From our special little lamb Edmund who stole the hearts of so many, to the nostalgic resurrection of America’s favorite doll Felicity, to the unexpected controversy over 18th-century necklines—it was a memorable year, to say the least, for the Making History Team. Here’s what you, our readers, found the most interesting of all the topics we covered.
Number 10 on our list was a post outlining the misconceptions of slavery. We discovered one of the most popular myths is that in Colonial Virginia, it was all about cotton. Actually, as Senior Writer Bill Sullivan explains, “Long before cotton, tobacco was Virginia’s major cash crop. While tobacco was critical to the growth of slavery in Virginia, it looked different from the 19th-century Deep South version. Most plantations held a relatively modest number of enslaved people compared to the massive cotton plantations. And as visitors to the James River plantations can attest, the houses were hardly comparable to the antebellum mansions found in Mississippi and Alabama.” Bill also addresses the mistaken beliefs that enslaved people were actually better off in America or that they were usually dressed in rags. Read more here.
Number 9 is a much lighter topic and quite possibly one of the best pranks our social media team has pulled off yet. Yes, even better than the year we had some of you believing a roller coaster was coming to Palace Green. This year, we shared a young Abraham Lincoln was going to be the newest Nation Builder to join the ranks. We posted the announcement and then… we waited. It didn’t take long for the angry comments to start rolling in. After all, we are supposed to interpret 18th-century American History.
So, what was the date of our post? You guessed it. April first. In the end, once people realized they’d been duped, most came around and some even had quite a chuckle.
I think my favorite response came from blog reader Mike C.:
“Ha. I didn’t realize the prank until I got home and saw on the news that Google had done something. I said to myself…. “I wonder………” And sure enough, here’s your reply and that of a lot of other folks. You sure as heck went big! Good one.
I had literally just mentioned to my wife that she had lost her touch in pranking me on this day (it’s been awhile since she’s got me) and it turns out my favorite place in the world got me instead.
Well Done. Happy April Fools Day and Happy Spring.”
Number 8 was our tutorial on how to talk to our costumed interpreters—what to ask, what not to ask, and how to get the most out of your visit. It turns out many of you are admittedly uncomfortable with how to interact with our actors when you run into them on the street. Their advice? Put down your phone, let down your guard, and take heed to the old adage that no question is a dumb question.
In fact, they don’t want you to be afraid to ask hard questions, either. Even if they don’t know the answer, they probably know who does, and it’s bound to lead to an interesting conversation. Oh, and for the record, if you need help finding a restroom or tavern—it’s okay to ask them that too!
Number 7 involves the word FREE. Because who doesn’t love something for free, especially when it involves American History? In August of this year we made hundreds of our videos, primary sources, and lesson plans available online. These resources were initially part of a paid service for educators but our hope in offering our virtual library to the public is that it will stimulate thoughtful conversation—and maybe even a little spirited debate. While it’s mainly teachers taking advantage of this opportunity, we welcome parents and grandparents to also peruse the site especially if you’re planning a visit this spring.
Number 6 shared our exciting news for the Historic Area in the new year, including moving more of the action into the heart of the city. You can expect to see the most drastic changes at the Wythe, Geddy, and Randolph Houses as well as the Anderson Armoury. Starting in March, each time you visit those sites, it should be a completely immersive experience that transports you back to the 18th century. From the sound of live music to the smells coming from the kitchens to hands-on activities for kids—all your senses will come alive!
Number 5 on our list was quite a fun trip down memory lane. For the first time in decades, we brought back our fancy teas at the Williamsburg Inn with American Girl favorite, Felicity. It was a no brainer after seeing the overwhelmingly positive response from readers when we shared a blog about an inspired generation of history lovers, including many employees from across the Foundation!
The exchange of memories and ongoing engagement sparked a follow-up post where our own actors, interpreters, and staff re-created several of the book covers. I have to say this was personally one of my favorite blog projects we’ve ever done. If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely check it out. My coworkers totally nailed it!
Number 4 was another favorite of mine—the story of little Edmund the lamb. Born with a bad leg (that required a tiny cast and physical therapy), our Leicester Longwool quickly stole the hearts of thousands of people on social media. The love and attention given by the Coach & Livestock team which included late-night bottle feedings, was truly heartwarming. And the responses from so many of you were equally touching.
Sadly, a few months after our blog post published, sweet Edmund passed away. The internal injuries at birth were much worse than even our veterinarian had anticipated. It was devastating news for many of us employees as well as many of you who had been following his story of determination and resilience. We were able to take solace in the fact that he lived the best life a sheep could, and that he brought awareness to his breed…. brightening so many of our days along the way.
Rounding out our list at Number 3 was a feature on the Top 10 mistakes to avoid when visiting Colonial Williamsburg. Because yes, there are people (both veterans and newbies) who don’t take advantage of all there is to do and experience during their trip. From wearing the wrong shoes to not dressing for the weather to trying to cram everything into one day—Bill helped to set the record straight on how to get the most out of your visit! Oh, and our fearless social media intern Joaquin (look familiar?) was able to model for many of our pictures.
Coming in at Number 2 as one of the most popular posts of 2016 was another digital one—this one took you on a tour of Virtual Williamsburg. As Bill shared, “On our website, the time is forever 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15, 1776, the day the Fifth Virginia Convention passed the resolution asking the Continental Congress to declare independence. Even the shadows slanting into the street under a bright sun tell you this is a precise moment, not an amalgam of an entire period, in history.” If you haven’t already, take a walk down DoG Street and explore the city in 3-D! It’s really pretty cool.
Finally…Fife and Drum roll please…. our Number 1 post of the year was a guest blog from our former Apprentice Milliner and Mantua-maker Abby Cox! After a controversial image of a scooping neckline surfaced in one of our posts, Abby reached out and asked me if she could tackle the history and reality of 18th-century, ahem, cleavage. It turns out, young children to adult women could reveal extremely low necklines in the 18th century depending on what was deemed fashionable. And she shared several paintings from that time period to illustrate and support her research. Abby explained some of those images may make us uncomfortable today because “we view them through the lens of 21st-century mores.”
And that my friends is our complete list of the top 10 most popular posts of 2016. In all, we had more than a million page views of the blog and we thank each and every one of you for your ongoing questions, support, and feedback. We look forward to bringing you even more exciting interviews and behind-the-scenes stories in the months ahead. If you have any ideas, just leave them in the comments below.
From us to you, Happy New Year!