Dec 15, 2012 - Museums, Travel, USA, Virginia    No Comments

Colonial Williamsburg, Part Four: The Peyton Randolph House

From the Wythe home, I headed across the palace green to check out a few more outlying buildings before moving to the main street. I came across the Peyton Randolph home, a prominent Virginian politician at the time.

This tour ended up being my least favourite moment of the day. The focus of the tour was about slavery in 18th century Virginia, a time when all but the poorest whites had a few slaves. We didn’t learn that much about the house or Peyton Randolph, and we were expressly forbidden from asking questions about those topics!

Moreover, our guide was a little too deep in character and almost utterly unintelligible. He spoke very quickly in a very heavy accent laced with period words and euphemisms. Most people spent the tour with a ‘HUH?!’ expression on their face and the children were terrified of him.

Finally, I did not like the atmosphere of the house. The Wythe home felt very bright and cheerful. I could imagine children laughing in that home, people relaxing and playing games, and slaves being well treated. The Peyton Randolphe home felt very severe. I never did find out if Randolphe treated his slaves as badly as we were told many slaves were treated, but the impression that he did definitely coloured the tour.

What I took away from this tour is just how uncertain life was for the slaves. After Randophe died, his wife got to keep her slaves, but after she passed, the slaves would be sold. We were also taught about the punishment for disobedience (going as far to cutting off limbs or tongues!).

After all of this education, we were asked to debate whether, as slaves, we would have chosen to run away, accept our fates as slaves, or be conflicted. I think that was a nearly impossible debate to have with your 21st century point of views colouring our judgment. I said that I would run away “because nothing could be worse than this.” The next person said, “I’m staying because if I do as I’m told, I have food and clothing.” The kids chimed in also, with one making us all laugh when he said, “I don’t like being bossed around, so I’m leaving!”

All in all, this was a worthwhile tour and I do not begrudge the half hour or so I spent on it, but I think it could be refined.

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