of the Enslaved
and "Emancipation Day in South Carolina . . .," an 1863 illustration from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.

The Library of Virginia’s The Uncommonwealth blog focuses on Why Juneteenth? while PBS features What is Juneteenth? From Henry Louis Gates Jr. Additionally, the National Archives presents an online exhibit The Emancipation Proclamation that provides context on that document issued January 1, 1863.

Colonial Williamsburg Resource Library
The Resource Library provides access to numerous resources that explore relevant themes such as citizenship, civics, and government using video, lessons, and interactive web activities. The Resource Library features several relevant resources such as the When Freedom Came electronic field trip and Whose Emancipation?

Colonial Williamsburg Videos
Colonial Williamsburg’s YouTube Channel features 2020 productions Juneteenth at Custis Square and Before Juneteenth.

Further Reading
On Juneteenth. Annette Gordon-Reed.  New York, NY: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2021.

For children:

All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom. Angela Johnson. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014.

CW Conversation: United Colonies

Before there were United States, there were 13 unique colonies. How did the colonies differ and how did colonial leaders strive for unity? As the nation has grown, have our states grown more similar or more diverse? How are unity and diversity balanced? Join our panelists, Bryan Austin, Colonial Williamsburg Nation Builder and resident James Madison scholar; Dr. Kelly M. Brennan, Colonial Williamsburg Historian; and Dr. Bill White, a Visiting Scholar at Christopher Newport University’s Center for American Studies, for a discussion of the past, present, and future of our regional differences.


Whether you’re looking to read up on this topic before joining the conversation, or want some further reading afterward, here’s our recommended reading.

Sources from Colonial Williamsburg's Trend & Tradition Magazine

Web Sources

  • Season of Independence, an online exhibit and interactive from the Museum of the American Revolution (Philadelphia) encourages users to “explore the spread of support for American independence from January to July of 1776 and encounter the perspectives of real men and women on all sides of the debate.”
  • Many Voices, One Nation, from the Museum of American History. “The people of North America came from many cultures and spoke different languages long before the founding of the United States, even before European contact. In creating the new nation, early leaders envisioned a country that promised opportunity and freedom—but only for some. As the population grew, the people who lived in the United States found ways to negotiate, or work out, what it meant to be American. That negotiation continues. This exhibition explores how the many voices of people in America have shaped our nation.”
  • How Ben Franklin's Viral Political Cartoon United the 13 Colonies. By Patrick J. Kiger. History Channel.


Colonial Williamsburg's Education Resource Library provides numerous resources that explore relevant themes such as citizenship, civics, and government using video, lessons, and interactive web activities. Please note that account registration is free but required.

ELECTRONIC FIELD TRIP:

LESSONS


Further Reading

  • 1776. By David G. McCullough. New York: Simon & Schuster c2005.
  • American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. By Colin Woodard. New York: Viking, 2011.
  • The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America. By Colin G. Calloway. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence. T. H. Breen. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Passion is the Gale: Emotion, Power, and the Coming of the American Revolution. By Nicole Eustace. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.
  • Past and Prologue: Politics and Memory in the American Revolution. By Michael D. Hattem. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020.
  • Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves, and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia. By Woody Holton. Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
  • American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. By Pauline Maier. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
  • An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean. By Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000.
  • The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution. By Robert G. Parkinson. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 2016.
  • American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750–1804. By Alan Taylor. New York: W. W. Norton, 2016.

Cornerstone Event: What Does Citizenship Mean as an American?

What are the responsibilities and opportunities of citizenship in our republic? Do we all have the same rights as citizens? Do we all view citizenship the same way? Join Cora Masters Barry, Founder and CEO of the Recreation Wish List Committee, Carly Fiorina, Chair of the Colonial Williamsburg Board of Trustees, and Jeffrey Rosen, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Constitution Center, to discuss the role of citizenship in our nation and in our own communities. 

Below is a statement on citizenship from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

At the very heart of our identity as a nation is the concept of citizenship. Today, we will explore what American citizenship actually means in a new “US: Past, Present, Future” virtual conversation with a distinguished, diverse panel.

We chose this topic months ago, but our conversation is more important than ever. Citizenship rests on the foundation of our most cherished civil rights and equal protection of those rights under the law. Despite generations of struggle and substantial progress as a nation, we have once again been vividly and tragically reminded that the rights and protections of citizenship do not apply to every American. All citizens should demand equal protection under the law for every American, as we are still not a nation of liberty and justice for all.

