The Enlightened Setting

George Wythe House

By Karen Wills
One of my writing goals for 2016 is to create stronger settings. This is partly the result of a trip I took to Virginia in early December. I joined family to visit Monticello, Colonial Williamsburg, and the reconstructed Jamestown Settlement of 1607. All three proved fascinating.

In Colonial Williamsburg costumed guides showed us through eighteenth century working shops, historic homes and government buildings, as well as landscapes. A history buff, I’ve concentrated on the American West, but fell in love with the vital, courageous people and settings of the American Revolution. The symmetrical classic lines of their architecture and practical gardens (If you owned an acre, you had to have an orchard.) belied the tumultuous, risky  times in which they lived, creating an appealing (at least to a writer) dramatic tension.

This is evident in Wythe House. Although George Wythe signed the Declaration of Independence, and has been called the Father of American Jurisprudence, he and his wife did something else. They turned their home over to General George Washington and his military staff for their headquarters on the eve of the tide-turning Siege of Yorktown.

The house is as it was during his stay, a military coat draped across a chair in his room, perhaps worn more casually than the responsibility our future president shouldered. A low, narrow bed across from his four poster must be where a personal attendant slept. If I were that man, I think I would have slept only lightly. But the room has purple and white striped wallpaper and seems to be a bright, optimistic place for a man of both thought and action to have prepared for a pivotal moment in his and our fledgling nation’s life.

The dining room includes the messy remains of a dinner, including scattered cracked nuts. The room where he met with his officers to study maps and plan strategy is orderly. Relaxing at dinner must have been a luxury.

I paused on the wooden stairs, thrilled to be where one of the men I most admire climbed wearily up at the end of hard days. The great man must have drawn a long breath or two before he finally departed to change the setting of Colonial America forever. The setting of Wythe House made him seem so very real and so very human.




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