NOTE: Due to technical difficulties, this is a repost of an article originally posted on 4/13/10. It is a guest post by Elizabeth Eagan Cox, author of the Shannon Delaney Paranormal Mystery novels.
I often guest on paranormal radio programs, especially those hosted by ghost hunters, to speak on a topic near and dear to my heart: Are your ancestors your ghosts?
You see, in addition to being a novelist I am also passionate about genealogy…I know my ancestors are my ghosts because I’ve dug them up, so to speak, and have documented them to Virginia of the early 1600s, including Colonial Williamsburg… the historic capital of colonial America.
I’ve visited Colonial Williamsburg twice in the last five years and no doubt will return sometime in the future. All my family tree roots lead back to there and when I visit, I sense that I am walking the cobblestone streets in the footsteps of my ancestors… and with their spirits.
Colonial Williamsburg is a living history venue that allows you to touch upon the very beginnings of America in myriad ways. You can choose to stroll the streets of the reconstructed/preserved town where homes and building have remained intact since pre-Revolutionary days of the early 1700s. Or opt for a variety of tours, all expertly led by docent-guides in full colonial dress. The options are varied and entirely compatible with what you want to do. I’m here to tell you what I have done and what I advise you to do, if you are looking forward to a high-spirited adventure while in Colonial Williamsburg. First and foremost…go at night!
The village is magical at night as it is lit only by street lamps… lamps, not lights. And there is a long list of must-do walking tours and entertainment to appreciate the spirit(s) of Colonial Williamsburg.
GHOSTS AMONGST US will take you inside the colonial buildings, shops and homes to hear tales of the supernatural. Led by a docent in full costume and carrying a candle lantern, the rooms you enter are equally eerie. Lit only by candles, shadows waver and dance as the storytellers cast spells on you. Ghost Amongst Us is one of my all time favorite tours and if I am strapped for time and must decide on one tour…this is the one.
PAPA SAID, MAMA SAID, explores the colonial experience through folk tales passed down in generations by 18th century slaves. Often there are two to three re-enactors that take part and you cannot but feel as if you are eavesdropping on a family tradition of storytelling. It was at this venue that I heard one of my favorite ghost stories regarding grave robbers.
LANTHORN TOUR. A guide dressed as an 18th century tradesman or woman takes you around the town to visit the shops of the craftsman and tradesmen that were the heart (and soul) of the colonial town. I swear to you when we were at the Blacksmith’s shop that the lady standing right next to me had a small child tug on her sweater…but of course there were no children on this tour, or anywhere in sight!
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT is a walking tour that examines the various aspects of early justice in colonial America. Near the center of town are stocks…those medieval looking wood structures that held a person’s arms and head in a dead lock for all to see and ridicule. Speak out of turn while on this tour and you might just find yourself locked in the stocks! Or as an experiment… just ask to try it out. You may discover that you are not alone in spirit. I dare you!
CRY WITCH. Is not a tour, it is a trial that takes place at the courthouse and you are one of the commoners, waiting to see the outcome. You may also be chosen to be on the jury. Either way, and I have been both, this is an eye-opening experience because so often we tend to think that witch trials were exclusive to New England! Not so. Williamsburg was the capital for all the colonial territories in the South (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia) and thus Williamsburg courts dealt justice far and wide in all variety of crimes…not the least of which was witchcraft! The trial is based on actual court records and this reality factor makes it all the scarier. You will leave this trial haunted by the outcome. On occasion, the witch trial is alternated with a pirate trial. Witch or Pirate, you’ll be glad you are not living in colonial times.
All of the above require walking along cobblestone streets. Candle lanterns dimly light the walking tours. I advise that you wear comfortable shoes and clothing that allows for a brisk stride. Take along a pocket flashlight to find your way back to your car…or a late-night colonial tavern (of which there are several!). I advise not taking children (especially young ones) unless they have a strong love of history and can appreciate the drama for the re-creation of it. Ask before taking photos.
Can’t go at night? There are events and tours during the day, but truthfully they do not have the spooky factor working for them. However, a wonderful alternative for daytime is to explore a colonial church and graveyard. Bruton Parish Church is in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg on Duke of Gloucester Street. It is a working parish, very active and is one of the foremost historic churches in the Diocese of Southern Virginia. The church was founded in 1654 and was the church for many visiting dignitaries of colonial times, including Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. My ancestors worshipped here.
The church is open during the day for tourists and from its Web site there is a free self-guided tour (download or print up) to its building and graveyard. The graves are the most intriguing attraction at the churchyard and they exemplify colonial styles of grave art and funeral customs. These are actual graves dating back to the 1600s and 1700s. The church and its grounds are not open at night. However, the church is on a corner and easy enough to find a quiet spot to stand next to the gate or wall to set an EVP recorder. Or experiment with night photography.
Web sites for Colonial Williamsburg:
Bruton Parish Church: