Residents can get a special glimpse into the past at the Sully Historic Site on Saturday, Oct. 20 when the farm will host a post-colonial Halloween celebration, showing how Virginians from 200 years ago marked the holiday.
These days, Halloween usually means gobs of candy and store-bought costumes mostly based on Hollywood movie themes or designed to scare the daylights out of passersby. Virginians in the 18th and 19th centuries were less concerned about scaring each other (Hollywood was still to be discovered) and were more about celebrating a bountiful fall harvest.
The Fairfax County Park Authority’s Historic All Hallows Eve celebration brings back to life the spirit of those past celebrations, which almost always centered on storytelling, fall foods and family gatherings, said Kiersten Conley, a historic site staffer.
“We want our visitors to leave with a sense of what life in the 18th century was,” Conley said. “Back then, there was no entertainment like we have today. Then, your family was your fun.”
And, it was also about the food. In the fall, there was an abundance of food because all the crops had just been harvested, Conley said. Starvation, or at least the scarcity of food, was a constant companion for post-colonial residents. It’s something we don’t think about today with our modern food distribution system, Conley said.
“We have food all the time in our culture,” Conley said.
Visitors will be able to work in the farm’s kitchen, helping prepare some fall foods, like applesauce. Interestingly, it was not tobacco (which quickly depleted the soil) but apples that were a cash crop for Richard Bland Lee, who owned the farm in the 1790s and was Northern Virginia’s first elected congressman. He had an expansive 600-tree orchard which produced apples for the Lee family table as well as for nearby markets, Conley said.
The grassy, 130-acre site, along Route 28 just north of Route 50, represents just a fraction of the 3,000-acre estate that Lee worked. Although Lee (who was the uncle of Gen. Robert E. Lee) owned 40 slaves, the farm was not a plantation. The site includes the original two-story Lee home as well as a number of original outbuildings — the kitchen-laundry, smokehouse and stone dairy. A newly constructed representative slave cabin stands near the house where historians think some original slave quarters stood.