At long last, I stepped through the doorway. Even though the inside of the Colonial Williamsburg apothecary shop didn’t look quite how I’d pictured it, my heart leapt as my eyes swept up the details. Above the counter were the jars of medicinal elements. No wonder Thomas Hutchinson felt overwhelmed in The Rebel on his first day as the apothecary’s apprentice! I felt as if I had spent hours in this place even though I’d never set foot in it until this moment. That’s the beauty of books…and I had just stepped into one of my favorites!
With rich details and fast-paced adventures, Nancy Rue brought Colonial Williamsburg all the way to eleven-year-old me in Guatemala via her series The Williamsburg Years. Of course, literary license and the fact that today’s Colonial Williamsburg bounces around in the Revolutionary-War era meant that not everything was as I wanted it to be when I visited today’s Williamsburg. Wouldn’t it have been fun if old Mr. Pickering really were behind the counter of the apothecary shop? Still, whether I was listening to George Washington, strolling up to the Governor’s Palace, nibbling ginger cookies or riding in a carriage, Thomas Hutchinson’s adventures were spread over my experiences like the chocolate sauce on my peppermint stick ice cream at the King’s Arms Tavern.
Like the young United States, Thomas Hutchinson has a lot of growing up to do in The Williamsburg Years. In fact, you may not like him very much when you first meet. On the other hand, you may understand why he feels like he might as well not even bother trying to live up to his two “perfect” older brothers. No matter how you see him at first, you’ll find that he’s changed by 1783. How could it be otherwise when he’s learned to love learning from Alexander Taylor, spent three years as Mr. Pickering’s apprentice, become like a brother to indentured servants Malcolm and Patsy, trained as the right hand of Dr. Nicholas Quincy, witnessed Tarletan’s raids on the Hutchinson plantation, and watched one brother leave to fight for liberty and the other to become a minister? (Not bad for a thirteen-year-old, right?) Yet, with all the progress he’s made, as the battle of Yorktown fills the Williamsburg air with explosions and the Governor’s Palace with wounded soldiers, Thomas still has plenty of his own battles to fight. There’s the issue of Malcolm wanting to join the army more than anything while Thomas can’t stand the thought of sending off another brother. Then there’s Dr. Quincy, who has risked the ire of hot-headed Patriots to follow his Quaker beliefs and is now risking everything to save lives on the battlefront. And what will the Patriot victory at Yorktown mean for Thomas’s best friend, Caroline Taylor, who has a melon-slice smile and a Loyalist family? Maybe you can join the adventure and find out for yourself!
I think one of the many truths Thomas learns as the new United States gains her freedom is what it means to be really free. After the battle of Yorktown brings the war mostly to a close, Thomas’s father shares a few thoughts with him.
When they reached the end of the Green, the bells in Bruton Parish Church were ringing joyfully and people were rushing back and forth across the Market Square in their best clothes, ready to go to the surrender ceremony. Papa watched them for a moment before he spoke.
“I feel no need to go to Yorktown today,” he said. “For me, the war has been fought right here.” He put his hand on his chest. “Right inside ourselves.”
Thomas felt his brow puckering. “I don’t understand.”
“You have fought your own battles during this war, Thomas,” Papa said. “Right there in your own soul. I think you’ve come through it all feeling God’s hand.”
I have felt God’s hand, Thomas thought as he looked out over the Duke of Gloucester Street…
Papa touched Thomas’s shoulder. “I am proud to say, son, that you’ve joined God’s side, and you’re winning that war inside yourself. Do you know what that makes you, Thomas?”
Thomas shook his head and looked where his father was pointing. On the roof of the Courthouse, the new flag flapped proudly in the wind, brilliantly red, white and blue against the October sky.
“It makes you free, son,” Papa said. “No matter what you may have to suffer, you will always be free.”
What do you think? What does it really mean to be free? This post brings to a close my miniseries on the War for Independence. However, there’s so much more to learn! While The Williamsburg Years are no longer in print, you can still find copies on eBay and Amazon. Then you can visit Colonial Williamsburg online. If you ever get a chance to visit in person, the peppermint stick ice cream at the King’s Arms Tavern really is the very best! Step into the story today.
 Nancy Rue, The Battle, The Williamsburg Years, no. 6 (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1997), 187-188.