Every day we hear stories of Americans being treated differently, and even killed, because of the color of their skin, ethnicity or gender identity. At the same time, proposals are now advancing across the country that would likely make it harder for some to exercise their right to vote. The civil liberty to vote embodies America’s commitment to democratic self-governance. It invests citizens with the singular power to balance the scales of justice, to express the will of a diverse people and to create a more equitable society. Our history teaches us that when we fail to protect, uphold and extend this sacred right, we perpetuate discrimination and injustice within our communities and across our system of government.

Our nation’s founders argued passionately, and fought bravely, for a representative form of government nearly 250 years ago. Yet the voting rights they envisioned were limited to a privileged few, ensuring centuries of restricted rights, protections and opportunities for so many others. Colonial Williamsburg is grateful for the courageous Americans who battled to originally establish the right to vote. We are equally grateful for all those who have bravely fought ever since to expand, defend and improve rights in this country, and we support those who continue to peacefully advocate for equal rights and protections under the law today.

We urge all Americans to preserve and enhance the right of every eligible voter to make their voice heard. In doing so, we honor the struggles and sacrifices of every American throughout our nation’s history who has been inspired by the ideal of citizenship and has striven to make our nation more just, equitable and inclusive.

We recognize there is much work left to be done. We hope you will join us for this important conversation on American citizenship — Past, Present and Future.


Clifford B. Fleet III
President & CEO, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Carly Fiorina
Chair, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation


Whether you’re looking to read up on this topic before joining the conversation, or want some further reading afterward, here’s our recommended reading.

Sources from Colonial Williamsburg's Trend & Tradition Magazine

Colonial Williamsburg's Education Resource Library

The Resource Library provides access to numerous resources that explore relevant themes such as citizenship, civics, and government using video, lessons, and interactive web activities

  • A More Perfect Union explores the conflict and compromises that accompanied the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Join young eighteenth-century observers, unseen by convention delegates, as they travel from state to state tallying the vote. Learn about the ratification process and Americans’ growing interests in their fledgling nation’s new government.

  • The Bill of Rights protects individual freedoms, but what if the government had too much power and there was no such thing as the Bill of Rights? Explore an alternate reality in which individual rights are limited and life is very different.

  • The Balance of Power Presidents, members of Congress, and Supreme Court justices from the past two centuries compete in a baseball game unlike any you've ever seen. Discover how the rules laid out in the U.S. Constitution preserve the balance of power between the three branches of the U.S. government: the executive, legislative, and judicial.

  • The Will of the People The presidential campaign of 1800 was perhaps the most bitter in U.S. history. Thomas Jefferson explains to modern students how negative campaigning, partisan politics, and contested elections have been part of our political system since the republic’s earliest days.

  • A Publick Education A free, public education for all Americans was not always the standard. Trace the methods of education from the colonial period to the one-room schoolhouses of the 1840s for the purpose of universal education.

  • Influenced by None “Freedom of the press” is a principle that Americans take for granted. 18th-century printers, though, were not free to express an independent point of view. Explore the world of Clementina Rind, printer of the Virginia Gazette in pre–Revolutionary War America.

  • Jim Crow carries you from the post-Civil War promise of citizenship and equality for African Americans to the harsh realities of the system of legal segregation known as "Jim Crow."

READINGS

  • We Hold These Truths to be Self Evident shares the story of Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, as told by Paul Aron in his book We Hold These Truths...and Other Words that Made America.

LESSONS

  • Civics for a Democratic Society covers the basic concepts of American citizenship and government.
  • Founding Documents analyzes primary documents from different time periods in our history, compares and contrasts the role of the government and the role of the individual as described within in each document, and make connections between the documents and The Idea of America value tensions.

  • Exploring the Right to a Trial by Jury explores the importance of fair trials and the difficulties inherent in maintaining impartiality in a trial by jury system.

  • How Has Voting Changed? compares and contrasts voting eligibility in the eighteenth century and today and demonstrates and reflects on eighteenth century and twenty-first century voting procedures.

  • The Right to Vote The road to “justice for all” has not been a short and easy journey, but one fought with determination by individuals and groups over time. Voting is an important part of being a citizen in America and is a responsibility open to all.

