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Williamsburg

150 miles S of Washington, D.C.; 50 miles E of Richmond

"I know of no way of judging the future," said Patrick Henry, "but by the past." That particular quotation couldn't be more fitting as an introduction to Williamsburg, since Henry played an important role here when, as a 29-year-old backcountry lawyer, he spoke out against the Stamp Act in the House of Burgesses in 1765. Many considered him an upstart and called the speech traitorous; others were inspired to revolution.

If he was right, you'll never have a better opportunity to examine the past than in Colonial Williamsburg, as the town's restored Historic Area is known. Unlike most other historic attractions in Virginia, Williamsburg has not just been meticulously re-created to look exactly as it did in the 1770s, when the town served as Virginia's capital. Today, Williamsburg's central Historic Area is, for all practical purposes, one of the world's largest and best living-history museums.

Here the British flag flies most of the year over the Capitol building. Women wear long dresses and ruffled caps, and men don powdered wigs. Taverns serve colonial fare, blacksmiths and harness-makers use 18th-century methods, and the local militia drills on Market Square. Clip-clopping horses draw carriages just as their ancestors did when George Washington rode these streets. Your impromptu banter with "Thomas Jefferson" in the Kings Arms Tavern will seem so authentic you won't even notice it's Bill Barter, an actor who has been bringing Jefferson to life since 1976.

With the exception of watching a musket being fired and themselves being locked up in the town's stocks, your youngsters could become a bit bored with all the talk about history and start badgering you to get on to Busch Gardens. But it's worth the effort, for both you and they will come away with an understanding and appreciation of life in 18th-century Virginia, before there were running water and video games.

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