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Tis the Season to Visit the Virginia Historical Society

Nicole Morton

Nicole Morton in the Story of Virginia exhibition at the Virginia Historical Society

The following blog was written by VHS intern Nicole Morton.  Nicole, a senior history major at Randolph-Macon College, has been helping the curatorial team prepare for updates to the Story of Virginia exhibition.

Being an intern at the Virginia Historical Society over the past three months has taught me so much about what really goes on behind the scenes. The time and effort that everyone puts into making exhibitions, photo shoots, and little odd jobs run smoothly is astounding. This is why I personally suggest that everyone drop by the VHS this holiday season, whether it be for your first visit or your tenth. Come take a stroll through one of the historical societies’ greatest exhibitions, which I have personally gotten to work with, the Story of Virginia.

The Story of Virginia is an exhibition with many great artifacts, images, and documents that help tell the rich history of Virginia. This holiday season, I suggest you take a few hours out of your busy schedule and come explore what has made and continues to make Virginia, Virginia.

Because of my internship, I have come to love and appreciate the following five specific objects in the Story of Virginia:

1. The first is a fragment of a gold wedding band, c. 1650–75. The inscription on the ring reads, “Time Shall Tell I Love Thee Well.” This piece is extremely small and so delicate looking that it is easy to pass right by in the exhibition. The inscription is interesting to me because it could imply so many things about the relationship between the couple to which this once belonged. My first instinct was to assume that whoever gave it to the woman must have really loved her. After thinking about it, however, it does say “time shall tell,” meaning that maybe it was an arranged marriage. No matter the case, this piece is definitely worth seeing in the “Becoming Virginians” section of the Story of Virginia.

Ring fragment

Gold ring fragment engraved with “Time Shall Tell I Love Thee Well.” (Virginia Department of Historic Resources)

2. The second object is fairly similar to the first one I mentioned, but it is currently my favorite piece in the society’s collection. It is the engagement ring of Sarah Waters. This stunning ring was given to her on May 12, 1768. It is even more remarkable to me because it was made in Paris of Georgian gold, silver, and rose cut diamonds. The fact that the ring is still in great condition more than 200 years after it was made is truly amazing. It is particularly significant to me because it is similar in shape to my nana’s wedding ring, which makes it a very special piece dear to my heart. This shiny piece of history is also located in the “Becoming Virginians” section of the Story of Virginia.  You can watch a VHS Productions video about colonial courtship that features this ring.


Engagement ring made in Paris of Georgian gold, silver and rosecut diamonds given on May 12, 1768, by David Meade II to Sarah Waters. (Virginia Historical Society 1996.14.A-B)

3. The third piece is the painting entitled “Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris. This past fall I went to Philadelphia for the first time. While there, I visited Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and this painting was set. The three men depicted by Ferris—Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin—are truly inspirational historic figures. As a history major, I always enjoy learning more about their contributions to the founding of the United States, which is something that you can do as well by walking through “Becoming Americans” section of the Story of Virginia.

Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776

Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776 by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (Virginia Historical Society 1996.49.15)

4. The fourth piece is a Baptismal basin, crafted by Joseph Smith, which dates back to eighteenth-century Jamestown. This basin, no larger than a foot across, is something that, to me, symbolizes the religious history of Virginia in the eighteenth century. It is easy to miss because it is in the small room in the “Becoming Virginians” section of the Story of Virginia that is dedicated to religion in the commonwealth in the eighteenth century.

Baptismal Basin

Silver baptismal basin, circa 1831. (On deposit at the Virginia Historical Society by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, 1973.1)

5. The last object is a cartoon that lambasted Alexandria for its surrender to the British in 1814 during the War of 1812. The piece is known as “Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians.” Old cartoons, whether political in nature or not, always make me laugh because when I think of a cartoon, I imagine Charlie Brown and Snoopy. This cartoon is significant, however, because it lets us know what contemporaries thought about this important Virginia city after it surrendered to the British without putting up a fight. This cartoon can be viewed with other pieces relating to the War of 1812 in the “Becoming Americans” section in the Story of Virginia.

Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians

Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians. Wood etching highlighted with aquatint. (Virginia Historical Society, 2001.33)

What are your favorite items in the Story of Virginia?  After you visit (or revisit), let us know!  We would love to hear from you.

Nicole Morton

Periodically the Virginia Historical Society will post content created by guest writers. The opinions expressed are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Virginia Historical Society, its members, or its staff. The Virginia Historical Society encourages discussion; however, we reserve the right to remove comments that are offensive, threatening, or insulting.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 11/27/2012 3:27 pm

    Very interesting pieces, the ring is beautiful I too would love to know the full story behind it, I know where I will visit next time I am in Virginia.


  2. Susan M permalink
    11/27/2012 3:39 pm

    Great article – I loved the personal reflections on some of the items. What a fun and learning internship this must be. It made me want to visit the Musuem and see the display. I always like learning more about our great state.


  3. Shannon permalink
    11/28/2012 1:02 pm

    Nicole this is an excellent piece that has certainly inspired me to want to learn more about the artifacts at the Story of Virginia exhibit. I appreciate that you have woven in your personal connection with the different artifacts. You will no doubt be a fantastic addition to any museum!! Best of luck in your endeavors.


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