Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Patrick Henry at Colonial Williamsburg

We’re currently up in Shenandoah Valley. I’ll post later about going down into the Shenandoah Caverns and our moving experience at Virginia Military Institute Hall of Valor.

I’ve been meaning to write about one of the highlights of Colonial Williamsburg. Like I said last year I always make a point of going to hear Richard Schumann's portrayal Patrick Henry. I’ll use both Richard Schumann and Patrick Henry to describe the experience.

On last Tuesday we went to the Kimball Theatre at noon. The event was titled “A Conversation with Patrick Henry.” Those of us in the audience were supposed to be local citizens in Williamsburg. The speaker of the House of Burgess had asked Patrick Henry was giving a brief report on the state of affairs in May of 1776. Patrick Henry wryly noted that he had never been brief in his life.

Richard Schumann does a great job in his interpretation of Patrick Henry. He is very dramatic and moving. It is easy to see how Patrick Henry was able to bring people over to his way of thinking. Richard once said that there was little written record of Patrick Henry’s speeches. That while there was a clerk in the House of Burgess, once Patrick Henry started speaking the clerk, along with most everyone else, would become memorized and would record very little of what Patrick Henry said.

After addressing the audience for several minutes Patrick Henry apologized to the ladies for talking so much about politics, that these were matters that women didn’t normally have to deal with. Richard often slips in insights on the differences of attitude and outlook from 1776 without making it a lecture.

Patrick Henry summarized the current state of affairs by first focusing on the problems up in Massachusetts. (Remember it was suppose to be 1776) The British had stationed 5,000 troops in Boston, a town of 20,000. The British were getting ready to close down the port. Patrick talked about some of the differences between those in the New England Colonies, for example religion. He said that plays were not allowed in Boston, there was no betting on horse races, and there was even no dancing. These were all things that Virginians would fight to the death before giving up. He acknowledged that few in Virginia liked men in New England. But he then went on to argue that we must needs work with them

After talking for a bout twenty five minutes he took a few questions from the audience. True to form, each of his answers went on for several minutes. I think one answer took seven minutes.

Then on last Wednesday morning Patrick Henry met us (citizens of Williamsburg) under a large oak tree. He was there to explain his plans for the new republic. The first five minutes were almost exactly the same. The speaker had asked him to make some brief remarks; Patrick Henry claimed that he had never been brief in his life. After a few minutes of background he apologized to the ladies for talking about politics in front of them.

My oldest daughter had stayed with me, while Janine took the younger two off to explore. My oldest worried that the whole speech would be exactly the same. Then on queue Patrick Henry started talking about three resolutions that were being discussed in the House of Burgess, their merits and their weaknesses, and what would happen to them.

I thought that this was a great lesson in civics. Patrick Henry warned several times that as citizens we had to be ever vigilant against the oppression of a large government. It is once thing to read about this in a book. My oldest had a much stronger experience by being there and listening to Patrick Henry explain how we could lose our freedoms.

You can learn more about Richard Schumann's interpretation of Patrick Henry here, and even listen to him give the famous speech. And here you can read an interview with Richard Schumann.

If you visit Colonial Williamsburg, I strongly encourage you to go listen to Richard Schumann portray Patrick Henry.

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1 comment:

Lostcheerio said...

Wow, that sounds great. You make it sound very exciting. Makes me sorry I'm such a historical slacker. :) Beginning to think I don't deserve to live in Virginia. Hehehe... maybe homeschooling will reform me!