  • Order in the Court: An 18th-Century Trial investigates the role of law in eighteenth-century Virginia by translating and interpreting primary and secondary sources. They then recreate an eighteenth-century trial and employ critical thinking skills to make and defend inferences about Virginia’s court system.

Further Reading

  • The Idea of America: Our Values, Our Legacy, Our Future. By John O. Wilson. Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2017.

  • My America: An Owner's Guide. By William E. White. Williamsburg, Virginia: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2017. (Children's book)

CW Conversation: A Woman’s Place — Women in the Evolution of America

What comes to mind when you picture a woman in Williamsburg? In 18th-century Virginia, women had diverse lives and experiences; while in 2021 many American women, and disproportionately women of color, have of necessity needed to re-evaluate their places in the workforce and society as a whole. Join this discussion about the lives and roles of Virginia women then and now.

Whether you’re looking to read up on this topic before joining the conversation, or want some further reading afterward, here’s our recommended reading.

Before you begin your reading, please note this important contextual information provided by our Department of Historical Research and Digital History.

The historical primary sources listed below sometimes include depictions and stories including, but not limited to: rape, abuse, neglect, violence, and body shaming. We encourage people to prepare themselves emotionally before looking at these sources. These issues were, and continue to be, part of women’s experiences.

  • The Library of Congress and the National Archives have collaborated to create a Women’s History Month website. It provides access to special exhibitions, talks, and primary sources that span the course of American history. The National Women’s History Museum’s website’s diverse and through examination of women’s history endeavors to tell the stories of all American women.
  • The US House of Representatives’ History, Art, and Archives department’s website contains articles about the history of voting rights and women who have served in Congress. “Women in Congress: Historical Essays” has a narrow focus, but reflects bigger challenges that women faced.
  • First published in Colonial Williamsburg’s Trend and Tradition magazine, “Her Story” is a pictorial look at women’s lives in eighteenth-century Virginia. These images include American Indian, Black, and white women navigating their way through the world. Colonial Williamsburg’s collection of eighteenth-century Virginia Gazettes provides first-hand accounts of women as widows, business owners, wives, and runaways.
  • Books that are intersectional (taking multiple identities into account) in scope can provide additional insight into the women of the past. Kathleen Brown’s Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs is introductory reading for Colonial Williamsburg’s historical interpreters. Brown’s book looks at the relationship between gender and race’s influence on Virginia’s power structure. For those looking for a place to start, Good Wives is a great place. Philip D. Morgan’s Slave Counterpoint is also an intersectional look at the enslaved in the Chesapeake and South Carolina. The Black enslaved women’s prospective is addressed and the geographic comparisons enriches the work. Theda Purdue’s Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835 works to uncover the stories of Cherokee women that have been previously considered “lost.” By delving into Cherokee gender relationships, Purdue demonstrates the importance of studying Cherokee women in a wide context.

Colonial Williamsburg Blog Posts

Sources from Colonial Williamsburg's Trend & Tradition Magazine

CW Conversation: Residents Not Citizens

Watch a conversation on Williamsburg’s Black community from its founding through today. Our US: Past, Present, Future panelists in February included Bobby Braxton, Williamsburg City Council member and community leader, Janice Canaday, supervisor of Colonial Williamsburg’s Randolph House and lifelong Williamsburg resident, and Brian Smalls, lawyer, resident, and former president of the York-James City-Williamsburg Chapter of the NAACP.

Whether you’re looking to read up on this topic before joining the conversation, or want some further reading afterward, here’s our recommended reading.

Before you begin, please note this important contextual information provided by our Department of Historical Research and Digital History.

The historical primary sources listed below often include the term “negro,” a common noun used in the 17th-, 18th-, 19th-, and 20th- centuries. “Negro” is rarely used today, except for political purposes and in historical study and programming. While some Black people of the past didn’t identify with the term, it was generally considered a way to identify people of African descent. “Negro” wasn’t inherently a slur, though it could have been used that way. These primary sources preserve the history and integrity of the Black experience by accurately documenting the past. For this reason, you may see this term used often.

In your reading, you may also encounter the “n-word” in some of these sources. The term was rarely used in 18th-century Virginia, but the odious word has been in use since the 19th century. Some of the sources address regions of the South beyond Virginia, and even the whole country, over centuries. The more you delve into the sources, the more likely it is that you will encounter the “n-word.”

