Sara in Colonial Virginia

A first-year student majoring in English and public relations, Sara is a Dedman Scholar and member of the University Honors Program. During spring 2014, she is enrolled in the Honors history class “The Founding Fathers and Slavery.” The class traveled to Virginia during spring break, with visits to Alexandria, Colonial Williamsburg, Washington, Charlottesville and the plantations of George Washington (Mount Vernon), Thomas Jefferson (Monticello), and James Madison (Montpelier).

Many of the photos on this blog were taken by Lucy, a first-year Dedman Scholar and member of the University Honors Program who is majoring in biology.

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Walking tour of Alexandria

The next morning was extremely hectic, and it took some time for everyone to get breakfast and meet in the lobby for our walking tour of Alexandria. When all eleven of the students were sitting in the lobby, Ms. Spaniolo and Dr. Doyle explained that we would be walking to a house just down the street. There, we would meet a tour guide, go on a walking tour, and experience Alexandria for the first time.

They took us down the street to a colonial house labeled “The Visitor’s Center” to meet our tour guide for the morning. It was absolutely charming — and our tour guide was certainly a unique individual! She was a boisterous woman with an impressive wealth of knowledge, especially regarding Virginia. She was originally from Texas, but she had lived in Virginia for twenty-eight years. Her stories about the area were fascinating! I found myself caught between being captivated and trying to find the frame of mind to take pictures. Somehow, I managed to do both, as well as record our “hotspots.”

Our walking tour of Alexandria

Our walking tour of Alexandria

The Farmer’s Market: There was a farmer’s market right outside our hotel. Some of us had gone there for breakfast that morning, but we didn’t think anything of it. Turns out, the market has been around since Alexandria was founded! I enjoyed learning about this, since by going there in the morning, I had been a part of history without even knowing it!

At the replica of George Washington's Alexandria townhouse

At the replica of George Washington’s Alexandria townhouse

Replica of George Washington’s townhouse: As we walked through the middle of town, we passed a little white house that had the same colonial design as the rest of its neighbors. But our guide pointed out that this one was special — its plaque declared that it was a replica of George Washington’s original home in Alexandria. Because it was privately owned, the house was closed to the public, but we did get to see in the window. Apparently, the owners keep a statue of George Washington in their front window and dress him according to the season. Today, he was all dressed up in his Mardi Gras finery!

Inside Christ Church

Inside Christ Church

Christ Church: The final destination was the church at which Washington worshipped. Our tour guide was also a member of the church, so she had a different perspective on everything.

  • The church was a Union worship center during the Civil War. It was the only church that wasn’t damaged or transformed into a hospital.
  • The tombstones in the churchyard were moved during the Civil War to make room for soldiers’ training. But, when the war was over, no one remembered where the tombstones went. As a result, they placed them back at random — not even at the edges of graves! Only one stayed in place, a large obelisk that was too heavy to move.
In Washington's pew at Christ Church

In Washington’s pew at Christ Church

As the guide finished her story, she and our professors shooed us off so they could “do business.” We respectfully wandered out into the graveyard and examined the graves, attempting to decipher the names. (I, for one, was trying not to think about the many unmarked graves I trod upon!) As a group, my classmates and I rounded a corner to a small patio, where the guys discovered several tempting, untouched piles of snow.

Mature college students that we are, we couldn’t leave the snow alone — that would have been akin to treason! The only natural response was an impromptu snowball fight, of course! We must have been some of the only students from SMU to have a snowball fight on our spring break. Dr. Doyle and Ms. Spaniolo arrived soon after our fight, shaking their heads at us as we brushed off the snowflakes. It was time for lunch!!

After lunch, Ms. Spaniolo and Dr. Doyle led everyone to a little museum of great importance: Alexandria’s Black History Museum. I was kind of surprised by how small and almost incomplete it seemed, but the ladies who worked there filled the room with their enthusiastic renditions of history. The museum was composed of two small rooms, connected by a tiny gift shop and welcome center.

One side specifically focused on a sit-in that led to the creation of the museum, and the second exhibit was a step-by-step explanation of the evolution of slavery in the colonies. The first plaques described the trip from Africa, and they were followed by a series of pictures, figures, and informative explanations regarding life as a slave. This was the exhibit we chose to look at, and the thirteen of us walked quietly around the room, flipping through explanations and taking pictures of those we found particularly striking. When we finished, we gathered into one corner of the room for a final debriefing before we were released until dinner.

Alexandria townhouses

Alexandria townhouses

What to do? I nearly pulled out my phone to Google something, but even as I reached for my backpack, two of the students, A.J. and Lucy, suggested going to the wharf. Several of us wanted to go, so we gathered our belongings and started towards the water. After a quick pit stop by the hotel, we wandered down King Street, the main road of colonial Alexandria, looking at various tourist stores and street musicians. Finally, we saw the river, its beautiful blue water gleaming in the sunlight. There were so many things to do there! We saw a man playing Mozart on cups full of water, a street artist, and a magician. We also managed to make our way to the docks, where we took some beautiful pictures.

When we had seen all we could at the marina, the group trooped back to King Street, where we found a tiny ice cream shop. We all bought our favorite flavors and searched for a bench overlooking the water. What followed was a blur of laughter, conversations, and lots of pictures before we had to go back to the hotel to clean up for dinner.

That evening, we enjoyed a lovely class dinner at an Irish restaurant, where we compared stories with our classmates and professors. Eventually, it was time to get ready to sleep — we had to be packed and ready to go by seven the next morning to leave for Mount Vernon!

At the Wharf

At the Wharf

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