This week's feature!
Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Hoppiness
November 9, 2000
It began as a family edu-vacation to Williamsburg, VA for our three homeschooled sons, and like most educational experiences,
it prompted as many questions as it answered. Oh, I was also pretty sure I'd sample some good beer, given Virginia's reputation
for microbreweries and brewpubs, but that was to be icing on the cake.
Colonial Williamsburg, the result of a friendship between a history-loving preacher and no less a moneyman than John D.
Rockefeller himself, is a must visit for every American. With authentic costumes, restored buildings and a living history
no classroom can duplicate, the place absorbs you and your family and transports you to another time. And it was during those
living history sessions--not over the four-dollar pints of ale in one of the many taverns that line the Duke of Gloucester
Street--that a realization dawned on me.
The guides and the movies would recount in marvelous detail the events that led to the eventual separation of child nation
from parent nation. Almost without exception, there was one place, they said, to which all our founding forefathers would
repair to discuss the critical events of the day and the ways to deal with them.
Certainly there were scenes set in the handsome Capitol Building's legislative rooms, and surely some great things were
said there. But while the formality attendant to such proceedings was favorable for pronouncements or historical sound bites,
it did not encourage the casual give and take of ideas that the tavern did.
The Raleigh Tavern, specifically, is cited in much of the Williamsburg promotional material as the site that attracted
the cognoscenti and the illuminati--the movers and shakers of American independence. Virginians in political positions of
power would frequent the Apollo Room to debate the issues of the day over a pint or twain, and momentous issues they were.
The growing rift between Great Britain and her colony, taxes assessed and repealed, gunpowder confiscated by Royal governors--all
were flagon fodder for the Founding Fathers.
Today, however, The Raleigh serves up tours and historical reenactments but does not serve food or drink. There are other
taverns in the city, of course, that do offer solid and liquid fare, but all of them--The King's Arms, Shield's, Cristiana
Campbell's and Josiah Chowning's are owned by the same corporation and exist to serve the visiting public. Each offered a
cozy common room and a glimpse into what it might have been like to pause and ponder politics with a pint.
In Jamestown, too,--the site of the first English settlement in the colonies in 1607, the tavern is considered the second
most important structure in town--behind only the Church. The colonial tavern was very often the hub of colonial information--the
Internet of the day, if you will. It was, in many ways, not only the progenitor of the office water cooler, but it was most
certainly the furnace in which American independence was forged. Over beers, ales and spirits, news was disseminated and the
revolutionary spirit was defined, debated and adopted.
It is no stretch, therefore, to say that American Independence was born and bred in brew; or that brewing played a major
role in the brewing revolution.
Oddly, the brewer's art is the only one that is not featured in any of the many observable 18th century demonstrations
or exhibits in Williamsburg. Considering the importance of beer to the colonial diet (children drank it for breakfast), it
would seem a glaring omission. That might be a worthwhile item for the promoters of the place to incorporate into their presentations.
My guess is that it would be one of the most popular exhibits with an incredible potential for promotional marketing, sales--and
samples (properly supervised, of course).
That most remarkable of Founding Fathers, George Washington, delivered the farewell address to his troops in Fraunces
Tavern in NYC. Fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson also frequented the taverns of Colonial America, for that was where news
was exchanged, opinions offered and debate conducted. Patrick Henry, the Virginia firebrand famous for his "Give me Liberty
or give me death" diatribe, was also a regular visitor to the Raleigh and surely other not-so- famous colonial watering
Indeed, the ultrasound of a gestating America could be read in her pubs, and perhaps the same is true of America's pulse
today. George Bush and Al Gore would do well to drop in for a pint and hear how they're perceived. Our modern politicians
however, do not frequent such places, opting instead for rubber chicken dinners where there is plenty of opportunity for sound
bites, but no casual and real exchange of information and ideas.
Perhaps they could take a lesson from our forebears?
I'll drink to that, and I'm betting our forebears would as well.
Copyright Kurt E. Epps 2000 All rights reserved
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