I experienced a once in a lifetime opportunity this weekend. I met President Thomas Jefferson! Woo-hoo!!! Well, I should add I actually met famed historical scholar Bill Barker, who portrays Jefferson, 1800-1808, and is associated with Colonial Williamsburg. What a thrill!
The event I attended was West Point’s 250th Founders Day celebration. (Happy Birthday, West Point! Go Army! Beat Navy!) Mr. Barker, dressed in period costume, never once stepped out of character throughout the night. And you can imagine my glee when I discovered Barker was in attendance. His clothing, his mannerisms, everything about his speech and sentence structure, reminded me of characters in the series I’ve written, 1801-1810 England.
I particularly love this: “Meeting Barker is as close as you can get to meeting Thomas Jefferson. His resemblance to Jefferson is uncanny, and his knowledge of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution is second to none.”
As our guest speaker, President Jefferson detailed the political climate of 1802 when West Point got its start, at his behest. During his speech, he spoke highly of Alexander Hamilton using an old colorful Virginia dialect.
While history credits Jefferson with being a “poor public speaker”, I did not find that to be the case with Barker. He successfully transported the audience back in time. And I learned quite a bit in the process, in particular that Jefferson won the presidency after Hamilton cast the deciding vote that broke a thirty-three cycled tie between Jefferson and Senator Aaron Burr. (Things did not end as well for Hamilton however. He was shot and killed during a duel with Burr in 1804.)
Barker began his speech by exhibiting his personal and portable lap desk. He also described an encounter with a second grader he’d seen the previous day. The child had mischievously asked the president if his lap desk was his “lap top”. <g>
You can make your own Thomas Jefferson lap desk here.
Several enlightening moments of the night: Jefferson rejoiced in how fast he’d traveled “5 miles a day, taking only three weeks to get to Huntsville, Alabama, from Monticello”. He ended his speech by joking, “If I leave now, I’ll make it back to Monticello by May”.
It isn’t often a historical author gets transported back in time outside of his/her writing cave. But what a joy it is when it happens! I had a FABulous time meeting President Thomas Jefferson on Saturday night and it’ll be an experience I’ll never forget.
Bill Barker as Thomas Jefferson
For a video of Mr. Barker in action, click here.
Have you ever met a historical figure?