Throughout this journey, I’ve learned about the fight for freedom through different lenses in history. We started with the English colonies fighting for their independence, to the Native-Americans fighting for their lands, to African-Americans fighting for a better life. In each place we visited – Williamsburg, Washington D.C., and Annapolis; I have heard unbelievable stories of individuals and societies fighting to achieve the ultimate goal: freedom. The tours that I got to participate whether in museums or on plantations really helped me get a better understanding of slavery and the idea of freedom as not being directly inherited back then.
This learning experience started in colonial Williamsburg where I learned about the culture and lifestyle of the colonies. We had an assignment where we had to find about the slavery, food pathways, and music that occurred during this time. To do this we had to explore the shops, taverns, and interview people who were dressed up reenacting the colonial period. During our expedition we got to see important events being played out in the streets such as the “Storming of the Palace” and the “Declaration of Independence” celebration. The Storming of the Palace is an event where the Virginia colonies demand the stolen gunpowder that was taken by British sailors to be returned to them. They all gathered in front of the Governor’s Palace to address this issue and to defend for their rights. This and the news that about the Declaration of Independence represents the struggle that the colonies had to break free from the British hands and become their own independent state.
The next day we headed to two different colonial plantations, the James River and the Shirley. Both were very different in terms of size but showed the same kind of lifestyle. The first plantation was a true eye-opener for me to learn about the living conditions of the slaves. We met a man who was making baskets and he really understood the hardships that the slaves had to endure. He mentioned that a slave would work 14 to 16 hours each day of every week and that the children would begin working at 4 or 5 years of age. He continued saying that the masters didn’t often care much about their slaves as long as they did the work in the fields. They needed to provide enough food and shelter for them so they don’t all die but other than that – slaves are considered property. What really struck me was that he said you often do not hear about the real stories from slaves but about the colonies and masters. It’s vitally important to hear both sides of history because there is always two sides to a coin.
Later that day we went to the Shirley Plantation which is the oldest family-owned business, currently the 11 generation is operating it. It started in 1637 using the James River as a central location for transporting goods and people. This spectacular place has a wealth of history, some are just unbelievable, but not much was said about the slaves. Our fantastic tour guide did mention about one family member having owner over 1,000 slaves at one point due to his status and thus owning a few plantations. The slaves did work which helped to support the Shirley plantation and the family. It’s incredible though to think about how many slaves worked on a plantation such as this one, I can’t be sure what their life was like but the hard work of having to keep this kind of plantation would have been difficult.
We shifted to Native Indians next ad visited the Pamunkey Reservation with its fish hatchery and the National Museum of the American Indian. On the reservation I learned that because the tribe had sighed a different treaty instead of the American treaty, they are not fully recognize by then federal government. So it’s been a long and constant battle to keep what’s left of their land. There have been several threats and attempts to acquire the land but so far it hasn’t occurred. I also learned that most people now a days aren’t aware that there a still American Indian tribes around as well as reservations. Slowly it seems that their history and culture is disappearing from our history books and that should’t be. They are just as important as anything else. This battle to keep their culture and land is a different form of freedom I believe because they don’t want to lose what they have.
Lastly today I visited the “Freedom Bound Exhibit” at the Historic Annapolis Foundation and the African American History Tour. In these exhibits, I learned more about African American slaves but these were specially stories of individuals who tried running away. Many unfortunately were caught but it was powerful to see that some tried running away more than once because they were so desperate to leave the life that they were living. What made it possible for most runaway slaves to be returned to their masters was a famous newspaper which often had advertisements about such issues. When slave runs away, the master will often write up a well-descriptive ad with a reward for whoever finds him/her. It usually includes the physical appearances of the runaway, clothes that is worn, and place they may escape to. Anyone who was found assisting runaway slaves could also be punished severely, it was a big risk for free African Americans to help a slave because they could loose their freedom. I also learned about the differences between indentured slaves and criminal slaves, they all have different service periods but a African slave meant life. It’s completely understandable why so many African Americans tried to fight for their freedom from the horrible abuse.
After learning so much about the different way of fighting for freedom, I have much respect for my freedom that I assume for the moment I could think on my own. It’s incredible to think that others had to fight tooth and nail for theirs even to this day with the Native Americans. Learning about the struggles to have our rights and to not be oppressed is so important and to do so we have to tell the stories that are not heard often. Hearing about the stories of runaway slaves and the immoral ways of which they were treated was brought to light through the museums and tours that I participated I so far on this incredible journey.