The Historic Triangle

July 30, 2021

Our morning cruise took us past the Naval base again and then to Hampton, just across the mouth of the James River. We anchored, with plans to visit a history museum and the Virginia Air and Space Science Center—of “Hidden Figures” fame. The stop, however, didn’t go as planned, because I was still hung over from pain meds taken the evening before due to sharp pain in my new hip, and by the time I took a much-needed nap a deluge arrived, seemingly out of nowhere. Once weather sufficiently cleared and we dinghied across the inlet to town, it was nearly closing time. Our walk took us past the bronze plaque honoring hometown daughter Katherine Johnson, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor for her calculations of orbital mechanics at NASA which ensured many successful space flights. John Glenn specifically requested that she check the orbital equations that controlled the trajectory of the Friendship 7: “Get the girl. If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.” Dr. Johnson still resides in Hampton. We also admired the 1920-vintage Carousel, one of just 70 antique merry-go-rounds remaining. This gem has always been protected indoors and was recently restored masterfully.  With no children clamoring to ride, I wondered what music it played as we walked away— but then guessed that the sound might be better in the memories of my own childhood. We enjoyed talking with the shop keeper of a zero-waste store, offering bars for shampoo, shaving, and laundry and bulk dispensers for filling one’s own bottles. The shop keeper pointed across the street to a large construction project—Hampton has plans for re-inventing itself, but they have a ways to go. None of the restaurants called out to us, so we ate a late dinner aboard. 

After our Hampton fizzle, we got down to brass tacks in Yorktown, one of three towns known as the Historic Triangle, along with Jamestown and Colonial Williamsburg. You may recall from American history that the Battle of Yorktown was the last battle of the Revolutionary War, after which Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington. Home of the splendid American Revolutionary Museum at Yorktown, we stayed until we could absorb no more from the array of films, live outdoor demonstrations, displays and exposés. That evening a crowd gathered on the green by the marina with babies and picnics in tow for a concert by Soul Sensation. We enjoyed the strains from the boat as we participated in a family Zoom call.

The British came marching through the Farmer’s Market…
…and I had a lovely chat with a fellow who created a chocolate company in order to employ trafficked people. I loved both his chocolate and his story. A shout out for Taylor Made Chocolate: the sweet taste of freedom. “All profits dedicated to human freedom projects.”

All public transit from Yorktown to the other sites having been discontinued for several years now—even pre-Covid—and discovering that there were no Uber cars available the next day, we finally located a Mercedes cab line to get to Jamestown Settlement…for a price! Jamestown Settlement, too, is an excellent exhibit in a beautiful venue.  We learned that this colony was settled, not by the crown of England, but as a business enterprise of the Virginia Company. We knew a bit of the storied hardships there, but learned more about the bitter rivalry with the Powhatan Natives, and the helplessness of these adventurous souls in a novel setting which required the skills of hunting, trapping, fishing, and many other tasks for which the promise that the colony be fully provisioned from England left them unprepared.

Oh, it was so hot in there! Munitions maintenance and storage was very important to Jamestonians.
Re-creations of the three ships that brought settlers to Jamestown go out at least once a year. The Susan Constant (119f), the Discovery (66f), and the Godspeed (88f) carried a total of 105 passengers and 39 crew. The upper decks were for crew only, and passengers were expected to stay below in the dank and dark hold. On the 144-day passage, the first three weeks were spent becalmed in full view of Motherland England. After arriving in the New World, only the Discovery stayed with the settlers, while the Susan Constant and the Godspeed returned to England.

Photos of signage snippets that hit us between the eyes:

Our visit to Williamsburg was less compelling, as the organization is still struggling back to its feet after the pandemic. We found small crowds, but also few docents, few tradespeople, and just one eatery—a bit underwhelming. Still, we are happy to have seen this renowned destination and to be reminded of the importance of Virginia’s legislative path in setting the course for our young nation. We saw a good theater production on stage at the brand new art museum and took a quick spin through the impressive galleries there. Finally as we visited the Courthouse at the end of our day, we were regaled by a fabulous, energetic docent who took us back to the historic beginnings of English-style courtrooms, in which the role of judges was to find justice and whose jury of “peers” included a few who truly knew and could vouch for the defendant. After the tour, Steve and I hung around for further conversation. I asked our docent when American courts stopped seeking justice, and winning became the goal. He referred back to the original judges whose unpaid responsibilities included serving time in court; “Thomas Jefferson would have sat at this table,” he had pointed. In answer to my question, he referred back to that and continued: once lawyers started receiving compensation for their service and defense in court, the game changed. Other take-aways from the three sites were that 1) from the very beginning, what is now the “United” States has always been divided by strong opinions and bitter dissension, between Native Americans and settlers, between patriots and loyalists, between slave holders and abolitionists…between students of science and conjurers of conspiracy; and 2) the founders of this nation were deeply conflicted about the ethics surrounding slavery and purposely left its cornerstone documents ambiguous, leaving these critical questions to be answered in another time.

An animated, engaging docent makes history come alive!

Our day in Williamsburg ended with a spot-on dinner at Golden Ox, a farm to table restaurant. Its very casual vibe was ramped up by, not only excellent food preparations, but also the manager with a funny, waxed mustache who hovered and refolded our napkins to his specification every time one of us left the table—even when we folded it ourselves. 😂 

We had left Red Pearl this Williamsburg morning rocking and rolling on big, wave-action from the northeast, the only  direction in which this marina was unprotected. The rolling had only increased during the day and 1-2 foot rollers persisted through the night. We have never experienced such extreme and unrelenting rolling. Sunday morning I drank coffee (and spilled coffee) and blogged while Steve dinked with the lines and fenders and chatted with other boaters. The commercial tri-masted sailing vessel across the dock canceled its morning sail, and waves crashed over the dock at its stern. Our plan to return to the Yorktown museum for the afternoon was side-lined by a delightful invitation aboard a lovely, neighboring Grand Banks trawler. During the 3 1/2 hours in which we found invigorating connection, from boats to politics, while sipping wine, the wind finally shifted enough for the seas to lay down. Ah, we missed returning to the museum, but we learned much from Mary and Gene who own a boatyard in the American Virgin Islands, and we gained a friendship, as well. 

THIS is the looping life: learn some, connect some, shrink our differences. 

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