There hasn’t been a Virginian in the White House since Woodrow Wilson a century ago, but back in the day a stream of Old Dominion natives held the nation’s highest office. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe: from 1789 until 1821, only the second president, Massachusetts’ John Adams, interrupted the Virginia dynasty.
All of them spent portions of their formative political years in Williamsburg, and we celebrate that connection over Presidents Day weekend, with several opportunities to watch, listen to, and of course, pose questions as citizens. We hope you’ll join us for some of these special events Saturday and Sunday. Many require special tickets or free reservations, so please be sure to click on the links to get the complete info.
Meet The Great Men of Williamsburg in their old stomping grounds, the Capitol, on Saturday from 11 a.m. until 12:40 p.m. As you proceed through the historic building, you’ll encounter the presidents and hear their recollections of their time in the ‘burg.
In the House of Burgesses, James Madison will describe what it was like to sit as a 25-year old freshman in the chamber, participating in the momentous Fifth Virginia Convention, which launched both his career and the drive for independence. In the Joint Conference Room, President Washington will ruminate on issues that might seem all-too-familiar, the importance of compromise and the dangers of faction. And President Jefferson, from the General Court Room, will reflect on what he learned about law in the colonial capital, from his tutelage under George Wythe to his bold recommendations for legal reform.
Head over to the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg to see the wonderful collections, of course, but also to hear Patrick Henry on the eve of his 1779 retirement from the state governorship reminiscing about his friendships and debates with the men on their various paths to the presidency. Here is an interesting perspective, capturing a moment when each had already achieved so much, and yet still had so much more to accomplish. From a Virginia Governor, at the Hennage Auditorium, Saturday 1:45 p.m.
On Saturday evening, enjoy period chamber music in a magical setting, the Governor’s Palace ballroom, courtesy of the Governor’s Musick ensemble. We’ll include a small dose of history, of course, it being the home of royal governors until they were displaced by those men with the revolutionary democratical tendencies, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. Palace Concert: From Coronation to Inauguration, two performances Saturday, at 7:30 and 9 p.m. at the Governor’s Palace. No ball gown required!
Our Public Audiences are, for me, as captivating a program as there is at Colonial Williamsburg: endlessly varied and spontaneous, carried in any and all directions by the whim of the day’s crowd. On Sunday at the Hennage Auditorium, there are two opportunities to see George Washington (10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.), as well as programs featuring James Madison (12:15 p.m.) and Thomas Jefferson (1:45 p.m.).
It’s all about the pageantry at our Salute to the Presidents at the Courthouse at 4 p.m. on Sunday. We’ll have cannons firing, the fifes and drums playing, and an inspirational word or two. The presidents will, of course, attend as well.
Sunday night brings An Evening with the Presidents, an event I had the honor of hosting last year. Washington, Jefferson, and Madison will take the stage together, facing questions from our own Stephen Seals (a longtime colleague who has just joined our corps of Nation Builders) as well as from the audience. This year’s theme is “the peaceful transition of power.”
Last year we had fun riffing on questions drawn from the presidential primary debates—I have a feeling there will be more queries about making America great this time around, too. It seems like every year some figure from history decides to crash the party. In 2016 King George III heckled us from the balcony before joining us on stage—what will happen this time?
The Civil War is also an essential part of Virginia history, and if you’d like to explore that, check out The President Is Dead: A Photographic Study of the Lincoln Assassination on Friday at 4:30 in the Hennage Auditorium. Carson Hudson, who has written and lectured extensively on the Civil War, will revisit the story of the tragic event as it unfolded in what was, in that day, a relatively new kind of media.
And while the holiday honors the men who have held the nation’s highest office, by all means take advantage during your visit of the tours, programs, films, and exhibits that are the focus of Black History Month in Williamsburg. Check out the calendar or our recent blog post for more details.