COLLETTE CAPRARA For the Free Lance-Star
Jhis weekend, two historic sites in the region invite families to experience the richness of nature in the fall and participate in hands-on activities to explore the lives and times of those who lived there in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Just an hour’s drive from Fredericksburg, Stratford Hall is a virtual treasure trove of history and offers three miles of nature trails for hiking and casual strolls. A highlight of the 1,800-acre estate is the Big House, which was first home to Thomas Lee and his family in the late 1730s and subsequently to three more generations of the Lee family. The Lees who lived in Stratford Hall included Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, the only two brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence, as well as Revolutionary War hero “Light Horse Harry” Lee and his son, the famous general of the Civil War Robert E. Lee, born in Stratford in 1807.
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In fact, visitors to Stratford will not only be able to explore the lives of the adults and children of the Lee family while there, but they will also learn about the history that preceded them by millions of years. The site features 150-foot cliffs that tower over the shore of the Potomac River, which was at the bottom of the sea 17 million years ago. When rising land replaced the ocean that once covered the site, the right circumstances for the fossilization of marine animal remains were created. This provided evidence that the sea was filled with primitive shark-toothed porpoises, saltwater crocodiles, sea cows, gopher turtles, rays, whales and sharks. Families exploring the beach today often come across shark teeth, a highlight of their visit.
In addition to the opportunity to experience this thought-provoking exploration of history, Director of Education Kelly Childress has worked to provide more family-friendly activities, such as the first Family Fun Day of autumn in Stratford this Saturday. The event will include a range of engaging and hands-on activities for children. Fall-themed games will include Pumpkin Tic Tac Toe, in which players move orange or white pumpkins around a marked “game board” on the ground, as well as a “memory matching game” with foam cards featuring images of leaves, pumpkins, apples, acorns and squirrels.
A guest guide will also introduce Colonial games the Lee children may have played, such as Trundling hoops that were rolled across the lawn with a stick; Graces, in which smaller hoops were thrown by sticks from player to player; and Battledore and Shuttlecocks, an 18th century version of badminton. Take-out crafts will include painting pumpkins and making corncob dolls.
The event will also include the launch of a new audio tour of the Big House for children, ‘Who Lived in Stratford? Junior. Young visitors will experience what life would have been like for children growing up in Stratford. Subjects that are sure to capture their attention are the discussions of intriguing points concerning hygiene and medicinal treatment in the 18th century. They will see a high-backed French copper tub and learn that an immersive bath was a rare luxury and that people more commonly cooled off with a sponge bath using a pitcher and bowl.
Additionally, guests will learn that during the Lee era, doctors were not always available and sick people often relied on home remedies, such as those made by Caesar, a slave chef, who used herbs harvested in the estate’s vegetable gardens. . Treatments also included a technique called “cupping” to draw blood and balance the body’s four humors and restore health, and “witch marks” carved into the nursery floor to ward off evil spirits are evidence of the role that superstition played in keeping his family safe.
One of the fun features of the day will be a candy corn guessing game, in which the visitor whose guess is closest to the number of candies in the jar will receive a generous basket of prizes.
“Fall Family Fun Day is a wonderful opportunity for families to get outside and learn about the history of our site while experiencing the enchanting natural beauty of fall,” said Childress.
“The Night of Washington’s Day”
This Saturday, all are invited to “Night in Washington’s Day” at Historic Kenmore, the estate that was home to George Washington’s sister, Betty, and her husband Fielding Lewis.
Adding to the excitement of this rare opportunity to be in Kenmore after dark, guests will experience three informative and engaging presentations featuring the night sky and constellations, brightness and lighting technology, and a dramatic scene featuring two of the enslaved women who served the Lewis family.
Visitor groups will begin their nighttime activities outside the mansion where they will learn about the crucial role the night sky and constellations played for people in the 18th and 19th centuries. Fielding Lewis was a trader, whose navigation of ships was guided by the stars as they traveled across the ocean to England. As they made the perilous journey to freedom in the North, the slaves sought out Polaris in the constellation Ursa Major to guide their way.
“The presentation will explore the idea that the night sky is itself a historical record, which, although hidden by light pollution in our part of the world, still contains fascinating information about the past,” said Ethan Knick, lead youth and school programs. guide to exploring the night sky. “It will cover cultural stories hidden in 18th century constellations and astronomy. And it will “shed light” on the fact that, culturally, scientifically, and commercially, celestial bodies helped connect colonial Virginia to the world, even on the eve of the Revolution.
The presentation on 18th century lighting and technology will take place in Kenmore’s candlelit dining room. “I encourage guests to reflect on the role lighting plays in their lives today and how that has changed since the days of the Lewis family at Kenmore,” said Director of Education Amy. Durbin, who will lead this part of the evening’s programme.
“The conversation will not only be about lighting, but also about what darkness was like in the 18th century,” said Allison Ellis, director of public programs. “Our nighttime experience now includes ambient light from streetlights and other people’s homes. Being in total darkness is not something we can imagine. At one point in the presentation, all electric lighting is turned off, revealing a glimpse of what the house would be like when lit only by candles and the fireplace. Durbin will also discuss ways in which candlelight could be maximized by candelabra and how a candle flame could be shielded by hurricane glass.
The evening’s final presentation is “Dreams of Freedom,” a dramatization of a conversation in the estate’s kitchen outhouse between two enslaved women: Rachel, the laundress, and Hetty, the cook. The scene features an imaginary discussion between women who once lived in Kenmore, which includes thoughts on how covering up the darkness of night might facilitate an escape as well as deliberations on the risks of fleeing and the pain of leaving. those who have become like a family.
“Night in Washington’s Day” will end with a tasting of teas with cookies at the Crowninshield Building Visitor Center, where visitors can share their experience.