Mount Vernon’s Colonial Market & Fair is like a Renaissance festival for the “Hamilton” set. The weekend event imagines a Colonial market George Washington might have visited, complete with roving bands, costumed performers and artisans hawking 18th-century goods. Here are four ways to get into the action.
Mount Vernon, 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, Va.; Sat. & Sun., 9 a.m.-5 p.m., $20 per day.
Meet the locals.
You don’t have to dress in period costume, but if you do, you’ll feel right at home making conversation with George Washington or playing cricket on his lawn. You can also chat with the town rat catcher (who Mount Vernon spokesperson Melissa Wood says is always a crowd favorite) or watch the sword swallower do his thing. They’re just a few of the costumed characters who wander the market or perform at set times.
Each year, historian Jon Stealey brings his historically accurate air balloons, which, like the ones early Americans marveled at, are made of paper. Stealey even sources his paper from the same company that made the paper for the first air balloons in Paris in the 1700s. Unlike the hot air balloons of today, these balloons don’t carry people, and they’re tethered to the ground to keep them from flying away. “To see the children’s eyes sparkle as well as the adults’, it’s amazing,” Stealey says of the balloon flights.
Eat like George.
Wood recommends the daily chocolate-making demonstrations, so you can eat like George Washington would have. The American Heritage Chocolate recipe from 1750 calls for cinnamon, nutmeg and red pepper to give the chocolate what Wood calls “a spicy bitterness.” There are also period-specific baked goods for sale, a Colonial grocer and a vendor selling herbs and spices.
Wood says this is the only time of year when visitors to Mount Vernon can find juried artisans from across the country selling goods that are true to the 18th century — and some attendees show up ready to redecorate. “I have run into a lot of people that say they come to this event every year just to buy furnishings for their home,” she says. You can watch these costumed craftspeople make 18th-century pottery and sample the wares of woodworkers, weavers, bookbinders and button makers.