Although it may be shocking when encountered, don’t be surprised if you see the term. For many, it can be difficult to study the history of the Black experience after facing the hurt these words can cause; those feelings are normal. And while learning can sometimes be difficult, the knowledge gained is worth the effort.

General Sources on African American History

  • Colonial Williamsburg’s Department of African American Interpretations and Presentations published a newsletter that changed the way historical interpreters understood black history. “Broken Chains” was only published for a short while, but it left a significant legacy. Never-before made available to the public, read these documents to learn more. Please note “Broken Chains” includes use of “Negro.”
  • One of the best ways to learn about the history of enslavement is consulting online databases. University of Virginia’s “The Geography of Slavery” makes runaway ads from the 18th and 19th centuries available to scholars, genealogists, and the public. The writers of the ads had no way of knowing that the descriptions they gave of the self-liberated would teach future generations about the humanity, skills, and ingenuity of those held in bondage. Please note “The Geography of Slavery” includes the word “Negro.”
  • The National Museum of African American History and Culture encourages the reader to do so much more than just visit the museum. It also provides virtual exhibits, online collections, and digital resources. The NMAAHC also has, among other things, a “Talking About Race Web Portal” designed to help people participate in productive, inspiring conversation. Please note “National Museum of American History” includes the word “Negro” and may also include the “n-word.”
  • The country’s two biggest repositories of American history also have websites with exhibits and online collections. Their collections are based on documents, making them different from the National Museum of African American History, which uses material culture as well. All institutions share an expertise, an approachability, and a public responsibility to tell the story of the Black experience. Library of Congress and National Archives do not focus on the colonial period, but both have a wide array of books, periodicals, letters, diaries available online. Please note the Library of Congress and the National Archives includes the word “Negro” and may also include the “n-word.”

Williamsburg-specific Sources on African American History

  • The Interpreter was an internal Colonial Williamsburg publication that provided historical content to frontline staff for over three decades. This very special edition focused on enslavement and the Black experience, including fantastic articles including a reader-friendly version of Anne Willis’ excellent article on slavery and crime and punishment and Ywone Edwards Ingram’s brilliant work on trash and enslavement.
    • Edwards-Ingram, Ywone. “The Trash of Enslaved African Virginia.” The Colonial Williamsburg Interpreter, Winter 1999. 9-15.
    • Willis, Anne. “The Master’s Mercy: Slave Prosecutions and Punishments in York County, Virginia, 1700-1780.” The Colonial Williamsburg Interpreter, Winter 1999. 2-8.
  • Music has been a key part of Black culture for hundreds of years and Colonial Williamsburg’s Black interpreters have been keeping the eighteenth-century traditions alive. This Colonial Williamsburg Journal article provides a look at how African American music has shaped programming and interpretation at Colonial Williamsburg.
  • The Albert Durant Photography Collection encompasses photoprints, negatives, slides, and personal papers that document the photographic production of Williamsburg's first black city-licensed photographer, Albert Durant. Durant's work provides a priceless visual history of African American life in Williamsburg, Virginia and surrounding communities from the late 1930s to the early 1960s. Since the collection encompasses ten thousand images, highlights of some of the major subject categories covered by the photos are presented here.

CW Conversation: Religious Freedom

Religion is an important part of our communities and identity as Americans. Join us to discuss the role of one of the country’s earliest African American congregations and churches like it in shaping communities.

Whether you’re looking to read up on this topic before joining the conversation, or want some further reading afterward, here’s our recommended reading:

  • Under guidance of today’s church community, our archaeology team is working to uncover and identify any structures that may have served as an early meeting space for the congregation that would come to be known as the First Baptist Church. Learn about our First Baptist Church archaeology project and read an update on the first phase of excavation.
  • Meet Gowan Pamphlet, the founder of Williamsburg’s First Baptist Church. Read about the journey of this enslaved tavern worker who risked his well-being to preach equality and secretly preach to fellow enslaved and free Black believers, and watch a livestream with Reverand Gowan Pamphlet, interpreted by James Ingram.
  • Read about Jefferson’s Bill for Religion Freedom in the Autumn 2018 issue of Trend & Tradition magazine.
  • Read about the Let Freedom Ring Foundation and the ringing of the Williamsburg’s First Baptist Church bell in the Winter 2016 issue of Trend & Tradition magazine.