The Queen, the Mother-in-Law, and the Caretaker
February 24, 2011
An indentured servant, a Union soldier, and a man who met the Queen all told tales on Jamestown Island on Feb. 19, 2011, for Black History Month.
National Park Service Ranger Jerome Bridges did the living history program that gave visitors a peek into three different centuries.
His portrayals included Anthony Johnson, an African who served as an indentured servant in the English colony in the early 1600s before gaining his freedom, and Private Harrison Woodson, a Union soldier stationed on Jamestown Island during the Civil War.
The last portrayal of the day was of Jamestown caretaker Sam Robinson, who worked for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. He gave tours of the island from 1934 until his death in 1965. Robinson spoke to the modern visitors as if it was 1958, just four months after British Queen Elizabeth II came to the island for the 350th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in North America.
After the Queen attended a religious service inside the 1907 church, she exited its side door to stand by the cemetery, where Robinson told her the story of "The Mother-in-Law Tree."
That legend is about the Rev. James Blair, who founded the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. In 1687 he married the much-younger Sarah Harrison, whose parents opposed the union. Sarah died in 1713 and was buried with her parents in the Jamestown cemetery. Upon Blair's death in 1743, he was buried near them, but a sycamore tree then grew between his grave and the Harrisonsí burials.
"Those roots grew up and pushed Miss Sarah's grave some seven feet away from his and towards her familyís plot!" Robinson told the visitors.
Robinson then proudly read a letter he received later from the Queen's secretary, thanking him for the tale. Robinson's long career meant he met other famous visitors to the island, such as film director Cecil B. DeMille and presidents Roosevelt and Eisenhower.
"Ike said he liked this better than Williamsburg. He felt there was too much rebuilding going on up there in Williamsburg," Robinson said.
Robinson also entertained the 2011 audience with references to the high cost of living in 1958, when the APVA paid him $50 a month to give the tours and his home cost $12,000.
Bridges has portrayed these three African-Americans before for the NPS. He lives in Williamsburg and went to work for the NPS after a long career with the City of Newport News parks department.
His audience for this Saturday included Beverly and Anthony Holmes of Washington, DC. They had never been to Jamestown and were happy to find the living history program.
"It was awesome. I didnít realize the Queen had visited this area," Beverly said. "I didnít expect something this rich. This is really rich!"
Historic Jamestowne is jointly administered by Preservation Virginia and the National Park Service and preserves the original site of the first permanent English settlement in the New World. Preservation Virginia and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation formed a new collaboration in the fall of 2010 to connecting their histories through compelling stories of discovery, diversity and democracy.