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Give Me History or Give Me Death!

We get plenty of Patrick Henry thundering around the historic streets of Williamsburg, where I live. But he also made a lot of noise in Richmond during the Revolutionary Era, so yesterday I spent a lovely Sunday afternoon at Historic St. John’s Church in Richmond for the weekly reenactment of Henry’s “Give Me Liberty” speech.

It was sunny and warm — nothing like the wintery March day in 1775 when Henry and other people you know (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, etc) gathered at the church to talk about what to do in the face of Britain’s troop surge to control Boston. St. John’s Church was the biggest, most comfortable building in what was then a village of about 600 people, and it was a good distance away from the cranky royal governor still perched in the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg. More than 100 Virginia colonial leaders heard Henry ask that the colonists form a militia to prepare for war. When conservative leaders spoke against his motion and urged patience, Henry stood to give the rousing speech that ended with his dramatic cry.

The reenactment was rousing, too. The actors in costume sat among the people in the modern crowd and rose to speak as if we were all in that 1775 convention. At the end, we all got a vote. Back then, Henry’s resolutions passed by only five votes. But the next few weeks after that vote proved he was right — shots fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts began open warfare, and a few days later Virginia’s royal governor took away the colony’s gunpowder in the middle of the night to prevent open rebellion in Virginia. It’s rare for a politician to be proven so right, so soon 😉

It was wonderful to be in the same space where Henry himself spoke. St. John’s Church was completed in 1741 — the first church built in the city of Richmond. William Byrd II, founder of the city of Richmond, donated the land and timber to build the church. The graveyard is the site of the first public cemetery in Richmond; buried there are George Wythe, signer of the Declaration of Independence and teacher of law to Thomas Jefferson, Chief Justice John Marshall, and Henry Clay; John Page and James Wood, Governors of Virginia; Elizabeth Arnold Poe, mother of Edgar Allan Poe; and Dr. James McClurg, a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

If you’re in Richmond on a Sunday afternoon this summer, go to church!

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This entry was posted on Monday, June 25th, 2012 at 5:39 pm and is filed under Colonial Williamsburg, Historical Travel, History Teacher. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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