A visit to Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia: The West African Farm (part 1/5)

*all photos taken by me with my Canon PowerShot SX60 HS in September 2016.

Frontier Culture Museum is an open air Museum dedicated to showcasing the way of life on the American Frontier at the beginning of 17th and 18th Centuries. The living history museum is located in Staunton, Virginia, which is a quaint and charming city, worth visiting as well.

I have often visited the museum due to its close proximity to the city where I currently live in as well as to the fact that it hosts a plethora of events and activities all throughout the year.

A complete list of Museum’s exhibits, here.

IMG_1117.JPG*Entrance to the museum.

The Museum is open 365 days/year and is a welcoming space for  all: locals, families with children, visitors. What you CANNOT bring with you is your pet (due to the number of animals living on the premises of the museum). 

What draw me to it from the beginning was its exploratory and “hands down” approach to understanding and experiencing (an important part of the American) history and its foundational culture.

Often times, we associate history with boring, thick books, dry facts and generally a “blah” attitude but the museum makes learning about the first settlers that came from the Old World and made Shenandoah Valley their home relevant, tangible and fun.

And what a gift it is to show the younger generations the way of life of our predecessors: a simpler though harsh, deeply connected to nature and its rhythms, way of living.

One very important aspect that I think this open air museum shows beautifully is the direct connection between HOW specific fruits and vegetables are cultivated, grown, harvested, and then brought to the table.

In our brick and concrete worlds, with produce neatly and perfectly packaged and available 24/7, 365 days/year only a car trip away from our local supermarkets, we often take for granted or are simply unaware of the cost and process of making the produce and foods we consume so easily accessible.

It is so important, in my opinion, to UNDERSTAND where your food comes from, how it came to be and what it takes to grow something that is, eventually, eaten in 5 minutes or less.

What we can witness at the museum is the first part of the process:

The home with a farm where the herbs are raised to flavor the food, the plants and trees which give fruits and vegetables to eat, as well as the animals raised for companionship, food or to work the land. 

I think this natural interdependent relationship that our ancestors (and obviously the Colonists) experienced first hand between man/woman <-> the Earth <-> the plants and animals <-> natural resources (water, stone, wood, sunlight) to sustain life is directly and easily conveyed at the museum.

I also love, love, love the fact that you can walk the museum grounds safely (no cars are allowed) and instantly feel immersed in a different time and space.

So, to put it succinctly, what can we experience and explore at the museum?

Knowledgeable costumed staff ready to answer any questions, colonial farms and buildings (some brought over from various parts of Europe), animals, crops and foods specific for the time period.

Also, there are monthly workshops for toddlers and preschoolers in which they can directly experience this way of life by trying on clothing specific for the time period and learning about the schooling done on the frontier (there is a replica of a schoolhouse at the museum).

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The museum hosts an Oktoberfest-themed event in the fall, a Homeshool Day/month for families and children, a Christmas Market in late November with local vendors and artisans, as well as other educational workshops.

Check the complete list of events for 2019 here.

They also host, once a year, the Naturalization Ceremony for the newly appointed  citizens and I was fortunate enough to be invited and participate in it last year (yay!).

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*the Museum Shop where you can purchase locally made artifacts and related memorabilia

Each Museum Exhibit is centered around a specific time period and the life that the first settlers had to build for themselves in the valleys and mountains of Virginia coming from Germany, Ireland, England or brought over from West Africa.

There is even one exhibit dedicated to the life in North America in the early 1800s. 

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What we will explore today is the exhibit dedicated to the West African Farm.

We will discuss and take virtual tours of the rest of them (the Irish, German, English and American Farm in the upcoming weeks so make sure to subscribe to receive new posts each Sunday morning at 9:00 am EST straight to your inbox!) 

1700s West African Farm

A large number of Africans (estimated at nearly 250,000) were brought to the Colonies  from West Africa in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s to work as servants, agricultural workers and artisans. They worked on farms, corn fields, cotton and tobacco plantations, with the highest concentration (approximately 40%) in Virginia and South Carolina. The first African slaves arrived in Virginia, for example, in 1619.

Due to this fact, the first farm on the grounds of the Museum is dedicated to reproducing a West African Village, specifically an Igbo household on the coast known as Bight of Biafra, nowadays located in Nigeria (since it is considered that many of the captives came from this area).

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The life is the colonies was harsh. For the Africans brought over unwillingly, even harsher.

As enslaved agricultural workers and domestic servants, few resources were available to them that would have allowed them to travel and express themselves freely, or to cultivate a life that resembled the one back home. What they could bring with them and allowed to express, helped them survive. Their hard work and craftsmanship enriched not only their owners, but fueled the economical growth of the Colonies.

In an Igbo village, as well as in the rest of the African villages, the life of the community was centered around the communal fire pit. Life sustaining in more ways than one: warmth, heat and food depended on it.

It was the women’s job to start, safeguard and maintain it all throughout the day, whilst their fathers, brothers and sons (if old enough), hunted.

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*A look inside the communal fire pit where the food that would feed the entire village was kept warm all throughout the day, usually by the women gathered around it.

For the Africans living in the colonies, the daily life centered around the household which had acquired and bought them. Gruesome daily work on the tobacco plantation, in the corn fields, on the farms raising cattle and pigs, or attending to the household chores inherent to the life in the Colonies would represent the core of their daily life.

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*Example of a home and front entrance specific for the West African region Bight of Biafra (now Nigeria). What we see here is a clay built hut with A tatched roof.

IMG_1132.JPG*Front entrance used to store and dry various foods and goods. Notice the beautifully hand woven baskets.

IMG_1131*Taking a peak inside, we observe the tanned hides used not only to clothe, but also cover the raised clay bed.

The skills, knowledge, folklore, and recipes that the Africans brought with them allowed them to keep a cohesive sense of identity in the midst of a life that was completely out of their control.

IMG_1134*example of a weaving technique

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Some of the foods, like specific root vegetables, peppers, the black-eyed-peas and okra made their way from the African continent, enriching the cuisine and nutrition of the Colonists.

See down below:

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The are many notable contributions that the captive Africans provided to the life in the Colonies and to the foundation of what would become, in the 19th and 20th Century, a unified American culture.

They were skilled artisans in woodwork, basketry, pottery and textiles. Their rich folklore and music deeply formed and influenced musical genres such as blues, jazz and soul.

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IMG_1148*hand woven African baskets that can be purchased at the museum.

IMG_1145*the clay fence that would border the African farm and village.

I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a peek into this wonderful museum and will follow up next week when we discuss and take a tour of the English Farm (my favorite)!

If you plan on visiting the museum, keep this in mind:

How to get here:

The museum is located in the Shenandoah Valley, near the intersection of I-81 and I-64 on the outskirts of Staunton, VA, at 1290 Richmond Avenue.

Opening hours:

The museum is open 7 days/week but Saturday is their busiest day.

The hours are from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm during winter time (Dec to March) and from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm during spring, summer and fall. More details about their tickets, passes and group options here.

What to bring and leave behind:

*comfortable shoes for walking

*a hat (for sunny days)/an umbrella for rainy ones

*NO pets

Read more about the museum here.

See you next week!

Roxi

5 thoughts on “A visit to Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia: The West African Farm (part 1/5)

  1. It s amazing how well they keep the houses, and how the ambient is provide to give a time travel experience.
    thank you for sharing!

  2. It truly is! and I am so glad you enjoyed the post :) we will discuss the next farms in the upcoming weeks. Thank you for stopping by! Have a wonderful rest of the week.

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