2010-11 Travel Expedition
This year’s Wyatt Exploration Program, “The Old South: An American Story,” will focus on the history of the American South before the Civil War and culminate in a trip to Virginia. Rich in history, language, cuisine, music, and folklore, the South is one of the most distinctive regions in America. For better or for worse, southern men and women shaped the destiny of the American nation. The rich and multi-faceted history of the American South is the story of both America’s greatest successes and it darkest tragedies. In short, the American South represents both the best and worst of America’s History.
It was in the American South that the English established their first permanent colonial settlement in North America in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Men and women from England, Virginia, and the Caribbean soon afterward established and settled the colonies of Maryland, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. By the mid 18th century, America’s southern colonies had become very prosperous, and the successful establishment of plantation agriculture led to a lucrative trade and the large-scale production of staple crops such as tobacco, rice, and indigo. American colonists participated in a dynamic Atlantic trade that dramatically changed their standard of living, selling staple crops and buying clothing, furniture, sugar, tea, and slaves. Within these new plantation societies, a powerful generation of men accumulated large tracts of land, built political reputations, and constructed beautiful homes filled with lavish furniture. Southern plantation owners achieved such great financial success, however, by using the forced labor of African slaves. Approximately 250,000 people of African descent lived and worked in the American South on the eve of the American Revolution.
Southerners played a crucial role in the movement for American independence and in the Revolutionary War. Key battles in South Carolina and Virginia ultimately ended in the surrender of British General Cornwallis to American troops in Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. Southerners also dominated the politics of the early republic. Well-known southerners Thomas Jefferson and James Madison drafted sacred American texts, like the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Moreover, 9 of the first 12 U.S. presidents were born and raised in the South.
A boom in cotton cultivation in the early 1800s drove southerners westward. Cotton became “king” of the South, and southerners like Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun shaped national politics in the antebellum era. As southerners flooded into Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi to establish cotton plantations, they became increasingly reliant on slave labor. Debates over the expansion of slavery into the West pitted northerners against southerners and eventually led 11 southern states to leave the Union. Slavery proved to be the Gordian knot of southern society, cut only by the sword of civil war and the death of over 600,000 Americans.
Historic Jamestowne is the site of the first permanent English settlement in North America. The site tells the story of three cultures, European, Native American, and African, that came together to lay the foundation for British North American government, language, enterprise, and society. Students will tour the site’s fascinating archaearium which houses a sampling of the colonists’ original belongings. They will also have the chance to view seventeenth-century skeletons in order to learn about the colonists’ health, diet, and daily lives.
Adjacent to the historic College of William & Mary, this 300-acre living history park gives visitors an opportunity to experience life in colonial and revolutionary Virginia. The site includes many living history tours, costumed interpreters, and museums. Students will have the opportunity to participate in Interactive events, dine in “eighteenth-century” taverns and attend candlelit evening events.
On October 19, 1781 in Yorktown, Virginia, British army General Lord Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington’s combined American and French army, effectively ending the American Revolution. Students will tour the battlefield, Victory Center museum, and the surrounding historic town of Yorktown.
Located between Williamsburg and Richmond on scenic Route 5 and along the James River, Berkeley was an important tobacco plantation in eighteenth-century Virginia. It was also the birthplace of President William Henry Harrison. Students will tour the house and the grounds of one of Virginia’s most powerful original families and hundreds of slaves.
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, Monticello was the home of Thomas Jefferson. In addition to authoring the Declaration of Independence and serving as the United States’ third president, Jefferson was also a skilled architect and horticulturist. He designed Monticello and its gardens himself. Students will tour the house, plantation grounds, and gardens and learn about Jefferson and the slave families that lived at Monticello.
Historic Shockoe Slip, Richmond
The pre-Civil War commercial center of Richmond, Shockoe Slip is located in the heart of downtown Richmond near many of the City’s attractions such as the James and Kanawha canal, Tredegar Iron Works, and old tobacco warehouses.
American Civil War Center, Richmond
The Center is located on the site of Richmond’s Old Tredegar Iron Works. Tredegar was an important fixture of antebellum life in Richmond and a key cannon-making site during the Civil War. The Center’s award-winning permanent exhibit, The Cause of Liberty, explores the history of the Civil War-its causes, its course, and its legacies from the Union, Confederate, and African American perspectives.