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History and holidays at GW Birthplace

Posted on Wednesday, December 21, 2016 at 2:33 pm

DSC_0069On Saturday, George Washington Birthplace National Monument officially celebrated Christmas. More importantly, the annual Washington Family Christmas event gave park staff and volunteers an opportunity to show an entirely different side of themselves as colonial re-enactors.
Dressed in period 1730’s clothing, visitors were treated to a day and evening filled with colorful living history interpretation, intermingled with cooking, spinning, weaving, blacksmithing, tours, dancing, music, and an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the father of our country.
From the moment visitors completed their journey along the path to the kitchen, the smell of colonial culinary cooking flooded the airways. National Park Ranger, Deb Lawton, and her assistant, 4H member, Tabitha Robinson anxiously awaited visitors.
The first dish during kitchen demonstrations was a cabbage pudding. Using meat stuffing, Lawton and Robinson rolled it into a cabbage leaf, tied it with a cloth, and completed the dish by boiling it.
Other culinary delights prepared during the morning consisted of steak-pies (wrapped steak, filled with stuffing, raisins, and spices), a raisin-meat and nutmeg (early version of minced meat), and web stone cakes.
“You can’t just turn a knob, and change the temperature, you have to physically pick up the cast iron pot, filled with liquid, and move it to a different place on the fire,” Robinson said. “Its harder, but I think its more rewarding.”
Inspired by the age old skill of open hearth cooking, Robinson, a ninth grade home school student has a rare opportunity to experience the period of George Washington’s early childhood through his daily diet of food. “I’ve always had a big interest in history, especially Colonial history.” Robinson said. “I was 10-years old when I joined the 4H Club. One of my best friends told me about it, and I’ve been here ever since.”
During Washington’s youth, education was taken seriously among the colonists. In fact, some people taught their children at home, or hired a tutor to educate their children.
“For me there has always been two aspects of history,” Robinson said, there is the boring aspect, which is what you learn in school, and there is the hands-on fun-aspect that you really get if you come to place like this.”
Instead of spending her afternoon in front of a television set, Robinson prefers to enjoy an opportunity to learn from the past.
“To get a chance to cook in the kitchen, spin in the spinning shop, and to be in the house, that is the cool aspect,” Robinson added. “I think it could change a lot of people’s perspectives in history if they had a chance to do this.”
After absorbing a wealth of colonial sustenance, visitors journeyed to the blacksmith shop, operated by Lawton’s husband, John. Creating and repurposing general farm and house tools, the blacksmith during 1700’s was a important source of labor. From shoeing of horses to the creation of lanterns, his tasks never seemed to be finished.
“In a place like this there were a lot of things they (blacksmiths) did for the farm,” Lawton said. “A lot of equipment that was bought in England, and shipped over here needed repairs. Also, they built a lot of multi-purposed tools, kitchenware, etc. Blacksmith played a major role in keeping the farm going.”
Next to the blacksmith’s shop is the spinning and weaving shop, led by interpreter, Sarah. Rather than stand and listen to variations of colorful instructions, Sarah allows the visitors to actually experience the process of spinning and weaving from start to finish.
She began by explaining the use flax and how to apply the combed fibers to the spinning wheel. The final part of the process was the process of roving, and how it is transformed into thread.
The same process was applied to cotton, and wool. However, due to the nature of Washington’s extravagant affection of clothing, the young future president would often order his suits from England.
Along with a tour of the Memorial House, visitors finished their day with an arrangement of colonial music and dancing, before their journey back to the parking lot along the illuminated path.
The George Washington Birthplace National Monument is located on Route 204, in Colonial Beach, VA. Specifically, the property is 11 miles west of Montross.