The Northern Neck is steeped in history, from James Monroe and George Washington’s birthplace to Stratford Hall. Every December, Stratford Hall holds their Christmastide event, and this year, it happened to be this previous Saturday, December 14. When a place like this has been running this long, it’s easy to slip into complacency and just go through the motions. Fortunately for Stratford Hall, the staff are not the sort that do the bare minimum.
Those that spent time in the bottom floor of the Great House were treated to Rita Wagstaff telling stories that had been told and passed down by slaves, ranging from one learning a lesson that is true even today (Never tell your boss what you think of them to their face if it isn’t friendly!) to a master being led to think that God and the Devil were down in a graveyard dividing up souls (when it was really two other slaves dividing up potatoes, but the dead of night lets people get away with quite a lot). Also in the downstairs were the various servant rooms and quarters, with guides explaining each aspect of the room, who used it, and how it might have tied into Christmas.
Upstairs, meanwhile, Colonial Faire kept everyone entertained in the main room, while one of the more unusual items, a tin bathtub, had been placed in what was called the Blue Room. According to the guides, this time of the year was one of only two times a year that people took baths, while Christmas gifts were much more plainly wrapped, and often very meaningful.
In the kitchen was Dontavius Wilson, who was giving insight into how cooking was done back in the heyday of Stratford Hall, what was cooked, and who did the cooking. It was an experience not unlike being on the set of a Food Network TV program, as Wilson expertly sliced up meat for fried chicken while speaking about what techniques, spices, and equipment that a head chef named Caesar would have used, as well as how these various dishes and tastes in food spread around.
Also present at the visitor’s center was Santa Claus, the only person known to break into houses and leave more items there than when he snuck in. With cider and ginger cookies also being served, it’s a safe bet that nobody was walking away from Stratford feeling hungry.
The whole thing was filled with passion. The sort that you find with people that genuinely love their work and are committed to making sure they do the best they can. From the ladies at the front of the desk to Dontavius Williams in the kitchen, each one of them knew their tasks and took care of them with absolute aplomb. The next event will be the Lee Family Birthday Celebration on January 18, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., is completely free to the public and will feature several activities during those six hours.
Dontavius Williams wowed the crowd with kitchen demonstrations.