Under My Own Vine and Fig Tree, 1798
To some the term "Old Virginia" conjures up images of the region's proud past and traditions, of its great men, and of its contributions to the cause of freedom. To others it evokes an apparently civilized way of life built upon a foundation of racial oppression and cruelty. This exhibition examines the origins of these conflicting conceptions of the heritage of the Old Dominion, and in the process attempts to uncover new ways to understand Virginia's past.
Although there have been a number of studies that have taken for granted the existence of an entity known as Old Virginia, until now there has not been an examination of the emergence and evolution of the term itself. This exhibition delves beneath the competing mythologies of Old Virginia as either a bucolic world of benevolent planters and contented slaves or an infernal region of bondage and suffering to examine the attempts by the Virginia gentry to create and then defend the concept of a pastoral sphere in which the pursuit of virtue and honor was ones greatest ambition. This theme of rural bliss originated in the colonial era, then endured as "Old Virginia" became a weapon for those who wished to maintain the social status quo before and immediately after the Civil War, was reimagined by the creators of Colonial Williamsburg, and survives today through the efforts of a modern gentry that is resident in the Virginia countryside.
This web site features only a fraction of the objects on display in the physical exhibition (February 8, 2003–June 8, 2003) and pictured in the catalog.