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March 6, 2009

A secret letter, a governor's words and many other records reveal the struggles of African Americans in Colonial and Revolutionary times

Join in an engaging walk through Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area on the In Their Own Words: African Americans in the Revolutionary Era special focus tour. Learn about the struggle of free and enslaved African Americans to gain liberty and equality before and during the American Revolution.

“The tour illustrates how the African American fight for equality was influenced by the Revolutionary movement,” said Patricia Brooks, Colonial Williamsburg’s manager of African American initiatives. “It offers a great opportunity for guests to identify with the struggles of our 18th-century forebears and recognize the contributions they made to the long tradition of using the founding principles to support the argument for racial equality.”

During this interactive walking tour differing perspectives on African Americans in the colonial era are highlighted through examining a variety of 18th-century documents. A letter written in secret by a slave in 1723 provides insight into the challenges and inequalities African Americans confronted in their daily lives and a letter from Gov. William Gooch, who served from 1727-49, illustrates the hostility and suspicion of the government toward the free African American community. Through these and other documents authored by 18th-century Americans, hear in their own words, how African Americans were viewed in their society. Learn how African Americans challenged the laws, religious institutions and social customs that denied them equality in British North America and during the Revolution.

Guests will see Williamsburg through the eyes of the Ashbys, a free African American family, and discover the role that the law, education and community played in their daily lives. Visitors are invited to engage in discussion about the paths to liberty that opened to African Americans during the Revolution, step into their shoes to make the difficult choices, and confront the consequences they faced in their pursuit of equality.

The program provides a wonderful opportunity for the family to explore Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area through a distinctive perspective and serves as a one-of-a-kind introduction to African American history in colonial Virginia.

This tour is part of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Colonial Williamsburg’s African American programs that take place throughout 2009.

“In Their Own Words” is offered at 10 a.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from March 23 through June 13 and at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. April 4 and 5, weather permitting. The tour begins at the Greenhow Ticket Office and reservations may be placed by calling 1-800-HISTORY. A Colonial Williamsburg admissions ticket is required to enjoy this program.

The generous support of Mr. and Mrs. Richard D. Parsons, Douglas N. Morton and Marilyn L. Brown, the Norfolk Southern Corporation and the Charles E. Culpeper Endowments in Arts and Culture of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, AT&T, Philip Morris and IBM has helped make Colonial Williamsburg’s African American History programs possible.

Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture – stories of our journey to become Americans – while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution guests interact with history through “Revolutionary City®” – a dramatic live street theater presentation.

Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

Media Contact:
Penna Rogers
(757) 220-7121