Thursday, October 27, 2005

vacation, part 2: fear and loathing in colonial williamsburg

We were halfway back to Ye Olde Giftshoppe and Visitor’s Centre when the mead began to take hold. The foppish bastard with the bell was one “Here ye” away from needing a proctologist to help him retrieve his tri-cornered hat, and I told him as much.

“Sir, I am supposed to be the town crier. This is what they pay me to do”, he said.

“I’ll give you something to cry about, you fancy little bitch,” I slurred. “And I will do so for free.”

For some reason I wanted to scribble something along those lines on the back of my napkin as we sat at the lunch counter of a wine and cheese place in the Williamsburg merchant square, a three square block collection of shops roped of for foot traffic between Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary. However, I couldn’t find a pen, and I suppose it was no big loss.

We had spent the morning walking around downtown Norfolk and then drove the forty-five minutes to Williamsburg and checked in early at the sweet condo we were to occupy for free over the next three nights. A guy who owes my dad some money has a timeshare with Fairfield Resorts, and he was presented with a decision between giving up a few of his days or trying to get around on two broken legs. It really wasn’t much of a choice.

I’m kidding…I think.

At any rate, the four legs of the Caminos had certainly gotten a workout in their exploration of Norfolk and Williamsburg, and Mrs. Camino’s suggestion of sandwiches and a few afternoon beers as we strolled the square was certainly welcomed.

The beers were local and quite cheap. The St.George Brewing Company is located in Hampton, Virginia, and they put out a decent product at a dollar-fifty a bottle. I have to say that I wasn’t too thrilled with the label, but I am probably a bit too hung up on packaging when it comes to commerce. Miller High Life is my favorite domestic beer simply because of the cowgirl on every bottle. There were no cowgirls on St. George’s ales and lagers, but the product was good.

The sandwiches weren’t too bad. I quite enjoyed what I had of Mrs. Camino’s veggie with mushrooms, melted swiss, tomatoes, sprouts, and other assorted leafy greens. I had even planned on getting one myself until the Ani DiFranco clone behind the counter leaned in to Mrs. Camino and warned her that something associated with the sandwich was prepared with chicken broth and therefore not really “vegetarian”. It seemed like a perfectly acceptable thing to tell someone when they order a veggie sandwich, but there was something of a scolding tone in the way she said it that bothered me.

I don’t care for being preached to by little white girls with dreadlocks, hairy armpits, and second hand opinions on ethical food choices who also happen to receive a paycheck each week from an establishment that serves quite a few beast based sandwiches. Behind that counter is certainly no place to cop a “meat is murder” attitude, and it will only get you a “then murder is tasty” response.

Which is why I changed my mind and ordered a corned beef on rye…with a side order of baby seal and a nice kitten and endangered butterfly gravy.

Just kidding. Kittens and butterflies may have made a formidable tandem on my high school binder, but everyone knows that their tastes are quite uncomplimentary.

Still, I loved the Williamsburg. It is rich in history, surrounded by forest, has a number of parks with decent hiking trails overlooking the marshlands, is adjacent to the James River, and contains a few pirate ghosts.

I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you the tourism value of pirate ghosts. A city either has them or it doesn’t, and a pirate ghost-hungry public will quickly be able to tell the difference.

In the early days of the colonies pirates were caught and hung along the river or the roads into town as a deterrent to other pirates. Did it work? Well, it probably served the community much better than those damned “the more you know” public service announcements that NBC runs, but it would probably take more than a swinging corpse to intimidate a worthy pirate.

I was briefly interested in pirates a few years back when I was waiting on my acceptance letter from the grad school at UNC Wilmington. There is supposedly a great deal of pirate treasure still buried along the Carolina coast and the mouth of the Cape Fear River, but I was denied and therefore never got the chance to move to Wilmington and spend my free time searching for it. I suppose we could’ve still moved there for the sole purpose of being close to the set of “Dawson’s Creek”, but it didn’t seem worthwhile it at the time.

However, I did remember this story in association with Williamsburg:

Edward Drummond changed his name to Edward Teach when he became a pirate, but you probably know him as Blackbeard. He stood six foot four, often fought with hemp and lighted matches woven into his beard, and there are stories of him doing things like choosing a random member of his crew and shooting him in the kneecaps just to keep up the level of fear among the others. He plundered ships from Bermuda to New Jersey and made his home in Bath, North Carolina, as he was friendly with Carolina’s Governor Eden. He actually lived in a house nearby Eden and would exchange some of his stolen goods for pardons from the governor. It was a good relationship.

But folks outside of the North Carolina governor’s mansion were understandably concerned about the number of pirates beginning to congregate at this safe haven. Take Governor Alexander Spotswood, for instance.

It is debatable as to whether or not Spotswood had the jurisdiction to do it, but in 1718 he dispatched a couple of ships to Okracoke with the sole purpose of returning with Blackbeard’s head, preferably detached from the rest of his tall person. Lieutenant Robert Maynard was in charge of the Virginia force, and he located and engaged Blackbeard in an interesting battle whose details are too long to go into here.

Maynard decapitated Blackbeard on November 22, 1718. He placed the head on the front of his ship and set sail for the Virginia capital, which was then located in Williamsburg. He presented it to governor Spotswood who then realized that a severed head really clashed with the colonial décor, and the head was put on display for the common citizen to gawk at.

But a severed head only lasts so long.

The skull of Blackbeard was said to have wound up in a local tavern where revelers would drink from it on special occasions. Health codes were a bit more lax in those days, and pirate skulls were quite the gimmick. They would probably be worth more that those Empire Strikes Back glasses you picked up at Burger King so many years ago, but people rarely hung on to them or kept accurate records of where they came from.

But what about the damn pirate ghosts?

Oh, yes. They say that the headless ghost of Blackbeard is sometimes seen looking for his head all along the Virginia coast, but I didn’t see it. I would’ve remembered something like that.

If you seek further information on the subject, don’t bother watching this.

I didn’t find any ghosts at Jamestown either, but they did have a nice statue of John Smith, who obviously liked to dress like a pirate ghost.

There is quite a bit of construction going on right now as they prepare for Jamestown’s four-hundredth anniversary. The colonists and Indians, however, have long since left. They no doubt grew tired of all the tourists and sought quieter lives somewhere else long ago, and I don’t blame them.

Also, I doubt that a people with a penchant for drinking from pirate skulls would last too long in a place where it was so difficult to find “vegetarian” dishes free from any association with chicken broth.
COMING SOON (probably): The Delmarva Peninsula and Annapolis


Anonymous tha b said...

nice... you have to love a good pirate ghost story... if you're really interested in pirate ghosts, I think that there are 100 or so episodes of Scooby-Doo that contain them... maybe even BlackBeard himself...

yikes and jeepers...

tha b.

9:34 PM  
Blogger melusina said...

That's great, too funny. Even better considering I've been to a lot of those places and can appreciate where you are coming from.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Kat Coble said...

Next time I do the "Cradle of America" tour, I'm doing it with you.

5:12 PM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

I still hope to have my own show on the Travel Channel when I grow up.

9:41 AM  
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