Our Making History team is a pretty diverse group. We each bring to the table different educational backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. And just as I’m sure it is with your family, we have unique passions and special interests. So when we decided to create specialized CW guides to help you plan your next visit, I tried to think of what I would personally like to see. For me, naturally, that answer was… and will always be…. animals!
While I may not be an expert on American History and the events that led up to the Revolution, I do have a curiosity about life in 18th-century Virginia. I want to learn more about the individual people—their struggles, their triumphs, and what their daily lives were like. Our heritage breeds—from the sheep to the chickens to the cattle—were a big part of Williamsburg in the 1700s.
That’s why depending on the time of year you visit, there’s a good chance you’ll run into our sheep, horses, chickens, and cattle. You may even get to see our Leicester Longwool lambs, Milking Devon calves, and soon (fingers crossed) Cleveland Bay colts! And while we do have some scheduled programs, a lot of these animals are scattered throughout the Historic Area in our various pastures. Still, others are right in the heart of the action, trekking up and down Duke of Gloucester Street every day.
For example, our shepherds and shepherdesses often take our flock of sheep down to the Market House. You’re likely to pass them and when you do, you can absolutely stop to take pictures. Just keep in mind, that unlike dogs, sheep don’t like to be patted on the head. And if you’re a dog lover, it’s going to require restraint. For me, it’s almost an automatic response! But don’t worry. If it isn’t too crowded, Layne will let you touch their wool (which feels and looks really cool!) as long as it’s on their necks or backs.
Another spot where you may get an up-close look at our sheep is next to the Weaver. During the spring and early summer months, it becomes the salon where all the sheep come to get their “hair” cut. These demonstrations are not usually on the calendar but can be a nice surprise if you’re ever in the area when they take place.
The rest of our sheep are spread out in several locations including (but not limited to) areas next to the Public Gaol, Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, behind the Randolph House, Blue Bell Tavern, Powell House, Wetherburn’s Tavern, and behind the Colonial Nursery. These locations change daily so don’t hesitate to ask any of our staff for updates once you get here!
Our Director of Coach & Livestock Paul Bennett is also in the process of moving more of our cattle into town and you may see them in the same pastures alongside the sheep for cross-grazing opportunities.
That’s the case right now out at Great Hopes Plantation, in front of the Windmill. Though as soon as Juno and Pi have their babies, or all the grass is eaten, I’m told they’ll likely move on to the next location in need of mowing.
I also recommend you check out Oxen: Learn About a Source of Power of Oxen behind the Randolph House. Depending on the weather, our senior ox driver Cameron Green, is usually on hand to introduce you to one of our teams of oxen and answer any questions you might have.
While it’s okay to pet our horses (and sometimes our sheep), please remember this is not the case with the oxen. When they’re in the yoke, they are working, and need to stay focused—free from distractions. It’s very similar to the rules of interacting with a service dog. If you are in town for a full day (and we hope more than one!), chances are that at some point you will definitely run into our oxen—hauling loads of bricks, wood, or even fresh vegetables from site to site.
Make sure you’re following our social media channels so you can get updates when the ox wagon rides start up for the summer, around Palace Green. We’re told to expect tickets to be available by mid-July.
Speaking of rides. One guarantee (barring any crazy extreme weather), is that you’ll see our horses throughout town—pulling carriages, carrying riders, and grazing in some of our pastures. They are often in the large field at the corner of Duke of Gloucester and Nassau as you’re heading from Merchants Square into the Historic Area.
While they will often come right up to the fence to pose for selfies, please remember DO NOT FEED OUR ANIMALS. I apologize if the all-caps, bolded line seems a bit aggressive but while you may mean well sharing your lunch leftovers, you can unintentionally make our animals really sick. We assure you they get plennnty of treats (and scratches) from our staff.
