Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Vacation In The South

Port of Jamestown, VA
This year we decided to stay in the US for our vacation. When a friend wanted to see Memphis, especially Graceland for her 60th Birthday, we agreed to go with them...having a daughter there helped with that decision! Also, finally getting a week for our timeshare in Williamsburg, VA really helped as well. So starting with Memphis, then Nashville, Williamsburg, VA, then Richmond, Washington, DC ending up in Northern New Jersey we had quite a trip. 27 days to be exact.

After a two day trip getting to Memphis, thanks to American Airlines, we got into the swing of things. We stayed on Beal Street and had a rental car. Our friends went to Graceland, we went to hang with our daughter. We saw the completely refurnished Civil Rights Museum, went to B.B. Kings place, took the Sun Record tour and of course ate at our favorite hole in the walls. Trust me, if you have never eaten fried chicken at Gus's, you ain't had fried chicken. Its to die for.

Next stop was Nashville and we barely made it there in time to see the Grand Ole Opry. We stayed at the Grand Ole Opry resort and had a great time with many legends of Country Music. I didn't really know the names but was familiar with many of the songs. New to this it was still quite a treat. We took a tour the next day and saw the sights including the Parthenon, The Country Music Hall of Fame and the city in general. The weather was warm and humid...but wait there was more and stickier to come.

Our one big mistake was planning on getting from Nashville to Williamsburg. As we learned its not 11 hours, it more like 13 ½ hours counting food, gas and potty stops. We left around 7 am and rolled in around 8:30 pm. The country is beautiful and green...Californians notice such things coming from the land of drought. Our iPhone amazingly got us there on the first try. We weren't always so lucky.

We had a lovely two bedroom unit, big enough to live in in fact, for just the two of us. Williamsburg was a few miles away and we went there just about every day.

While I went to college in Oklahoma, I have never spent much time in the south. This was the longest time I have ever been there and my first time ever in Virginia. Having just read a book about Jefferson, Jon Meacham's book THOMAS JEFFERSON, I felt I was all set in dealing with early American colonial history. What I found was a very different telling of the facts I had learned in school and perpetuated as an adult.

We forget that the very first settlement by Europeans in North America was in Roanoke, VA. When the supply ship returned many months later the settlement and the settlers were gone. It is a mystery that baffles historians today. The next attempt was in 1607 in what became Jamestown, a good 13 years before the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock. Mostly just men and boys, these were trades people looking first for gold and then product to send back to raw material starved England. Jamestown struggled for years and in one winter, 1609-1610, the settlement went from 500 to 60. However, more settlers arrived, farming began in earnest and the colony survived. They have done a wonderful job of recreating Jamestown and you can see archeologists working the site. An old Episcopal church still functions, they have recreated the fort and three old fashioned ship replicas dot the harbor. After viewing life in the 1600's, and the beastly weather at times, I don't think many people would want to go back in time and live there.

What I felt was missing in my eduction was that rice, wheat, barley, and tobacco became the staples of Virginian exports to England. Tobacco quickly became its biggest crop after a less harsh type was brought in from the West Indies. Because all agriculture was labor intensive, and became more so after the cotton gin was invented, their solution was slavery. As demand for product grew, the demand for labor grew and then with cotton, exploded.

Much of this tale is ignored in history books. While it is true that slavery lessened and was finally abolished in the north, it grew in the south. The north became more and more industrialized and like the south needed more and more labor as the south remained stubbornly agarian. Both had tremendous needs for labor and handled that need in very different ways. Europe literally had "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" and governments happy to get rid of them. Africa had a tradition of slavery where the original traders had no idea what awaited their sales when they got to the new world. In fact, most couldn't even speak to each other! Until the 21st century the migrations to the new world were the greatest the earth had ever seen! At the start of the Civil War, the US exported 1 billion pounds of cotton, 50% of all exports the past year. Many attribute the English Industrial Revolution to American cotton and England suffered much as the South did during the war years.

The Civil Rights Museum in Memphis was remodeled and if anything is even better than before. However, you read the words of Jefferson, his "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" and pause. This from a man with over 600 slaves at the time of his death, with a slave mistress that went against everything he wrote. In museums, recreations of towns, reading and seeing first hand what life was like for both whites and blacks is a sobering affair, one that I am glad I didn't miss. If anything I am more curious about events from the southern perspective for after all, four of our first five presidents were southerners, Virginians in fact.

Thanks for reading. Be sure to visit for some new items that will reflect our trip.

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