Before the first shots of what would become the war for American Independence were fired in April 1774, colonists were gaining their own identity.
Wednesday afternoon, Ida Freeman Elementary students heard these words from the mouth of Thomas Jefferson portrayed by historical interpreter Bill Barker of Colonial Williamsburg.
Jefferson said colonists with many different customs and habits, came to America from many different countries where they encountered a social melting pot.
“We began to understand even before our American Revolution began, that we are becoming different people with different habits and customs,” Jefferson said. “I wrote a very important document ... that helped the rest of the world understand who we are becoming — who we are — and to help the rest of the world understand that they can adopt new habits, new customs and new manners, that even if someone may disagree with what is not customary to them, that they are still free to practice old habits and customs while adopting new ones.”
The third president of the United States asked the students if they knew what it was. The Declaration of Independence, a student replied.
“And I say the Declaration of American Independence, very simply, that we the American people are declaring ourselves now to be new and free of all former governments, particular the British monarchy 3,000 miles away,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson said it was important for Americans to remember how they were governed by members of one royal family. Only blood relatives ascended to the throne.
Englishmen in the royal colonies had to pay a tax to the Church of England and worship in that church at least one Sunday a month, Jefferson said. If they did not, they broke the law and were fined.
“And if we did not have the money to pay our fine we were thrown into jail,” he said. “I remember before the American Revolution began our jails were beginning to be filled with Baptists. Oh yes, they preached a freedom for religion the Church of England did not want to hear.”
In 1786, Jefferson wrote a bill establishing religious freedom. He attacked Federalist policies, opposed centralized government and championed the rights of states.
During his introductory remarks, Ida Freeman Principal Keith Pautler said the students were going to experience living history. Later in the program, Jefferson answered questions from the students.
Earlier in the day, Barker visited Oklahoma Christian School. He has portrayed Thomas Jefferson in a variety of venues since his first appearance at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1984. He first came to Williamsburg in the spring of 1993 to perform as Jefferson in a film made to honor Ambassador and Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg.
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