If you’d like a true behind-the-scenes look at our state-of-the-art stables, you can purchase a ticket to our Bits and Bridles tour. Not only will you get to see our carriages up close, you’ll also get to see our horses and occasionally our oxen. In the spring, you may even get to see one of our lambs being bottle-fed!
Depending on the day, you might also get lucky and run into George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, or our young Martha grooming their horses and getting ready to ride into town.
Then, there are the chickens. We can’t forget the chickens! Just as it was in the 1700s, they are a part of the Colonial Capital. Occasionally, you’ll pass someone along DoG Street, taking a full chicken basket to the Market House.
You can also find our roosters and hens roaming freely out at Great Hopes Plantation. Keep an eye out for the rooster we’ve all nicknamed “Big Boy.” Don’t worry. You can’t miss him. We also have coops set up next to the Powell House, Wetherburn’s Tavern, and behind the Wythe House.
Later this month, we plan to add an 18th-century egg incubator up at the Powell House. The science of it is fascinating (look for a future blog post) and you’ll also learn more about how the trades helped to put it together (including our coopers, basketmakers, tinsmiths, and historic gardeners).
Finally, while they aren’t members of our Rare Breeds Program, we do have three colonial kitties who have become somewhat superstars over the years. Mollie is the stables cat, Sir Thomas Grey spends a lot of his time with the basketmakers around the Wythe House (though he’s been known to venture down to the Wheelwright and over to Bruton Parish Church), and you’re likely to find Lady Eleanor keeping an eye on things at the Anderson Armoury—either perched on the steps watching the guests come through or curled up in the kitchen napping!
Of course livestock isn’t all you’ll find in the Revolutionary City. Our Art Museums have plenty of exhibits and objects featuring various animals, including dogs!
Every Wednesday morning during the summer, you can check out A Dog’s Life. It’s a guided tour of dog-related art and you’ll get to explore the lives of dogs as pets and workplace helpers in the 18th century. Learn about our folk art dog, Prince; artist William Hogarth’s canine companion; and other dogs in art.
Another popular exhibit, especially for kids, is Down on the Farm. That’s where you can learn even more about Prince as he travels to the country in search of his cousin. Along the way, he encounters other animals—from an owl roosting in a barn to ducks floating on a pond to hens nesting in the farm yard. This exhibit is super kid-friendly as the labels on the walls look like story books so they can read as they go. And at the end, you can create your own art. Even adults are welcome to join in the fun!
Want to do a scavenger hunt with the kids? Here are objects on display in our museums. See if you can find all of them!
As part of FREE kids programming at the Kimball this summer, you can also catch some great movies—perfect for all you animal lovers!
Walt Disney’s The Cat From Outer Space: A UFO is stranded on earth and impounded by the U.S. government. Its pilot, a cat with a collar that has special powers (including the ability to allow the cat to communicate with humans), has eluded authorities and needs the help of a man named Frank in order to reclaim and repair his ship to get back home. Showtimes: July 2 & 9 at 12:45 and July 5, 6, 12, and 13 at noon!
Courage of Lassie: Lassie plays a war veteran with amnesia. Raised from a pup by adolescent Elizabeth Taylor, the doggie hero becomes a sheep collie on rancher Frank Morgan’s farm. Lassie loses his memory when hit by a car which leads him to war in the K-9 corps. Lassie returns home shell-shocked and ready to tear apart anyone who crosses his path, but the love of Elizabeth Taylor conquers all. Showtimes: July 19, 20, 26, 27 & 30 + August 2 &3 at Noon
Walt Disney’s Bolt: The canine star of a fictional sci-fi/action show that believes his powers are real embarks on a cross country trek to save his co-star from a threat he believes is just as real. Showtimes: August 16, 17, 23, 24, 30 & 31 at 12:45 p.m. August 27 and September 3 at 12:15 p.m.
Thank you to Wayne Reynolds for contributing most of the adorable images in this post! Click here to read past blog posts about our Rare Breeds Animals!