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Colonial Williamsburg Celebrates the Many Presidents of Virginia on President’s Day
By Jim Newton

PVPD imageThis past weekend Colonial Williamsburg celebrated President's Day with a number of events recalling the important role Williamsburg played in the lives of many of our presidents. Sunday at 10:30 a.m. a public audience with our first president, George Washington, was presented. Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg were encouraged to meet with President Washington as he looked back on his long career in public service. Washington was a popular figure in Williamsburg for over three decades. At 17, Washington first came to Williamsburg to apply for a surveyor's license at the College of William and Mary. In 1759, at only 27 years of age, washington became a member of the House of Burgesses where he lent a hand in formuloting the concept of self-government. He would stoy on in the House of Burgesses for 16 years. Washington worshiped at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg. He would often join his friends and collegues at the King’s Arms, the Raleigh Tavern and other venues around the town for discussions about the events of the day. He was also in attendance at balls and other social events held at the Governor's Palace. Washington soon married Martha Curtis, the new couple spending their honeymoon in Williamsburg. In 1774 Washington was sent by his fellow lawmakers as one of Virginia’s delegates to the First Continental Congress. Later, after becoming general of all continental forces, Washington used Williamsburg as his headquarters, whereby on September 27, 1781, he issued the orders to advance on British General Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Sunday’s events in Colonial Williamsburg also included a chance for those in attendance to have an audience with Thomas Jefferson, our third president. Jefferson arrived in Williamsburg in 1760 to study at the College of William and Mary. He was only 16. There he studied law under George Wythe who became his mentor and had a great influence on the life of the young Jefferson. Later Jefferson would become a member of the House of Burgesses where, along with Patrick Henry, he began to torment the idea of revolution. One of Jefferson’s favorite pastimes was music and he could often be found dancing to the music inside the Raleigh Tavern. Jefferson occupied the Governor's mansion in Williamsburg where, as governor, he introduced a bill establishing religious freedom in 1779 which later became a law in 1786. In latter years Jefferson would tell his grandson that Williamsburg had offered "the finest school of manners and morals that ever existed in America”.

Sunday’s President's Day celebrated in Colonial Williamsburg provided an additional opportunity to meet a president. President James Madison was on hand to discuss affairs of the state of the union ond reflect upon the intervention of the executive branch of the United States government. From May through July of 1776, Madison participated in the Virginia house of delegates in Williamsburg where he met Jefferson for the first time. From 1777 until 1779 he was elected and served as a member of the Virginia Council of State.

James Monroe was another president who had many ties to Williamsburg. At 16, Monroe enrolled at the College of William and Mary. While there he became a part of the patriotic fervor that was sweeping the town at the time. At 18, he took part in a raid on the arsenal of the Governor's Palace after Lord Dunmore, Virginia’s last royal governor, fled Williamsburg. 230 guns and 300 swords were seized for the militia which would evolve become a part of the continental army. He was later wounded at the battle of Trenton and returned to williamsburg to receive his appointment to lieutenant colonel of the Virginia forces. In 1816 Monroe was elected president and became the last of the "Virginia Dynesty”. Four of the first 5 presidents came from Virginia and the events that took place in Williamsburg during this time had a major impact on all of their lives.

 





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